TJ “Lil Silva” Carter was 10 years old when he first started making music at the family home in old Bedford, 60 miles north of London. Now, at the age of 24, he is hailed as one of the most exciting artists and producers in the UK.
|WORDS: LARS HINNERSKOV ERIKSEN
PHOTOS: GOOD YEARS
Never mind bass or UK funky; Lil Silva didn’t care much for genre labels. Or for predefinitions of what his music should sound like.
He hooked up with LA singer Banks (a fellow labelmate on Good Years) to produce the haunting r’n’b for her debut album Goddess. Then, in 2014, came Mabel, Lil Silva’s latest EP, showcasing not just his vocal talents but also a rich and more refined sound with soulful melodies. Nowhere more so than the Banks collaboration Don’t You Love Me, building up around the eerie tremolo of a slide guitar and Silva harmonising over the eponymous chorus. And then the bass drops.
The razor-sharp staccato synth on Night Skanker and the calypso-influenced Seasons became milestones during the evolution of the British bass scene, but there was always more to Lil Silva than could be bracketed on a club evening flyer.
Never mind bass or UK funky; Lil Silva didn’t care much for genre labels. Or for predefinitions of what his music should sound like. Never mind bass or UK funky; Lil Silva didn’t care much for genre labels. Or for predefinitions of what his music should sound like.
What did you listen to growing up in Bedford?
In my early teens it was garage and grime. There was an under-18s club called Cabana where there were clashes, crew battles, MCs. It was bass-driven to the full. I was affiliated with a group called Macabre Unit, which I brought back for my Boiler Room session to launch the Mabel EP. That was a bit of history, a bit of knowledge for the listeners. Macabre was a big part of my teenage years and it still is. If you listen to their stuff you might find similarities.
Tell us a little about the sound on Mabel
It’s just a natural development of becoming an artist. I’ve been making songs and singing on a lot of stuff for a long time but I’ve never showed any of the material. Working alongside people such as Jamie Woon and Sampha opened my eyes and gave me the confidence to do it. I have been fortunate enough to have my own lane. I’m still mad about my basslines and there is definitely a soul side to tracks like Don’t You Love Me, First Mark and Kimmy on the EP. I don’t think people should rush things. I think you should take your time and try to be about the art rather than the hype; that’s why you got noticed in the first place.
Where do your ideas come from, the sounds, the loops, the bass?
People talk about their method of building music in the studio, but for me it can literally be any moment. I could be in a conversation and I’ll still hear what you are saying but I kind of peer off and probably need to record whatever melody has just gone through my head. Don’t You Love Me was a melody going through my head for a while, and at those moments I would be sketching parts of it. Just little one-minute clips here and there. You have to take in those moments because otherwise you will be sitting at a desk trying to write something as good as what you already had.
Who is Mabel?
Mabel is my grandmother who passed away when I was pretty young. We buried her on Christmas day. I was close to her and I still am. In some way she has guided me throughout. When I turned 21 I had no idea she had left a cheque for me, money to help me pursue my music. So I thought I’d give something back to her. That’s why the lyrics are there in the song: “your love don’t fade away”.
But other people do like to define it because it’s just easier to break it down like that. I don’t think it was ever really about the genres, it was about the artists. You know what the music is because of the sound of an artist.
How did YOUR COLAB WITH BANKS come about?
The label I’m on, Good Years, found her and sent me a ballad. We turned it into the track Work, which is more like 130 beats per minute. I definitely heard something behind her voice and I felt there was more to it. We started experimenting on some darker stuff and eventually got to This is What it Feels Like, which me and Jamie Woon had produced previously, and it just sounded right. She gave it that whole edge, and I told her: this is you. Dark but with a soul edge. That’s how she built the rest of the sound. We knew what Banks was after that.
What do you see happening to the UK bass scene?
I’m not trying to think about it in those terms too much. What do you call the current scene anyway? UK Bass? I don’t know what that is. I think that’s a big title and then there are lots of sub-genres under that. I went to a record shop in Soho in London and asked what they would suggest to a customer asking for UK bass, because there was no such section. He would give me dubstep, house, even a little bit of techno. So I asked, how do you define it? He said: ‘it’s not a genre’.
Born: Housten, US
Current City: New Orleans, US
Occupation: Artist and Producer