Payin' Dues: Son Little

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“I hear places in my songs,” says Aaron Livingston, aka Son Little. But what we as listeners are most likely to hear on this well-travelled, LA-born Philadelphian’s self-titled debut album are not places but emotions – this is soul music without the generic straitjacket that term usually implies. Instead, Son Little places emphasis on unbridled feeling. “I just want to get my shit out,” he tells The Blues.

These are pretty emotive songs. Is performing cathartic for you?
Yeah, that’s what’s most important to me, to just get my shit out and tap into what I’m feeling – forget any inhibitions and just put it all out there. And sometimes in a live scenario it helps to recall the time and the feelings that inspired the songs.

You’ve described your music as “very American”. What do you mean?
Just that it’s informed by places I’ve lived and the roots of our music and culture – it’s touching on blues, R&B, jazz, hip-hop, rock. I was a hip-hop kid, but you can’t grow up in America without being exposed to all kinds of music.

Blues is about getting shit off your chest

You played everything on the record too. Are you self-taught?
Not quite! I learned saxophone first when I was a kid, but I taught myself the rest. Once you learn one instrument, there’s a lot you can get to start you off. I learned guitar and drums and bass, and then more or less anything I could get my hands on.

You recently wrote songs for Mavis Staples. How did that come about?
We have a friend in common who suggested me to her. It was one of the proudest events in my life. She was just amazing – she sings like a force of nature. I think the kind of thing she does, you can’t learn. I just tried to observe and absorb the way she brings so much out of herself and makes that connection with you.

Has the blues influenced you much?
It’s a big influence. I grew up listening to my dad’s jazz records, but blues is all part of that. It’s very simple, heartfelt music that tries to emotionally connect with the listener, and that’s what I’m trying to do.

Sometimes you also sound pretty angry. Is O Mother a response to incidents like Ferguson?
Yeah. For an unfortunate period those events seemed to encapsulate the past 10 years here in the US, and black people’s experience. But ultimately it’s a personal response, and that comes back to the blues again. That’s what a lot of blues is about – getting shit off your chest.

Son Little is out now via Anti-