Smooth jazz keyboardist Oli Silk has valuable advice for artists hoping to achieve, or even eclipse, the level of success he’s experienced. “Make the music you want to make and not that your record label wants you to make, or anyone else for that matter,” he told SoulTrain.com. “Love what you do. Go out there on stage and kill it. Enjoy playing your own compositions, and just have fun and get paid for it.” SoulTran.com caught Silk live at Alexander Zonjic’s Shoreline Jazz Festival. He killed it on stage, and he and the audience looked to be having lots of fun.
The British producer and composer has done all of the above. After releasing two LPs with Danny Sugar as the duo Sugar & Silk, Oli became a regular in the top 20 of Billboard’s smooth jazz albums and singles charts as a solo act. His 2006 debut, So Many Ways, brought him Debut Artist of the Year honors. His chart success continued with albums The Limit’s the Sky (2008), All We Need (2010), and Razor Sharp Brit (2013). Oli’s 2014 single “At Your Service” featuring Julian Vaughn reached #1.
We sat down with Oli Silk to discuss what he’s gained from his career, why he’s remained humble, and who pioneered UK soul and jazz.
SoulTrain.com: Oli, you’ve released 4 great albums. What did you gain from one LP to the next?
Oli Silk: What I gained was experience, obviously. I gained experience of how to record things, experience using better musicians each time, and getting the sound I really wanted from the guys I was working with.
SoulTrain.com: Okay. Now tell us what you lost.
Oli Silk: What did I lose? Oh, boy. I guess I lost that young naïvety where you’ll just try anything. You’re a little more imaginative with things. Living in the U.K., I wasn’t exposed to as much smooth jazz as the guys here. So it enabled me to just go my own path a little. I have to make something that fits with what I’m hearing all the time. I was influenced by dance music, and I think I lost that a little bit. I definitely carved out my own style. Having worked with a lot more of the guys who play this style, my music has gotten more of a mass appeal now, which is great, of course.
SoulTrain.com: You’ve been humble about your success. How do you not let the sales and high Billboard chart positions go to your head?
Oli Silk: Probably because I’m English. We’re deeply cynical people. We just know that something bad is coming around the corner! Seriously, I never have. You know when you meet famous people and stuff, and some people get so star struck? We’re just like, well, they’re just human beings who are good at what they are, and we just give them their respect. You don’t let it consume you too much, if you do it comes across to the audience. It’s very nice to be humble. People pick up on that.
SoulTrain.com: People are attracted to normalcy, too.
Oli Silk: When you’re just a normal guy people are like, “He could be my friend. He’s not way up there and I’m way down here.” And I think that’s fair, unless you’re Miles Davis or Charlie Parker, or Herbie Hancock or someone like that. They came from a different time when they were huge worldwide stars. And the way it is today fans can more easily connect with us. There isn’t any room anymore to be pretentious, to be way out there and not connect with the fans.
SoulTrain.com: A lot of people feel listeners in the U.K. are more receptive to jazz and soul music than those in the United States. Do you agree?
Oli Silk: Wow. I’m not sure…Is it more receptive out there? What I will say is we went through some real different musical progressions. Certain things were popular in the U.K. and they weren’t in America. In the early ‘80s we had the jazz/funk thing going on, and it was, like, unrivaled throughout the world. You had it in the ‘70s but we had it in the ‘80s. While you guys were getting kind of bored with it, we had this thing in the 80s that really fused jazz and funk and soul. We made that our own for a while.
SoulTrain.com: Who would consider a pioneer of that sound and that era?
Oli Silk: There was a band called Level 42, produced by Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire, who were a worldwide stadium-filling band. They were, basically, a fusion band. They became very popular with mainstream songs. They paved the way. So in that respect we went off on a different path than you guys. We also incorporated a lot of dance stuff. That’s why I wanted to put in those influences on my first record. When I came out there was no point of me trying to sound like every American artist. I may as well sound a little different, which is what inspired me to put those little flavors into my music.
SoulTrain.com: On the subject of inspiring, let’s say you were invited to represent the United Kingdom on International Jazz Day. What would you do with that opportunity?
Oli Silk: I’d bring forth some other U.K. musicians to the floor. There’re a lot of us over there. It’s really difficult to come over here and make a name for yourself. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to do that. The radio has given me good exposure to be able to be heard. A lot of people much better than I am never get the time of day. I see being a part of International Jazz Day as a good opportunity for them to be on an even stage with everybody.
—Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker is an urban and pop culture enthusiast. Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, the biographer, author, entertainment and celebrity journalist, and columnist is currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of weekly classic hip-hop reviews for Concrete Magazine’s Concrete615.com. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He is also working on a book project with Liquid Arts & Entertainment. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog MrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.