It’s fun to imagine the different kinds of conversations that have taken place on the couch Alex Aiono and I were sitting on. Nestled in a downtown Toronto agency office, in the last few weeks alone it’s housed names like Hedley, the Vamps and Imagine Dragons. The couch’s upholstery cinched the perfect balance between soft and firm. “Enough to cradle and protect a person’s hopes and dreams,” I had remarked to Collin, the camera-man who was setting up his equipment at breakneck speed. But late that Monday morning, the talk we had with Alex Aiono leaned more on the soft side.
While we were getting mic’ed up, the YouTube-star and musician—who got his start busking in Santa Monica at 15 and has racked up over 4 million subscribers on Youtube in addition to a major label record since then—was hiding his yawns behind his wrist when I suggested we opt for a “napcast.” He was running on two hours of sleep; the night before he played a show with Sabrina Carpenter, and he had been doing press since 6AM. He blinked in agreement and smiled. “I can just be on the side sleepin’ while you talk.”
It was tempting, but since Q and As were on the schedule (and not Zs), we settled for a happy compromise. Veering away from popcorn trivia like “what’s your favourite cover?” or “what’s your craziest fan moment?” we chatted about what makes Aiono happy, and a grocery list of things that keep him going. He let us in on 6 of them below:
Some Alone Time
On camera, Aiono was a bundle of energy. Off camera, when I arrived, the crew around me assured me that he was a lively character. But “you can’t be optimistic a hundred percent of the time,” Aiono says after I wondered aloud what someone like him would do during the discouraging and greyer days. “Some people surround themselves with other humans, but bit’s kinda the opposite [with me],” Aiono explained. His method of recharging was more isolated. “[I] take some time to just be by myself,” he says, narrating the step-by-step Aiono-certified procedure: “kinda just relax, close my eyes, not even think or anything… and breathe.”
While he believes that God gave him a talent he needed to share, I asked him if there was any other art form he was interested in. He held up a ghost pencil in the air, replying, “I just wanna be better at, like, drawing. I can’t draw. I can’t draw at all.” I reminded him that practice could probably help, and we reminisced for a bit about how Ed Sheeran said the same thing about little bad-at-singing Ed, and maybe in the future it would be possible for an Alex Aiono. “The next Bansky,” he smirked.
I asked Aiono to picture himself at 10 years old and talk about the big plans he had then. He listed that he had wanted to play “sold out stadiums like Madison Square Garden” and “the accolades the greats have achieved.” But, whisking into the present, it eventually blossomed into being able to “have fun and do something that I love.”
I reminded Aiono not to be humble when I asked him what he was most confident about. He took a deep breath. “A great work ethic.” He said he always made it a point to push himself to be the hardest working person in the room, since “hard work is what pays off more than anything.” I asked him if that could sometimes lead into the unhealthy trap of constantly comparing himself to others. But it wasn’t possible according to Aiono. “The only thing I can compare myself to is just me,” he shrugged “I’m human.”
A Loving Family
When I asked Aiono who he’d want his last performance on earth to be in front of, he said, “his family.” When I asked him if there was someone he’d want to thank at that present moment in the interview, he said, “his family.” “I talk about them nonstop,” he admitted. But because they had sacrificed so much for him to be where he was and believed in him since he was a kid, he had to thank God for them. “I’m so blessed to have such an amazing family.”
A Good Day
“Wake up,” Aiono began, when I prompted him to narrate his ideal day. “Get a good exercise in, go to the studio…” I smiled as warm feelings radiated from his side of the couch. “Have just, like zero plans to do anything. Just work and just have fun and then go out for dinner.” He clasped and unclasped his hands, adding, “Maybe play basketball to end the night.” There is always something communal and humanizing listening to people, no matter their calibre, talk about the normal things that make life satisfying. “I think that’s truly just something that I would enjoy,” he said.
By this time all tendrils of the idea of a nap-cast had dissolved, and the smell of an overdue lunch around the corner beckoned Aiono. I left the building back onto the Toronto streets, remembering how before the interview I had asked him off camera if he was tired. He said, “yes.” But since Toronto was the final stop on the tour, the excitement of catching his flight home later that evening, gave him the energy for the packed day he had ahead of him. I remember asking him if he was planning to sleep on the plane. He nodded and smiled, patting the couch, knowing that beyond its softness and firmness he was only a couple of hours away from a well-deserved nap.