Lil Lotus is rewriting the emo playbook and there are no rules
Lil Lotus grins as he admits, “I’ve always stood out like a sore fucking thumb.” With a sawed-off shotgun tattooed above his eyebrow, a self-beheading angel on one cheek and a bleeding heart inked on the other, the 26-year-old vocalist has always shied away from expectations—with his music being no exception. By utilizing his seemingly limitless vocal range, Lotus draws from a vast array of metal, pop punk and hip-hop influences as he crafts a genre-shrugging atmosphere of melancholy with his depressively hedonistic lyrics.
Some might call it “emo rap,” but Lotus prefers anything but. “I would say I’m doing my best to keep emo music alive,” he affirms. “I’m just delivering it in a new way. I’ll make a beat and throw on some guitars that sound exactly like one of the bands that I listened to... You’re gonna like it because it sounds new and relevant.”
After years of fusing his raw, Auto-Tuned catharsis with 808-heavy instrumentals, Lotus has seemingly achieved his desired goal of emo revival—he recently signed with Epitaph Records, the independent label known for housing a prestigious list of pop-punk, post-hardcore and emo bands. Lotus admits that signing with the label was a monumental occasion, having grown up listening to Epitaph bands such as Pianos Become The Teeth, Falling In Reverse, Escape The Fate and many more, “It was another coming-full-circle experience for me.”
Recently, Lotus has been preoccupied with working on new music, which is set to be released later this year. He’s also been hard at work with his close friends and collaborators smrtdeath and lil aaron on a new album for their alternative rap group Boyfriendz, as well as a new screamo band If I Die First. The latter boasts an impressive roster of members including SoundCloud emo heavyweights Nedarb and Zubin, Ghostemane’s live drummer Cayle Sain and bassist Rake and even From First To Last’s Travis Richter. It may seem like an overwhelming amount of projects, but Lotus prefers the musical freedom. “When I’m dead and gone, I want people to be like, ‘Yeah, he did everything. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do, and if he couldn’t do it, he figured it out. He was just music.’ You know? I just want to be music.”
What bands did you grow up listening to?
In middle school, I was really into bands like Linkin Park, Simple Plan and Good Charlotte. When I got more into Linkin Park than those other bands, they made me want to listen to even heavier music. My parents were super Christian, so I wasn’t allowed to listen to anything that was “bad” with screaming and shit. So I had to find these Christian metalcore bands and tell my parents, “Oh yeah, these bands are Christian. They’re talking about God or whatever,” and then I would sneak in other bands that weren’t Christian. But I would listen to a lot of Warped Tour bands, too. I was really into Never Shout Never, Eatmewhileimhot!, Sleeping With Sirens, Paramore—hella Warped Tour shit. When I got older, I got into really, really heavy shit, like hardcore breakdown stuff.
So you would lie and tell your parents bands were Christian even though they weren’t?
I would have to do that with playing instruments, too. I’d want to start a band with friends at school, and [my parents] weren’t too crazy about it, but they always wanted me to play music, so they were like, “You could play in the youth band at church.” I was like, “Oh yeah, let’s do that.” So they bought us guitars and shit, and then I realized that was the cheat code. Like, this is what I have to do to get them to be down with it. So I would play in the Christian band, and then all my homies from school would come practice, and then we would make a band, which obviously wasn’t a Christian band.
What can you tell me about your new band, If I Die First?
The new band is me singing. I’m not playing an instrument or anything. Zubin sings with me, and he’s playing keys—I don’t know if a lot of people know this, but he's an amazing pianist. Then Nedarb’s playing guitar, and he’s doing some singing, too. Then there’s Cayle, who plays drums for Ghostemane—he’s a fucking insane drummer. Then Nolan, he plays bass for Ghostemane also, he’s a fucking sick ass dude and sick ass bass player. And then this one is sick. Travis Richter [From First To Last] is a guitar player and backup screamer with us. That’s a new [addition]. We all started tracking some new shit the other day, and we all put our input when we’re writing. I’ll be humming melodies, and then someone’s like, “That one!” Then we’re like, “Yeah, that’s cool. Now we just need lyrics.” Then someone’s like, “Wait! Do it like this!” and then we’ll be like, “Oh shit, let’s do it like that.” It flows perfectly. We just knocked out a new song in no time yesterday.
For a while it seemed like Boyfriendz weren’t going to get back together. What reignited everyone’s interest in the project?
Boyfriendz are a thing again. Everybody was always asking [about it]. We had been talking about it for a year before we even started Boyfriendz again. We were like, “Should we do a project again where we upgrade all the songs and the quality of everything and work with a bunch of really sick artists?” Before the songs were very much like, “Track yours, track mine, add some layers, fuck it, drop it.” The first Boyfriendz EP was 10 songs we did in one night—it was just everyone plugging in their verses and their hooks, like, “You take the hook. I’ll take the verse. Fuck it, let’s go.” We dropped it that same week.
This new album was sticking to the same formula of us plugging everything in and going crazy and spending a whole week in the studio. We dedicated a whole week to waking up, going to the studio, spending all of our time together and rekindling the Boyfriendz-ship to make this album. We did that, and we got to work with a lot of sick people while paying more attention to detail on the songs and making bangers. There’s a lot of crazy different musical worlds that we hit on this project.
How did you feel after signing with Epitaph?
I knew at some point I was going to sign somewhere, so it’s sick that it was with Epitaph, because I was crazy about all of their bands. They have Pianos Become The Teeth, Falling In Reverse, Escape The Fate—those were some of my favorite bands. It was another coming-full-circle experience for me. It also just felt good because when I talked to Brett [Gurewitz, label founder] about signing, they were so down for whatever I wanted to do. I feel like they believe in me, and it’s really sick. I’d much rather be with somewhere like that than somewhere that gave me a fuck ton of money and just threw me to the wolves.
