The Smilo Interview
You may know him as DJ SMI from his shows at places like The Eclipse Lounge or AFROHEAT at Round Corner Cantina. But if you’ve spent any time in I.D. Labs here in the ‘burgh, you know him as Smilo who, for the past 14 years, has been working on his first album. Well, the anticipation is finally over. After almost a decade, Swig-Art is proud to present to you Smilo’s debut album, Every Minute Counts. It’s been a long time coming and we got to talk to the man behind the album to find out more about his process and music.
So the question on everyone’s mind is, what took you so long?!
I mean, that is the story here. It became a running joke within the music community that I was familiar with and I might release a single here or there and I’d get energy back, you know, “when are you releasing it?” and I was just like, its comin’ its comin’.
Essentially, it was just not doing it. At the end of the day after I’d finally done it, it was like, “Man, you couldn’t just do that?” I think a lot of it was all the decisions down the stretch and striving for perfection. Always feeling like it’s not quite right. I can take the music so far, but at the end of the day, I do want and need a professional to take that last step through the mixing and mastering process. I’m somebody who knows what I want to hear, but can’t always make it happen without help.
What’s the story behind the album’s title, Every Minute Counts?
I picked that title a long time ago. In ’04 I was performing with a quartet a lot. I had a gig in DC for a festival in the park. We spent a lot of time putting a set together. We get down there and they said, “We’re gonna have to cut a few minutes off the set.” We were like, “Oh okay. Well, shit happens. That’s okay–we’ll make the most of it.” Here they wanted to shave 20 minutes off a 25-30 minute set and we didn’t find out until the dude walked on stage 10 minutes in. We got to a point where the crowd got a big kick out of us. Our first reaction was, “Man, we put all that time in. I can’t believe it. We came all this way and we only got to rock for like ten minutes.” Initially we were upset, but walking around afterward we got a lot of feedback like, “Man, I wish you could have rocked longer.” Person after person was telling us they enjoyed our short set. So that’s where the album’s name comes from, you know, every minute counts. Even if you’re up there for 10 minutes, you give them a memory that lasts.
What has your creative process been like throughout the production of the album?
There are different creative processes for each track. The one thing about having an album with music from so far back, it’s hard to make it cohesive. We’re pulling up files from 2002 for this, like WHAT. So there are songs like “Smoke Eyes” which are just random. There’s no pre-planning. The drums came from the end of a recording session years ago where we just kind of jammed, and I took those drums only and took that to the studio, and we started building around that with a bass line and a sample. I’m definitely a random-style producer. I never sit down and say “This is what I’m going for, this is what I’m trying to make.” We won’t say never, but for the most part I just go in and start messing around and you know, see what sticks.
Years of collaborations are on the album; can you elaborate on some of those relationships?
There’s a lot of people in my circle who I feel like I should have had on here, but I had too much old stuff I wanted to put on it. The most frequent producer is Vex who I DJ with a fair amount and we just have this relationship as DJ partners, but he’s also a really good producer. He’s got five tracks on here, almost a third of the album. Ish is on the track “Take it Off” and he was the guy who would come through the lounge and freestyle a lot and one night I said to him, “I gotta get you on my record.” And that night was just random. Everyone was hanging around late and that’s how that song came about. We were just all hanging out and that was a random moment that turned into a collaboration. Right place, right time.