Colin Dieden became friends with Cameron Walker-Wright and brothers John and Stephen Gomez (pop trio TWIN XL), when he was still the lead vocalist of The Mowgli’s. It began as a common songwriting session—one of many—where Walker-Wright co-wrote the Mowgli’s “I Feel Good About This.” Later, while TWIN XL was opening for his former band, Dieden and Walker-Wright forged a bond that began with songwriting together, and they quickly became best friends, Walker-Wright remembers. In 2019, when Dieden began writing songs for what would become his solo project, Little Hurt, Walker-Wright was one of the first people he called.
Walker-Wright remembers the night Dieden bore Little Hurt. The two and Elijah Noll of American Teeth met at his house in L.A. to write and drink wine.
“We liked hanging out, so why not hang out and have fun and drink, and also write music? That was the day that we wrote ‘Better Drugs,'” Walker-Wright said in a recent phone call.
The song, like much of the rest of his forthcoming debut solo EP, is anxiety-ridden and drenched in uncertainty. The material Dieden wrote in his former band was happy-go-lucky, but he had changed. Previous singles “Good As It Gets” and “It’s Ok Not To Be Ok” delve into his boats of depression and battles to find a balance in his mental health. This is partly why Dieden left The Mowgli’s. He wanted to explorer the dark recesses of his psyche—and then find a way out.
“After 10 years, I really just started to feel like I was craving something more,” Dieden said in an email interview earlier this month. “I wanted to challenge myself to explore places I had never been internally. The Mowgli’s are my friends, and that was a very safe place for me, but I think I was ultimately just looking for something different than they were and I don’t think I would have ever been happy without taking that risk.”
RIFF: You wanted to write more personal songs as Little Hurt. Why couldn’t you have done that with the Mowgli’s?
Little Hurt: It’s really nice to be able to explore myself in a capacity I haven’t yet, to really be alone and sit there writing and working and fighting for the truth. I wouldn’t necessarily say my process has changed drastically or anything since going solo. I’ve been writing songs since I was 11 or 12; this is just what I do. My new single “Better Drugs” is the reason why this project exists. That was the first single I wrote for Little Hurt. I think when our team heard that song, it was clear to everyone that it was special, and new, and different.
You’ve said previously you no longer relate to some of your Mowgli’s songs. What has changed?
I think that’s a very natural thing that comes with growth. [It’s] sort of like seeing a yearbook photo of yourself from elementary school and not really know[ing] who that person is. You know it’s you but you’ve just grown so much that it feels like you’re looking back at a stranger. Those Mowgli’s songs I wrote were pure and very much a part of who I was at that age. I was very young; I’d never really been hurt. I’d never really experienced the aspects of the world that forces a person to grow up. It was sort of like living in a fairytale. I needed to start writing about what it’s like to be me now. Not just recalling some sepia-toned pleasant nostalgia.
How does your childhood baseball nickname Little Hurt apply to the music you’re making now? And how long did you play ball?
I’m not really sure it does. It was certainly never meant to be taken literally! It’s really just a nod to the concept behind this project, which is digging as far into the past as possible. [I played baseball] only a few years. I sucked. I didn’t have the patience for it. My mom says I used to sit in the outfield and pick flowers and chew on my glove. Which is insane. I played ice hockey, though, which I loved because kids would beat the shit out of me and I finally got to feel something, or whatever.
On “Alaska,” a song from the forthcoming EP, you sing, “At some Chinese restaurant in San Francisco my fortune told me I was on the wrong road.” Is that a factual story?
Well, everything I say in my songs actually happened. That’s what makes this Little Hurt project so special. I think that a lot of writers miss small, important things that can add so much texture to their songs and stories. I try not to gloss over details, regardless of how small they may feel. I write everything down so I can pull these cool little things into my songs and make them more special and visual. That moment occurred at a time when I was deeply emotional[ly] divided on what path I was going to take. And to be honest, there isn’t much to explain. It happened, and it’s visceral and honest, and that’s my favorite kind of writing.
How did you manage keeping the songs so personal when you were working with your collaborators for this record?
I only work with people who I consider my best friends—more, even—my family. I write with hundreds of different people every year, but the only ones I allow to work on my songs are so close to me that it doesn’t honestly feel like anyone else is around.
How did you get to know all of these collaborators?
In L.A., you write with new people every single day; some people you connect with and some you don’t. Writing with someone is such a wildly personal thing—you can end up getting really close to someone really quickly. The people I frequently work with are the ones I went somewhere special with during a session; somewhere below the surface.
What’s next for you after the EP release?
I have a lot more stories to tell, so I am going to do that.
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.