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Contributing Editor | Twitter: @JamesMBKeith
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Like all debut albums, Lil Silva’s Yesterday Is Heavy is the culmination of his entire life up until now. Musically, it draws on the relationships built and the skillsets acquired over the first decade and a bit of his career; old friends like Sampha, Little Dragon and serpentwithfeet reappear, whilst longstanding collaborator Benji B acts as exec producer.
It’s also the result of years of therapy and intense self-examination. The album title literally refers to the process of unburdening one’s self from the baggage and the weight built up over the years—an ongoing process he’s still reflecting through both traditional therapy and Theta healing, which is a much more spiritually-focused process concerned with meditation, chakras, and the ego. “We only make music that activates the chakras,” says the Bedfordshire talent on “Vera (Judah Speaks)”. In essence, it’s the story so far.
And it’s been quite a story. Raised in grime raves, the artist born Tyrone Carter first cut his teeth with local crew Macabre Unit before assuming the Lil Silva moniker and switching to UK funky with a series of incendiary releases on Night Slugs, a good chunk of which folded a lot of those early grime influences back into the new UK funky sound to give us era-shifting classics such as “Cheese & Bun”, “Seasons” and “Night Skanker”. Before long, he began to stretch himself beyond being solely a club music producer and started experimenting with different collaborators (Mark Ronson, Paul Epworth and Damon Albarn among his sparring partners) and techniques as he began to add his own vocals to his tracks.
Over a decade on from his first creations, Lil Silva’s debut album is ready and he’s using all of these lessons, experiences, trials and errors, and pouring them all into his music. When I ask “why now?”, the short answer is because it couldn’t have happened any sooner, not without all of these crucial elements falling into place first.
We caught up with Lil Silva to find out more.
“Therapy is something I think all producers should do because, creatively, it’s a lot—just the energy you’re putting out when you’re creating, it’s draining. That, alone, can be heavy.”
COMPLEX: You’ve been making music in one form or another for over a decade now. What made you decide now was the time to start your debut album?
Lil Silva: Why now? Well, everyone’s been saying it’s been so long, that they’ve been waiting for this album to come out, but it happened when it did because it felt good to me. Something I’ve been working on for a long time is Theta healing and therapy, and what that teaches you is to not to set goals too far in the future that might end up stressing you out. That’s really helped me not to worry, like: “Oh, I haven’t done the album yet.” Instead, you focus on your higher self and when it feels good, that’s when I focus on music and the album. Whatever I’m doing, I’m on this timeless path.
It sounds like you’re going with the flow a bit more.
Yeah, it’s really that. It’s about starting your day differently. Getting all these tools really helped enhance the writing and just relaxed the way I would approach work, and showed me I don’t need to force it out: this is going to be great and I know it, and I’m going to trust in this process. It’s just a super calm and chill approach, I guess. When the pandemic hit, that got a bit on top of me, because the way I wrote the record was like being this wizard with a spider diagram, pulling people in and really working off an energy, instead of listening to anything, referencing anything. I wasn’t listening to any music for almost two years—I literally just wanted to draw all the energy into the room, like, “Let’s do something out of nothing.” And then all that shit hit.
Was that what prompted you to get into therapy? That huge shock to the way you wanted to work?
I was doing therapy before. Therapy is something I think all producers should really do because, creatively, it’s a lot—just the energy you’re putting out when you’re creating, it’s draining. That, alone, can be heavy. So being good to yourself, investing in yourself, it’s all about that because it can be tough for producers—being isolated, it’s tough. You’re on a Mac 24/7, creating music 24/7. You want to step out; you need to vent. You’re burning a lot of energy, creatively. Obviously, you have your peers, but keeping in the untold things is heavy. So you build up this almost depression without even knowing it. It’s a lot of weight. So if you don’t have an outlet for you to work on yourself, then you’re going in with the same tools, the same stresses, and a lot of the same heaviness into tomorrow, basically. That was why I called the album Yesterday Is Heavy. When you wake up and think, “The idea of yesterday is heavy. I literally can’t put it down,” you have to learn to put it down because tomorrow’s forever.
How does this play into Theta healing? Actually, before we get into that, what exactly is Theta healing?
It’s like just a type of meditation—it’s more spiritual. I’ve been working with a life coach for about two and a half years, so you do uncover some demons from your past life but you understand yourself more. It’s all about you, James. What do you want to do for yourself? Do you want to better yourself and stuff or not? That’s what I’m saying about goals and not overloading yourself with all this worry. You can worry a tad, but don’t do it too much because that’s when it falls on your ego. When you’re isolated, your ego will play on you. But yeah, that self-work definitely helped me connect with people better and learn more about myself, and it played a massive role in writing this album.
There are a lot of old friends and collaborators on the album—Little Dragon, Sampha, Jamie Woon, etc. How important was it to have this close, trusted circle working with you on it?
It was very important. That’s why I thought the lockdown was going to be a bit tough because that was not how I wanted to write my album. I had Sampha, Kwes and Jamie Woon around, and Benji B oversaw everything. I’ve trusted him for years and we’ve DJ’d together forever, so what better person to have in the room as well to keep that energy? James Vincent McMorrow, I’ve known him for five years, and after we did four or five songs, the rest was history. So it was really important that I physically had all these people around. I wanted to make the best music ever and I needed those cats around me.
You’ve been singing a lot more on your new stuff. How would you describe yourself? Producer, artist, songwriter, all the above? And how do you think that matches up with the way the rest of the world sees you?
You say all of the above—that’s it, man. Call me a quadruple threat! I was kind of doing all of it already. Prior to this album, I’d sing the songs as references and people would be like, “Who’s this singing on the song?” Oh, it’s me. And they’d tell me to put it out. But I’d always be kinda shy, like: “Nah, nah.” It sounded great, but I just didn’t feel like it was for me. I somehow knew I’d eventually get to it because it was always part of how I write, whether it was something for one of my tracks or for another artist. I’d sing first and then probably build around that. There were little dribs and drabs of me singing over the years and if you’ve been following me, you can hear it in a few records like [2014’s] Mabel EP and [2016’s] Jimi EP, but when I wrote “Caught Up” [from Jimi] with Cosima, that’s when that side of me really shifted up a gear.
“I wasn’t listening to any music for almost two years—I literally just wanted to draw all the energy into the room, like, ‘Let’s do something out of nothing.’ And then all that shit hit.”
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Lil Silva Is On A Timeless Path – Complex