Smokeasac opens up about losing Lil Peep nearly a year ago and discusses the honour of preserving the late rapper’s legacy
Dylan Mullen, the 24-year-old, LA-based producer known as Smokeasac, is about to share his best friend’s new record with the world: ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Pt.2, the posthumous album by New York artist Lil Peep.
It’s approaching a year since Lil Peep (real name Gustav Elijah Åhr) died after an accidental overdose while on tour in the US. Besides leaving behind an enormously promising career (he was dubbed “lo-fi rap’s Kurt Cobain”) Peep had just turned 21 and was, as Mullen recalls, “the happiest I’d ever seen him”.
Self-referential lyrics may have heard him deal with topics from death to drug abuse (see his 2017 debut, ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1’), but Peep is remembered by Mullen as someone who lived life to the full. “He was very upbeat,” the producer says, “it was almost like he was invincible, unstoppable. He was genuinely super happy.”
Lil Peep’s new record is released this Friday, November 9 after Mullen and fellow producer George Astasio spent months refining Peep’s demos. The project was completed with the approval of the late rapper’s mother, Liza Womack, who gave him the nickname ‘Peep’ as a child.
The result is an affecting continuation of the concepts and sounds of Peep’s impressive debut – nocturnal, looping guitar riffs, trigger-sharp trap beats, and Peep’s raw vocal delivery – rounded off with the production flair that Peep entrusted to his friends.
Mullen spoke to us over the phone about the emotional challenge of working on his friend’s music after his death. We also learned about Peep’s resilient work ethic, his obsession with Scooby-Doo, and a love affair with London that brought him out of his shell.
What’s different about this record and the last?
“Well it’s different because, you know… Gus isn’t here. Other than that [‘Come Over When You’re Sober’] Pt. 1 and Pt.2 were both recorded at the same time so there are similarities. Everything was demos originally and then we turned them into their final form.”
So there’s a strong, musical through-line between Pt. 1 and Pt.2?
“Yeah. As far as musically, I think we got the foundation for it around the time we had started originally recording. Basically, Peep was going through a lot of stuff at the time. He was really started to see the attention from his fans and he was really growing. But he also had personal problems in his life. We were both going through similar situations. I think both of us were using the music as a way of venting, almost. At the end of a long day of crazy things happening we’d sit down and make these songs. He and his girlfriend at the time were going through a rough patch and that fuelled some of the music.”
Lil Peep was a prolific songwriter – he released dozens of mixtapes and collaborative EPs between 2015-2017. Is there more material that could be released after this second record?
“There’s material for sure. I have a decent amount of songs with him and then he has music with other producers like Harry Fraud, Diplo, and then there’s an album with iLoveMakonnen. I’m glad to be a part of that. I produced, I think, like six of the songs on the Makonnen album. That’s something people can be excited about, too. It was a big change, I guess, in his energy. ‘Come Over When You’re Sober Pt.2’ – ‘Come Over When You’re Sober’ in general, really – and the Makonnen record is some of his best work. He really put his all into those projects.
“When the time is right we’ll release the stuff with Makonnen. I speak to Peep’s mom all the time and I want to make sure that she approves of everything. It’s a similar thing, in demo form. It’s a finished album vocals-wise but me and Makonnen will go back into the studio and finish everything off.”
It’s nearly a year since Lil Peep died. Do you have any plans to celebrate his life a year on?
“Yeah definitely. Obviously the album is out shortly before but as far as me I’m probably just going to have some alone time. I’m just going to focus on the memories of him that made me happy.”
What was he like as an artist? And also as your close friend?
“Even though we were best friends he was also one of my favourite artists, ever. I think he was very prophetic; he could predict things well. He was really, really wise. And he was funny. Wherever he went people would be laughing and smiling. It was impossible to hang out with him and not be happy because he would always make sure people were happy. He was selfless like that. His music was his outlet for a lot of the stuff that had happened in his life.
“Me and him became friends because we had experienced similar things like not having fathers [around]. Neither of us really knew our fathers. We were both very close to our moms and stuff like feeling like outcasts, getting bullied in high school. And then how we both travelled to LA – our stories were super similar. We were different, too, but we had similar backgrounds, you know? And musically we linked up too. We listened to a lot of the same stuff.”
Tell us about those musical influences?
