LOS ANGELES—Standing behind his old Yamaha M08 keyboard as he intently played, Small Hands cut a solitary figure in the afternoon daylight of his home studio.
His trademark humor and swagger were replaced by the occasional swaying and head shakes to the melodic tones that echoed throughout the room and well outside his home that serves as his music studio and creative haven.
Today, the music artist/adult performer is in his element as he reminisces about his years as a struggling musician before entering the adult entertainment world. “It was tough back then, but I always stuck with it so I was fortunate to continue playing music and work in the industry,” Small Hands said. “I saw it as another part of being an artist and I was very grateful for that.”
With a grin, the San Diego native reveals his excitement about his new album, “Demons,” now available on Apple Music, Spotify and elsewhere under his musical alias Empty Streets. It’s the culmination of nearly 10 years of work that explores his eclectic musical sensibilities that go beyond his punk rock roots and love for alternative rock. As one half of the adult industry power couple completed by AVN Hall of Famer Joanna Angel, the 2020 AVN Male Performer of the Year says he remains as committed to his music as ever.
To listen to the album, click here.
Taking a step back from a musical approach that focused on his passion for hard-driving punk, Small Hands explores the various genres that influenced his life and music. From rock and pop, the veteran artist’s appreciation extends to rap, rhythm and blues as well as ’80s-era synth pop that continues to echo in today’s music scene.
“I come from a background in song writing, so I’m always writing and exploring melodies, so having a studio at my house, I recorded the album in my living room and wrote it over the course of four years,” he recalled. “I gathered these songs that meant something to me and put them on this album. It didn’t matter if they were pop or rap or synth.”
Taking a page out of the proverbial playbooks of Paul McCartney and Fatboy Slim, Small Hands decided to make the album a true solo album and not put a band together for the project. He would play every instrument and sing every note, thus putting his artistic stamp on it for good or ill.
“I knew I was taking a chance, but I was confident, and after 20 years of being an artist, I knew I could do it,” he said. “I made it sound like a pop record, and more than anything, I made something by myself and keyboards. Every single piece of sound on that record and next to the beat and bass line is me. I would kick Joanna out of the house and I would work on this night and day.”
For his longtime partner Angel, Small Hands’ newest album is nothing short of spectacular, given his devotion to his work as a performer/director and as a music artist with a penchant for constantly writing and recording.
“Aaron’s album is beautiful, heartfelt, intricate, poetic and also incredibly catchy. However, that’s no surprise—he is truly the most incredible artist I’ve ever met with anything he does. I’ve seen it in his work as an editor, graphic designer, and an actor and a performer,” Angel said, referring to him by his given name. “Aaron has always been a talented musician. It’s something he did many, many years before he met me. The only way I could say he has ‘grown as a musician,’ is that his taste has changed a bit and as more at home recording equipment became available, he’s been able to accomplish more on his own as opposed to needing a full band to do it with.”
Herself an accomplished producer, director/performer and entrepreneur and mainstream media favorite, Angel denied she has any particular influence on his music:
“Quite frankly, I can’t take any credit at all for influencing him and his music—this is something that’s always been a part of his soul and something that’s always been in his life. In fact, I just got in the way of it by making him do all this damn porn,” she quipped. “And I don’t regret it. The world needs a full dose of Small Hands in your eyes and in your ears.”
Having to listen to nearly a decade’s worth of material along with new ones just in the past year, Small Hands had his work cut out for him as he listened to tapes and recordings of songs and pieces of songs that he was still working on. He finally whittled down his selections to a few dozen before ultimately choosing his final six tracks for “Demons.”
“My goal is to have songs resonate. The last song is a cover song of Selena Gomez. I like hearing songs that can be turned different. I thought I could do my own take on it,” he said. “I like synth pop and synth wave. I like to call it a big dark pop record, influenced by Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and also non-synth band Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.”
Among the songs in the album are “Possess Your Head,” which exposes the artist’s sense of isolation and emotional vulnerability. “It’s a minute and a half long and sets the tone and mood for what you’re about to get into. It’s a lonely song. I made it alone in my house and show my sense of agony and isolation. It’s depression. It leads into the next song.”
Another song that he hopes touches a chord with listeners is “Save Me,” a deeply personal song that stirs his emotions: “It’s an angry song about not understanding how you’re supposed to navigate how everyone abuses everyone else. It’s a pissed-off song about how the farther back you go the more you’ve been hurt. The song is vicious lyrically.’
Likewise, “Dance with You” brings out the complexity and passion of relationships: “It’s about a lover screaming at her partner and getting no response and shows the frustration where you’re yelling at someone and no one listens to you,” he said.
His cover of Selena Gomez’s “Love Will Remember” is particularly gratifying to him as he pays homage to the artistry of one of his favorite singers: “A Selena Gomez song. I’m a huge fan of pop songs and Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift … I just thought this song about lost love would fit phonetically about this album. It’s one to turn some heads.”
Altogether, Small Hands admits the album skirts labels, as he does in his other musical work. It’s a purposeful effort that shows his growing and changing musical tastes.
“I try to consume music from all kinds of genres and I’m a student of music so I feel that you never stop learning and experiencing music, so you humble yourself in a way,” he said. “There are guys who think they know it all and they get cocky and get crappy. They don’t realize that you can’t stand still, doing the same thing over and over.”
Growing up in the early 2000s in the midst of the San Diego punk scene, Small Hands played in various local bands until finally scoring a record deal for his band, The Stranger’s Six, in which he was the lead singer. That deal led to one release, “A Date With Daylight,” which was released by Orange Peal/Koch. After a couple of years of touring, he moved on to various San Diego-based bands, including the seminal pop punk band Fenix Tx, in which he played bass for a few years while they toured Europe between 2010 and 2013. But as his adult career took off, ultimately earning numerous awards, he continued to perform and record solo singles under the moniker Empty Streets, garnering much attention for his eclectic synth-pop style.
But as the COVID-19 pandemic rages and the music venues remain shut down, Small Hands hopes fans will look to his music for inspiration and hope for a better future that will include live shows and a sense of normality. As it is, he continues to write music while he heals from recent surgery to correct a nagging back problem.
“I’ve always done music by ear and had no formal training, so I would just pick up music by ear, so it’s an interesting process,” he said. “My style of song writing is about whatever is going on or whatever demons I have on my mind, I have to write a song about it. So, I will always be writing. It’s that simple.”