Lil Lotus on the new wave of emo and pop-punk: “The SoundCloud scene started all this”

As a lover of all things emo, Lil Lotus has used his debut LP ERRØR BØY to showcase all that is great about the scene he adores. But as the genre undergoes a rebirth in the mainstream, Lotus is keen to highlight where the origin of pop-punk’s current moment in the sun truly lies…

Lil Lotus on the new wave of emo and pop-punk: “The SoundCloud scene started all this”
Jake Richardson

Lil Lotus – the musical alias of Texan John Villagran – was a project that started in 2016, a time when pop-punk and emo were very much out of the mainstream. Confined to the bedroom production that birthed the SoundCloud rap scene – a sphere that gave rise to the likes of Trippie Redd and the late Juice WRLD – Lotus began dropping his emo-inflected tracks online, building a significant following that presented him with the chance to open for the likes of Senses Fail, nothing,nowhere. and Papa Roach. Now signed to legendary punk label Epitaph – who put out his debut album ERRØR BØY earlier this year – Lil Lotus’ career is blossoming thanks in no small part to pop-punk’s current renaissance. According to him, though, the roots of the current boom lie in the scene he and he friends built online many years ago.

“We started all this,” Lotus – a man who cites the likes of Craig Owens, Spencer Chamberlain and Aaron Gillespie as key influences – begins. “One day, people are going to look back and see us as the artists that started this whole scene again. At the time, we were just having fun being idiots on the internet and making songs, but we also put a lot of work into it. That whole SoundCloud thing was a free space that was open to interpretation, and to see how well it’s doing now is really great.”

A genre known for its vulnerability and bare-all-scars approach to songwriting, Lotus considers the recent success of pop-punk and emo artists in the mainstream to lie somewhat in our collective experiences of the pandemic. A time when emotions have been heightened, loneliness and isolation have peaked, and tensions have risen, the global health crisis has, in Lotus’ eyes, helped foster a desire for the kind of music that lays these feelings bare, but also allows for the kind of euphoric release that only pop-punk can provide.

“We’ve all just got out of two years being stuck inside,” Lotus says. “That’s led to us all feeling more vulnerable and being more honest and frank about our feelings. That translates both into the music people are writing and the music people want to hear – everyone is needing to address these feelings, but they’re also craving fun, and that’s exactly what you get with pop-punk, because it’s where the more serious side of emo and the joy of pop collide. Right now, there’s a good demographic for this kind of music – the stuff we’re singing about and the way we’re singing it feels pretty universal.”

Lotus, though, is keen for this project to be seen as more than just him as a lone singer. Lil Lotus has always been envisioned as a collective without the ‘Lil’ in their name, and despite some difficulties in bringing Lotus to the fore as a true band – “There’s another band called Lotus, which makes things tricky” – that mentality remains the long-term aim.

“I didn’t think into it too much early in my career, but quickly I found that playing shows as just myself and a DJ felt like a disservice to the fans,” Lotus explains. “I grew up watching bands and loving seeing the guitarists and drummers as much as the singers. It gives the audience a fuller experience, and there’s a completely different energy onstage when there’s several performers vibing off each other. That’s why, with ERRØR BØY, the sound has pivoted much more towards that of a full band, because that’s ultimately where I see his project going.”

ERRØR BØY is packed to the rafters with pop-punk gems. Opening track Think Of Me Tonight is all blink-182-esque pop-punk anthem, power-pop number Girl Next Door – which features Lotus’ long-time friend and collaborator Lil Aaron – is a sprightly sing-along number, while Doctor Doctor, Lotus’ favourite track on ERRØR BØY, dials up the emo and blend’s the genre’s rawer elements with the emo-pop sensibilities of artists like YUNGBLUD. It’s a varied record, and one which speaks to Lotus’ love of every facet of the emo world, with traces of the screamo style that characterise his excellent new project If I Die First – a group which features From First To Last’s Travis Richter and several of Lotus’ fellow SoundCloud artists – present, as well as the hip-hop sounds which were more prevalent on his earlier solo work.

Lil Lotus’ sound is varied, and symptomatic of an artist that, in his own words, is “constantly looking to push and evolve the style of music that I love”, and as attentions now turn to his next move, he’s more determined than ever to ensure that it’s his passion for alternative music that shines through on all he creates.

“Starting If I Die First and getting back into that world of metalcore and screamo has really lit a fire inside me for that kind of music,” Lotus concludes. “I’ve just been working on some new material, and some of it has been really sad, quiet, acoustic stuff, but then because I’m so bipolar with my music, other stuff has leant more into emo-rap and screamo. The ERRØR BØY song Doctor Doctor has got a vibe I love, and if you’re looking for a reference point as to where Lotus is going in the future, that’s it.”

He pauses, before wryly adding a titbit that’s sure to delight emo lovers everywhere.

“I’m definitely going to be tuning into my old-school My Chem vibes. I want to keep things pop-punk, but more along the lines of early MCR – that’s the next move. If you love My Chemical Romance, you’re going to like where Lotus is going next.”

Lil Lotus’ ERRØR BØY is out now on digital and vinyl via Epitaph

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