Singer-songwriter Alex Aiono wants to have a career like Macklemore, but it’s not what you think.
Aiono grew up in the Valley, and he wants to celebrate—and be celebrated—when he returns home.
“I always wanted to come back to Phoenix and play shows, but I didn’t really know if Phoenix rocked with me like that,” Aiono says, referring to his headlining show in early 2018.
“I wanted to rock the way Seattle rocks with Macklemore. It wasn’t until I came home, and I had a sold-out show that I realized that could happen.”
Aiono is set to return to the Valley on his “#FUN23 Tour” that stops at The Van Buren on Saturday, June 15. He prefers not to reveal his favorite cities because he wants each venue’s attendees to “feel that love.”
“But there’s an energy about coming home,” he says. “It’s a special connection. So, it was so nice to come to Phoenix for my first headlining show and be able to connect with the fans. I’m a hometown kid, so when I come to Phoenix, I do have that deeper welcome.”
Although he moved to Los Angeles when he was 15, Aiono was raised in Arizona, living in Gilbert, Chandler and Mesa. He says attending New Horizons School of Performing Arts in Mesa helped shape his love for music and performing.
“There’s so many things that shaped my passion,” Aiono says.
“I think my parents always wanted me to be in a performing arts school. When you’re at a school that’s for performing arts, they value the time to really work on your craft, or to work on your passions.
“I remember being able to have that time to be in a play and rehearse for hours a day on a play, memorizing lines, little things that kind of helped me shape my passion for music.”
Discovered after busking on the Santa Monica Promenade at age 15, Aiono recorded with singer John Legend, who co-wrote the title track on his 2013 debut EP, “Young & Foolish.”
By the time he was 19, Aiono amassed millions of followers by flipping versions of popular songs from a one-bedroom apartment he shared with his family of six. Aiono’s viral take on Drake’s “One Dance” hit the 64 million view mark.
With over 780 million YouTube views to date, the now 23-year-old boasts 5.8 million YouTube subscribers, 2.3 million Facebook followers, 2.4 million Instagram followers, and 515,000 Twitter followers.
His latest single is “Her,” a look into Aiono’s past in Arizona and through teenage heartbreak, which is a change from his usual themes.
“I felt like ‘Her’ was one of the first times I actually got to rip a page out of my metaphoric diary,” Aiono says. “I love all my other songs, but this song is like, ‘Hey, I’m a regular human being who is struggling.’”
He recently penned a song about his childhood summers with his family at Saguaro Lake. It tells the story of growing up and finding himself.
“You look up at adults, and you’re like, ‘Oh, man, you have a job and you go out to clubs,’” he says.
“That’s what you see in the movies. What you don’t see are taxes, the rent and mental health issues. You don’t see all of these things that are easily overlooked when you’re a kid. When you’re an adult you have too much pride” to talk about the issues.
The “#FUN23 Tour” is meant to serve a similar purpose: To help young fans discover themselves, and to provide an escape.
“I wanted to create a space, create an opportunity for you to come and let life stresses go,” Aiono says. “And not only let that all go, but get lost a little bit and forget who you are or find out who you are.”
The social media darling stresses the dangers of social media. Aiono says he tries to come off as genuine as he can on his social media, especially because he has influence over his young fans.
“We’re all on social media and everybody’s trying to put their best life on social media, but it’s not their real life,” Aiono says. “People are seeing social media and comparing themselves, which is a big issue as well. I think that we’re creating this stress that we don’t have our own lives figured out. And that’s why I promote that I don’t have everything figured out at all. I’m just taking everything as it comes.
“I just want to promote that you don’t have to know, as long as you believe in yourself. You believe good things will happen, and you put your shoulder to the wheel and you keep fighting and pushing. Then you’re going to figure it out. If I just let life shape itself and I make of it as best as I can, then I will feel like it’ll all be OK.”
Alex Aiono w/ 4th Ave and AJA9
Van Buren, 401 W. Van Buren Street, Phoenix, 480.659.1641, thevanburenphx.com, 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15, $22-$99.