“Well, we grew up listening to Gucci Mane but also bands like Good Charlotte, Blink 182, a lot of rap like Future, and punk bands. My Chemical Romance were one our favourite bands – we listened to them a lot as we were moving around.”
How did it feel to work on Lil Peep’s music after he died?
“It was extremely hard. Getting back into it – next to losing Peep – was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I never in a million years wouldn’t have thought that would be a possibility. But I had to overcome what was in my head. It took me months to even make music, or look at, or think about making music. I was in a really bad place. Then I felt like the music… just working on it gave me a purpose, if that makes sense? It was almost like Gus’ way of saying, ‘Get back to work, don’t just like mope around and be depressed.’ I felt obligated to make sure the project was finished and that it was something he would have liked and enjoyed.
What was the measure of knowing you were making something he’d approve of?
“One of the last conversations we had was in Miami and he asked me, ‘What are we doing with Pt. I, what’s the next step?’ I said I had to go back to the production and make sure it was good from my end. And he trusted me a lot, you know, in that way. He said, ‘Do what you gotta do.’ That’s kinda how it worked with Pt. I. We had done the demos and then he sent me to London and I mixed Pt.2 with George [Astasio] then Peep heard it all the way through and was like, ‘Good to go.’ There was a lot of trust. I pretty much knew exactly what he wanted from the production. There’s not one song we did that we didn’t use. There were no throwaways…any song he recorded is getting released. I mean, there is stuff that hasn’t been released but… anyway, I was honoured that he trusted me so much with his production. That’s how we worked together.”
Do you have a favourite song on the new record?
“I would say ‘Runaway’ is actually my favourite song because of its meaning. It means so much to me. And every time I hear it I just can’t help but miss him like crazy.”
Is the song a reflection of living in LA? There are a lot of lyrics about fake people.
“It’s that exactly. Gus was getting bigger and bigger and I think everyone who met he knew he was going to blow up. Everyone knew he was going to be a huge star, even if they just found out about him that day. It was very, very overwhelming. His house became an open spot for people to party at. But I remember being with him and we would walk in the house, and it would be filled with people, and he’d be like, ‘I had no idea anyone was here.’ It’s insanity.
“But he’s just such a nice guy he wouldn’t kick anyone out. He would go somewhere else or deal with it, or be anxious… yeah I like remember also when we were in London, he found out things from other people, like when his manager called him and was like, ‘Yo, there’s like 10 people sleeping at your house right now.’”
Last year, Gus lived off London’s Portobello Road. For how long was that and what did he think of the city?
“It was for a couple of months in the summer and then he went on tour. I stayed with him for like two months, I think. It was a nice little spot: a new building, the area was real nice. And he loved it, he loved being in that area, being away from everyone. He was the happiest I’d ever seen him.”
Peep makes allusions to suicide in his music. Do his lyrics reflect what he actually thought or were they an exaggeration?
“I think Gus was really good at, in a way, hiding some of his darker, deeper thoughts because he just wanted people to be happy. I think he let it out in the music. He was very upbeat, lived life to the full. In my eyes, being his best friend, it was almost like he was invincible, unstoppable. He was genuinely super happy. His fans made him so happy.
“Beyond being Lil Peep and being an artist, he went through hard times. You know, growing up in the area he was in where he was an outcast. There was trouble in school, and then also with his father. And that was his past. Not with his mom though; his mom and him had a great relationship. But I think, like with me, his relationship with his father took a toll on him. No matter how happy he was he still had demons, for sure. But he was good at hiding it, especially from the people he cared about.”
Were you ever worried about him acting upon on the things he wrote about?
“No, no, I didn’t think that at all. Gus was very strong minded and he was… I honestly looked up to him, he was a leader, wise beyond his years, you know?”
What is your musical background? How did you and Lil Peep come to work together?
“My musical background really starts with my father, actually. He was in a Boston rock band that was doing pretty well [C60 – whose songs soundtracked some of Dawson’s Creek]. I have a strange relationship with my father. I barely speak to him ever. But I did grow up with him up until about the age of eight, so I did have that influence in me ever since I was a kid. I was going to rock shows with earplugs in. I was always around the scene. Then my brother became a guitar player at a young age and I kind of refused to pick up the guitar because I was trying to be different to my dad and my brother. So I would rap and I liked percussion a lot. I started making beats, and I recorded myself. Then it got more serious and I started uploading my stuff onto the internet.
