ELHS Junior Releases First Single Thursday
For most teenagers, finishing their homework, making it to volleyball practice, and somehow finding time to have a social life is a balancing act in itself.
Sixteen-year-old East Lansing High School junior Ajah Montalvo is also juggling the start of her music career. On Thursday, Feb. 8 at 10 p.m. EST, Montalvo is releasing her very first single, “DMT,” available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.
When she was one or two years old, Montalvo first started humming along to songs in her car seat. At the age of nine, she competed in her first singing competition at Lansing’s Cristo Rey Festival. Montalvo recalled it was the first moment she decided to take singing seriously and pursue her dreams.
“I was super nervous,” she said. “I pushed myself to walk up the steps and once I started singing, I just kind of got into my element and calmed myself down.”
East Lansing High School Principal Andrew Wells has known Montalvo since she was a fifth grader at Whitehills Elementary, but was first introduced to the student’s singing chops during a school talent show.
Earlier this school year, the up-and-coming singer handed her principal a copy of her CD.
“I took it to listen to it, and realized that her gift is extraordinary,” Wells said. “Ever since then, I’ve been in communication with her, and her aspiration and quest for music success.”
Montalvo spoke about the inspiration behind the first single, “DMT.”
“DMT (Doing My Thing) is basically a mindset,” Montalvo said. “It’s just going out – you know, being yourself, having fun whether you’re by yourself, or maybe a group of people, with your girls or with your guys. You’re just really doing your thing. You don’t care what other people have to say. It’s just all about you feeling yourself and you doing you.”
Montalvo looks up to a range of female musicians, including Amy Winehouse, Sade, Adele and Etta James, and hopes her music is also in a genre-blending range.
“Really what my goal is as an artist is to be in a lane that’s not necessarily entirely pop, but also R&B,” Montalvo said, “and kind of bringing in the old elements from back in the day and trying to incorporate those sounds.”
The sixteen-year-old volleyball and lacrosse player is very much a typical student during the day, with homework, sports matches, and rehearsing for the spring musical, “High School Musical.” The teen’s last summer, however, was anything but ordinary. Montalvo and her family flew back and forth from Washington, D.C., to complete a five-song EP. (EP or extended play record, is a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single, but is less than a full album or LP.)
The experience was a memorable one, in which producers turned friends, and plenty of lessons were learned through long hours of hard work. Having to redo vocal parts over and over again was tiring, and took a lot of mental and physical energy.
“It definitely takes patience to really push yourself to get to the core of that creative thinking and the core of the song – and really what you’re trying to create,” Montalvo said.
Although school comes first and foremost, the driven musician says music comes second – sometimes even before extracurricular practices. This meant having to work twice as hard when she did get back, in order to get on the court or be at the level her teammates were at. Through it all, she remained steadfast.
She also “got by with a little help from her friends.” After completing the EP, her close buddies were the first to get their hands on the new music, and they quickly learned the lyrics.
“They’ve been extremely supportive throughout the whole process, and really helping in any way that they possible can to get other people to listen and promote it,” Montalvo said. Her teachers and principal have even recorded videos on her Instagram counting down the days until the release. Her closest pals will make an appearance in the music video, with the same release date as the single.
For now, Montalvo’s father Robert said they are releasing the EP independently. This is a strategic move, given the current trends in the music industry. While the ultimate bucket list goal is for the singer to play the Madison Square Garden, this East Lansing native knows she needs to start small.
“We’ve had some interest from some record labels that are very interested in her EP,” said Robert. “But one of the things that we’ve learned within the industry is she has to build her fan base and her following on an independent level in order to be distributed through a major label.”
According to Wells, Montalvo is one of many talented, driven, diverse, students at East Lansing High School. As far as her burgeoning career is concerned, Wells believes it speaks highly of the type of well-rounded students that make up the District.
“I think it says a lot about the caliber of students,” Wells said, “but I also think it says a lot about the family support, too, and the school support. We all play a supportive role in the success of our students.”
“We’re really excited about Ajah’s opportunity,” Wells said. “We have so many students who possess talent in our school in a lot of different ways. Whenever those students reach a level of success, and it’s highly noted not only in this community, but other communities, we’re excited for them and we wish them the best.”
Update: Click "play" below to watch the video released.