Next Wave #1160: TILLLA

"This is what I can do, take it or leave it..."

TILLLA’s ‘Third Person’ is expansive and bold in a way that is rare for a debut EP. Trained in classical instruments and proficient in electronic production, he is a sonic world-builder whose distinctive sound has quickly earned him industry recognition. 

A ‘dissociation trip’ created between the ages of 16 and 17, ‘Third Person’ charts his move from rural Somerset to London for music school. “I came from being in the country, from being around farmers, to all of this music… It kind of just felt like all that I needed was for someone to say, ‘Yeah, you can do that, it’s valid, you can actually do it’ for me to go nuts. So for the first year I just spent every day hunched over this box of wires”.

TILLLA uses modular synthesisers, a type of custom synthesiser built from multiple sections, allowing for greater customisation and control. He started with Logic in lockdown, using microphones to record himself playing the piano, but discovered modular synthesis after his Mum ‘begged him’ to listen to James Blake. “I was refusing to do it, because I was so egotistical, and thought it was wet”. He fell in love with Blake’s sound, and then with the equipment that Blake used to make it, and spent the rest of the lockdown period obsessively trying to understand it. “It was just wanting to recreate sounds that I’d heard, and had been hearing for a long time”.

The music school environment that ‘Third Person’ was created in has resulted in work that is in constant conversation with the classical and jazz music that surrounded him at the time, and led to collaborations with his peers, including multiple vocal features and a cover painting created by a close friend.  

“I realised that classical and electronic music are so similar. When a classical ensemble is going over the same four bars, over, and over –– to an outsider, you’re watching and you’re thinking ‘You guys are just slaves right now. This looks nuts’ –– but they’re basically mixing… They’re trying to get textures out of the instruments and out of the interactions of the instruments. And I was like, shit, that’s exactly what I do”.

“I’m never thinking about it structurally, I’m just asking, how do I get this texture? How do I get this thing to interact with that thing? Having all of that realisation in the space of three months – I wouldn’t expect any less of a crazy sound world to come out”.

TILLLA was signed soon after he completed the album, but it has taken three years for its release to happen. I wondered whether looking back on something that his younger self made for a jarring experience. 

“In my head, it was like, I’m about to put this out and go three years back in time into puberty, and I have to relive that whole thing… For me, this album, I don’t think I’ll ever make an album that is this visceral to me again, because it’s so bluntly addressing things at the time that I didn’t know was going to be something I didn’t like. I was so interested in and dedicated to the music part that I didn’t think: What am I actually talking about right now?”

Beyond his trepidation, TILLLA is excited for his music to finally see the light of day. “I’m excited. I’m really proud of this album, and I think it’s a good introduction, because I’ve gone quite maximalist on my first one. It creates room for me. I like the idea of putting out a really big, fat body of work, of having a big chunk of music and saying: This is what I can do, take it or leave it”.

‘Third Person’ will be released on April 19th, and TILLLA is set to play his first solo show at Bermondsey Social Club on May 1st. 

Words: Sasha Mills // TW

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