Writing about death is one of the most difficult things to do as a music journalist, particularly when it’s so untimely.
Just 12 hours ago, Gustav Ahr, aka Lil Peep, posted a picture of three girls dressed in GothBoyClique T-shirts captioned: “Look at my beautiful fans awwwww.” Just a few hours later, after news had broke that the New Yorker has passed away aged just 21, his manager Chase Ortega found himself Tweeting: “I’ve been expecting this call for a year. Mother fuck”.
I have to admit that a couple of months ago when I was preparing to speak to Lil Peep for our latest issue I wasn’t sure what to expect. From the research I’d been doing, his interviews could be somewhat unpredictable. I was going to be speaking with him one morning while he was waiting around to play a festival. I imagined that he might not be particularly thrilled to be faced with an interview.
My concerns turned out to be completely misplaced. He was engaging, inspiring and demonstrated a true passion for his music and a genuine love for his fans. He graciously shared his story of moving from Staten Island to L.A. in order to pursue a career in music: describing how $300 worth of equipment from Guitar Centre led him to a cult following and modelling gigs for Balmain, Marcelo Burlington and Rick Owens – constantly showing appreciation for the fans that have supported him along the way.
Our conversation was so optimistic that I came to name the feature after the hook of one of the tracks on his debut album ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Vol.1’: 'Look At The Brightside'.
Tragically, this no longer feels appropriate. We’re publishing this feature today in tribute to Lil Peep. Rest in peace.
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Lil Peep is wandering the parking lot of Angel Stadium. Tonight, Anaheim’s home of baseball will be overrun with young fans, here to see the likes of Travis Scott, Kodak Black and Khalid, as they open three days of Day N Night festival. Right now, it’s 11:30am and Peep has just finished soundchecking. He drags his feet around the concrete, playing the waiting game as he anticipates his performance, praising the line-up’s perfect blend of acts that cover the spectrum from underground to mainstream.
The 21-year-old, born Gustav Åhr, inhabits a crux between the two. His recently released ‘Come Over When You’re Sober, Part 1’ sees him beginning to outgrow the online underground where he’s culminated a core fan base through an impressive eight solo mixtapes since 2015. His output is a balancing act of pleasing “open-minded people who respect good music and don’t judge things based off what they see on the Internet,” while simultaneously pissing off “music critics who get all technical about shit.”
All sorts of hashtags, buzzwords and genres tend to be thrown around when discussing Peep’s music, but the best way to put his unique concoction into words is by reeling off the list of artists that come up in conversation with him. During our half-hour chat, he references Lil Wayne, Taking Back Sunday, Crystal Castles, 50 Cent, Linkin Park, Gucci Mane, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Paramore.
His own musical dreams began to manifest when, at 17, he left his native Staten Island to immerse himself amongst a bunch of like-minded artists based in LA. “I was really depressed,” he reveals. “Suicidal, self-harming, doing bad drugs that I shouldn’t be doing.” Having spent plenty of time buried in black holes of online music discovery, he’d found artists like Horsehead and the GothBoiClique (of which he became the last official member) and decided to follow their blueprint. “I know that music is what I love to do,” he explains. “I did what everyone else who inspired me in the underground did: you run into the Guitar Centre, spend $300 and then the whole world is in your hands. Literally, you just need to put in the hard work at that point.”
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For many, ‘Come Over When I’m Sober, Vol.1’ serves as an introduction to his world. Written and recorded one week last summer, the process wasn’t much different to the tracks Peep recorded when he first landed in the City Of Angels. He uses GarageBand on the same computer, with the same microphone, in the same bedroom. It makes him laugh that he’s already getting fans complaining that they “miss the old Peep,” and suggests that it’s more to do with his change of hairstyles rather than anything to do with the music. The main difference with his latest work is the shift towards original compositions with live guitarists, rather than sampling riffs from existing songs – which he says was only previously down to lack of resources.
Nonetheless, his hair could have something to do with it. Peep’s ever-evolving look – an effortless combination of Kurt Cobain, Gucci Mane and David Bowie – is a vital extension of his artistry in an increasingly image-obsessed generation. “Right now I’m being taken more seriously in the fashion industry than in the music industry,” he admits. “As a model you have to look a certain way and that’s it. But as a musician it’s constant work.” He’s recently had his eyes opened to the possibilities that are open to him, walking for Balmain, Marcelo Burlington and Rick Owens at Paris Fashion Week. “That changed my whole perspective of my career,” he says. “I saw how serious people were taking me.”
Aside from the fashion industry’s elite, Peep’s has also become an unwitting muse for amateur artists posting fan art online. “I love that,” he says. “Because it means people think of me as a character.” The sheer quantity of usually anime style images he receives mean that he can’t even return the favour by posting on his social media accounts, admitting that he has to be strategic about what he shares now that it’s become a “real part” of his career.
Peep assesses his online growth every two days. He usually finds he’s amassed a few thousand new followers on each check-in, and takes particular interest in how interactive his fans are. “There are A-list celebrities who don’t get nearly as much fan interaction than I get,” he says, with surprise. “It blows my mind, I’ve got this cult following.” His intentions for this fanbase are admirable: he just hopes that the therapy he gets from making music can also assist those that listen to it. “I just want fans to be affected in the same way that my favourite music affected me as a kid,” he says humbly. “It’s just company at the end of the day. You don’t have to be alone when you have headphones.”
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Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Bella Howard
Fashion: Vincent Levy
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