Pin It
Lil Peep in Everybody’s Everything
A candid picture of Lil PeepPhotography Mezzy

Inside the film celebrating the life of Lil Peep, artist of a generation

We speak to the filmmakers behind Lil Peep: Everybody’s Everything, a new documentary executive produced by Terrence Malick

In mid-November 2017, Lil Peep – real name Gustav Åhr – was on the final leg of a US tour with GothBoiClique, the ‘emo rap’ collective who had gained a legion of fans for their raw goth rock/rap – as well as notoriety for their excessive drug use. They had crossed the country twice in six weeks, drinking heavily and taking ketamine, cocaine, and xanax in abundance along the way. The final date – at The Observatory in California – was just two days away, but in the hours leading up to the penultimate show in Tucson, Arizona, Peep slipped into a state of unconsciousness at the back of the tour bus, and never woke up.

Peep had long struggled with depression and anxiety, conditions that were amplified by the unforgiving nature of life on the road and the pressure he felt to support the people around him. He wanted to fully devote himself to his family, his friends, and his particularly intense fanbase: some would go to his shows and give him the razor blades they’d used to self-harm, some would throw packets of pills on stage for him while he performed. Peep tried to explain these tensions in an Instagram post the day before he died. “I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don’t let people help me but I need help,” he wrote. “I just wana be everybody’s everything”.

“That was our entry point,” says Sebastian Jones, co-director of a new documentary, Lil Peep: Everybody’s Everything, which takes its name from that final message. “I was just curious, who is this ‘everybody’ in his life that he speaks of, and how did he get to a point where he would say that?” Jones was brought in on the project by executive producer Terrence Malik, a personal friend of Peep’s mother, who also enlisted Ramez “Mezzy” Silyan to co-direct alongside him. “I worked with Peep on music videos and toured with him in Russia,” Mezzy says, “so I came from the inside out and Sebastian from the outside in. It was kind of this meeting halfway situation.”

Make no mistake, Everybody’s Everything is not an investigation into Peep’s death. “You could make a two-hour film of that in of itself,” says Jones, “and I didn't want it to become a true crime story.” Besides, he couldn’t have made that film even if he wanted to, as that side of the tale is still unfolding – just last month, Peep’s mother filed a lawsuit against the rapper’s management over his death which is yet to be resolved. Instead, what we get is a rich, colourful, sentimental, portrait of the life and art of Gustav Åhr, the shy, awkward kid from Long Island who regularly shut himself away in his bedroom to make music with his laptop. The only way to get him out in the early days, we learn from his high school girlfriend, was to drag him out to make videos for his music, which took on a unique blend of hip hop and emo rock. Of course, his final hours are touched upon, with particular emphasis on the fact that he was left unattended for four hours before emergency services were called, but Jones adds, “I think we both definitely wanted it to be a celebration of Gus first and foremost.”   

“I’ve always said that I would like this film to allow people to get to know the Gus that they didn’t have the chance to,” Mezzy says. “He presents a lot on social media, he does all these things that people think are crazy, he has face tattoos, and then, you sort of meet him and then he's very very kind and gentle and just not what you expect.”

That emotional tenderness was clearly something Peep picked up from his grandfather, with whom he had a particularly intimate relationship. John Womack Jr, a Marxist historian and Harvard professor, served as a surrogate father figure to Peep following the painful divorce of his parents. His voice appears regularly in the documentary as a voiceover reading out various letters he sent to his grandson over the years. “Dear grandson, my prophet, my tattooed poet, and sweetheart,” he begins in one, “the wounds your father gave you God did not heal but did close, even if in scar, so you receive this strength to stand up to him yourself, to declare, just as a boy, your independence.” These eloquent interjections give him the impression of a kind of omnipresent protector and moral guide to the young Peep, helping him to make sense of the confusion and emotional turmoil of early adulthood. It provides a sense of narrative to a film that otherwise relies on memories of the people who knew Peep.

Womack Jr’s voice is elevated above a chorus of others featured in this documentary, ranging from GothBoiClique members, label representatives, childhood friends, and even Peep’s primary school teacher. “I did something like 145 interviews,” Mezzy says, which help to build a timeline of the rapper’s growth from a reclusive teenager who used to vomit from anxiety before going to high school, to an artist selling out shows in the US, Europe, and Japan. “Gus is not the narrator,” Jones says. “These are people speaking on his behalf trying to tell the story.” We’re reminded to be critical of these accounts near the end in a candid interview with JGRXXN, founder of Schema Posse, a collective Lil Peep was once a member of. “He talks about how half the people in this movie could be bullshit,” Jones says. “I like that kind of self-reflexive quality that he's speaking to, and so it kind of puts it in the audiences lap that you have to decide for yourself what to believe.”

Peep’s near overnight fame and sudden influx of money led to a lot of people wanting to be in his presence. Being the selfless person he was, he would financially support many who gravitated toward him – especially when he moved to LA – letting them stay at his place for extended periods. “He seemed uncomfortable in his own house,” says Bexey, a collaborator who opened for Peep on a few dates of his final tour. “He told me he used to like cry in his wardrobe and shit, ‘cos he didn’t even have a bed, people are in his bed on the sofa. He’d try not to cry too loud, he said.” Peep felt a lot of guilt as the major labels largely ignored his contemporaries, and he felt an overwhelming urge to bring them up with him, but it clearly took its toll on his mental health. 

Grandpa Womack’s advice kicks in once more. “There are lots of people in the world, crappy as it is, who you will learn you cannot trust. You may like ’em or not, you may work with ’em or not, but you cannot trust ’em. If you do, they will betray you.” This runs right to the core of Peep: he expected so much from himself, and he wanted to be close to and provide for everyone – to be “everybody’s everything” – but didn’t always get the same in return. The shocking and tragic circumstances of Peep’s death in 2017 have tended to overshadow the impact of his music (for many, their introduction to him was through hearing of his passing), and it became almost too easy to dismiss him as another DIY SoundCloud rapper who took too many drugs. But Everybody’s Everything gives him the thorough and loving tribute that his influential art deserves. “I challenge people who wrote him off to go look at the film and give him another look,” Mezzy says. “They’re missing out.”