In the ever-expanding echelon of emo-inflected hip-hop artists, a few key names spring to mind: Kid Cudi, Lil Peep, Wicca Phase Springs Eternal… The 2010s made being sad cool again, melding the heady melancholy of acts like Secondhand Serenade, Sunny Day Real Estate and Brand New (we know that last one’s a sore spot for many in the scene, but undeniable was their influence on the first wave of Soundcloud sadboys) with the punchy, grit-slicked viscerality of Kanye West, Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne et al.
By the turn of the new decade, the fusion genre had more than just ‘cracked’ the mainstream – it dug its roots in deep and spread like weeds, even making artists that’d already established themselves as cut-and-dry rappers (see: Machine Gun Kelly, Trippie Redd, Australia’s own Allday) flip the script and scuzzy up their sound. Emo hip-hop acts come a dime a dozen nowadays, an unsettling bulk of which deal in painfully generic beats and eyeroll-inducing names.
Because in the age of Apple Music, authenticity is imperative. There are hundreds of thousands of artists anyone can listen to with a single press of a button – if we’re going to invest our mental energy into checking out someone new, they’ve got maybe a minute, tops, to prove they aren’t just chasing the latest trends for a quick buck (or, well, a quick fraction of a cent if we’re talking Spotify).
Cue: Lil Lotus – a tattoo-lacquered Texan trailblazer pumping out emphatically emotive tunes that beckon raised fists both for their inescapable relatability, and just because they’re all-out bangers. Yeah, some of the more worn-out hallmarks are hard to ignore: the pseudo-edgy, “heartbroken loner” aesthetic is a little trite at this point, and it would nice if label executives would acknowledge just one drummer whose name didn’t rhyme with Pavis Charker. But look beyond Lotus’ angsty-teen-baiting veneer and you’ll see an artist whose heart and soul are well and truly ‘in it’ – who wields a sharp and striking musicality impossible to fault, veritably bursting at the seams with talent.
Lotus’ debut album, Error Boy, made it to shelves a few weeks ago via rock scene staple Epitaph. That alone should make it clear how much potential the 27-year-old has, bumping shoulders with the likes of Quicksand, Thrice and Bad Religion. Whether or not Lotus will make it to that status of iconic-ness remains to be seen, but if he keeps whipping out hits like those Error Boy is pillared on, we’d say the kid’s got a pretty good shot.
On a sunny Thursday morning just a few days before the record dropped, BLUNT sat down with Lotus for a smoke and good old-fashioned D&M.
So you’ve been kicking around in the scene since 2016 – do you see this record as an encapsulation of your story over the last five years, or more like an introduction to the next chapter of it?
I kind of feel like it’s just a piece of the story. I kind of just feel like it’s a piece of the story. Because I feel like I’m always making all kinds of different shit. This is definitely the most cohesive piece [of the story’, because I’ve always just randomly dropped singles before, or little EPs and stuff – and some of those were a little bit consistent, or cohesive, but this is the most cohesive for what I wanted to put out right now. The next one could be pretty close to it, or it could be totally different.
Did you get to record with an actual band for this record?
It was just me and [producer John] Feldmann, but Feldmann is pretty much a whole band himself. I’m touring with an actual band for the record, bit it was just me and Feldmann [in the studio] – his fingers would just do the craziest shit on the MIDI. Tracking drums and shit like that, he’d just be like [imitates John Feldmann’s hands going crazy]. Travis [Barker], though, he hopped in there and tracked drums on two songs.
I feel like every time there’s a crossover between pop-punk and hip-hop, Travis Barker has to be involved in at least some capacity. How did you guys link up?
That was more just a Feldmann thing – I don’t know what their conversation was, but one day Feldmann was just like, “Yo, Trav is gonna be in here to track drums today,” and I was like, “Oh, fuck yeah! I didn’t know this!” The label didn’t tell me, no one told me, and I was just like, “Fuck yeah, let’s go!”
Were you into Blink-182 as a kid?
Yeah, I was! I was into everything, but one thing aside from just Blink was that I always grew up wanting, like, hella tattoos. Travis was always, like, ‘the tatted guy’, so I was like, “God!” I’m like mad skinny, too, so I was like, “Dude, he’s covered in tattoos, I have to be covered in tattoos…” So he was a big inspiration in that sense, too.
“I just live very free and out-there – I do whatever the fuck I want, say what I want to say, feel how I want to feel, and have whoever I want as my friends”
This record deals with a lot of real heavy topics, like addiction, mental illness, heartbreak… Do you find that really opening yourself up in a song helps you to process what you’re going through?
Yeah, it does, but I don’t think it’s very intentional. I think it’s very subconscious. It’s not necessarily what I intend [to do in the writing process], but like, I’m a pretty open book – I just tell it how it is, and shit like that. But I guess I didn’t realise until… Well, I don’t know when I realised it, but on the album, there’s so much honesty and detail, all these facts about certain nights when something happened, or certain nights when I literally said this or this person said that, or when I was this close to losing it, or whatever. It was all very subconscious, but [listening back to the record] I was like, “Oh, this is why it’s Error Boy, because it’s like, I am Error Boy.”
Is it daunting at all, to put yourself in such a vulnerable position for millions of people?
I guess it’s not, because while I’m writing it, I’m not aware that I am. And afterwards, I’m so attached to the song, because I love the song so much, I’m like… I don’t want to get rid of it. I’d rather it be out there than be like, “Oh no, I said too much, I’m being too vulnerable!” Because I’ve always been very vulnerable with my music, even when I was starting out. [The earlier material] was more intentional, though – that was more where I was like, “I’m talking about this,” and as I’m writing it I’m like, “Y’know, remember that night? Let’s talk about that.”
[Being more subconsciously vulnerable now], it doesn’t make me want to take anything back, or make me scared or hesitant at all. I don’t know, I feel like I’ve earned to love that part of me, where I’m just like, I don’t care. I literally don’t care. And that’s helped it bleed into other parts of my life that I was probably insecure about, or quiet about, where I would say, “Oh, don’t say too much, hold back a little bit.” Now I just live very free and out-there – I do whatever the fuck I want, say what I want to say, feel how I want to feel, and have whoever I want as my friends.
I think that’s one of the big things about emo music that a lot of people don’t realise: when you’re a kid out there and you’re going through shit, and you have no one to talk to, but then you find a record that speaks to you and that you can relate to, it feels like a lifeline.
Yeah, I remember relating to things I’d never even experienced yet. I remember listening to Secondhand Serenade, and those are all those lovey-dovey heartbreak songs – but like, I had never been in an actual relationship, or dealt with any real-life shit. I would just stare out the window and be like, “…Damn, one day I’m gonna be in a relationship and feel this.”
I was already such an empathetic, feelings-forward type of person, but I was like, “Damn…” I remember talking to my future self, going, “If this ever happens to you, just know, it’ll be okay.” Songs about death, or suicide, drugs, all that shit – I was like, “Oh shit, this song really hits.” Those were always the songs I would go to if I needed to get something out, or whatever. There’s a long list of songs like that, that I definitely connect to for all kinds of different scenarios.
Speaking of connecting, you should totally connect with the Australian touring circuit soon.
Dude, I want to go to Australia so bad! I have some homies out there, too. I was telling my managers, like, “Yo, Australia really fucks with this stuff, we gotta go!” And they were looking at shit going, “Oh, they do! Yeah, we should!”
Error Boy is out now via Epitaph