According to Colin Dieden—the LA-via-Kansas City singer-songwriter behind Little Hurt—there are two ways to write a song.
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“One is like pushing a boulder up a hill, like ‘God this is tough work, something’s not right about this, something’s not falling into place, what’s not fitting?’ And the other way,” the former Mowgli’s frontman tells American Songwriter, “is when the song just writes itself. It just spills out and everybody in the room knows and three hours [later] you’re all having a beer.”
Little Hurt’s latest single, “Alaska,” falls into the latter category. When Dieden wrote the track last year with a few of his closest friends and collaborators, he immediately knew there was something special about it.
“The second that I wrote it I was like, ‘Shit, we got something here. This is different, this is new, this is fresh, this doesn’t sound like something I’ve heard a million times over and over again. This feels like me.’”
“Alaska” is a punchy pop-rock bop that sees Dieden fantasizing about ditching the lower 48—and all of his worries: “I think I’ll dye my hair and I’ll move to Alaska / Grab all of my money, guitar, and a jacket / Drivin’ outta of town maybe wave if I pass ya / Sorry I had to move to Alaska,” he sings in the chorus over a bright, bouncy beat.
Dieden honed his songwriting chops for a decade with the Mowgli’s, but left the band last year. “Alaska” is his fourth Little Hurt single to date following “Better Drugs,” “It’s OK Not to Be OK,” and “Good As It Gets.”
“I was totally uncertain,” says Dieden of his decision to strike out on his own. “I’d love to be like, ‘Oh, I just came out the gates with this confidence.’ But those bandmates were my best friends for like ten years. We spent every day together for a decade, traveling around the country and sometimes the world in buses and vans and planes and anything you could name. Our relationship since then isn’t the same.”
We caught up with Dieden by phone last week about leaving the Mowgli’s, starting his new project, and writing during the pandemic. In our conversation, he also recalled a quarantine thought that should be super familiar to anybody who’s been WFH over the last few months: “I can’t just sit here forever and, like, eat snacks. I gotta start working again.” Check out the full interview and listen to “Alaska” and “Better Drugs” below.
American Songwriter: Have you been in LA for the duration of the pandemic?
Little Hurt: Yeah, I have. I went down to San Diego for a weekend just to get a little change of pace, but besides that I have been here in LA.
Have you been writing or working on any new music?
I’ve been writing a lot. At first it was really hard for me to write—I was finding myself really uninspired. My family will be like, “It’s such an inspiring time, there’s so much to write about,” and I’m like, “There’s something about this global pandemic that’s not particularly sexy and inspiring!” You know what I’m saying?
So for the first month or so I didn’t write a word. I really didn’t. Then, as we started to adjust to whatever this is, I was like, ‘Well I can’t just sit here forever and, like, eat snacks. I gotta start working again.’ So I kicked it back into gear and I’m writing really good music right now. I’m really in a cool flow—songs that are like, ‘Wow, this could be the next single.’ And I’m back working with the core group of songwriters that I work with on a day-to-day basis.
Who are those people?
There are a few in particular that I’m really close with: Cameron [Walker-Wright] from the band Twin XL, my friend Eli [Noll] from American Teeth, and our producer Rob Ellmore [Ruffian]—he’s done everything that I’ve put out so far. I think a lot of why it was so tough towards the beginning was because you’re just so isolated. Now that I’m back to my little crew of songwriter friends it’s just a lot easier and a lot better. I feel like I can do my job again.
Are you guys collaborating in person or virtually?
We started collaborating in person again, but there are still some Zoom sessions.
I read that your latest single, “Alaska,” was one of the first songs you wrote for Little Hurt. When was that writing period?
I’m so bad at remembering dates, but it was sometime last year. You know, I’ve been doing this for a long time—for over 10 years now—and there was something so unique and special about that song. The second that I wrote it I was like, ‘Shit, we got something here. This is different, this is new, this is fresh, this doesn’t sound like something I’ve heard a million times over and over again. This feels like me.’ I was really, really pumped to be able to share that with the world.
