Lil Peep's Friend and Producer Smokeasac Talks 'Come Over When You're Sober Pt. 2,' Coping With Depression & More

Smokeasac
Lloyd Pursall

Smokeasac

Gus Åhr should have turned 22 last week. 

Instead, next week, friends and fans of the artist known as Lil Peep will mark one year since the death of one of the most raw and impactful young talents that 21st century music has produced. Not only was he gone too soon, but just as a wider world had begun to appreciate his gift for marrying singalong hooks and melodies to mostly angst-filled lyrics, to touching effect—a modern, face-tattooed personification of the bridge between hip-hop and punk, emo rock and points beyond, at once tortured, charming, dazed and aware. Peep at his most moving and melancholy comes flooding back this week, with, at long last, the release of Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2, the companion to his debut studio album, released in August of 2017.

It’s a beautiful record, but also lyrically fraught and often grim—darker than its predecessor, which on at least one song, “The Brightside”, momentarily parted the clouds that hung over so much of Peep’s work. The two records were originally intended to be one lengthy album, recorded in demo form by Peep and his close friend and producer Dylan Mullen, aka Smokeasac, along with George Astasio of the production team IIVI. Verses are awash in drugs, depression and flashes of his own demise, on “16 Lines” (“I wonder who you’ll fuck when I die”) and “Leanin” (“Woke up surprised / Am I really alive / I was tryin' to die last night”). Sex is engaged in as a way to feel alive: “Fuck me, like we're lyin' on our deathbed” on “Sex With My Ex” and “She don't love me, she just love how I feel” on “White Girl”. “IDGAF” is as nihilistic as its acronym suggests; haters and fake sycophants abound, respectively, on “Cry Alone” and “Runaway”; and on epic closer “Fingers,” Peep even declares, “I’m not gonna last here/ I’m not gonna last long”. Even the sing-song track “Life Is Beautiful” is deceptively titled. A reworking of a song that dates back to 2015, a vintage video for it, featuring Peep in glasses, pre-trademark “Crybaby” tattoo, just dropped on Wednesday. 

While temperamentally COWSY2 is not new terrain for Peep—it’s that very ache that won him a devoted tribe in the short time he had. Hearing the songs now nearly a year since his passing, it’s a reminder of what might have been. And no one carried the project more on his shoulders than Smokeasac, who again with the assistance of Astasio, had the painful job of taking those demos and beefing them up musically, the same approach used on Part 1. The result is excellent, but that doesn’t mean Smoke hasn’t had to deal with second guessers. Early versions of some songs, including “Runaway” and “Sex With My Ex” leaked months back, prompting some armchair quarterbacks to weigh in, in favor of the stripped down work. You know what they say about opinions, and there is no shortage of them among Lil Peep disciples. Considering how personally he touched longtime fans, it’s understandable how strongly held many of their feelings are, and they have not been shy about voicing them this year on a number of issues. 

They berated Smokeasac about how long COWSY2 took to come out. Some took issue with Columbia Records—as major as a label gets—acquiring the rights to Peep’s unreleased music. There was the divisive “Falling Down”—the posthumous patchwork single featuring Peep and another fallen star, XXXTentacion, released in August—which some fans and erstwhile collaborators felt Peep wouldn’t have approved of. Last month there was an online skirmish when Quavo, on the track “Big Bro,” seemed to take a drug-referencing shot at Peep, prompting Peep cohorts to come out firing until the Migos MC issued an explanation, if not an apology; and recently a dust-up when longtime Peep collaborator Lil Tracy tearfully questioned Bexey, Fat Nick and others’ respect for their late friend. It’s all been, frankly, sad to see. 

“This is the album that Gus would have wanted,” said Peep’s mom Liza Womack, at a COWSY2 listening event last month, responding to the Internet commentariat. “And yes, I know what he would have wanted.” It’s a sublime record, due in large part to Mullen, who admits all the Internet sniping at times gets to him. His own social media presence is open, accessible and empathetic, talking openly about his own bouts with anxiety and depression, and even recently announcing a plan to organize an event to address mental health. He and his friend Gus were pretty clearly kindred spirits. A few days before Friday’s release of COWYS2, Billboard got on the phone with Smokeasac, who was in Paris concluding a mini-tour of his own, about a project that he’s called “the most important album I will work on.” 

Billboard: Dylan, I know you’ve been in Europe the past week doing solo shows. How are they going? 

Smokeasac: They’re going super well and I’ve been hanging out with the fans, it’s so much fun. I’m playing a set of my unreleased music, where it’s me doing vocals. And then I play some of the music off of Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2—just like two or three songs. 

You’ve been working on your own record with the producer Slight. How’s that, and how far along are you? 

