Early this spring, Center I sophomore AJ Torrence approached Media Communications teacher David Glover about recording a pop-punk song. The result, “I’ll Be Okay,” is an explosive track with a catchy hook that would slot comfortably into ‘90s alt-rock radio between Paramore and Avril Lavigne or onto present-day Spotify mixes alongside revivalists like Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. Lyrically, “I’ll Be Okay” eloquently transforms feelings of anxiety into a message of affirmation and uplift.
“I’ll Be Okay” is all-the-more impressive given that it’s the first song AJ’s ever recorded. According to Glover, “I was immediately impressed with AJ’s songwriting ability and as a long time fan of Paramore and the pop punk genre in general, it was a lot of fun to collaborate on this track and watch it go from words on a piece of notebook paper to the anthem it became. Go AJ.”
I sat down with AJ near the end of the school year to ask her about her influences, her songwriting, and her advice for other students looking to use Center I’s media pathway to record their music.
What’s your first musical memory — the first time music really grabbed your attention?
I would say in second grade. In second grade, school’s getting harder and friend groups are getting more cliquey. I also had some hardships in my home life, and that’s when music really touched me. It showed me that music can validate your emotions and express them and help you get through them in a healthy way. I’d listen to CDs and dance around my room.
Who are your favorite artists and why?
I love Paramore because I’ve been listening to them since I was six or seven. I really like Vampire Weekend and Coldplay, because my mom loves them and she had CDs that she’d play a lot. I also like some Nirvana songs. I’ve gone through periods where I really like them, because my dad really liked them. But my dad also went through a rap era. So I love Eminem, too, even though he’s not the best guy. My favorite artists, more recently, is Wallows. I went to their concert recently, and I love them.
When did you first start thinking about making music yourself?
A year ago. My parents are very athletic. We all did sports from a young age. I don’t know how to read music at all. But I’d go on GarageBand and just meddle with the instruments without knowing how to write music. I’d do it by listening by ear and having fun with it. I just love writing and expressing my emotions through writing. I came to Center I trying to learn how to turn them into music.
How long have you been singing and playing guitar?
I can’t sing. So…never. [Laughs] I’ve never taken a voice lesson. I just sing for fun. And guitar, Mr. Glover just taught me some chords this year.
What’s the first song you wrote?
The first song that I wrote was when I was really mad about how some things played out during COVID freshman year. I was just really stressed and upset. I wanted to see my friends and hated being cooped up inside. So I wrote a song about wanting to see my friends and wanting to have a memory that’s just fun.
Tell me how “I’ll Be Okay” came about.
I was going through a really rough time mentally and with things at home. So I wrote this song. It’s kind of a breakup song, but it’s not about a real person. I tried to personify anxiety and stress and what I was experiencing. I tried to make it relatable to other people and universal, but still personal. Usually when people listen to it, they automatically think it’s a breakup with a person, but I know it’s just about breaking away from certain emotions and telling myself “I’ll be okay.” That’s why it’s special to me.
Listen to "I'll Be Okay":
What role has Center I played in helping you get to this point with your music?
I was taught the process and the elements of making a song, musically. I also like how it gave me a period and resources to create, not just with music, but also with other aspects of media.
What would you tell younger students who want to use Center I’s Media Communications pathway to develop as musical artists?
Just do it, because it’s fun and you get a lot more freedom with what you want to do. Your teachers want to see you grow and succeed and are here to help you develop your goals. It also gives you the space in school to create and do what you want to do.