By Jess Goulart
Photos courtesy of Red Light Management.
Philadelphia-based bluesman Aaron Livingston performs under the moniker of Son Little. The third single off of his debut solo EP, Things I Forgot, bids us walk him to “The River.”
Just to the river?! With that soulful, synth infused style of his, we’d follow him straight to the gates of hell.
An eclectic mix of hip hop, blues, country, rock, jazz, and gospel sizzle through the six tracks. But it’s the raw power of Livingston’s vocals, and his unabashed truth of spirit, that make his sui generis vision so damn irresistible.
BTR had the pleasure of catching up with Livingston to chat about growing up with a preacher and a teacher, as well as how chipmunks have inspired him. Yes, that’s right: chipmunks.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): Let’s start with some background about yourself and how you started making music.
Aaron Livingston (AL): I’ve always been around music, I guess I always liked it–I mean, everyone likes music. My father was a musician for his younger life and both my parents were really into music so I heard it growing up and saw my dad play. I wanted to do everything he did, so I started playing. I also always wanted to write. At first I thought I would right books… but I ended up writing songs instead.
BTR: Can you tell me about growing up with a preacher and a teacher? Did that affect your style?
AL: I don’t know if it influenced my writing style so much. I think if you grow up around a preacher you get used to the idea of speaking to larger groups of people all at once and dominating a conversation. And really, in a way, a teacher is the same thing. That probably seems normal to me in a way that it might not to someone else. I mean, honestly, neither of my parents necessarily have really understood what I do at all. [Laughs] But I think what they did, if nothing else, is made this whole thing possible.
BTR: There are so many elements in your music: blues, hip hop, soul. What are some of your major musical influences?
AL: The things that you just mentioned are all part of it. I mean, I have a background of what my parents listened to: Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Motown. But I also lived in New York, so hip hop became my dominant musical style. All that stuff became really engrained in me. Hip hop is the one platform, certainly musically, that really drags in all other styles of music.
For a long time people would say that because it sampled other styles, hip hop wan’t real music. But ironically that style of music introduced a lot of people to a whole history of music. Through sampling, a hip hop producer might have classical, jazz, rock, and country all in one song. I think that’s probably as big an influence on what I do as anything else.
BTR: Do you see yourself as part of a modern day soul revival?
AL: Is there a modern day soul revival?!
BTR: [Laughs] Do you think so?
AL: I don’t know! I mean, I don’t know if you can revive anything. It’s a different time period with different ideas and pressures and sounds and ways of making sounds. I try to be as honest as possible, which is to say, I try not to think too much when I’m making music. If that ends up being part of a revival or a minor detail of something bigger, that’s alright with me.
BTR: Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Which comes first, lyrics or melody?
AL: I try to treat every song like its own universe, you know, or its own planet–or star inside the universe. Maybe on a certain level they all form the same way, but the elements that go into each one are different and they come at different times.
Some of the songs are 50 percent drums, so, the other parts maybe come later. Or it could go the other way, where some of them are 95 percent melody or wordplay, so they develop a different way. I found pretty early that I get better results when I don’t force myself to crete in a certain way. If I were to decide the guitar always comes first, what would I do when I didn’t have a guitar?
BTR: Can you tell me about the recording process for Things I Forgot?
AL: The three singles that we initially put out, “Cross My Heart,” “Your Love Will Blow Me Away,” and “The River,” they’re all basically a sequence. Chronologically, each new one was kind of a response to the one that came before it. The other two songs are both things that I tinkered with over a long period of time and I just thought the mood or the vibe were good complements to what was happening with the other tunes.
BTR: This is probably a loaded question, but where do you feel you get inspiration from?
AL: [Laughs] Maybe this is a loaded answer, but I think that everything you hear, experience, or touch–or that touches you–is part of your influence for what you do because I’ve written songs that are pretty strictly related to relationships that I’ve been in and some that are just stories about a relationship I wasn’t in but one thought triggered the story. I’ve written songs inspired by movies, TV shows; I have songs I started after thinking about what a chipmunk sounds like in the woods.
It sounds kind of like a laser, by the way. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a chipmunk, but yeah, it sounds like a laser.
BTR: Even if we have heard one, we probably need to go back out and listen again now…
AL: Yeah, I think you should! Seek out the sound a chipmunk makes, it’s really amazing. You could use it in a sci-fi movie as a laser gun sound and no one would ever guess what it really is. It’s very inspiring.