It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Salva has done a complete 180 from when he first started putting out music in 2009. You might know him from his remix of Kanye West‘s “Mercy” in 2012, but the DJ and producer born Paul Salva’s first releases were the ultimate melting pot (it’s no coincidence one of his earliest mellowed-out-yet-turnt-up tracks is called “American Grime”), foraying into four-on-the-floor snapbacks, exotic-sounding polyrhythms, and ghostly vocal samples, all without missing a beat.
These days, Salva’s playing disco ball a little harder, leaning more toward aggressively grimy tracks that blur the boundaries of hip-hop and EDM. His 2014 LP Peacemaker featured the likes of Young Thug and Schoolboy Q, and his more recent mixtape, $$$ SECRET STASH $$$, bangs even harder, with remixes of Rae Sremmurd’s “No Type,” Bobby Shmurda‘s “Hot Boy” and more. “I definitely pride myself on being a tastemaker,” Salva tells Billboard. “I’d like to bring elements of electronic music to urban music and bridge that gap in different ways, be it in R&B or rap. That’s where I’m taking it.”
After living in Chicago, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Portland and Miami, Salva has finally settled in Los Angeles, where “there’s 100 of the best pro recording studios in the world, and another thousand small spaces, and people working seven days a week, and the weather’s gorgeous.” Though he’s currently on the road behind STASH, Salva’s diverse sets vary nightly depending on where he’s playing — but his manager jokingly maintains they have a strict no-Makonnen-on-Tuesday policy.
What’s your live setup?
I’m just DJing right now. Just going to party rock it, play exclusives, remixes, flips, joints that people haven’t heard. I like to do a lot of custom edits for my DJ set. The DJ’s life is easier than ever now — I can literally show up to the club with a USB stick and my headphones. The DJ setup is pretty universal now, everyone rocks the same stuff. That’s why I try to bring some special guests, some live flavor to it, but I like to bring out people I have relationships with as opposed to bringing out hype just so people can pull out their camera phones. I did a bunch of stuff with Pusha T after the “Mercy” remix, I’ve had Riff Raff come out, Problem, Kurupt, Freddie Gibbs. All these cats are all unsung heroes in certain respects. They don’t have a lot of pop exposure, but they’re heralded. Lil Jon jumped onstage when I was in Vegas once at XS.
When you’re on the road, do you mostly work on remixes or straight-ahead tracks?
Over the past year I’ve done a lot of pop production work, trying to cut my teeth on that stuff. That’s one of the reasons I moved to L.A. I work really closely with Robin Hannibal [Rhye, Quadron]. Musically, he’s one of my mentors, even though we’re the same age. He’s a musical genius and string arranger, so I’ve done a good two dozen pop productions. We did a song for Jessie Ware that didn’t make her album, we’ve worked with JoJo and Lion Babe, a lot of up-and-comers and Atlantic Records artists. I appreciate the pop production vehicle, being on a team with five to six different people. Making big, timeless records is important, and it’s an art form that’s gotten lost. It’s much different from being on a DJ circuit and being in the remix world and the EDM world.
That’s interesting, so you’ve had one foot on either side of this “artistry” debate that’s been surrounding the Grammys, like whether an album that has one songwriter as opposed to a team of 50 or 60 is more “artistic.”
Man, it’s tough. Beyonce to me is the most talented entertainer on the planet as far as her whole package — watching her concerts and watching her perform, her music, her videos. When people don’t like Beyonce, I get a little butt-hurt because I don’t understand why. Yes, most of the whole pop industry is 100 percent factory-farmed garbage. The process is diluted, and if you’re speaking from a textbook standpoint of what it means to be an artist, musician, writer, pop music is not that, and it hasn’t been that for a really long time. It’s been happening since Motown. My problem is if someone’s ghostwriting rap for someone else, or someone’s writing a song and the performance isn’t good. But yeah, Beck‘s dope. I had no idea he made a record, though. I don’t necessarily follow the fragmented remnants of the indie world. Rock and roll is probably in the saddest state in history.
In terms of pop, what are you enjoying?
I was pretty blown away by the string arrangements on Nicki Minaj‘s album. Obviously Mike Will [Made It] and Rae Sremmurd. I thought they were going to be one-hit wonders. Everyone’s waiting for Rihanna‘s record, of course. I know at least 500 different people that have been trying to write for that record over the past year so I’m very curious to see who they wind up picking. Over the past 18 months I swear every studio I’ve been in, someone’s like, “I wrote this for RiRi, really trying to get RiRi to pick this one up.” That was the coveted placement for most pop writers and rappers and beatmakers.
I saw you took a little Twitter trip down memory lane to Complex Housing, your 2011 LP, and in 2012, you said, “I’m trying to write the ghetto-est, most minimal club-wave, filthy dumb dancefloor shit I’ve ever written…” and you’ve gotten a lot heavier and harder since then, so what happened?
The sound I did on that record was definitely inspired by jazz classes I was taking at that time, jazz theory. I was running a label in San Francisco, and we were putting out a lot of stuff that sounded like Starship Connection and Dam-Funk. Then I got sick of making happy music, and I wanted to make dark music, so that’s what happened. Everything kind of went club. Four years ago I remember playing the 10 Days Off Festival in Belgium and I played a full-on techno set for three hours. I had a radio show on the BBC and I’d play juke and techno and rap, and my EPs are all a hodgepodge of that stuff. Now I want to own the rap/electronic crossover stuff and do it right. A lot of people do it wrong, in my opinion.
Why did you stop [your label] Frite Nite?
San Francisco as a scene is just awful right now. I love playing shows in the Bay more than anywhere else, and they’re still great when I go back, but I think because of the tech boom and all that stuff, it pushed everyone outside of San Francisco. That happened while I was living there, and it really affected our music, and a lot of people moved to Los Angeles. I started working with WeDidIt a lot out there, like Shlohmo and RL [Grime], and I didn’t have the capacity to be a label head. I was literally throwing parties and running a label by myself, with no assistant or anything, and I got too stressed out. I was putting other artists before myself, and I finally was like, “I owe it to myself to give my music more attention.” But I love being a label head and doing A&R, I’m definitely going to be getting back into that really soon and starting a new endeavor.