After the first listen of Son Little’s remarkable new album, aloha, we knew we had to track him down to take a deeper dive into what it was all about. Written in only eight days and recorded at Paris’s iconic Studio Ferber, the entire project was an exercise in letting go, in ceding control, in surrendering to fate. The mantra resonates deeply with the current state of our new normal today. Beyond the music, which is equal parts vintage and modern, we aimed to reveal a little bit more about who Son Little is, his process, and what made him the artist he is today.
CYTIES: Let’s start with the obvious. With the entire globe battling the same fight against the Corona Virus, people all around the world are confined to their quarters. Where are you practicing social distancing?
Son Little: I’m shuffling between family in New Jersey and the D.C. metro area, so right in the belly of the beast.
CYTIES: The virus hit and then your new album aloha dropped. Are you using this downtime to just chill or is your mind already working on the next project?
Son Little: Doing a little of both, actually. My mind is restless, so I’m always creating and consuming art. The more I consume, the more I create; and the quarantine has given me a lot of time to follow my process without being rushed at all, which is nice. And if I decide today’s the day I finally buckle down and start binge-watching Breaking Bad, then so be it (I’m on season 4 now).
CYTIES: Last pandemic question. Have you taken up any new hobbies now that your tour is postponed?
Son Little: Not sure it counts as a hobby but I started doing some yoga and meditation in the early mornings. I hope I’m able to keep it up whenever Bill Gates says we can leave the house.
CYTIES: Rumor has it aloha was born after a hard drive failed and you lost everything you had been working on, is this true?
Son Little: Sadly it is true. I’m just now starting to forget all the stuff I had on that drive. I was pretty bummed out about it for a while. As a result, aloha came out a lot sadder and softer than I originally intended.
CYTIES: We read that aloha was written in only 8 days! Was this due to gallons of coffee or did you just get zen’d out and go into the zone?
Son Little: I wouldn’t say gallons but I do go hard on caffeine when I write — and kind of only when I write, because I had flights and studio sessions booked I had to write fast to have enough songs ready to record. When I got to the studio that first day I could barely keep my eyes open. I was a little worried because I didn’t really have much in the way of demos. We just listened to my voice memos and sketches and started each song from scratch, with one or two exceptions.
CYTIES: You recorded the album in Paris at Studios Ferber. You played all the instruments in the recording and Renaud Letang produced it. How was the process working with him, and did the city influence much of the sound?
Son Little: I played almost everything on the record. My longtime drummer Jesse Maynard plays drums on ‘About Her. Again.’ Mocky plays piano on ‘that’s the way’ and some really beautiful drums, percussion, and synth on ‘suffer’. Renaud plays a bunch of percussion and synth all over the record as well. It was really a great blessing to work with him at Ferber. He has an incredible ear for music and expresses his very strong opinions without being overbearing. I found myself deferring to him a lot. Paris was kind of a rainy blue-grey that fall, and I took the Metro to the studio each day, so the vibe of the city really did sink in.
CYTIES: “Letting Go” is the mantra of the album. How did you land on that and what difficulties did it come with?
Son Little: Well, I’m very used to making all the decisions on my own, and I’ve been making stuff this way my whole life, so this was a big step for me, working far away from home, and sharing the responsibilities with another producer. But, I was determined to change my approach just to show myself I could. Losing the drive was obviously not ideal, but it did light a fire under my ass, and forced me to trust that good things would flow if I just put my head down and let them.
CYTIES: In the past, you’ve collaborated with legends like The Roots, RJD2, Mavis Staples, and many more. Not asking you to pick a favorite, but who is one person you’ve worked with that left you the most inspired?
Son Little: Oh, I could never pick a favorite from that group! And they are all so inspiring in different ways. In the end, I think it boils down to one quality they all share, which is that they all stay curious and allow themselves to evolve as artists and flourish in part through open collaboration with other talented people—a very important lesson for someone who came up making weird songs alone in his bedroom.
CYTIES: If you could jam with one person—dead or alive—who would it be?
Son Little: Jimi Hendrix, no question.
CYTIES: Is there a defining memory early in your childhood that you feel shaped who you are as an artist today?
Son Little: Hard to pin down just one, but when I was maybe 6 or 7 my uncle Glenn came to visit and left a Purple Rain tape at our house and I listened to it every day for I don’t know how long. It was probably the first music I got into that didn’t come from my parents, and I remember being incredibly fascinated by the strange sounds and freaky lyrics I obviously didn’t understand.
CYTIES: Who are a few artists that are currently circulating through your personal playlist?
Son Little: Last 12 months there’s been a lot of Brittany Howard, Mdou Moctar, Jessica Pratt, Freddie Gibbs, and Madlib. And in the last couple of weeks, Fiona Apple.
CYTIES: Last question, if you could travel back in time, what would you tell your 10-year-old self right now?
Son Little: Always go forward in life with love, not fear or hate, and always trust and believe in yourself!
Thank you, Son Little for taking the time for our readers. If you haven’t started listening to aloha yet, hit play for a colorful blend of classic soul, old-school R&B, and adventurous indie sensibilities, all fueled by gritty instrumental virtuosity and Son Little’s raw, raspy vocals.