Q&A: From Major Co-Writes To His Own Rap-Meets-Emo Sound, Lil Aaron Proves That Risk Is The Key To Success

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As he humbly confessed on his GLOING PAIN$ EP, Lil Aaron “went from sleeping on [his] manager’s couch” to becoming one of the best-kept secrets of the music business. The Indiana-bred rapper doesn’t subscribe to rigid categories or genres–instead, he’s made a name for himself with witty songwriting and an exceptional punk-meets-hip hop style.       

Lil Aaron recently shifted his focus from being a full-time songwriter to a solo recording artist. He quickly gained significant Soundcloud presence, following the release of his seven-track debut project, GLOING PAIN$. In no time, Lil Aaron went from creating marketable pop anthems for artists such as Kiiara, Louis the Child, Icona Pop, and Hailee Steinfeld to establishing his unique blend of grunge-teen aesthetics and bedroom rap. What makes Lil Aaron’s appeal so worthy of discussion is his willingness to take risks–as he aptly put it, “the artists who are going to be winning in this new world of music are going to be the ones that are taking risks, doing weirder stuff, but still making it digestible.”

We had the chance to catch up with Lil Aaron days before he joins blackbear on the Ones To Watch Digital DrugTour, a two-month showcase of the R&B/hip hop artist’s Digital Druglord record. Lil Aaron and blackbear will hit the road on May 8 in Tampa and conclude July 8 in New York City.

Lil Aaaron shared details on his GLOING PAIN$ EP, his friendship with blackbear, his roots in emo/punk music, and more. Read more below and grab your tickets for the Digital DrugTour here.

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OTW: What initially sparked your interest in music and songwriting?

Lil Aaron: My interest in music and songwriting sparked separately. Initially, I was technically songwriting, but I didn’t understand the process and I didn’t know anything about songwriting for other artists. I was into music, I want to say like 6 or 7 years before I moved to L.A., and when I moved, that’s when I realized the songwriting aspect to music, and that jumpstarted that interest.

OTW: How did you learn to write pop songs? 

Lil Aaron: Once I realized where I wanted to be as far as a songwriter and where I was (not that I was behind because I was still pretty young), my whole game plan was just to write as many songs as I could. So, whether it was just over YouTube beats or with producers or anything, I would just make sure I wrote at least three songs a day. Some days, I would write ten songs a day. I knew when I started those weren’t going to be the best, but to get where I want to get, I had to write like a thousand songs. 

I would just fucking write, write, write as many songs as I could. And then through that process, I broke down certain walls, and it just started becoming second nature.

OTW: So, when you start writing, you don’t have any specific artists in mind? You’re just writing your own thoughts?

Lil Aaron: Yeah, I guess. It’s always been easier for me to not necessarily go into a session being like, “Who is this going to be for?” It’s just like, let’s make something cool, and if it’s cool enough somebody will cut it. Then eventually after a couple years, I was like “Fuck it, I’m going to start putting this stuff out.”

OTW: For people who aren’t familiar, can you name out a few people who you’ve written for?

Lil Aaron: I’ve written for Icona Pop, Louis the Child, Hailee Steinfeld and Prince Fox. I also have a couple records on the new Kiiara EP that’s about to drop. Man, there’s a lot! A lot of stuff that’s going to come out this summer.

OTW: Is there one that you’re particularly most proud of?

Lil Aaron: The ones that I’m most proud of are the ones that I’m not allowed to talk about yet. Not that I’m not proud of the other ones, I’m really proud of the other ones. 

But there’s some big ones that I’ll be able to talk about very soon.

OTW: So, what sparked the transition and what was it like going from pure songwriting to being your own artist?

Lil Aaron: I’ve always been a little against the grain and a little left of center. I was working with certain pop artists, and I would try to get them to go weirder or cooler and take risks. Working with certain pop artists, they wouldn’t want to take risks, or they would only take a certain risk, or they would have all these rules like, “Oh I can’t write about this. I can’t sing about this,” type of thing. I think it’s obvious now, but a couple of years ago, I was thinking the artists that are going to be winning in this new world of music are going to be the ones that are taking risks, doing weirder stuff, but still making it digestible. 

