Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, I need to preface this next segment with a daring admission. We of the Left Brain/Right Brain team at Scientific Inquirer are unabashedly partial to the music produced and created by our brethren across the pond. Yes, we are secret Union Jack flag wavers and proud of it!
http://silverlakemusic.co.uk/homepage.aspxA quick glance at the history of popular music in the 20th and 21st centuries reveals rather quickly that some of the greatest and most impactful songs, genres, and movements over the past 60 + years have emerged from the UK. It should come as no surprise then that one of our favorite new musical discoveries over this past 18 months has come via the eclectic and electric West Midlands, UK-based trio Silverlake.
Sometime in the early part of December 2020, my partner-in-scribe, brice, hipped me to a hypnotic track that he wanted to cover in our MONO section titled “So Caroline Says”. I was immediately drawn to its moody tone, as it felt like an homage to art films and nights fueled by unfiltered cigarettes, red wine, and existential convos on the complexities of life. I was intrigued and dug a little deeper.
I dove into their “Shutdown” EP, where “Caroline” resided and became an instant fan. I listened to the project non-stop, becoming completely enthralled by gems like the title track “Shutdown”, the aforementioned “Caroline” and “Black Ponytail”.
For lack of a better description, Silverlake gave me a modernized melange of the best of Blondie, YES, Duran Duran, Prodigy, The B-52’s, & Jamiroquai; shaken and stirred and served in a high ball glass. Plus, their videos resonated with a certain brand of cool reserved for those that know they’ve put in their 10,000 hours and have some genius to share with the world.
Recently, I stumbled across a new delicious number from Silverlake titled “Your Power Is Off” and fell in love all over again. We decided that our initial back and forth needed to take the next step by covering them in the Digital Underground.
We had the pleasure of chopping it up with Sally-Ann, lead vocalist of Silverlake, via email and learned more about the band’s unique origins, how they’ve coped with the COVID 19 pandemic, and also how they’ve skillfully navigated the digital highway known as the internet to make their presence felt in our current musical landscape. It was a pleasure had by all and they dropped serious knowledge. I’m sure everyone reading will really appreciate this one…
Without further ado – Silverlake.
First of all, for listeners that are new to your music, who is Silverlake?
For the record, in reality (or anywhere else), Silverlake is Sally-Ann Parker (vocalist and lyric contributor), Tony Sherrard (bass, programming, and sound engineering), and Robin R. Dallaway (guitar, keyboards, and songwriting).
All originating from the West Midlands, UK. If water and luck have anything to do with it, close to the River Severn. Two of us grew up on the same street. We’re music and film fans. Emerging from post-punk, art-rock, and dance.
We’re like invisible ink. There have been lots going on the page but no one could see it. Struggling with the daily grind of day jobs. It’s felt kinda secret and exclusive. Maybe we were waiting for something.
Specifically, how would you describe your style and musical aesthetic?
Most of the time, for shorthand we say… Silverlake is an art-pop three-piece playing dance and indie-inspired electronica. It’s pop, but pretty dark at the edges. Our songs are about dealing with work, love, sex, and mortality.
But the question about musical aesthetics is a very interesting one. Diversity and singularity. We all individually like different stuff and Silverlake is the intersecting bit of a Venn diagram.
Some influences are perhaps more evident than others. But the biggest part of that intersection is filled with a common love of dance and pop. The creative bonds between us were forged in house and techno dance clubs. But there are many different strands that run through our tracks – art-pop (Roxy, Bowie, Talking Heads), jazz (John Coltrane, Theolonius Monk, et al), rock (Zeppelin, White Stripes), funk (James Brown, Funkadelic, Sly and The Family Stone), trip-hop (Portishead, Massive Attack), pop & dance (Basement Jaxx, Air, Daft Punk, Justice, Jungle, Working Men’s Club, Roisin Murphy), to name a tiny number.
With this vast palette of sound available, retaining our identity is paramount. Influences are myriad, but it has to be our voice, our sound, even if it is variegated. Special bands, like Led Zeppelin, always did that. They pulled on blues, rock, folk, Indian music, jazz – which gave them such an interesting individual sound. If you don’t have your own voice, what do you have?
There’s the genre question. Take, for instance, Beck. He created his own genre, I think it was called ‘Beck-like’. I guess he was saying he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed. I suppose it is also that what he was producing is eclectic…but you know it is still Beck.
Maybe everybody should have their own genre. Maybe ours is ‘Silverlake-like’.
Tell us a bit about your band’s journey from its inception to the present.
It’s a long and unusual tale. We haven’t heard of any other artists taking the route we have. It’s been chaotic too, until recently.
We met ages ago in an improbable seven-piece band – Vivarama – having taken very different routes to get there. Rob – veteran (hahaha) music maker, founder member of punk/post-punk The Cravats and The Very Things and acid house project ‘Hit The Roof’. Tony – bass player with The Lucies, described by BBC Radio 1’s John Peel as ‘too loud for my ears’. Sally-Ann – classically trained singer and ex art-school.