“Shortly after I had began uploading stuff I started talking to Gus. He was one of the first people to reach out to me and ask to use one of my beats. Gus had known who I was but I only knew him via his email address so I couldn’t put a face to him or even an artist name. Lil Peep? It was just Gus to me. When we both [separately] moved to California we met up. ‘Nineteen’ is the song when I realised that…when I pretty much decided in my head that I wanted to be his full-time producer. I just put my own stuff off to the side for a while because, to me, Gus’ stuff was so magical so I wanted to focus on him. Good things were going to come and they did. We achieved what we wanted from the first day we talked about it.”
What’s happening with your own music?
“I’m kinda weird with music, especially with having Peep pass, you know, losing my best friend. I’m not really out there looking to give my production out to other artists. It’s not really what I’m interested in right now. I’m focusing on myself as an artist. I’m doing my own vocals over some of my own production and some of my friends’ production. I just want to work on myself right now, so I have a project I’m working on. I have a single coming out on November 30 called ‘Leave You Behind’. That’s going to be my debut single. I’m super excited about it.”
Lil Peep didn’t play guitar but most of his tracks have central riffs. Who wrote the guitar melodies and generally how did the production work?
“Back when we were uploading music to Soundcloud [in 2014/2015] it was mainly guitar samples. It’s very common in hip-hop to use samples so we wanted to keep that direction. The samples were basically – honestly Peep would mostly just trust me with the production – we just thought it was cool to slip guitar melodies from songs we liked when we were younger and bring it back to life in some way. In my eyes, hip-hop and trap were taking over from punk and so we were trying to bring that sound back.
“He gave me ideas to sample but I would go to old CDs that I had from middle school. For example, I would find acoustic parts or parts in the song where there was just the guitar melody. It was good for some fans ‘cause it was nostalgic. It was almost like a new version of it. I think it sounded really cool, like flipping some of the samples. Some of the fans wouldn’t like it but we had so much fun with it.”
But you can’t just lift other people’s music without clearance, right?
“If you notice on Spotify you don’t see any of Peep’s projects like ‘Hellboy’ because the rights had to be cleared, the bands had to be cool with it. Some bands slammed us for our ‘generic shitty trap stuff’ but it all comes from…me and Gus both started off with hip-hop. So for me, as a producer, I started out by making beat samples using old ‘70s records, soul records and so on to make a hip-hop beat. So instead of sampling soul music I was sampling music I used to listen to. But the guitar melodies on the [‘Come Over When You’re Sober’] albums are all original. I worked with George Astasio for the guitars on Pt. 1 and then with my brother who plays guitar for some of Pt. 2.”
In light of that, what do you think about the modern capacity for anyone to record their own music e.g. from their bedroom? Is it a good thing or is it making the industry over-saturated?
“That’s a good question and one that I think about all the time. It’s great that almost anyone can start, become a musician, you don’t need to book studio time, you can just literally be in your room with your computer, and just make a whole song and release it. In some ways it’s oversaturated because of the internet but that’s us humans going into a new time. It’s interesting but it really reveals the people who are really destined for good things come out of the woodwork. It’s hard for me to explain….
“It definitely is great. I am one of those people who could be considered as someone who had a dream and followed it and didn’t really need anything except a space to record at home.”
Outside of music, what did you and Gus get up to in your spare time?
“In our off time we would watch a lot of weird stuff on TV. One of Gus’ favourite things was to watch Scooby-Doo but, like, he preferred the older Scooby-Doo. So I ended up watching a bunch of that and we’d smoke weed and chill.
“It was always interesting with him because until we moved to London he was kinda reclusive. He liked to stay in, he was kinda like a vampire. He would never leave his apartment, ever, unless he had to and we’d drag him out. But when we moved to London he used to be out and about, walking around. We’d eat good food in good restaurants, drink beer. I could tell he was a lot happier.”
What do you think Lil Peep was wanting to achieve with his music?
“He wrote music for those who were struggling in life. He made music for people who felt like they were outcasts. That’s definitely what he was attracted to. He wanted people to feel creative – he covered himself with face tattoos – and he didn’t like the idea of being judged. Just the way he was inspired me. Even I ended up getting, like, 10 face tattoos myself.”
Is that the same approach with your music?
“Definitely. Honestly, me and Peep are similar like that. That’s why we were such a great duo.”