It’s going really well. We have probably 12 songs, and it’s all coming together really nice. It all fits together nicely, and it’s cool to be able to come over here and play this unreleased music for fans, and they’re enjoying it as if they knew the lyrics, weirdly, I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s been a super good reaction. 

So when can we expect to hear something from this project? 

I have a single dropping on Nov. 30, called “Leave You Behind” and it’s a song with me, and my brother played guitar on it. 

As for Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2, at the New York listening event you called it “the most important album I will ever work on.” How challenging was it, considering not only that Gus wasn’t there, but now you had Columbia Records involved? 

Well, Columbia was really pretty cool with me and kind of let me do my thing with it. I came to them with the songs with the help of George [Astasio], and they were just down. I think they were just supportive of Peep. And that meant a lot they were that supportive and willing to help with having his legacy grow. So they really just let us do our thing, and it was really about the music and what Peep would have wanted. Because I wouldn’t have had it any other way, you know. I wouldn’t have been able to have lived with an album that didn’t feel right by Gus, you know?

You tweeted earlier in the year that “When the time is right, the music will come out.” Did you feel a time pressure to get this out by a certain time? 

There was pressure in a way, because I know how much it means to the fans, and that was in my thought process the entire time that I was making the music, because I know the fans really wanted it. But for me, I was just going through so much, not having Peep around and having fans basically beg me for this album, and at one point it was just so bad that I was getting harassed about, “Part 2, when is it coming?” And, I don’t know, it just made me want to work on it even more. But I wouldn’t say it made me rush. I didn’t feel rushed at all, but I did feel like it should come out sooner than later. As soon as we could finish it, you know, without rushing. 

Didn’t an early version of “Runaway” and others leak a while back? 

Yeah. 

And I know some fans commented like, “Well why do they need to polish it up? It sounded fine the way it was.” How do you feel about that, when—because the Internet makes it easy to do—some people want to weigh in with their two cents about every move you make when it comes to Peep? 

Yeah definitely. It’s something that’s hard to deal with, because on top of the fact that he’s not here, I have to read comments like that. And I try to do right by Gus, and that’s literally all that matters to me. And I can’t explain that to every fan, one by one, but they just take it as—it seems like a lot of fans have these stories of Gus, or a view of him that is hard to explain. Some of them are really harsh on me. 

Do you think it’s an image some of them have built up, like a mythology of him that they’ve built up in their own minds? 

I do feel like that in a way, yeah. It’s super mysterious and weird. Just him as a person, he was so special and odd, his whole life was so interesting, and people view it as—I guess coming from an outside point of view, I can only imagine what fans think. They see things on the Internet and they think it’s automatically true, and there’s so much false information. I wouldn’t say lies, but there are a lot of rumors and lies that have gone around about situations with him. 

His mom Liza made a point of saying at the listening, “I know what he wanted” seemingly in response to second-guessers. 

Yeah because a lot of people who didn’t know him, or never met him or maybe even just found out about him after he passed try to say what he would have wanted. And his mother would know what he wanted, for sure. He was really close with his mom, and as his producer and his friend, I was grateful that he trusted me so much to...we worked really well, and I’m grateful that I got the chance to be able to do this. As tough as it was, to finish it, I feel like it’s something that I had to do, for Gus. 

“Cry Alone” kind of takes on the haters he grew up around on Long Island, while “Runaway” kind of takes on the fakeness of some people—and it’s mainly about L.A., right? 

Yeah definitely. Especially, being in L.A., it’s hard to avoid it. 

Was Gus kind of nomadic? If he had lived do you think he would have ended up moving again and again—Berlin, San Francisco, wherever? 

A hundred per cent. He was living in London at the time he passed. He was touring the U.S., but his apartment was in London, you know. So after the tour we were supposed to go back there and make another album, actually. I think he would have liked living all over Europe, but for the most part I think he would have planted himself in London for a while. He really liked it there a lot. There was something about it that...he wanted to live outside of London, in like the countryside. That was one thing he kept talking about. He would always joke about wanting to quit music and become a sheep farmer and live in the country! 

I was a little taken aback when I first heard the record with how dark it is, thinking maybe of “The Brightside” from the first record, that it would head in that direction. 

Yeah in my opinion Part 2 was always kind of the darker half of Come Over When You’re Sober, and that’s just kind of what it was. We kind of split it up like that. Part 2 was darker, and we were gonna release it at another time.

What do you remember about the vocal tracking for COWYS2

Yeah well honestly I sat behind him for every single song. That was one of the things he made me do. He would make me sit there behind him. I would just sit there in silence and he would record the song. Like he would lay it like twelve times, and he just felt comfortable, I guess, with me in the room. He told me he wouldn’t record unless I was sitting there. The demos were just recorded in his bedroom. And then some of the demos were leaked, like we talked about earlier. 

