Rip Nicholson talks with Son Little aka Aaron Livingston about his cross-pollination of genres and the “good cry” brought on by blues.
SON LITTLE interviewed October 6, 2016
For Street Press Australia [VIEW HERE]
“I think it’s safe to say most of the world is, at this point, addicted to 808s. It’s better if you just admit it,” submits Aaron Livingston who, as Son Little, plays rhythm and blues his way.
Despite this, he’s oft been referred to as a troubadour of blues, a saviour reviving a bygone art, and his music labelled New Americana. The irony is not lost on Livingston. “As far as I’m concerned I’m trying to do as much of something new as I can,” he says, “anything differently to set myself apart and doing the best version of me as I can do.”
“I think it’s safe to say most of the world is, at this point, addicted to 808s. It’s better if you just admit it.”
Starting out in Philadelphia, he would become known for his dour vocals riding out the hook for The Roots’ Guns Are Drawn off their 2004 album Tipping Point and collaborating with RJD2 with whom he would create an album as a duo on The Abandoned Lullaby (2011). With the release of debut EP Things I Forgot in late 2014, Livingston began his solo quest with a new name. As Son Little, he set himself apart by adding drum machines and 808s to his blues.
“That’s just me doing what I love to do. I’ve always loved drum machines and the sound it makes when you hit it with what most people would consider organic or traditional instruments and combining them to make a more synthetic sound. And each time as I move forward I look for new ways to exploit that.”
Last October Livingston released his extremely well-received debut full-length Son Little – an offering devoid of any single, easily defined category. Instead, Livingston has found the overarching ties in his music are its American roots, which goes some way to explaining the heightened tension in his work.
“I’m probably not alone in feeling like we’ve been living under pressure for a long time. At least I’ve felt that way and I know a lot of people around me have felt that way and do feel this way.”
The blues have always provided an avenue to express social disaffection, and while not intentionally mirroring that sentiment, Livingston’s nu-rhythm & blues still maintains that tradition. “You know it’s a funny thing when people talk about blues it’s like, ‘I’m down’ I’m fat, I’m broke, I’m hungry’ and they might think, ‘Well, I don’t want to hear this sad music.’ But, I think it’s always been there to soothe you and I think that’s what’s always been unique about the music is that it can be sad and it can make you cry but at the same time it’s healing. So, you know, it’s a good cry.”
Conversation with SON LITTLE
RIP – One year from your debut album drop. How has October to October been for Son Little – and by extension, Aaron Livingston?
SL – It’s been very good to both of us. It’s been a blast it seems like a blur it’s already been a year, a lot has gone down since then.
Touring must have kept you on the back foot the whole time?
I guess it was mostly that. I put a few miles on.
You’ve been referred to as a troubadour of blues, your music as New Americana – do you feel like your music is reviving a culled back art?
You know I guess it’s sort of an irony. I don’t think so I mean as far as i’m concerned I’m trying to do as much of something new as I can make and sort of doing anything differently to set myself apart and doing the best version of me as I can do.
You’re good for bringing drum machines together with 808s taking a departure from just a straight blues riff. Do you feel that power to reinvent a genre or is this just you doing you?
I think that’s just me doing what I love to do. I feel like most of the world is, at this point, I think it’s safe to say we’re addicted to 808s. It’s better if you just admit it. Even if it’s for the first time, that’s progress so maybe we don’t have so much of a problem anymore. I’ve always loved drum machines and I’ve always liked the idea of, and the sound it makes when you hit something I guess what most people would consider organic or traditional instruments and how it sounds when you combine them with more synthetic sounds. Um, and each time as I move forward I look for new ways to exploit that I think.
I’ve heard you grew up a fan of Parliament so I can understand you wouldn’t be a fan of sticking to any tradition of music.
That’s one of my favourite groups, that’s for sure.
Do your tracks all come from a personal starting grid or can you find the art in a pain that’s out there just as readily?
I think no matter what, talking about even if it’s removed from my personal life, like it’s speaking from some part of me or maybe I’m giving a voice to someone who isn’t able to use theirs.
Do you feel that your music must carry a narrative reflective of the current tensions the rest of the world sees America for now?
I feel that is probably does. I probably not alone in feeling like this time it is what it is but I think we’ve been living under pressure for a long time at least I’ve felt that way and I know a lot of people around me have felt that way and do feel this way. So I think you can’t help but reflect it but at the same time it’s a familiar feeling the way we’re living at right now.
The cliched assumption to make is that musicians will sing you out of a dark time, give you that brief moment of peace… Do you believe when you perform or even record that you’re providing a peaceful pause and therefore should bring light to a dark theme? Or quite the opposite?
That’s an interesting question. Well you know it’s a funny thing when people talk about blues it’s like, I guess maybe some people look at it like, ‘I’m down’ I’m fat, I’m broke, I’m hungry’ and they might think, ‘well I don’t want to hear this sad music.’ But, I think it’s always been there to soothe you and I think that’s what’s always been unique about the music is that it can be sad and it can make you cry but at the same time it’s healing. So, you know, it’s a good cry.
Tell me about Hotline Bling, man? Are you that much of a fan of that joint?
See, I’m the only guy who can make Hotline Bling sound really sad. That was a kind of the spur of the moment thing. Friends of mine in Paris were singing it and I think I was delirious at the time and I had just gotten off an aeroplane when they were singing it. I went to a radio show and I was supposed to play a cover and no-one told me. No-one tells me anything! So as I show up, I’ve gotta come up with a cover and since I couldn’t get that out of my head and it turned into that, so it turned out to be a fun thing to do.
Well you’re not bad at covers man, you did a very good job of Bruce’s State Trooper also.
Thank you. It’s such a cool song stripped down and raw and I think sometimes it’s easier to express how you feel with someone else’s words something rather than your own.
Apart from a trust guitar, what do you travel with to make a complete Son Little show?
To be honest, the last time I did this routine on my own I had a guitar and a laptop, that was it. So, you know, I’m thinking of adding something to it this time. I don’t know if it’s going to be a keyboard or another drum machine, who knows. Maybe get a big cake and throw at somebody in the crowd. Although I think somebody did that already (laughs). But I’m probably just going to press a button and wave my arms around. Take it easy this time.
Given that you’re a creature of your environment, a very American writer. When you travel somewhere as foreign and far away as Australia, do you think if you were to write, it would change your style given the sense that you’re in a new environment?
There might be. I think I’m a firm believer that you’re in .. of an environment. I think also it plays a pretty significant part in what comes out when you’re trying to write something. At this point I have no idea what that would mean there because I’ve never been there before but I’m looking forward to finding out.
Do you do much writing on tour or is that a completely different period in your year, set aside for writing?
I certainly try, I think more often than not there are some sketches, some seeds of an idea for a song, sometimes there isn’t enough time for a full song so you need up with a lot of little ideas that you hope you can later turn into songs. But I’ve got a few days down there so I hope to be able to get something down.
And speaking of shows, what can Australia expect from an American-bred blues rocker such as you are when you come down?
A one-of-a-kind experience. I don’t think I’ve ever, no two show are the same. And I’m bringing the beat machine, the guitar and im’a shout for a while and I hope everyone gets into it.