Q&A: Son Little

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Son Little, A.K.A., Aaron Livingston, the musician and Grammy winning producer was described by NPR Music as someone who, "doesn't strive to reproduce his influences; he recombines them into something new.” On his second full-length album, New Magic, Son Little has created something truly magical by combining American soul music, with blues, R'N'B, and many more musical genres, in a manner that is heartfelt and undeniably modern. ASBO chatted to the star to bring you info on his new release, and to give you more of an insight into the musical wonder:

ASBO: It’s great to chat to you Aaron! Can you talk us through your stage name, ‘Son Little’? When you first started writing on your own, it was ‘Little Son’, so why did it change?

SL: There was a bit of time separating these names. When I moved on from ‘Little Son’, I started spending some time working with other artists and bands, and I felt like the stuff that I was starting to write was sort of similar, and reminded me of stuff I did as Little Son, but I felt strange going back to it. Then I just woke up one day and it suddenly occurred to me to do it backwards. So, I did.

ASBO: Growing up in Philadelphia, your father was a preacher, another type of great wordsmith and vocaliser. Do you think that your father’s occupation affected your musical influences and the kind of music you make today?

SL: It certainly did. Being in church, surrounded by singers and harmony, it helped form my tastes and what I liked to hear. Dad being such a big part of church, and my parents both being big fans of R’N’B and Mo town, it definitely all helped to form by tastes.

ASBO: You’ve worked with some notable artists and producers in the past. What are some key moments or lessons that stand out, from your time spent with RJD2 and The Roots?

SL: There’ve been quite a few! With The Roots, their manager Rich Nichols became sort of a mentor to me, as he was to hundreds of people. I learnt many lessons from him and the guys themselves, about how to approach beats, how to rehearse with a band, and maybe most importantly, how to roll with the punches when things don’t come out the way you expected them to. You just figure them out and learn how to take the lemon and make lemonade! RJ is so brilliant in so many different areas, and he is fearless in terms of his approach to his own material. He’s really kind of ruthless. One of the things you hear writers say, is you have to be ruthless and “kill your babies”, metaphorically of course! I’m the type that gets attached to what I do. I’m too stubborn and can have hard time letting go, and RJ really helped me to overcome that.

ASBO: The music of your new album, New Magic, is said to have essences of rock and roll, blues, hip-hop, pop, classic soul AND gospel music, exploding the boundaries of pre-set genres that many artists pertain to. Does this come naturally to you, or do you set out with certain aims to inject newness into the industry?

SL: It does come pretty naturally to me, it’s something that I have been doing for a long time without thinking about it. But, coming from the first record when I was originally asked about this, I honestly wasn’t thinking about it that much, and I've never really known how to answer. The fear after the first album was that now people were expecting it to be part of the equation. I got worried that I might mess myself up trying to make it occur on purpose, but luckily it has always come naturally, and now I know why happens: I listen to a lot of music and find that I like it. I don’t purposely listen to cross genres because I’m trying to steal something from them, or because I want to be seen as a genre-bending artist. I do it, cause I’m listening to music that I like the most, and genre has very little to do with that for me. So, I end up with a very  broad view and inclusions of genres

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ASBO: Let’s delve a little deeper into some of the tracks from New Magic, starting with ‘Blue Magic’. This track especially, calls upon and merges different styles. How did the track come about? And, what would you say is the most important message it puts forth?

SL: ‘Blue Magic’ was simultaneously the hardest and easiest of the songs on the album; it was written faster than any of them, and it’s a song that after I wrote it I immediately felt that it was bound to be a hit. I knew that it had a specific purpose, but I didn’t roll in the order. Of all the songs it was very easy to conceptualise and write, but difficult to record. The idea was very clear in my head, but that makes it much harder to produce. It's harder to make things sound how they do in your head, and I failed at it a few times. The version on record is actually the third attempt; I had one that was way too slow, then one that was a little bit too fast. Then, I got to the one we have now, which is very much a mis-match of the two versions, and I think I finally got it right third time around.

ASBO: How much do you use your own personal experiences as material for your music?

SL: I use them a decent amount, but they’re certainly not the only thing you find there. More often than not, I’m speaking from personal experience, even if the topic is not something that actually happened to me. But, it might still be something that is close to home.

ASBO: How does New Magic differ to your EP and previous LP’s, The Abandoned Lullaby and Son little?

SL: I was very careful when I was in the production part of the previous album, and the EP to a certain extent. Last time, I paid meticulous attention to detail, production wise, that this time round I allowed myself a little more leeway. The focus was more on the songs and the lyrics, not that I didn’t focus on the production or sound, but production certainly took more of a back seat.

ASBO: Would you say that before you start out on an album, you have an idea about the songs you want to include, or do they just come to you when they come to you?

SL:That’s another main difference between the two albums, the first was achieved very much piece by piece, so I really didn’t know what was going to be there until I had all of it together. Whereas this time, there was a little bit more of an album, as I found the concept and tone that I wanted before even doing anything. Then I kind of wrote my way through it, and afterwards, I built that into the production aspect.

ASBO: You wrote the majority of New Magic in the remote, tropical Northern Territory of Australia at the close of touring, after struggling to find the time to write on tour. How did the remoteness of Australia place affect or kick-start the creation of your music?

SL: For a while, it was a time that was a bit of a depressing joke for me. I never really realised how much I enjoyed and valued solitude until I was on tour. I love my band; the guys that travel with me, but, every now and then you need some time alone, and certainly to write solitude has meant a lot, and I came to appreciate that when I didn’t have it anymore. While I was on tour in Australia I was more by myself, but not always, however when I got to the Northern Territory, I didn’t know anyone there. I didn’t have band with me, and I realised that I had that rare opportunity where I was completely alone, so I went ahead and ran with it.

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ASBO: You’ve spoken before about a ‘musicians divination ability’ to produce music, describing it as a sort of ‘magic’ that you can call upon, what do you mean by this and where do you think it comes from, or what spurs it on?

SL: I think that's actually mentioned in the last record. People always ask me, "where does the inspiration come from, where do you get it?", it just occurred to me that I don’t think anyone knows. Making music is kind of a mystery and I’m not sure how that began for me, and what it is that I’m drawing upon to make this happen in the first place. But, I know that I really enjoy it, and that other people enjoy it and are inspired by it.

ASBO: Beyond music, what inspires the way you write? Any films, authors, or hobbies?

SL: Films for sure, and, books, conversations, paintings, everything. I mean, I learnt a while ago that everything was fair game, everything adds into this pile of inspirations, which feeds the music. I think that maybe previously I always thought that your music, your song comes from being influenced by other music or relationships or what have you, but I’ve lately come to find that it’s everything around me, including environmental factors; the sound of the wind can bring something about it. I haven’t figured out how to use it yet, but the other day on tour I made a piece out of the washing machine; it was on beat, it had a pattern that was detectable. I even checked with someone else to make sure I wasn’t going crazy— I wasn’t, and it was a confirmed beat. I think all that kind of stuff goes in one way or another.

ASBO: So, anything can be music?

SL: I think so, yes.

ASBO: What would you say is the main reason that you make music?

SL: For me, writing is an essential part of life; it helps me to reason out my problems and questions, and just life. It calms me down when I’m really riled up, I can’t imagine life without it.

ASBO: That's brilliant. Thank you very much for talking to us!

New Magic is out September 15th 2017, listen to 'Blue Magic' on spotify now: 

Gemma Tadman