And after exhausting a bunch of energy trying to convince other people to take risks, I realized the only person that’s going to listen to me is me.

OTW: Yeah!

Lil Aaron: I’ve been working with a good friend of mine, Y2K, who’s a producer/DJ. And we had a song, and halfway through writing it, I was like, “Dude, nobody’s going to fucking cut this. I’ll just do it.” So, we put that out, and it did really well and that kind of sparked Lil Aaron, the artist.

OTW: And how did you land on your kind of rap meets rock-ish sound?

Lil Aaron: Now I’m going to go back to how I first got into music. I was in a bunch of bands. I was always more enthralled with pop music, so I would be doing more of the pop-punk or acoustic pop, like Warped Tour style music, but always had that guitar element to it. When I moved to L.A., I was ashamed to be a Warped Tour kid, you know? At that point, I was really into urban music, like R&B and rap and I tried to avoid it and pretend like it wasn’t a part of who I am. But in that process, I got really deep into the rap scene. And then it was when that song that Y2K called “DAMN” dropped. My vocals just already kind of lend themselves to kind of just sounding like pop-song vocalist. So, that song felt heavy, trappy, with a rap-ish topline, but delivered a pop-punk vocal.

OTW: Yeah, great description.

Lil Aaron: And people actually liked it so I was okay with it. There was a lot of people being like, “Oh, this sounds like a Hollywood Undead wannabe,” and I was like that sounds cool as fuck that people think that. So, I realized I didn’t have to run away from my roots of emo/pop-punk music. If I can figure out how to marry these two sounds, I think I’m on to something.

And so, I had “DRUGS,” the first song I had for GLOING PAIN$ the EP, and I feel like I hit the nail on the head. I wanted to make a couple other songs that kind of have this feel. There’s songs on the EP that are more straight up rap, more straight up R&B, and then “DRUGS” is the most rock or most pop-punk one. So, I feel like accidentally “struck gold,” I guess I could say. But at the end of the day, it was more just my vocal that brought it back, because from growing up singing my favorite emo or pop-punk bands, I have a certain inflection in my voice. So, it was easy to marry those two together, and when it finally all came together, it was really well received.

OTW: Totally, and do you feel like this sound completely represents you as a person?

Lil Aaron: Yeah, of course, and now I feel like I have nothing to hide because you know if I blew up as a rapper, I would feel like I would always be trying to hide this part of my life where I was making Never Shout Never-wannabe music, you know?

Now I have this specific sound. Because as you blow up, especially on the Internet, people find all your old shit. But now it makes sense when people find my old shit, like old pictures of me from like Myspace bands. You listen to “DRUGS,” and then you see a picture of me from six, seven years ago and it makes sense. It’s like, “Oh he’s making Myspace music, but it meets trap, meets whatever.” I’ve also realized through making that type of music that a lot of kids who grew up on, you know, pop-punk, emo, Warped Tour style music now listen to more SoundCloud rap. But they still love that old music so being able to hear both at once is kind of nostalgic for people. 

It was dope for me to realize that because now I can fully be myself, fully express all my music interests at once.

OTW: Cool. So, gloing pains” is obviously a play on “growing pains”–what does that mean t oyou? 

Lil Aaron: Well yeah, everyone knows what growing pains is. It’s kind of a play on a few things. Chief Keef is one of my favorite rappers and his whole team is Glo Gang, so that’s a big piece of it. But then also the phrase to “glow up” just means to go from your awkward self to your real self. If people post, “Look I glo’d up,” if it’s a picture of them with braces looking hella nerdy in high school and now they look hella fly. But it also means when you’re glowing up in the music industry or in your career, and things are really taking off. It’s coming into your final form.

So, when you’re young, you have growing pains, but then when you’re a young artist, you know, like where I am, and things start to happen. There’s a line in the first song, “There’s a different set of struggles when they know your name, guess that’s why they call it gloing pains.” There’s obviously a bunch of struggles trying to get your name out there, and then when things start to happen and everybody starts to know who you are, there are gloing pains. 

