Merrimack College grad shoots aspirations ‘Over The Moon’
By Jill Diver
Pursuing aspirations for a career in music can be an unforgiving and tough road to travel. However, its a journey Merrimack College graduate AJ Edwards is committed to completing.
With the release of his first album, “Start Over The Moon,” Edwards has marked significant progress on that path.
“I always tell myself someday, if I keep at it and do the best I can, I’ll make it,” said Edwards, 25, whose album is available on iTunes.
His song “I’m Open” has received airplay on the Haverhill-based radio station, The River 92.5. And his record is beginning to gain a following through online exposure.
Getting to this point has taken a lot of hard work and dedication, all beginning when this self-taught guitarist borrowed an instrument from a family friend in high school.
“When I was 16, I saw U2. It was my favorite band, I saw them in 2001,” Edwards said. “I started really seeing concerts after that. It was the best concert I have ever been to. It got me inspired to pick up a guitar and learn how to play.”
In this undertaking, he quickly realized that there are all kinds of resources available online and in book and music stores to educate the novice about chords and guitar tabs.
“Some people are amazed that I taught myself, but guitar is one of those things that you don’t really need classical instruction,” Edwards said.
Edwards, who studied English at Merrimack College in North Andover and today works in advertising for a company headquartered in Burlington, finds handling his music and full-time work tiring. But he says it’s well worth the effort.
“The toughest thing has been to balance my job,” said Edwards, who plays gigs about three times a week in three-hour intervals.
“I think about music all the time,” he said. “I can’t tell which is more distracting. It always feel like a juggling act because I work regular hours, Monday to Friday, 9 to 5.”
In addition to the balancing act, there are financial challenges, he said.
“The truth is, being an artist is expensive, between travel and recording time and equipment,” Edwards said. “I heard that people who go to school for music kind of drop out in favor of performing, so I picked a job that I could support myself and still do my music.”
It was during his freshman and sophomore years at Merrimack College that Edwards started playing gigs locally and doing club shows in Boston.
“By the time I started at Merrimack, that is when I started to write down my music and get going,” Edwards said. “I think Merrimack is really cool, too, because it enabled me to start performing in front of friends to the point that it would boost my confidence. And I would do open mic nights and play gigs in the area.
His first open microphone night was at the Chit Chat lounge in Haverhill, so, he says, he celebrates some local roots.
When he was ready to cut an album, Edwards pulled together a band.
“I met my guitar player, Adam, in Cambridge and he introduced me to his best friend, a bass player. And then we got a drummer together,” Edwards said.
His latest project, which features the whole band — Adam Dehner on lead guitar, George Simon on bass, and John Dorizzi on drums — features him as the singer/songwriter. He equates the sound as akin to listening to a John Mayer album.
To make the record, Edwards had a catalog of songs, which he began building in college — a time when he also began to write his lyrics and music in earnest.
“I’m always writing lyrics,” Edwards said. “When I find myself in a comfortable state with my guitar, I will be strumming and I come upon parts I really like. And over that I’ll hum or sing, and gradually it starts to come together for a melody.”
While the independent musician is able to reach many people through media outlets like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, Edwards purchased studio time to make “Start Over The Moon.”
“We bought four days and nights in the studio and worked around the clock,” he said.
Edwards wrote all the lyrics and music for the album on his acoustic guitar. The title, “Start O ver The Moon,” started out as lyrics in a song, and ended up the album’s name because the record is about heartbreak.
“Love and heartbreak are universal and there is always a way to convey certain emotions,” Edwards said. “I think that’s what people connect with when they hear a really great song.”
Most of the songs started raw in the studio and then, as the elements were added, the sound became fuller.
“The studio is a very unforgiving place,” Edwards said. “It’s tiring. And then when you start listening to your music, you start to drive yourself crazy and have to fix things.”
After “Start Over The Moon” was released on iTunes, Edwards wanted to get his music out to a wider audience. He submitted numerous copies to the The River for consideration for the local showcase, “Homegrown,” on week nights.
“I sent out a CD a few times and didn’t hear anything for a few weeks,” he said. “Then I got an e-mail that said when and what date they would be playing my song.”
He was at his parent’s house with his girlfriend when he first got airplay.
“Everyone wants to be played on the radio; it’s a dream,” Edwards said. “It was really cool. It was surreal. It was like, ‘Wow, they are playing me on the radio. I hope they play it again.’”
Rita Cary, the morning host at 92.5, coordinates the “Homegrown” segment that plays weekdays at 9 p.m.
“We get so many of these artists. There has to be a certain level of quality and fit with The River sound,” Cary said. “AJ Edwards had a good quality sound and the recording sounded professional.”
Edwards now is working on a five-song EP — a short album — on which he will showcase the new directions that he’s moving in musically.
“It goes back to the importance of having something and really enjoying it,” Edwards said. “The thing that keeps you going is that you think, ‘I’m so lucky to have something I’m so passionate about.’”
This article ran in The Andovers, Catching Up With section of the Winter/Spring 2010 Issue.