Lil Silva: a distinctive, club-ready debut a decade in the making

Each week in Next Noise, we go deep on the rising talent ready to become your new favourite artist. The Bedford producer and songwriter began the journey to 'Yesterday Is Heavy' nearly 10 years ago, and now, with collaborations with Sampha and Ghetts, he fulfils the early promise completely on his own terms. Words: Jemima Skala

There’s a buzzing energy to Lil Silva; he catches thoughts mid-sentence and runs with them, always open to new inspirations and ideas. NME speaks to the producer and songwriter from his home studio in Bedford; it’s not a small space, but the room is crowded with synthesisers and keyboards that line the walls, always blinking and on-hand whenever Silva’s next flash of inspiration hits. Even though he’s in the middle of an album cycle for his debut album ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’, his first after roughly ten years of writing and producing, he says that he’s always writing down the snippets that come to him. “I can never channel it off completely. You can’t, it’s always around you.”

It’s remarkable, really, that in 2022 Lil Silva – real name TJ Carter – is only just releasing his debut album. He’s been a quietly influential figure in music for over a decade, first appearing as a member of the grime group Macabre Unit; as Lil Silva, he had a big part in defining the sound of the mid-’00s dance sound of UK funky. His track ‘Seasons’, released in 2010, was an instant club classic and still brings people running to the dancefloor whenever a DJ drops it.

He’s been releasing EPs and singles throughout the last decade and has featured on tracks with the likes of Duval Timothy and Kano, as well as having production credits on tracks by BANKS and, as of last year, Adele. ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ is a development of the sound he’s been crafting over the last decade: strong dance music-influenced beats with melodies that catch you up in waves and carry you along. He’s brought in a hefty cast of collaborators, including Sampha, Little Dragon, serpentwithfeet and Ghetts.

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When asked why now is the right time for his first full-length project, Silva references his meditation practice. It’s something that keeps him in the now, reaching for “what was lighting me up and lifting me up in the moment as opposed to being like, ‘Oh, I need to do an album now’, because everyone’s saying that. So the more that becomes an expectation, and all these things from everyone else, there’s a lot on your plate and you forget being in the now”. His meditation practice has made his music making more intuitive, focusing on what feels good to him rather than working to fulfil arbitrary goals set by the industry.

He’s also worked with a life coach in recent years and practices ThetaHealing, a type of meditation that works to develop your natural intuition through enhancing the brain’s theta waves, exploring the link between physical health and emotional energy. “This whole album is about living in the now and the hope of that,” Silva says. “Not fast-forwarding too much in terms of goals [because then] it all becomes a bit cloudy. You set yourself up for so much and you want to focus on one thing, give that 100 per cent.”

Silva hadn’t particularly been thinking about making an album until he started working on the track ‘Another Sketch’, a soaring tune that melds heart-rending strings, a hip-hop infused beat and Silva’s own falsetto vocals floating atop it all; fans of past collaborators like SBTRKT and George FitzGerald will find entry points, though the sound here is pleasingly unique. Following the creation of ‘Another Sketch’, the writing and production processes were very much led by instinct and those sparks of inspirations.

The album is split evenly between solo tracks where Silva lets his own voice and production skills shine and collaborative tracks with vocal and production features. For ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’, he has reunited with his old friend and collaborator Sampha for two tracks; ‘Backwards’ features the Mercury Prize winner’s distinctive vocals over a classic Lil Silva instrumental: piano chords reverberate over a thumping, fast-paced beat. “That’s the thing about being in the studio and bouncing energy off everyone and being like, you know who would be good on this, and it becomes mutual, natural, and this whole family vibe,” Silva says.

In terms of a process, Silva says that he didn’t listen to music or DJ properly for the two full years that he was writing the album in order to not be overly influenced by, as he puts it, “what it’s meant to sound like as opposed to what it feels like.” He says, “I’ve always been influenced by very defined sounds: the Pharrels, the Timbalands, and there’s obviously this massive grime era, the DaVinChes, the Jon E Cashes, the Plasticians — they all had a sound, it’s almost like you can mould that to anything, any BPM, but you still know what it is. There will always be this Silva sound and it’s not tied to anything, but you categorise it how you feel it.”

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The Silva sound is threaded through every track on ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’, from the ascending bass on ‘Still’ and the skipping beat on ‘What If?’, to the reverberated guitars on ‘Leave It’. It’s a sound that Silva has worked for a decade to cultivate; to get the sounds he wanted for ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’, he went back through his archives for soundboards and samples, gathering the snippets that he’d been working on for years to funnel them into a new vision. It comes through on ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ in the UK funky-esque beats littered throughout the album, the layered sonic texture builds on his 2016 EP ‘Jimi’.

In terms of his work with other artists, he notably has production credits on Adele’s ‘25’, working with Mark Ronson on the track ‘Lay Me Down’. Of the collaboration, he says: “I see it as a part of everything, because it is Lil Silva growing with the whole sound.” He sees working with other people as another way to continue learning and improving and references Ronson, who he’s known since he was 20 and who he worked with on the Adele production, as a big inspiration for his own process and practice: “The way he arranges stuff and gets that spider diagram of people to connect–watching that made me be like, ‘woah, I can level up in a different way with what I’m doing, always’.”

‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ is a galvanising album that energises as much as it soothes. With themes of homecoming, working on yourself and self-worth, trusting your gut and building your intuition, it’s a complete statement of intent from someone who’s been quietly building away in the background for years. “I hope everyone just feels like that peace from [the album] somehow, or hope or happiness. That’s what I put into it so just take it!”

Lil Silva’s debut album ‘Yesterday Is Heavy’ is released July 15 via Nowhere Music

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