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AJ Gatio: Chasing the dream from Oxford to Nashville

By Elizabeth Hansen, Assistant Culture Editor

When AJ Gatio graduated from Miami in 2014, he wasn't completely set on becoming a Social Studies teacher. He wanted to be a songwriter.

"I realized I could get into teaching when I'm 30, 32 or 33 and nothing's happened [with songwriting], but I can't get my mid-20s back. [I thought], if I'm gonna do this, this is going to be the only time I can do it," said Gatio.

So, after almost a year of contemplation, Gatio pulled the trigger and moved to Nashville.

"I was scared as hell," he said. "I didn't know anyone, I had no connections, my girlfriend and my family ... everyone's in Cincinnati, and I was just heading down by myself on this little crazy dream trip."

Once he left Cincinnati, another obstacle confronted him -- Writers' Rounds.

Writers' Rounds are a concept unique to Nashville. Three or four people get up on stage and go down the line, each continuing a song. Playing by himself was something Gatio had never done before.

"I always played with a band," he said. "So playing me, by myself, acoustic -- there's nothing that's gonna hide you. I was always super nervous so it took a while to become purely confident in myself as just AJ Gatio versus AJ Gatio and three or four of his friends playing college rock music."

Gatio picked up the guitar while at Miami, but he wrote songs well before he could play them all the way through.

"It was just more of a creative release, an emotional release to get things out of my mind that I wasn't comfortable telling people or doing," he said.

In fact, most people did not even know Gatio had an interest in music.

"None of my professors would really even know about this. They would say, 'Wow that's really out of left field,' 'cause in college it wasn't something [I did]," said Gatio. "Most people I had classes with didn't know I did music at all."

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But now, in Nashville, music is all Gatio does.

"Yesterday I had three writing sessions, and then I played at a bar and now I'm playing at a different bar tonight," he said. "Usually it's some combination of running an audio session, songwriting for the publishing house and then playing somewhere."

Gatio released his first demo, "Music City Mixtape: Vol. 1," in September to help build a fanbase outside of Nashville. He is always booking shows and playing for fraternities and sororities in the Nashville area, but this week, Gatio is bringing his talents back to Miami.

Adam Findlay, social chair of Chi Psi fraternity at Miami, heard Gatio's album and saw his potential.

"He's coming this weekend and doing a country-themed party for us," Findlay said. "He published some stuff on Facebook and through Spotify, and I think within his first few weeks he went up to like 1,000 hits, so he was blowing up pretty fast and I was just sharing him all over the place."

Findlay is now helping him secure an opening spot for a country singer at Brick Street.

"I passed along his information -- YouTube account, Spotify, everything like that -- to get [owner Mark Weisman] to look at them," said Findlay. "He's pretty interested in him, so he's going to try and have him open up for somebody at Brick, which is pretty cool. Hopefully that leads to another."

Once Gatio secures his goal of opening for a country singer at Brick, his long-term plan is to get out of Nashville and play on substantial tours.

"That's the overarching goal, but it also takes time to build up to that," said Gatio.

Gatio's booking teaser is on YouTube. His demo is available on both iTunes and Spotify.