Vivarama imploded, we three, like parts of a nascent planet, orbited dance clubs, trip-hop, films, and art.
So, Tony started building the Silverlake Studio in his old apartment. A one-gigabyte external hard drive… the Apple Mac G3 candy blue and white dream machine.
Rob was collating songs in his dreams and hoarding them.
Sally-Ann made it out of the haze of the Birmingham and British club scene, listening to House, and started to find another voice.
It was crazy for a while. We all had inspiration and nowhere to go…
We always kept in touch and partied together but then there was a conversation after an all-nighter. That’s how it started. I think we all felt a little looser.
The band began but the name came later. We were just experimenting with new tech gear, sounds, and ideas to start, although Rob had a warehouse full of song ideas. Sally-Ann recalls, “I remember the first time I heard ‘Backtime’. It was, I think, our first proper self-recorded and mixed track. It made me cry. It was the first time I knew how great this trio could be. And we had all the time in the world to create, so we thought…”
We spent long evenings and living room sessions on our weekly meets. All had day jobs and it’s amazing we kept plugging away at it. But it kept us all going.
We self-released our album, ‘Paradise Place’ just for us and a few friends (we’ve just remastered and re-released it).
And then illness, mental health issues, and accidents all slowed us up. But eventually, we got beyond them. Now we’re looking at the time and using it.
Your music has an interesting mash-up of styles at its core- was that a result of your environment? How did your sound come together?
We all bring something different to Silverlake, and it is plastic, but it has a distinct, ever-developing character. But it’s not so open that we could be anything. We explore the edges, noise, and chaos, but then come back to the core, beats, grooves, and hooks. WE ARE IN LOVE WITH MUSIC. Our environment is an equivalent mash-up. West Midlands industrial towns. 50 miles from Bristol. Boozers. Art school. Dressing up. Dancing. Rebellion. ‘Revolt into Style’, as Bill Nelson said.
The after-club soundscape at that time was full of bands like Air, Portishead, and Roni Size. We were encouraged by the Bristol Scene and had the vision to combine analogue sound with the control of digital sequencing. This was at the time when the tech was becoming more accessible. We could take our time being creative, not having to buy time in a studio. We could take samples, create loops and sequences, add vocals, guitars, and keyboards and push it in a particular direction.
Visuals have always been important to us too, which is why we’ve made video and graphics an integral part of some tracks. We’re also influenced by a wide range of other stuff in technology and art.
The songs are about our lives, but the form they take reflects the stuff we like to watch, see and listen to, it gets into your creative DNA whether it be David Lynch movies, trashy period TV, the latest exhibition at the Tate Gallery, or a LoneLady album.
Digital Underground likes to explore how the internet serves as a primary platform that artists use to promote their material. How has the band leveraged the internet and social media to get your material out to the masses?
Well, like everyone, we’re still learning, but happy to share. We have always had a presence but not been proactive. The interruption to our usual production and rehearsal routine in 2020 meant we started to think about what we wanted to achieve. It made us think about how we were going to work and continue being creative. It led us to think more critically about how people were going to access our music and the channels we might use. We were daunted to start with. There is so much music and video out there, we weren’t sure if we wanted to compete and whether what we did would cut through. After reviewing the available channels, we decided what would be useful to us. We also decided we needed to have concerted campaigns surrounding releases and activity. This involved creating a schedule of releases and times for the posting information and videos etc. on social media platforms. All this kinda goes against our nature somewhat, but we arranged joint calendars and online workspaces to help us to work in an organised way.
We knew what we were about, but this process forced us to convey it in a concise way to the right people, via the right channels. We worked at engaging with people that we thought might understand what we were doing. We decided it was important that everything we do should have integrity. The content, how it reads, the look of the whole thing. Messages should be coordinated and consistent. It is time-consuming and sounds boring but we realised the only way we could do it was to agree on actions and then delegate responsibility for specific platforms to each other. Once you have your release and the story, it’s then a matter of taking time to understand what each platform wants. We maintain our Silverlake website, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok pages, etc. to feature coordinated and consistent information. To do it properly, it’s a full-time job. This is tricky if you’re trying to earn a living elsewhere and be creative at the same time.
But it’s not easy making yourself visible. There is so much stuff out there. How do you use this wonderfully powerful, democratic platform and not get buried in the sheer volume of stuff? Bloggers and people who curate playlists are more important than ever. Spending time online finding one who might get what you’re doing is useful. For instance, we’ve been using Bandcamp and were lucky to get highlighted on the platform by making a specific approach to a Bandcamp blogger with our EP ‘Shutdown’.
What is some advice that you can provide for new artists coming up on how to get their music out to a wider audience? What are some of your best practices that others can apply?
