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Interview: Son Little


Born to the son of a preacher and teacher in sunny Los Angeles before moving to New York and New Jersey, it’s no wonder Aaron Livingston a.k.a Son Little’s music draws from such a wide variety of sounds! From blues to soul, hip-hop to electronic, Livingston’s self-titled debut album managed to separate itself from the rest, citing those before him but also paving the towards the future.

Now as he embarks on his first ever Australian tour, we chatted with Son Little about his beginnings, his unique musical process, and what fans can expect from his newly revamped live show.

I just wanted to start this off by talking about your debut album. It’s now just passed it’s first year anniversary, were you at all surprised with how well it was received worldwide?

Well, I didn’t really have any particular expectations about it, but I guess I figured someone would probably like it.

Well it obviously worked out! Despite it only being a year, do you feel like you’ve already moved on and evolved from your self titled album? 

Oh, absolutely! You probably hear this from a lot of artists but a lot of the time, maybe even from the second your album is released, you suddenly feel like you’ve evolved a whole lot, and that kind of was the case for me. In addition to that, the rest of that year in some ways it feels like a lot more than a year, and in other ways it feels like a blink of an eye, but y’know, I was fortunate to play in a lot of different places and play for a lot of different people and just be inspired really often. A lot of places and people have left their impression on me, so it was really exciting when I finally got the chance to get back to writing and recording stuff.

For sure! In relation to your writing and recording, something which really interests me about your style is despite having your blues, soul, jazz influences, you’ve also collaborated with hip-hop artists like RJD2 and The Roots. How large of a role did hip-hop play in your upbringing?

Huge! My younger years were spent in Harlem and Jamaica Queens, and there were a lot of famous hip-hop artists from that area. So I kind of grew up with hip-hop and all it’s different eras. I think a main way that’s affected me is just the revolutionary way that hip-hop is created, be it drum machines, or drum breaks from records…just the hundreds of songs made from one 10-second clip from a single James Brown record.

Just that innovative thinking that goes into the process of building hip-hop has really informed everything about the way I approach music. You can go around the world just from picking out samples from hip-hop songs over the years, you can come up with a pretty amazing and diverse playlist, so yeah…it’s a huge influence!

It’s clear hearing you talk about it, that you’re really passionate about that classic process. In an earlier process you mentioned you dabbled with sampling and that technique, did you always set out to make the more soulful music that you do or were you simply making beats in your earlier days? 

I’ve certainly made my fair share of beats, and I’m still making beats (laughs). The time I spend on the road, I find it’s hard to find the time to write, record or practice the way I’m used to, but seeing as I still have that urge to create stuff, one of the ways that works is just to make a beat. Whether it be on my iPad, my laptop…I’ve even made bits and pieces on my phone which actually made it onto the record, so it’s definitely become a bit part of the process.

Earlier on I think I was just goofing around, it definitely was a way to really try out different sounds and see how you can make things mix together. So I think how I put my songs together sometimes, has a lot in common with that process.

In terms of your musical approach now, you’re still making your music almost entirely yourself. What inspires you to do that rather than say working as a band?

It’s at the point now where I don’t even think I quite made a decision to do that, it just sort of happened. I think in part it’s from what you said, seeing as I started out messing around with a sampler or a drum machine myself. With a drum machine if you’ve got a beat you like, you can keep it looping and just play a guitar to it, so I think that just naturally lead to adding more and more pieces. Maybe in the beginning I was making notes, sketches and demos, but after a while I started to realise some of these pretty much were the production.

With that being said, does that ‘solo’ approach change at all when you do then go work with others, for example your collaboration with Mavis Staples?

Not really, I mean there were times earlier on where I would make some of these beats and give them to rappers or work with singers, but it had been a while since I had did anything like that. It was a big jump in some ways, from those beginnings, to producing and writing something for a legend like Mavis. It’s kind of the same approach I guess, but in a way it’s freeing. It’s production without having to tailor it to my own voice, seeing as someone else was handling that part of it…certainly a different mindset!

Changing the topic a little, this year you released an incredible single All Wet, is this perhaps a glimpse into an upcoming project?

Strangely it might be, but the funny thing is that’s actually a fairly old song compared to some of the other ones. It was something I initially intended to be on the first record, I would put it in my track list and fiddle with it, but at the end of the day it just ended up not going on (laughs). Sometimes something like that can be simply ahead of its time in terms of your own work…essentially writing something you don’t even understand yourself.

Definitely, that’s a crazy way to put it too. Well with all your recent touring the big news is that you’ll be here in Australia very soon, what can the fans here look forward to from your live show?

Well, I look at this as a reboot of sorts in comparison to my first run of shows when I performed solo. Back then it was just me and a guitar and some beats behind me, then I wanted to ramp it up a little. So I started rolling with the band, and we played a lot of shows as a three and 4-piece band, but now I’m going back to square one.

That has some real advantages to it, in terms of the range of things that I can try. So I’ll probably be doing some new things or even old things that no one has heard, get them out there in front of people in a really direct, personal way. I’m really looking forward to stripping things back a little bit and letting the songs speak for themselves.

That sounds brilliant! When it comes to this tour though, is there anything in particular about Australia you’re looking forward to?

As much as I really like touring and I love playing live, I’m almost addicted to the studio. I’m constantly thinking of stuff I can try, and this is by far the most time I’ve had in a long time to do stuff like that, writing and working on productions, so I’m kind of just in a constant state of tinkering.

Does the constant touring and travelling inspire you though?

Absolutely! I really feel like the two really influence each other a lot. There’s a little part of me when I’m working on music in the studio that misses being out on the road, to feel those things and experiences I had on the road as those ideas that can find their way into my work when I’m at home.

So it’s certainly inspiring, I feel in a way [artists] are really super tourists (laughs). We’re constantly out there taking pictures and recording sounds and videos, writing ideas down all the time. So once I get home it’s just a mad dash to build on all those ideas I had!

No doubt, well I’m totally starstruck by your process now. Just to wrap things up though, can we expect anything from you in the closing stages of this year, or even early next?

Well by the time I get home there won’t be much left of 2016, but I certainly won’t be idle…I can guarantee that! 2017 is the year where you may be trying to get rid of me (laughs).

Son Little Australian Tour Dates

Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane
Queenscliff Music Festival, VIC
The Toff In Town, Melbourne
Newtown Social Club, Sydney
Fairgrounds Festival, NSW
Studio Theatre, Darwin

Get Tickets HERE