It is with great pleasure that I introduce Sylvain Kauffman, the electrohouse-turned-chill producer known as SYL. His breakthrough album 2sense dabbles in the realm of chillwave, ambient, and downtempo melodies that soothe the soul and bring peace of mind. We met up with SYL to discuss the past, present, and future of his career in music.
Hey man, thanks for joining us today. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m Sylvain Kauffman. I'm 19 years old and from Fresno, California. Currently, I'm living in Washington D.C. I just got done with my first year at Georgetown University.
What brought you to the music industry?
I started playing piano when I was really young, just taking lessons and learning music theory. Eventually, I don’t know when it was, but I started composing my own melodies on the piano and had a few bands with real instruments until finally my brother told me to get Logic. I started making electronic music freshman year of high school and progressed from there.
Let’s talk about your album. It’s pretty downtempo, very different from what you were doing before with AndDrop!. What led you to make that kind of music?
I think it was really a variety of things. I definitely started out with electrohouse with AndDrop!, but the melodies I had written before were more tranquil and mellow, unlike what we were trying to do with the pump-up sounds. I wanted to be able to go a little bit more complex with melody because I have that knowledge on the piano and that’s what I had been composing. I felt that I couldn’t really put that into the [electro house] genre. It started there when I was just making the chill dub beats like bass-influence stuff.
Any specific influences, in terms of genres and artists?
The genres and artists that influenced me for this EP are pretty diverse. Guys like Cashmere Cat, Canblaster, and Para One blow my mind when it comes to production. I love a lot of UK Vibes too like Gorgon City, L-Kid, and Celsius. On a personal level, being in the studio with my homie Poor Sport taught me a lot and had a huge impact on the direction that I wanted to take my music. As 1/3 of the Electro House group AndDrop! my brother Harris and our third member, Joe Wiseman, turned me onto the entire EDM world and encouraged me to explore my interest in down tempo, more melody-driven work. For the EP, I knew I wanted to do something melodic and minimal, drawing inspiration from ambient vibes, movie soundtracks, and hip hop to create each track.
When I heard your “Legends of the Hidden Temple” track I geeked out pretty hard. What aspects of the show did you incorporate into that song?
Zero aspects, actually. The song title came to me when I was chilling with some homies and they couldn’t stop talking about it. I guess it has to do with the synth I have going through it, this pitch on an orchestral vocal section. Something about it reminds me of Olmec and those jungle vibes.
Olmec, just one more reason why the ‘90s were better. When you were making the album, how much of it was your history with music theory and how much was it just sitting down at the keyboard and testing the waters?
Every song has a main chord progression that is completely piano based, certain chords that I really like together. But every other harmony, every single effect was all just trial-and-error trying out weird shit on different synths. Everything else you hear, like the birds chirping, was just different ideas I had.
Give us a little insight into your production setup.
My set up is really simple. I use Logic and all of its interior plug-ins. The VST's I use are nothing crazy, mostly Massive and Sylenth. Besides Logic, I have a tiny midi-keyboard for cranking out new melodies n' such, and sometimes I use environmental samples and vocals from acapellas.
You've just sat down to start a new track. What are the first, second, and third steps you take to ensure maximum efficiency and minimal frustration? Do you master your own tracks?
I usually open a new project file with a melody idea I conceived on the piano. After laying down the basic chords, I try and think of as many accompanying progressions as possible. When I'm satisfied with that, I turn to percussion, which usually takes some time. For me, maximizing efficiency means staying organized within the file, which includes labeling tracks and maintaining an even mix throughout. I don't master my own tracks.
How often do you find yourself starting a new track and leaving it thinking you'll get back to it? How often do you find yourself on a roll and working on a single track for hours/days?
When I get really excited about something, I'm constantly working on it into the late hours. There have been times that I've lost a significant amount of sleep just because the creative juices were flowing. A few songs on the EP were fully formatted in a matter of days while others left me really stumped and took multiple months to finish.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions about producing that you had when first starting out that wish you could tell your past self?
One of the biggest misconceptions I had was that I should turn every track way up to create an enormous sound. After a few years of experience, I've learned that it is much more effective to keep different tracks at lower volumes; It allows them to create a much clear mix, and it lets the combined effect of the tracks maximize the volume of the song as a whole.
Standard question, but with the way music has been going with all this trap stuff, where can you see the industry going next?
I’ve been hearing a lot of this juke and Jersey club, 170 [bpm] four-to-the-floor (4/4) really fast stuff. It seems like it’s getting into the hardstyle, really fast 4/4 repetitive sound.
Are you a fan of hardstyle?
Yeah, I am actually. A big fan.
Yeah, before I experienced it on a big sound system I couldn’t imagine a scenario where it would be appropriate.
I love all the bangers, the super hardstyle and a lot of the trap stuff. I feel like that environment at an actual club show would be so crazy though, like you said.
Can you see yourself making that style of music in the future, or are you sticking with the downtempo and electro right now?
I actually just started a track influenced by this mix a friend just sent me, you know, starting at that 170 bpm. I definitely like making a bunch of those tracks, separate from the strictly melodic sounds.
Well, thanks for taking the time to discuss the inner workings of your process!