It is questionable if we would have progressed this far in sharing our work without getting more organised. It’s hard to imagine how. Wrong side of the brain. You can do both, both left and right brain stuff. We were always a bit resistant to being more organised as we saw it as the enemy of creativity. We were focused on being creative, there was no room with any of this kind of order in the past. But it’s Yin and Yang. It’s been valuable to have acquired this template.
We send information and releases to radio channels, including independent channels and the BBC, local and national, getting songs played and building relationships with DJs. We keep them informed and send them previews of upcoming releases. We found it beneficial to research and understand which DJs our music might appeal to.
Time is short and stations receive so much new music, it helps to provide a radio-friendly, concise but interesting biog or narrative that can be used to introduce the artist and their songs. What’s unique about you? What is your story? Information will help broadcasters to get engaged with you and to share your work. They may appreciate being informed about releases prior to the release date and be able to play ‘exclusives’.
It may be obvious to say, but taking opportunities to submit music to showcase events or competitions could also be a good lead-in.
It’s been great developing fans and listeners in places like Argentina and Italy. Some platforms like Drooble seem to be more popular in particular territories.
It’s important to invest time in organising scheduled digital distribution in order to get onto key music platforms. Some platforms require a lead in time to process submissions in advance of official release dates.
It is easy to forget that many of these platforms provide status updates and data on details like listens, purchases, and how fans find you. It’s free information that can be useful to track what is working and what isn’t.
It may be worth taking the time to develop relationships with journalists (music press, art magazines, cultural magazines, both online and offline) – they may write about you or review your music. Building an archive of reviews can be useful.
Many channels will appreciate some reciprocal promotion – using your social media in turn to promote their station/magazine/programme.
What are some of the challenges the band has faced during the pandemic, and how do you plan to attack the post-pandemic world?
We’ve been dedicated to the music, with our heads down. Having focused much of our energies on being a gig-ready band, being unable to rehearse has been a primary challenge. Not being in the same room and part of a creative process has meant we have had to adapt to different ways of working. We have faced the same challenges as other artists and it’s been necessary to develop our own new tools and direction.
The lockdowns were an opportunity to get a bit more focused on organising and sharing our back catalogue as well as working on new music and future releases. We started using teleconferencing to meet and plan. We created shared folders and documents online in order to keep track of things and push plans forward.
We don’t have completely matching music software, but we have a way of sharing files and doing what we need to so that we can develop new work.
We look forward to being in a position to get together again – nothing is quite like playing together in the same room – but in any case, for the first time ever, we have a clearer route for work mapped out. Our first post-pandemic rehearsal will be interesting.
Like many people faced with the kind of restrictions that we’ve had, we’ve found ways of working around problems and getting projects finished. We decided that it would be good to have a video for our recent EP ‘Your Power Is Off’. We planned it around Sally-Ann being able to shoot some ‘selfie’ style video, lit by a torch. Very low tech, but we hoped it would have a suitably claustrophobic quality appropriate to the song. Using Davinci Resolve on an iMac, we cut it all together and managed to produce something we were happy with. Again, this has pointed the way forward, knowing that we can produce interesting video content domestically.
In terms of writing, change is embedded in Silverlake’s culture. We keep growing and developing and now we look forward to getting material out more quickly and moving on. We have lots to work on – a schedule of releases for the year and new material in progress.
What should your fans expect next as far as material and when?
We have several releases planned for this year, including a second ‘archive’ album, (called ‘Jim Rockford’s Smile’) and new material including a couple of singles and an album.
Regarding ‘Jim Rockford’s Smile’; we had originally planned this material would form an album. For one reason or another, it did not happen. Joining the dots between ‘Paradise Place’ and ‘Shutdown’, ‘Jim Rockford’s Smile’ is in between. We did originally release ‘Shake Your Head (With Your Black Ponytail)’ with two further tracks (including ‘Jim Rockford’s Smile’) as an EP, all of which will be on this album. The track ‘Jim Rockford’s Smile’ was used on BBC TV’s premier soccer show ‘Football Focus’. The rest of the tracks were never released or shared at the time, although we did release a dance mix of ‘Take Me’ as a limited edition 12” vinyl disc. We had intended for ‘Peaceful’ to be a single and shot some video for it. We’ve gone back to the original footage and created a new video. So it’s been interesting to revisit and remaster these tracks and in hindsight, it’s a body of work that we’re really happy with. We’ve fallen in love with the tunes all over again.
Time has elapsed and that space has given us a different perspective on this material. It might seem odd we never made the most of it at the time but maybe it was meant to be that way.
Then there is the new album, planned for completion in early 2022. About half the tracks are in the bag. Big art-pop dance tunes. It’s very exciting to be working on it. We’ve been able to progress the tracks using our new remote way of working, but we’re hoping to speed things up once we can get together regularly.
WORDS/INTERVIEW: Greg Cee.