MAGIC'S IN THE AIR - Soul troubadour SON LITTLE talks about his new album

Monday, 11 September 2017 16:18 Charles Waring Print

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"I was very nervous at first," reveals softly-spoken, Aaron Livingston, who's better known by his stage name, SON LITTLE. A rising singer/songwriter and award-winning producer originally from Philadelphia, he's recalling his first encounter with the First Lady of Memphis soul, the legendary Mavis Staples, with whom he worked on a 4-track EP, 'Your Good Fortune,' in 2015, which later won a Grammy. "You may be nervous but it's hard to stay that way, because one of her great gifts is being able to put other people at ease," he says. "She absolutely just bubbles positive energy. I was just ecstatic about working with her. The rasp and power of her voice is just so incredible.  The Grammy was just really the cherry on top because one of the greatest honours I could have had was working with her."

Now, in 2017, Little is focused on his own music and promoting his second album, 'New Magic,' which follows in the wake of his self-titled 2015 debut. Explaining the album's title and attempting to describe the creative process, Little says: "People often ask, where does the inspiration come from? Where do your songs come from? I feel like the closest thing that we have or description that we have to what comes out is magic, as a sort of conjuring where something materialises from nothing. This is not exactly a trick but it has illusory parts to it - and yet it's something that is very real that you can't deny. At the end there is a song there and something tangible that people can touch and be touched by."

In terms of its style, 'New Magic' is soulful in an old school way but also combines different stylistic elements - hints of blues, gospel, singer-songwriter pop, and rock - which means that it's elusive and hard to pin down or categorise. "I think I was kind of lucky to be exposed to a lot of different things pretty early on and that sort of set me on a path to continue that," says Little, musing on the eclectic nature of his own music. "It became like a hunger for me to find the source of new sounds and semi-absorb them. It's a little bit of a tightrope act being able to synthesise all these different sounds. I found myself to be very open to the differences in people, language and custom as well as genres and styles of music. I find a lot of joy in those differences. And I like to find and discover the common ground between things, which is something that really pleases me and that's carried over into my work."

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Ranging from the sweet soul felicity of the infectious, upbeat 'Blue Magic' - the album's most accessible cut -  the retro-R&B stomp of 'Bread & Butter,' and the full-on funk of 'Raging Bull,' to the gentle folk-infused ballad, 'Mad About You' - complete with lovely acoustic guitar filigrees - and the hard-rocking, 'ASAP,' 'New Magic' offers a smorgasbord of sonic delights.  It's not surprising that Little's music is replete with an array of different influences, given the range of music he was exposed to when he was growing up. "My dad played clarinet and saxophone and had Marvin Gaye, Motown, Stevie Wonder, soul, jazz - Coltrane and Miles Davis - playing in the house all the time," he discloses. "So those things became very natural to me. He was a preacher so being in church I'd hear a lot of harmony in my childhood. At the same time I had a bunch of older cousins and uncles who introduced me to things like Prince and Parliament. In my teenage years, the bug of collecting records took hold first and I became just a really avid consumer of music, not just in the financial sense, but mentally and in my heart. I just developed a real hunger for knowledge about that."

Little's voice has a honey-soaked huskiness that invokes the likes of Sam Cooke, perhaps, but there are hints of Jimi Hendrix, too, especially on the blues-rock fuelled track, 'ASAP.' He confesses to being an avid fan of the late-'60s lysergic axe god. "I had an 'Are You Experienced?' phase, and after I had grown past that, I had an 'Axis Bold Of Love' phase," laughs Little, recalling his obsession with Hendrix. "But I think the real moment for me was getting into the 'Electric Ladyland' phase, where it really kind of solidified for me what a huge artistic statement an album could be. The fact that it's called 'Electric Ladyland' makes it sound like a place. It was and is its own universe and that really left an impression on me. Around the same time I was discovering (The Beatles') 'Sergeant Pepper' and there's a similar kind of thing where you're able to see an album as an art piece and you can get lost in its world." 

The world that Son Little creates on 'New Magic' is an immersive one, too, and one that he created almost entirely on his own. "I play almost all of the instruments myself," says the auteur, whose main instrument of self-expression on this album is the acoustic guitar. "I felt early on that I wanted to involve the acoustic guitar a lot more on this album and so I started with that idea and it ended up with a bunch of songs that were all based around the acoustic guitar."

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Arguably the album's most haunting song is its closing number, 'Demon To The Dark,' a plaintive storytelling ballad. Explaining the source of his inspiration, Little says: "I had become really fascinated with this old gospel/blues guy, Washington Phillips (pictured above) who played this really strange instrument that he had built himself, part-auto harp, part-dulcimer, which has a really sweet, angelic sound to it. I made this chord progression with that in mind and it became like an imaginary conversation with him, where I was trying to reconcile things in the world, like personal shortcomings and vices and bad habits - like gambling, excessive drinking, smoking and drugs. It was a long list of demons that people have and Washington Phillips was a very, very religious guy, so I was imagining the worst kind of louse having this conversation with him and trying to imagine his responses. It comes to the conclusion that given that we all have shortcomings and demons and don't know what to do about it, everybody needs compassion for other people and forgiveness. I think there was something cathartic about doing that."

As for now, Little, understandably, is concentrating on conjuring up interest for 'New Magic.' "Most of my energy right now is focused on the release and tinkering with the live shows a little bit and getting ready for a tour and resting up," he says.  After his success with Mavis Staples, he doesn't discount doing more collaborations with her in the future. "I'd certainly like to work with her again at some point, she's just an amazing artist and an amazing person too. I think I've got a lot more production left in me and am just waiting for the right move, the right project, to jump on when I get some time to actually do something like that."

 SON LITTLE'S 'NEW MAGIC' IS RELEASED ON SEPTEMBER 15TH VIA ANTI-/EPITAPH

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 September 2017 18:42