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Spotlight: AJ Smith’s musical career is on a rocket ship — literally

AJ Smith was approached by a guitar company to teach ukulele to a space traveler and now is having his first show in Annapolis.

Smith says 2021 has been a great year for him.

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Martin Guitars approached the multifaceted instrumentalist and singer-songwriter to teach civilian astronaut Christopher Sembroski how to play his favorite song, “Colors” by Black Pumas, so he could perform it on the SpaceX Inspiration4 mission that launched Sept. 16. After a few sessions via Zoom, Sembroski, an Air Force veteran, began his journey to space with the ukulele in hand, courtesy of SpaceX.

Smith is coming to Rams Head On Stage on Saturday for an all-ages matinee show at 1 p.m.

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Smith, who grew up in Northern Virginia, visited Annapolis for many summers to see his grandparents, who have lived here all their lives. And with his parents now residing in the city, he spent part of his COVID-19 lockdown time in Annapolis.

He talked to The Capital about the upcoming show and being a part of the Netflix series about the all-civilian space mission.

How did you keep busy during COVID-19 and the lockdown?

I was playing porch shows for my parent’s neighbors and I would livestream it. I lived with my parents for a little during COVID, which was nice. Arts have always got us through things and that is when people get inspired. I couldn’t tour or do the things I wanted, so I had to think outside the box and push myself to write new things. it was a good introspective thing for me. I wanted to make people happy and have a good time while listening to music because everything else was so bleak. The lockdown shifted how I look at my music. I wrote a lot of solo songs.

How does it feel being back in Annapolis to perform?

The last time I performed in front of a crowd in Annapolis was during those porch shows. Before that, I never played a real show in Annapolis; most have been in the D.C. area. I did some acoustic shows in Annapolis but not a show. I am excited this is my first real show ever in Annapolis. I can’t count the other ones. Both my grandparents will be there, my parents, sister and a lot more family.

Local singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist AJ Smith is coming to Rams Head on Stage on Saturday, Oct. 2nd. It’s a matinee show at 1PM
Local singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist AJ Smith is coming to Rams Head on Stage on Saturday, Oct. 2nd. It’s a matinee show at 1PM (Courtesy The Bloom Effect)

How will it feel performing in front of family?

It is always the best. My parents were the ones I was performing my songs for growing up. So it is always nice playing in front of them. I have something special for my grandma, I wrote a song for her called, “Grammy.” It will be the first time live performing it and can’t wait to see her reaction.

You have a new song coming out on Oct. 8, called “Cooler” can you tell me what it is about?

I wrote the song a couple of years ago that’s about my first date with my now-fiance that I got engaged with during COVID. It is about the nerves you have and the insecurities you have when you meet someone new and you want them to like you for who you are. You are wondering if you are saying the right things and am I cool enough? The Annapolis crowd will be able to hear this song before anyone else in the world.

You worked with an astronaut from SpaceX how did that collab come about?

I have been working with Martin Guitars, and they are supplying me with a guitar to take on tour. They reached out because they were building the ukulele that was going into space with Sembroski. He never played the ukulele; he is a guitarist, well, engineer. He isn’t a professional musician. The guitar was too heavy to take on the spaceship, and they weigh everything by ounces. We set up Zoom lessons for a month and got on a couple of times a week and taught him how to play. He performed for patients at St. Jude’s hospital from space. Great experience.

Local singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist AJ Smith is coming to Rams Head on Stage on Saturday, Oct. 2nd. It’s a matinee show at 1PM
Local singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist AJ Smith is coming to Rams Head on Stage on Saturday, Oct. 2nd. It’s a matinee show at 1PM (Courtesy The Bloom Effect)

You have some engineering experience yourself, so how did that come full circle with music and space?

I was nerding out. Our lessons would run way over because I would just ask him questions about space. I was always passionate about engineering. My first job/internship was at the [U.S. Naval Research Laboratory]. I got to learn a lot there. I was building infrared sensors. But music was the calling to me, and I had to do it and I don’t regret that at all. I do enjoy it when I get to reconnect with that nerdy side of my brain; it is always fun. It was a glimpse of where my life could have gone.

You were technically a part of the Netflix series Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space. How does that feel?

It feels pretty cool to be a part of this historic moment, even if it is a super small part. I didn’t help build the rocket, I just helped one of the astronauts feel more comfortable bringing music to space. It was a huge moment with civilians going up there. Eventually, we will have concerts up there. Maybe they will invite me up next time and I could play up in space. That would be awesome.

What should the crowd be ready to see on Saturday?

They should be ready to see me play six different instruments. My band is awesome. We are going to have a crazy awesome time. We are going to be playing big pop songs. If you like Queen and Bruno Mars, there is a lot of inspiration coming. If you want to see someone sing and play the violin, that is what I’m going to be doing.

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