Son Little doesn't spend much time in his comfort zone
“If you’re not a little bit scared or nervous or worried, maybe you’re not challenging yourself enough. That’s the way I tend to look at it.”
Aaron Livingston has been singing a long time. You can hear him on records from The Roots and RJD2 and, most recently, his own solo material as Son Little, who released his debut solo record in October last year.
There was a time in my life where I had to shift my focus. But things all happen in due time and everything happens for a reason, we’ll just see what the reason is.Son Little
It was this step up, a release on an esteemed record label (Anti-) with larger scale touring and promotion on the back of it, that gave Livingston those much-needed nerves.
“I’ve been releasing things on my own for a long time, but this is on a different scale,” he says of the eponymous release.
“I do feel that everybody’s path is their own. There was a time in my life where I had to shift my focus. But things all happen in due time and everything happens for a reason, we’ll just see what the reason is.
"The birth of my daughter really changed the way I approach my life. It brought different priorities to the front.”
You’ll read plenty of genre descriptors alongside Son Little’s name wherever you see him mention. And none of them are wrong.
In a way he is a rhythm’n’blues musician. He’s also a folk singer. And an electro experimenter. You could classify him as soul, if you wanted.
Fact is, there’s no one category that sums up his sound. Because he doesn’t draw influence from just one style of music.
“My goal is really just to express myself and the different sounds that are within me,” he says. “I certainly didn’t set out to intentionally flip genres or mix genres together, it’s kind of a consequence of how broad my influences are.”
Though Livingstone admits that he sometimes considers reining in his influences and directing his focus on one particular genre.
“I can’t say that I haven’t,” he admits. “In a way I think even if I were to try to do that, people’s influences and what’s sort of stamped on them tends to express itself in one way or another. But yeah, it could be tempting. Who knows? Perhaps this next record will be a country record? You never know.”
One of the striking things about Son Little’s music is that it somehow manages to sound both old and new at the same time. It draws from classic soul, blues and folk artists, but happily embraces modern music technology and fresh, ultra-modern sounds.
“Some of that is inevitable,” he says. “I certainly spent a lot of time digging through and studying old records. You go through phases of what you listen to. I’d go through phases where all I was listening to was older music.
“But I started to develop as an artist and I didn’t have any qualms with delving in with samplers and drum machines and digital music. I enjoy experimenting with those things too much to really leave that out in favour of a retro style sound, if that exists.”
Experimentation will always play a part in the way Livingston creates. It all goes back to that desire to be a little bit outside of his comfort zone in order to unleash his finest work.
“I enjoy the process of making art, regardless of the result or peoples’ perception of it,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed it and its always been exciting. I’ve always found ways to challenge myself from one step to the next. That hasn’t changed at all.
“If anything, taking the show on the road and getting feedback from people gives you more ideas of things to try and other ways to challenge yourself. I don’t find it hard to find that spirit at all.”
This new level that Livingstone finds himself operating on means he is now rubbing shoulders with his heroes. He recently tweeted his sheer joy at playing a festival with funk-metal heroes Living Colour. It’s one of many moments that Livingston has felt privileged to experience since his music started reaching new audiences.
“That was one of them,” he beams about meeting Living Colour. “Working with Mavis Staples was another. I’ve just think I’ve been blessed one way or another to cross paths with these pretty amazing people all through my life and recently in my career. It’s hard to say how much that means.”
In 2011 Livingstone teamed up with his friend, producer RJD2, for the project Icebird. They released one brilliant album, The Abandoned Lullaby, and then we didn’t really hear from them again. But Livingstone says it’s not dead.
“I just played a show with RJ a couple of weeks ago,” he says. “We’ve talked about it. He’s rooting for me to finish up this next Son Little record and we might have to reinvestigate that as well.”
Son Little plays Newtown Social Club Wednesday 30 November, Fairgrounds Festival, Berry Saturday 3 December and Studio Theatre, Darwin Wednesday 7 December.