It’s not necessarily suffering from success, it’s just learning how to deal with the transitions of being a nobody to being somebody that people actually pay attention to. It’s coming into your final form.

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Photo by: Jamie Taylor

OTW: And what would be your advice for others going through gloing pains?

Lil Aaron: My advice? I mean, I would say don’t search your name on Twitter or the Internet.

OTW: [Laughs]. That’s a good one. Practical.

Lil Aaron: Yeah, which I still do. I wish I could get myself to stop.

OTW: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen online?

Lil Aaron: It’s funny how short-term minded people are. I’ve seen specific people hate on something and a few months later, they’re like, “Oh this is cool as shit.” People just tweet to tweet.

OTW: Trolls.

Lil Aaron: Nobody’s really fucking reading what they say, they’re just talking to themselves or talking to a fucking brick wall. And people love to get under your skin. I’m good friends with blackbear, and we were talking about it. He was like, “Dude there’s kids that will have two separate accounts. One will be a fan account and one will be a hate account. It’s the same kid running it. They just know that now they have double the chance of you noticing them.”

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OTW: Oh my God [laughs].

Lil Aaron: And it’s just shit like that. Just not paying attention to what people say, staying true to your roots. It’s really easy, especially in this climate of the music industry to feel like you did one thing wrong and everything is falling apart. But just keep on track and keeping making music.

Even if you make a mistake, if you come back with a hit, people are going to be forgiving.

OTW: Right. You recently put out a song with blackbear, “Escalade.” What was it like working with him?

Lil Aaron: Me and bear have known each other for a couple years now. And it’s crazy because as an artist and as a songwriter, I’ve been a big fan of his for a very, very long time. I used to study how he wrote songs, how he wrote melodies. And then I played him GLOING PAIN$ before it came out, and he was one of the first people to be like, “Yo, you’re onto something with this sound.”

And after, we started hanging out a bunch, and writing and doing random shit. I’ve wanted to play a song with blackbear for as long as I can remember. When we had the idea to do “Escalade,” at first I was like, “Oh fuck, I don’t know how I’m going to pull my weight on a song like that.” I was touring and hanging out with him, and we were kind of bringing it up, and he asked, “Do you want to do this tour?” And I stopped, and was like dude, “Yes! That would be a dream!” That was a good precursor because a lot of his fans know who I am. It’s two things, a really good stamp of approval from him, and also a great way for his fans to start familiarizing themselves with me. 

Bear has been a very helpful and he’s done great things, like the song for instance–he didn’t have to do that. But he definitely saw the vision of the project early on and really, really got behind it, so his support has definitely helped build where it is now.

OTW: What can we expect on the tour? 

Lil Aaron: I mean, it’s coming up so fucking soon, and literally everyday I’m up at 4 writing. Expect an energetic set. I’m really excited to play in front of big rooms for people even though a decent amount of blackbear fans know me, I’m going to be playing in front of thousands of people who don’t know who I am. My main focus is bringing the energy and bringing the bangers, not trying to have any sleepers. Just like go out there, have fun, get off, and have everybody be like, “We want more Lil Aaron.”

OTW: What are your visuals like?

Lil Aaron: Crazy. They’re better than most DJ’s visuals, but they’re for some little emo kid with auto tune. They’re crazy fly visuals. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to use them on the blackbear tour just because of the slot amount, but if you go to a Lil Aaron headlining show in the future, you’ll see some crazy visuals. What I’m building for my live show is an experience, a fucking experience. I’m trying to do David Blaine meets Manson meets crazy EDC visual, meets a fucking theatrical piece, all at once.

OTW: Awesome. Who are 3 artists on your Ones To Watch list and why?

Lil Aaron: I would definitely say Good Intent, lil soda boi, and Oliver Francis. Oliver’s a good one.

I’m really trying to think because I don’t want to leave anyone out because I’m very passionate about the young artists I’m trying to help grow.

Judge and Lil West. Judge is like my best friend, produces most of my stuff, and he’s now venturing off and doing the artist thing, so that’s a really big one. 

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