By Ralph Sher
Between playing a key role in the rhythmic flavor of the UK Funky sound and working with Mark Ronson and Adele, Lil Silva has consistently set his own pace. Even before linking with cutting edge label Night Slugs for the Night Skanker EP in 2010, Silva was igniting dance floors with his anthemic “Seasons/Funky Flex” single, which he self-released back in 2008.
Fast forward to 2016. Silva has spent the last three years successfully experimenting with his own voice and more introspective songs. A steady flow of EPs have followed, featuring contributions from the likes of Sampha and BANKS. All the while, however, Silva has stayed in tune with his club roots.
Silva’s new JIMI EP comes at a fitting time of year as the spring evenings begin to stretch out and animate the sky. The release showcases some of his most accomplished work to date, a focused looking glass into Silva’s bustling brain of ideas, all unraveled and set out to breathe in unison: in the short space of six tracks, the EP looms between moments of suspense, resolve and self awareness. Silva spoke with us over the phone to discuss his new EP in detail, as well as his collaboration success, progression as an artist and affiliation with club culture.
Hi Lil Silva, how are you?
I’m very well man, thanks! Just at home in my room in Bedford. I’m getting down to some plans to build a new studio. I’m going to kit out to build a log-cabin vibe, no distractions.
Your new EP marks a return to more song-based writing rather than your dance floor tendencies. What is it that drives you to write a certain way?
I guess it’s just whatever I’m feeling at that moment. The tracks on the EP have been something I’ve done over time, and I’m always trying to make the sound be “Lil Silva.” I just want to create my own sound rather than something to be pigeonholed.
The more underground world that I came from will forever be a part of me, and I’m fortunate to be able to work with that sound and do vocal projects too.
2015’s Drumatic was strictly for the club, and the tracks on JIMI can definitely work in a club setting, but the majority of your recent output has strayed from the dance floor. Was there anything that caused this change of pace?
I had just done the Mabel EP before [Drumatic], so I wanted to build more on those ideas. I try and approach tracks with a color palette in mind to help choose different moods—taking warmer elements and eventually moving into a darker feel. “Lines” is a good example because it starts off warm and then gets into a dark bass, it merges the two—it’s not forgetting that’s what Silva is.
As the title suggests, JIMI [Journey Inside My Imagination] is a fully realized piece of work. Did you approach this release with that concept from the beginning?
Yeah, it’s the transitioning of mood. It goes through the repeating of life events, people being in relationships and getting cut off from friends, its just emotions all the time.
JIMI was a sketch to begin with, and I was forever trying to figure out what JIMI is, and when I broke it down and put it on paper it eventually did just all make sense and flow together. Working with Mark Ronson was an influence to it all—his music’s dynamics and structure were great things to take in.
You worked with Mark Ronson and Adele on her track “Lay Me Down.” Can you tell us a little more about that experience? How did it happen?
I’d been writing with Mark for a while, and when the Adele song popped up for him he got in touch with me. He’s been a massive support for everything I’ve done in the past few years and thought it’d be great to invite me along to help put the track together.
I got to meet her as well, which was amazing. Working at that level blew my mind in terms of the dynamic and opportunity it presented, as well as the amount of inspiration I took from the experience for my own music.
I think it’s very fitting as well. Often artists like yourself from more off-the-radar backgrounds end up adding their own elements into popular music to make it more interesting.
Thank you man! The underground is the underground and it’s always going to be there, but even still I feel like a lot of people are going for this safe mode. A lot of DJs feel that the scene isn’t as interesting as it was three or so years ago.
Sometimes it feels like the DJ is there for themselves rather than to make people dance. When they’re not working the crowd, it’s like it could be anyone up there playing.
Yeah, I was at a couple shows in December and I was wondering, “Is the DJ even looking up?” We all used to be inspired by the underground and hearing new music, but when you have six DJs playing a similar set no one’s going to be inspired. Too many people play it safe and get lost on what to do next, so I’m forever trying to break out of that safe space with my music.
What was it that drove the decision to have other artists involved on a project so personal and introspective? Are you close with those artists?
I met Kent just over a year and half ago through a working trip out in Los Angeles. I stayed really close with him and the group he’s from, Overdoz. They work with two producers called THC who have done stuff for Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Mob. I connected the track with his voice in mind and I knew he had to be on it. The track was just a minute clip at the start, it was literally just strings and didn’t sound at all like what it turned out to be. He brought it to the next stage.
And Cosima, she’s from London and I got introduced through the label. I’d written “Caught Up” and had heard some of her music and thought she’d be great on it. I played it to her, and explained that it’s about being caught up in your own world, sometimes in a relationship, and isolating yourself away from your group of peers. It can mean a lot of things, but Cosima just got it and came through with one take. I thought, “Wow, this is gonna cause some trouble”.
Did you play a role in writing the lyrics sung by Cosima and Kent?
On “De Ja” with Kent, those lyrics were written by him. We had been doing a couple sessions out in L.A. and when I played him the track, I just let him run with it and he came up with this hook—I was like, “Oh! Wait a sec, go back!” It just worked, he nailed it. It really works with the flow of the record as well.
On tracks like “Lines,” “Jimi” and “Struggle” there are moments of textural sounds and ambience. What attracted you to adding more space into your music?
I’m into the ambient stuff too. I’m a big fan of Brian Eno. He’s someone I’ve listened to over time and he sticks with me. Space is always good for music, it’s lets the music breathe at the same time as letting the artist breathe. I just wanted to make the mix work and it felt right at the time, I wanted people to connect with it.
Yet throughout the EP you lean towards R&B but still retain that UK Funky step.
I started creating that kind of music when I was 14, and back then it was just a sound. It didn’t have a name yet and I wasn’t out to make UK Funky, but I do feel that way about the era of that sound in some aspects.
I feel that it’s representative of most artists tied to the Night Slugs label. Do you think that applies to you as well?
Definitely, I feel my sound is ever-evolving. A lot of the time the idea to get vocalists on our kind of music can be seen as “the wrong thing,” but if you look at what Bok Bok has done in the past, right up to what he’s been doing with Kelela, it just shows you don’t know if it’s gonna be right or wrong until you try it out.
That’s what I feel I’ve been on. “Lines” was the type of track that made me question whether to add vocals. I decided it could be the wrong thing, but it works for me so I put it out. Music will just end up sitting there doing nothing otherwise.
Can you tell us a little more about the artwork and what it represents?
It just goes back to it being a palette of color and transitions between moods, being caught in dimness and gradually moving into a brighter space. It comes as a sort of statement with the EP as well. Florian Joahn did an amazing job on it.
Can we expect any more visuals from the release? A music video?
We have a concept out for “De Ja” at the moment, and I can’t wait see what we do with it. When people hear the song I feel like they’ll be expecting a certain image to go with it, but it’s much different than that.
Are there any plans for the future? I know this EP isn’t even out yet, but it sounds like you’re coming closer to a full-length maybe?
I think maybe put out a few singles first and a few different things. I’ve got some projects coming up with Mark [Ronson] as well and then I’m doing some stuff with Lily Allen. But yeah, I am working towards an album.
Artists need to try not to become too genre-specific and take time to develop themselves as an “artist.” That’s kind of what I’ve become, rather than being labeled as something specific. For the future though, I’m working on a live show and a series of parties that we want to host around the UK and abroad. Finding random venues in the middle of nowhere and getting back to no phones and people having a good time.
Lil Silva’s JIMI EP will hit iTunes this Friday, May 13.