I saw you say in the New York Times that after he passed you felt like you spoke to him when you were working on the record. 

Yeah when I was working on the record I remember being in the studio, I would lock myself in, like I had booked some time at a studio to really like sit down in really a peaceful spot, where I could close the door and I couldn’t help but feel the strongest energy behind me. And hearing his a capellas for the first time after him passing was—I could definitely feel his presence. 

And then I read recently that the later stuff you guys worked on with Makonnen, which will come out at some point, is much more upbeat.  And their song “Sunlight On Your Skin,” which came out in September, definitely has a warmer vibe. 

Yeah. It was a different time, and he was in a different head space. Being in London, he was so happy out there. I saw a change in him, it looked like he was being healthy, and he just seemed so happy. Those were some of the best times of my life honestly. I got to be out there with them, it seemed like he was eating good food, he looked healthy. To see Peep that happy, it made me happy, because he did so much for me. And I know that he had been going through a lot of stress in L.A., and that had been really tough to see. 

Were you surprised at the intensity of the reaction over “Falling Down” [with XXXTentacion]? 

Yeah I was really surprised actually. Because I guess the way I looked at it was—having lost Peep, the whole situation was just sad. It was one of those things that I really didn’t have any part in, but then seeing the reaction, I got ripped open on Instagram and Twitter. And that hurt because I was like, “Damn, I didn’t have anything to do with it.” And people were coming up with these ideas that I produced the track and that I had put two verses from two different songs, and just, the backlash that I was getting was crazy. And the negativity that comes around me and Peep sometimes, with the fans, and them being angry, it just is hard to deal with. I don’t have Peep here to call up and talk to about it, you know? 

There was also the short lived beef, or misunderstanding, with Quavo, and then Tracy had some things to say recently. But you seem basically with all of this to somehow always take the high road. 

Yeah you know it definitely takes a toll, I won’t lie about that. It hurt to see Tracy saying those things, and I have a lot of love for him. I have a lot of love for everyone. And not all my friends get along. You know, I talk to Nick and Bexey and I’ve talked to Tracy, and I wish everyone could be friends. But I just like to see the more positive side of things, especially when it comes to Peep. I just don’t like the negativity, I just can’t go down that negative path. It doesn’t feel right to me. 

You’re also very positive on your socials and open about your own battles with anxiety. You even tweeted about organizing an charity event to address mental health. Does it help you to share your own experiences with people? 

It does, it helps me. Because I do deal with depression and anxiety, and what makes me happy is being able to help other people. I feel like a big part of my purpose in making music is helping people who are depressed and anxious to feel better and not feel as alone. That’s one of the most important things for me, and it kind of just gets tied into the music, in a weird way. 

So is that even you referred to, is it something that’s in the planning stages? Or more an idea of something you want to do? 

It’s something that I want to do, that I really want to set up with a bunch of my artist friends. And I’m sure that I can get a lot of my friends that would be down. It’s something that I am gonna prioritize as soon as I get back to the States. I want to set it up with as many that I can, something with artists that would be down to actually spend time with fans, just to set up a sick event that would make people feel better, and we all get to perform, and donate the money to charity. That would be so cool for me. 

I recently hung out with Ski Mask, who lost his friend XXX this year. I know he’s said sometimes that’s it’s been hard to continuing on with X no longer there, but at the same time it seems like losing his friend has spurred creativity in him, almost an incentive to create, because none of us know how much time we have. Do you know what I mean? 

It’s crazy to hear you say that because I’d say it almost the same way, I’d say it’s almost exactly how I feel about me and Gus. He was my best friend and I do feel like, “How am I moving forward without him?” but at the same time, I do feel in a way it’s motivated me to keep making more music, because that was our goal. When I was really going through it, somebody sent me this article from Dave Grohl about losing Kurt. And he said something like, the main thing that Nirvana was about was keeping the ball rolling. And that was something that really clicked with me. It was like, yes, it’s all about keeping the ball rolling with music. That’s just what I do. 

I’m sitting here looking at the COWYS2 album cover, that shot of Peep looking out the window, through the sliver of light. It’s pretty perfect. 

Yeah, it definitely fits the music. And in a way, I look at the cover to Part 1, and it kind of fits, it’s a bit brighter, and then in Part 2 Peep’s kind of in the shadows, which kind of fits the darker vibe of the music. So I think it all kind of came together in a way that Peep would have been proud of. And honestly, I feel like Peep was guiding everything, all the way down to the artwork and the music. I feel like he’s still running shit, from above. 

Lil Peep’s Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2 dropped Friday and can be streamed in full below.

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