Believe in new magic
Singer/songwriter Son Little on the mysteries of the creative process
Inspiration can be fickle. A good example is a story Tom Waits tells: One day while stuck driving in the heavy traffic of Los Angeles, a song idea popped into his brain. With no paper or recorder on hand, Waits panicked. He was going to lose the song, so he called out to it, “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Go bother Leonard Cohen.”
Aaron Earl Livingston, known by the musical moniker Son Little, knows that very frustration well. But he took his own approach to dealing with it, by turning it into the focal point of his 2017 record, New Magic, an ode of sorts to that unpredictable power of creativity.
“If you have that energy in you, it doesn’t really matter if you write it down or not. It’s always there, you just have to find it,” Livingston said during a recent phone interview. “That may take more time than you want it to, but it’s there. It’s comforting to know it is there.”
Livingston got his start in the early 2000s in the hip-hop world, with guest appearances on records by The Roots and Hezekiah, among others. All the while, he was chipping away at his solo ideas.
“One thing was feeding the other,” Livingston said. “I was always kinda doing my own thing along the way.”
People began to take notice, and eventually Son Little was born. The sounds that surfaced are made up of simple, slightly distorted electric licks paired with either a peppy rock backbeat or a deep, spacious pulse. The main draw is Livingston’s satin voice, draped over the rhythm, with a mix of grit and soul that has some calling his music “blues revival.”
“I love blues,” Livingston said. “I’ve found my way to blues through R&B and rock ’n’ roll. You can’t ignore blues. I never really set out to revive anything, but I’m pleased and honored to be connected in any way to that tradition.”
As Son Little grew, Livingston found himself on the road constantly. During that time, song ideas started coming, but they remained in his head. “Songs can get stuck at a point if you don’t play them for people, or actually sit down and play them on an instrument,” Livingston said.
A short time into a solo tour in Australia, he found himself with a left-handed acoustic guitar, borrowed from a blind Aboriginal musician named Gurrumul. Playing the guitar upside down, Livingston’s inspiration was let loose.
“I think to some degree my trip down there, it felt like I was in the negative image of America,” Livingston said. “I think that had a little something to do with it. Feeling that [let] the final pieces start to click for me.”
Those songs became New Magic. There’s a celebratory feel to them, as on “Blue Magic (Waikiki),” with its airy ear-candy groove, sparkling bells and backup vocalists joining in on vibrant, sing-along choruses.
A year after the album’s release, Livingston finds himself back in a similar place, on the road often with ideas starting to make their way into his mind. They might not come to fruition on command, but Livingston is patient.
“I’ve learned I don’t find anything good really ever comes from trying to force something into being,” he said. “It’s more about allowing a song to materialize. As long as you are diligent to a degree, practicing your art.”