Private Playlist: Lionel Boy conjures a soundtrack for his island-bound adolescence

Lionel Boy. Photo by Basil Vargas

Private Playlist is a listening session with Southern California’s most notable musical figures in their private creative environments.

The musician known as Lionel Boy may not be from Long Beach, but you might say he is of Long Beach. Like his adopted city, Lionel-Keone De Guzman embodies a world of contrasts: fresh-faced with an old soul, expansive in disposition but deeply introspective, smooth in sound but rooted in a skate-punk ethos. 

After a round of well-received singles over the last year, De Guzman has fully stepped out with his self-titled debut, a dozen songs that combine the inherited ease of his Hawaiian upbringing with a subtle undercurrent of youthful anxiety. And his selections for Private Playlist mirror those preoccupations. He constructs an elegy for his island-bound adolescence through songs by Morphine, Paula Fuga, and Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.

“I started to find myself in other people's songs. It was blowing me away that somebody I've never met from a completely different background can sing a song, and I feel like, ‘I know exactly what you mean.’” — Lionel Boy

I definitely know there's been a shift in the way I listen to music, especially as I started to want to create it. As my tastes became more refined, I started to realize that people were telling stories in their music. I started to recognize the lyrics. Then I started to find myself in other people's songs, and I was really enjoying that. It was blowing me away that somebody I've never met from a completely different background can sing a song, and I feel like, "I know exactly what you mean." They may have been singing about something different, but the words can be so strong that it's like, "Oh, that is exactly how I feel right now."


"Country Road" depicts my home so well. The opening lines are: "Head on collision on a two lane country road / Lord, I pray, let them be safe." I remember driving by accidents when I was younger, and my mom reaching out and praying over the people in the accident, even if we were just driving by. We were all living on a small island, and things like car accidents can be so close to home. And when you're on a two-lane country road, there's so much traffic, so you have to wait. And you wait for your turn to come up to see what's been causing the traffic. And sometimes it's crazy, man. It's not a depressing song. It doesn't sound sad, because it's just honest. 


Growing up in the town I was in, Mililani, there was a group of traditional skinheads — not, like, crazy racist skinheads. They were into ska and reggae music, and I'd always hear Pat Kelly. But it wasn't until maybe three years ago that I realized what I was listening to, and [I] put it all together like, "Oh, it's this guy, and this is his record." And it just stuck with me. It's extremely easy listening and the words are pretty wholesome. 


No one in my family has a favorite artist for the same reason that I have them. They were always just listening to what was there. And for the longest time, that's how I received my music, by getting what was around. I was homeschooled, so I was pretty square. And when I started skating, it came down to skate videos, and what music was playing in the background. That's how I got a lot of my music and a lot of my style, even the clothes that I wanted to wear. And I got a lot of the bands that carried me through my adolescence from skate videos, like Thao & The Get Down Stay Down.

I discovered "Beat (Health, Life, and Fire)" on a skate video by these brothers out in Arizona. And here was this Vietnamese chick just killing it on the guitar. I love her guitar riffs, and her vocals were so different to me. I never heard anyone sing like that. When I went to see her videos on YouTube and whatnot, I was like, "Oh brah, I think I could do this." And I just loved the way she was doing it. It was so unapologetic, and it always felt like she was enjoying it so much. And that's the sickest part about it. I imagine that she's jamming by herself in her living room and it has the same energy. It changed my life.


I heard Derrick Morgan's "Conquering Ruler" for the first time at my homie's ... We had a little get-together for him after he passed away. It wasn't really his funeral, but it was a little shindig. And my other little homie put the song on, and he was like, "Man, this song is Nick all the way." And I started listening to the lyrics, and I was floored a little bit, like, "Oh, man, you're right." He's saying, "I'm the conqueror, anywhere you go / The conqueror, and I rule also." 

Me and Nick, we moved up to Oakland together because we had skate dreams. And it's so funny, because I think we were far from conquerors. But that's how I felt, or how I wanted to feel, when we were leaving home and going to San Francisco. After we parted ways, he went to Washington and I came to Long Beach, still following the things that took us from our home. But we're still chasing these dreams, still trying to be conquerors everywhere we go. And in retrospect, when I think about his life, he was a conqueror. And it's something that I strive to be, and it's something that I want to be every day. To feel like that.


I first heard Morphine's "Cure for Pain" on college radio, KTUH. And I remember it so well. The song caught my ear, like when he's talking about, "I propose a toast to my self control / You see it crawling helpless on the floor." And as I got older, I had to struggle with my own forms of addiction. And that's something that I still deal with sometimes. I'm looking for ... not necessarily a cure for physical pain, but something to take me away from the bad days. A lot of the time, people use substances to cope with that, and that's what I fell into. I'm not gonna say "Cure for Pain" helps me get through anything, but it feels good to know that there was somebody else who could articulate what I was feeling. And that's a song I found myself in.

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