Don’t Sleep On love-sadKiD: An Interview With the Prolific 17-Year-Old Artist
Photos courtesy of Amber Hardman of Hardman Photography.
The emotionally-conscious young Texan artist talks their internet origins, vocal dysphoria, and being just a kid on the Internet.
“We don’t have time for intros, it’s rap time,” joked one of the newest artists to grace the stage of Chicago’s Lincoln Hall, right before the opening kicks of a drum machine appropriately cut them off. The venue had a good showing for a Tuesday night, comprised of young and not so young adults who steadily trickled in, most in time to see love-sadKiD, a young musician serving as the opener on the eccentric singer/songwriter Oliver Tree’s “Ugly is Beautiful” tour. This was the final performance of the tour, and I was about to be deluged in lo-fi levels of self-deprecating but whimsically reflective and relatable music, served up with a dose of love-stoned sunlight.
The performer’s stage alias came from a childhood pen name of sorts – “I used to write letters In eighth grade to all the girls I had crushes on, and signed them “love-sadKiD”- the fanciful and romantic nature of which plays well with much of their lyrical content. Love-sadKiD, who uses they-them pronouns, was joined on the slight build of the stage with their wizarding guitarist Colliding on Mars and cool and collected “button-presser” Volt.Boy. Their set explored the sparkling and crumbling stages of like, love, and everything you could imagine to find in between. “Paris,” a lo-fi hip-hop track, had lyrics that sparked excitement and nostalgia for travel, romanticizing touring as a cure for isolated stresses:
“This traveling is my insulin, it pieces me back together / When I fall apart in my room, I plan a show in September.”
“Empty Spaces” teased jazz piano hooks and a subtle hi-hat swing, while juxtaposing the smooth delivery with a rougher description of a relationship reaching the uncomfortable truth of repetition and stagnation. One of the final numbers, “Vinyl”, allowed one to adopt a full body bop, and upon hearing it much of the crowd melted into a languid wave of head nods. We were being hand-delivered confession after confession, presented with a poetic metric slant of honesty and accompanied by modern, warm tones and jazz and R&Breminiscent beats. Each track was sandwiched by slightly awkward but incredibly organic banter by the artists with the crowd, reminding us to engage with the young people on stage rather than be completely swept up in stage monikers and synthesized arrangements.
After the set, pseudonyms were quickly discarded. Love-sadKiD’s name beyond the stage lights is Ben. Truthfully, this interview had been a long time coming; I contacted them during their tour with Hobo Johnson, hoping to have a conversation, which led into a social media acquaintance-ship with the pretense of engaging in a dialogue about their work. We sat in a small green room and they leaned back casually, allowing me space to lead their first interview (and my first time interviewing), gifting me the opportunity to be one of the first to highlight their origin story, which is humble and accidental. Ben had no intention of pursuing a music career—they sheepishly recalled their football team freestyling in the locker room after a tragically lost game, and how they prepared for the next opportunity by going home and writing out original verses, hoping to fool the team into thinking it was improv flow. They later joined the dated rap forum RapPad, making friends with whom to collaborate on tracks, including Atlas, Paper Latte, and Dahm. Acting as lyricist and rapper/singer, along with the rotating cycle of producers, mixers, and featured artists on many tracks, Ben has created over 300 songs. While having produced a vast amount of tracks, only sixty are released online within different projects, EPs, and as singles.
Though their music occupies many pockets and nooks in the internet ether, with over 300 monthly Spotify listeners and millions of YouTube views, Ben is no stranger to a live audience. Within in the last year they opened for many dates of Hobo Johnson and the Lovemakers’ “Bring Your Mom” tour in late 2018 and traveled to San Francisco to play the Young Love festival with Cuco this past February. The live love-sadKiD experience is just as rewarding as their recorded material, the delivery upbeat and self-assured. “When I first started getting into music, I started off with a fake deep voice because I would want people would think I was older. That was literally before puberty hit my voice and I had a whole tape before it. I always had to develop this energetic delivery to keep people invested because no one wants to hear a voice crack, but if you’re rapping you can’t sound monotone.” This evolved into the animated but natural performative display I witnessed them adopt on the stage. In addition to this, their playful, amiable personality percolated through the hall every time Ben would giggle in between tunes and banter with the front few rows, or attempt to the classic all too-eager-to-be-recognized balcony-goer who falls just short of heckling. “There’s also always been a dose of awkwardness in there. I can’t get it out of the recording, I can’t get it out of me as a person, so why hide it?”
Ben, who has just reached seventeen, actually enjoys being viewed as an adorable kid. Though many young artists may dislike having their age play a factor in their credibility, being seen as an adolescent actually brings with it an unparalleled confidence for Ben, and they mused, “When I was younger I didn’t really invest myself into my childhood doing fun things, so now that I have a chance to perform and make music and do whatever I want, I have my childhood in front of a hundred to a thousand people.” This allowed a very endearing, youthful quality to dance within the performance. Their vocals, integrating into many of their most recent releases, reflect their youth but strays from their treble-heavy and comparably aggressive rapping approach with warm, rounder tones, naturally employing comfortable lilt and occasional scoop. “I’ve always liked singing but it’s been very hard for me to sing during the period of my older tracks because I was uncomfortable with my voice and suffered from a lot of vocal dysphoria as well as not being ready [to sing] like my voice wasn’t done. I couldn’t sing without my voice destroying itself. Now I feel a bit more confident because I know some of my biggest songs are just me singing.”
I asked how Ben felt about the rapid traction their music had been gaining in the past year, and they touched on the difficult habit of focusing on the numbers, most notably the fans, the money, and the number of plays. It has been tricky recently to focus solely on the music, but Ben philosophized, “As long as you stay focused on that [the numbers] you can’t stay focused on getting better. But you can keep an eye on it, pay some attention to it. A lot of artists get more confident when they have more people listening. Once you notice that you have an audience you feel validated. You feel like this isn’t just a hobby, this isn’t just a side gig, this is something I want to do. And a lot of people have that idea before they get the audience, but there could be a lot of doubts and sways in it, and then you see the supporters and it feels real, rather than a want.” As they pieced this together aloud, I noticed confidence and a sense of understanding played across their face—this was their new life, and they were solidifying and validating the results from the work they’d put in, deservedly so.
During the remainder of our conversation, Ben mentioned their parents and siblings as consistent supporters of their music, laughed about seeing snow for the first time on tour–“We had to push a car and we ended up ass-deep in snow”–and reflected on the long drives, minimal cash retainment, and stress that accompanies the commitment to touring as a musician navigating the early stages of a professional career. “Touring is not hard when you’re away from people, it’s hard because to be comfortable on tour you have to be away from yourself.” As Oliver Tree, the main act, and his bandmates stumbled in with the stage crew, the green room grew crowded and suspiciously smoky, so we wrapped up.
Before I could forget, I asked for a clarification of what genre Ben would classify their music within. The answer was far from definitive but made perfect sense. “Jazz-hop?” they laughed, “I don’t know, I make music. Like, I just made a pop summery song, I made weird acoustic guitar song with [Colliding on Mars] this morning. If I had to genre-fy myself, I’d think just call myself a kid on the internet.”
Parting requests: “If we could spread the rumor that I’m 6’4 and 400 pounds that would be great. Also, let everyone know I’m really, really, really, like seven really’s, gay.”
The latest single from love-sadKiD, “Look At the Time,” is streaming on all music platforms where you can also find their past projects such as self-titled album “Love, Sadkid” and many singles. You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter.