The singer/songwriter brings a new spirit to his third album, set for release at the end of January
Aaron Livingston, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter known as Son Little, didn’t drop his hard drive. He didn’t watch it fall into the toilet or meet any kind of violent end, either. It just quit working one day.
The problem was, when that hard drive went down, an entire album’s worth of demos went with it.
“I made the classic bonehead move,” said Livingston from a recent day off in New York. “It was the old cautionary tale of not backing up my work. And I tried really hard to retrieve it, but that didn’t pan out. So instead of re-creating what I’d just done, I decided to start fresh.”
Although hitting the reset button provided plenty of anxiety for the Philadelphia-bred, L.A.-based musician, it also allowed him the chance to truly create in the moment.
Having already booked time at the legendary Studios Ferber in Paris, Livingston wrote new material and made production choices while riding the Métro to and from recording sessions.
In addition to their inherent immediacy, the new songs were heavily shaped by the sights Livingston saw on his daily train rides - the gray, rainy weather, as well as political protests and demonstrations by France’s grassroots Yellow Vests movement.
When all was said and done, Livingston’s latest collection of soul-tinged R&B bore almost no resemblance to the one that disappeared just a few weeks prior.
“It sounds really weird,” he explained through a laugh. “But what I had going was almost like a party record – for me, anyway. But I was also moving too fast. And that’s how I lost everything. So I decided to take my time and ended up with a far softer, warmer sound. I didn’t make a second record so much as I followed the feelings I had after losing the first one.”
Set for release at the end of January, the third Son Little album, aloha, will arrive as a freshly formed juxtaposition of musical and thematic elements.Livingston embraces somber subjects like addiction and suicide on recent single “Suffer,” and he ponders the potentially bleak future his own children will one day inhabit on “O Clever One.”
But that lyrical heaviness is tempered by both the new “softer, warmer sound,” as well as the unabashed optimism of tracks like “Neve Give Up.”
While both previous Son Little albums have been an amalgam of influences and styles, Livingston can’t take all the credit this time.
The multi-instrumentalist did play nearly all of the sounds heard on aloha, but the new album also marks the first time he’s worked with an outside producer: Renaud Letang, known for his work with artists like Feist and Manu Chao.
“The original plan was to flush out my demos and then polish them,” said Livingston. “But when they were lost, I was still very confident in Renaud and in what both of us could do together. I strive to be in the moment. And making choices there on the spot, absorbing the feeling of the city, really helped me do that. We got it done.”
With aloha’s release only six weeks away, Livingston is slowly turning what had been a string of solo dates into a full band set-up again. Pieces are being gradually added in, and the songwriter says that when he arrives in San Diego he’ll likely have “a small group” with him to balance the solo sections.
And while things like how many of the new songs will make it into the set list, or the possibility of working with an outside producer again, are unknown, Livingston is certain that aloha has already provided some valuable lessons.
“The moment I lost that stuff was kind of depressing,” he said. “I was pretty deep into it. And it just seemed like a fool’s errand to try and recreate it. There’s something about getting to the point of ‘F--- it, there’s nothing I can do.’ It’s like, ‘Ok, if we’re gonna reset, lets really hit the reset.’ But I am going to be far more careful about storing things next time!”
Son Little: 9:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11. Soda Bar, 3615 El Cajon Blvd., Normal Heights. $20; sodabarmusic.com.