Issue 15

Lil Silva

Record producer-turned-singer Lil Silva has waited 10 years to create a sound all his own.

By Nina Karina

Photographed By Benjamin Werner

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You’d do just as well describing the flavor of salt as pinning down Lil Silva’s music. And after talking with the North London-based musician, it becomes clear that that indeterminate style is intentional. “I want to make timeless music,” Silva tells me as we discuss his recently released debut album, Yesterday Is Heavy, a lush and intricately layered work that blends chill club beats with soulful vocals and proselytizing lyrics. The album is the culmination of more than 10 years of creative genius for Silva, however behind the scenes. He got his start in the Bedford-based grime crew Macabre Unit, and for years has thrived as a sought-after producer (his credits include writing for Adele, Banks, Mark Ronson, and serpentwithfeet). After a decade collecting knowledge of genres as disparate as garage hip-hop and classical music, he’s created a genre-less sonic mixture dubbed the “Silva Sound” by music critics. And nowhere is that sound more honed than this album.

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You spent years behind the scenes as a record producer and have now put your own work out there. How does it feel to have released Yesterday Is Heavy into the world?

I’m still processing to be honest. It’s super amazing and overwhelming at the same time, but it's brilliant. Like, I'm so happy people are really engaging with it. Yeah, it feels really, really good.

Listening to the album, the overarching theme is living in the present, but I do want to take it back a little bit. Did you gravitate towards music as a kid?

I remember myself like four, five, six, always near the DJ booth at parties, always near the speakers. Like, just fascinated by anything with it. My uncles dabbled in the [Jamaican] sound systems [culture] and reggae and all this stuff. So I grew up around it as well. I was like, I'm definitely going to do this.

What were some of your earliest musical influences?

When I was coming up, I heard The Neptunes, Pharrell, Timbaland, J Dilla, which was, you know, a huge influence for me. They all have their own sounds, so very defining. You listen to them and it’s like, Oh, that's definitely a Timbaland track, or, That's definitely a Pharrell beat. I got very into the idea of having a defined sound and making great music with that. I keep hearing, “It took Silva over 10 years to make this album,” and I’m like, No, it was over 10 years of influences. It’s been an amazing journey and I wouldn't change it. I don't feel any regrets about the timing of [the album] dropping.

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A lot of your music is labeled as club music, which is often thought of as mindless dance music. But listening to this album, it's obvious you’re taking the genre to another level, and I'm interested to hear what it is about club music that provides such fertile ground for your creativity?

I love being in a club. Like, that was such a massive part of music history and even the sound system [culture]. And I think about like things hitting, listening to the bass, really connecting—that was always my thing. I love melodic things and I love hard, gritty bass. I felt like, if I can mix these dark and beautiful things together, that will really work. It's just such a great blend, and it's honest. Life is that gritty bass, but you have beautiful moments, too. That's my thing, mixing the dark and soul together, because I love both. It’s like there's this wobbling needle on a scale, always about to get stuck in one genre. It's just like, I’m never gonna stick to one thing, dude. We’re going to just focus on the sound.

You've got an amazing list of musicians appearing on your album. How important is collaboration to you?

It's important, but I think it's just important to make great music. It was quite a nice experience to be like, “Hey, I'm making an album. I will love you to be a part of it.” I didn't know if they were going to end up on it or not; it was more, I would love your energy in the room. The yin and yang of the collaborators as well—it was perfect. I've worked with Sampha for years and bringing back Jamie Woon—he was one of the first people I ever worked with when I first came into the industry. It was really important for me to have him [be] a part of this.

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How has being a father influenced your art?

She’s like a mini-me, she’s a twin. She loves music. I'm probably seeing what my parents witnessed from me. I knew I’d made a good song if my dad complained about it, and now if my daughter sings it, then it’s a win. I mean, other than [parenthood] making me more grounded, it's also even more fun writing and just saying to my daughter, “Here listen to this, what do you think of this one?”

How would you describe the “Silva Sound”?

Is there not a tab now that's just like, “Silva Sound”? [Laughs] But saying that, like—the algorithm of genres just brackets and limits everyone into one thing. It’s the grime, the jazz, the funk, it’s the hip-hop, it’s the garage, it’s the house. That’s the Silva Sound.

How does one create timeless music?

I had to stop listening to music during lockdown. I know it sounds mad, but I just want to try to build this thing purely off the energy I’m bringing in the room. You have to challenge your energy and balance yourself in order to do that—not being your ego, staying by yourself, being in the now, and just doing what lights you up in this moment. That’s all I feel we should be doing, right?