Kiwi singer Mitch James talks his mentor Ed Sheeran and his former homelessness

Mitch James might sing about wishing he was 21 again, but 23 is definitely his year.

His hit single '21' has now gained almost 2.5 million streams on Spotify. It's success that just five years ago, James probably couldn't have imagined.

"When I finished school I just got a job and packed it all up and went to Europe to try and chase 'the dream' and it didn't really work out as I'd planned," he says.

"It all sort of turned to crap pretty quick and I spent a bit of time on the street, I spent a lot of time in hostels."

For eight weeks, James was homeless. During that time he was robbed twice, beaten up and witnessed a stabbing.

He busked and played at small gigs, barely making ends meet. But he persevered with his music, and was eventually signed by Sony in 2016 after the label discovered him on YouTube.

"A couple of years ago I was playing in hostels where literally I got told to stop playing the music because people wanted to watch soccer games and stuff," he recalls.

It's a stark contrast to where he is now - in one month James will release his self-titled debut album.

It will feature songs that document his remarkable journey, and there's even some influence from one of his biggest inspirations, Ed Sheeran, who he opened for in Dunedin earlier this year.

The pair have stayed in contact, with James describing Sheeran as somewhat of a mentor.

"He's the first person I sent the album to, the finished product, so I'm waiting to hear back from him but it was super cool that it just came full circle after him inspiring me so much."

James will no doubt be taking that inspiration out on his own New Zealand tour next month.