Do you think you’re at the forefront of a new wave of emo music?
I’d like to think I am because I’m always trying to make exactly what the fuck I want because it’s exactly what the fuck I like. I would say I’m doing my best to keep emo music alive. Music is always going to change, but that’s always going to be a sick time in music—but it shouldn’t be forgotten at all. If people listen to my music but they’ve never listened to emo bands before, they like emo music—they just haven’t listened to it before. I’m just delivering it in a new way. If you like beats instead of listening to bands, that’s cool. I’ll make a beat and throw on some guitars that sound exactly like one of the bands I listened to. You’re gonna like it because it sounds new and relevant.
How do you feel about the label “emo rap”? It’s always been a controversial designation for those within the community.
[Laughs.] You said the word. I just think the word “emo rap” is super cringy because we don’t rap. Well, I can’t speak for everyone else, but I don’t rap. I can sing fast. I can sing fast and have a certain little cadence to it. But I don’t rap, and I’m not a rapper, and I don’t really portray myself as a rapper. I’m just some grown-up emo scene kid who’s making music with the times.
What about the Lil in your name then?
[Laughs.] I guess I contradicted myself by throwing the Lil in there. I’ve been wanting to change it to just Lotus, but I can’t because there’s a band called Lotus already... Whenever I added the Lil in my name, it was at the beginning, when this kind of music was being figured out and I was finding my footing. And yes the word “emo rap”—I hate that I’m using that word right now—is so closely related to rap right now because of the production, so I guess I was like, “I’ll call myself Lil Lotus because I’m going over beats, and everyone’s going to see me as a rapper.” And that’s how they did see it at the beginning. I guess a lot of [artists] back then did come across as rappers, but they’re just doing what they wanted to do, and I feel like people are finally going back to the roots. But I guess Lil is in there for a fucking reason. But definitely stop with the emo rap. I hate people saying that. No more emo rap. We need a better name.
It’s so interesting that despite everyone who makes emo rap disliking the name, it’s still the only word that makes sense.
It’s just ’cause everything gets generalized. It’s like, “OK, you’re emo. All right, it kind of sounds like you’re almost rapping, and there’s sad flex-type songs.” So [it] makes sense that it would be associated with rap. None of us have a word for it. But I don’t think there has to be a word for it, because I feel like even the people who are making music in this genre are so different. Like, I don’t sound like guccihighwaters or smrtdeath or Horse Head—all of us are very distinctive from one another. I feel like some of the best artists are super diverse, so we hate labels in general.
What inspired some of the songwriting with your upcoming release?
There’s a lot of songs that were written in the time that I was sober. I was spending a lot of time with myself—there was no way I could escape from what I was feeling. I think it was a lot of pent-up feelings from the past. When you’re sober, you have to feel everything, and writing music was my only release. I couldn’t just go get high about it. I had to go sit in my room and think about it or be mad all day or be like, “What the fuck am I doing? What am I doing with my life? Who the fuck am I? What the fuck is wrong with me?” That’s what “Never Get Away” was about in the first place, and that’s one of the singles off the album.
That’s where that came from because I was just talking about no matter what, you have to deal with this shit. A lot of it was about my girlfriend. There’s songs about how I was selfish at times, like how I regret this one time I hurt her feelings. There’s a song about my feelings for her. There’s stuff about me dealing with myself. It’s weird—it's all just really honest feelings. There’s some stuff from when me and Sage split up. I was writing I miss you stuff. If you knew me and knew everything I went through in the past few years, you could definitely put the songs in order, and that would make sense. There’s also some songs where I was completely fucking happy, and everything was fucking perfect, and I’d wake up and just go track a flex song. Like “Never Felt Better,” I was in a really positive mindset for that song.
That’s good that you’re making happy music, but depression and anxiety are motifs within your lyrics. What’s your relationship with your mental health like?
I think there’s way more emotional songs on [my upcoming release] than there are happy-fuck-you songs. But right now, I would say that I’m the best that I’ve been. I feel like right now, I have everything I want—other than this coronavirus shit. The whole thing with me getting sober was definitely really needed because I was just running myself into the ground, and I was bringing everyone around me down, too. I spent some time dealing with my shit. I spent some time alone, regrouped, and I feel like everything is way better now. Mentally, I feel like I’m able to handle stuff way better now. I’m not sober anymore, but I’m not how I used to be at all, if that makes sense.
Speaking of coronavirus, a lot of people have been tweeting your lyric “Should’ve stayed inside like she told me to.” How have you been staying busy during quarantine?
[Laughs.] I need all the TikTokers to start using that song. So me and my girl, she has her place, and I have my place, so we’ve been going back and forth, spending a week or two here, a week or two there. [To stay busy], I’ve been doing some shrooms, watching a bunch of 90 Day Fiance [and] a bunch of different shows. Just a lot of random shit. And just making music too, the band shit and my own shit.
What’s something you wish more people noticed about yourself and your music?
I wish people noticed that there really are no rules to it. My music is really diverse. On tour, I’ll go from playing “Sleep Paralysis” to “Bodybag.” People react differently to each song. When I play “Sleep Paralysis,” people crowdsurf and jump offstage, and there’s kids crying, and then when “Bodybag” comes on, everybody’s just like, “Yo, turn up, it’s the ‘Bodybag’ song!” And everybody’s turning up like they’re at a rap show or something. I wish people online were more OK with that diversity. I know people who come to shows understand that. My music doesn't have to be all one thing or all the other. Anything can fucking happen when it comes to me being in the booth making music. I can walk in there and make something and then go the next day and make something completely different. No rules, no expectations, just music.