Did the lyrics or melodies come first?
That’s a good question. There [are] two ways that songs go down. One is like pushing a boulder up a hill, like ‘God this is tough work, something’s not right about this, something’s not falling into place, what’s not fitting?’ And the other way is when the song just writes itself. It just spills out and everybody in the room knows and three hours [later] you’re all having a beer.
That sounds better!
It is! And those are the kind of songs that end up getting released. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever released one of those boulder-up-a-hill songs in my whole career. That goes for my last band, too. This song just came out so naturally. It was me and my friend Eli and my friend Rob, and we were like, “Oh my god, this is so good!” That excitement was really important.
People ask me, “Do you listen to your own music?” No, I don’t. But when you write something where you’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is so good! I would be a fan of this if I wasn’t me,’ that’s when you create something really special.
“Alaska” came after “Better Drugs,” which is built around the lines, “I need something to believe in / I need better love or better drugs.” What’s the story behind that song?
“Better Drugs” was the first song I wrote for Little Hurts—“Alaska” was maybe the second. I didn’t even know that little hurts was going to be a thing. I wasn’t even starting a solo project, I just wrote this song and everyone was like, “Man, this is really good. This is very much you—it’s not your band. This isn’t their kind of song, this is you.”
The really close friends I have in this world had been encouraging me for a long time to leave my band and start doing my own thing. I think this was the catalyst. I found the courage to be like, ‘I wrote this song, it’s really good, I’m gonna do this deal with Sony. People are interested. If I don’t do this now, I’m never gonna do it, I’m just gonna sit around and take the easy way and cruise forever.’ That’s not me. That’s not how I work. I needed that little kick in the ass to be like, ‘Okay dude, jump off the cliff, let’s go.’
So “Better Drugs” was really what pushed you to start your new project?
Totally, that’s what I needed.
At that time had you already stepped away from The Mowgli’s?
I was already emotionally distancing myself, so then the next logical step was to actually distance myself.
Was that transition difficult, or were you sure it was time to move on?
I wasn’t sure at all. I was totally uncertain. I’d love to be like, ‘Oh, I just came out the gates with this confidence.’ But those bandmates were my best friends for like ten years. We spent every day together for a decade, traveling around the country and sometimes the world in buses and vans and planes and anything you could name. Our relationship since then isn’t the same. I only talk to two of the band members now and that’s really sad to me.
But I guess I was validated in the end because I didn’t know if the fanbase was gonna come with me. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. I was like, ‘Am I gonna humiliate everybody by leaving?’ Fans often don’t love it when you pivot super hard on them. They’re used to the artist they fell in love with, and they want you to sound like what they want you to sound like—what you have sounded like. Sometimes change can freak people out which I completely understand. I have been a fan in this situation. So I didn’t know if they were gonna come with me, but they did—in huge numbers, with this enthusiasm I’ve never felt.
Did you consider putting out music under your name after that?
Honestly it was really simple. I asked my A&R, “What about my name, Colin Dieden?” And he was like, “No one wants to walk around with a Colin Dieden shirt on,” [laughs] and that’s all I needed to hear.
I know you have an EP in the works. What can you share about that collection?
The first five songs of the EP are all done and ready to go. I don’t know if we have a plan to release the full EP or a couple more singles until it completes the EP. Everybody is so hyper-focused on “Alaska” right now that we haven’t had those conversations yet.
I imagine you want to get back in front of audiences. Are there any bands you’d like to tour with when it’s safe to do so?
Literally anyone at this point! Beggars can’t be choosers. I just want to get back on the road. I go back and forth on how long it’s going to take—sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, [touring] will be back within a few months,’ but now it seems like because Americans are insane and [we] can’t keep our masks on it’s going to be a lot longer than that.