Following the release of his debut album, we caught up with Tim Lyre, a singer-songwriter whose diminutive nature belies his motivation to get shit done and above all, get it done right.
The release of Tim Lyre’s debut album arrives at precarious timing. Bordered by releases from one of his strongest influences in Asa and one of his most prominent contemporaries in Santi, the battle for attention is as steep as it gets. While the former’s fifth album has garnered positive reviews, the former’s mixed reception is reflective of the Nigerian audience's growth - we will no longer just listen to fodder. Enter Tim Lyre’s Worry Less (stylised as Worry <), a project so well put together it belies the portfolio of the artist. This might be his debut project but his influence and impact have grown over the last half-decade to impressive heights. Possessing a litany of strong names as frequent collaborators has ironically benefited Tim Lyre’s counterparts up until this point, high profile features with the likes of Prettyboy D-O and Lady Donli seem unlikely to have happened any other way.
However, Tim’s feature list is also quietly proof of the power of providence in his work. Lex Amor and DAP the Contract are two of his only new collaborators, both unions coming to fruition through a dose of kismet and clear intention. “DAP’s name came up when I was discussing possible collaborations for the project. I was already a huge fan and I'd thought of him myself, so we made it happen. We sent him the record, he sent it back really quick. Once we got connected we realized how much we had in common, we both have legal backgrounds, we’re both musicians. He sent me a record from his new album when we had worked on mine. With Lex, I discovered her on YouTube just watching Boiler Room videos, so I DMed her and she must have done her research. She got back to me and I sent her the beat.” Preferring to offer a congenial arrangement rather than just a sense of accommodation to his collaborators, the success of his collaborative work is testament to the efficacy of his model.
Born and raised in Nigeria, most of Tim’s early years were spent studying music in its most educational sense. “Since I was ten, I could arrange, read and play music. I picked up the piano around then too.” His next brush with the art form began in his adolescence, but it was not until his higher education years that he decided to pursue music alongside his first degree. “I studied law in university and came back to Nigeria for law school. I did my Masters in entertainment law next and that took about five to six years of my life. I think the reason I did that was because I was still on the fence about music and doing entertainment law helped me stay around music so that was my thinking at the time. I just needed some time to figure things out.” he tells me.
Finding his feet on the internet as most of his contemporaries did, Tim credits the freedom of the pivotal streaming service, Soundcloud. “I transitioned into making music from Soundcloud. Around 2012 when everyone else was posting too. I don't think anyone really got streaming at the time you know, so I just put stuff out to get a reaction.” he says, slightly reminiscing. “I met a lot of producers on Soundcloud as well, Le Mav, Higo, Donli.” he adds. These artists would go on to become some of his most frequent and closest associates, not to mention adequately successful acts in their own rights. But as with most associations, some become more focal to your success than some others. “At this point I wasn't really part of any creative community, I just had a few friends I could pull up on and make music with. Mojo for example attended the same A Level program with me. We had started making music around the same time. We've just made music ever since. We've been friends for ten years or so. That was pretty much the same thing with July Drama, I guess we just all evolved that way. I think we developed CLC the same way, unintentionally. It was just good timing, Mojo already had the CLC song out and it just felt natural for us to call it that.” Tim expands.
The battle between adapting one’s influences – and by extension their work – and blatantly cloning their visual/sonic likeness is one most young artists have to contend with. When you grow up listening to more than three genres, this is easier to liken to an internal civil war. How do you maintain a balance? By respecting the work of your predecessors while setting new precedents with their aid. For Tim, this conflict helped him put a stamp on what he now recognizes as his musical identity. “Relax was like a dancehall vibe, you can still hear that a lot in my music but I guess I've found ways to focus that better. I mean I've had the same ideas since then but I didn't have the tools for execution. Now my sound is firmly Afrofusion.” he says with a firm conviction and assuredness. “My music has a lot of R&B/Soul elements to it and that's because that might be the genre I listen to the most. So even if I'm writing the most dancehall shit ever, I'm still going to find ways to make it sound R&B. It could be that, it could be afro, it could be Latin, I really just borrow influences whenever I can to form my own thing. But today the short explanation is Afrofusion.” he adds, laughing.
Tim’s transition from working behind the boards to performing in front of the mic did not occur without growing pains. However, his ideas for what a self-produced and performed project should sound like were unwavering. “For me it was a lot of trial and error. I had already recorded a bunch of songs so it was a matter of putting it out. By the time I decided to put this album out I was so sure of my voice and the work that I just knew it was time. It's eight songs so it's really concise.” Perhaps his background as a multiinstrumentalist should be credited for his selflessness. Realizing your voice is only another tool that opens one up to what possibilities exist beyond their own immediate capabilities. “I always wanted to make my own music and use my voice as an instrument, but I think it was just always a matter of timing and maybe confidence. I knew I had ideas for other people but I never really tried to use them myself.” Tim explains.
While creating Worry <, Tim had only two worries – cohesion and coherence. According to him, his background behind the scenes perfectly set him up to deal with these challenges. “I think being a producer sort of puts me in the right headspace to achieve a cohesive project. For me no matter what's happening it has to sound good, at least as good as I imagine it sounding. From there everything else is secondary. I think I'm a good enough writer to navigate songwriting so with all those elements in place I just get to work. I think when I was done recording the album I had maybe 30 songs and then I had to cut that down to 17 songs and then I had to sit with it for a couple months. Then cut that down to 15 and 12 before I got the eight that are the album. I really wanted it to flow intentionally, each track transitions nicely, the order of the records by themes. It's so seamless you want to listen to the whole thing.” Tim shares.
When I ask him about identifying his core audience, Tim was quick to credit his background and upbringing. "My parents did well enough to put food on our table growing up, they just helped us by setting these standards and maintaining them, just so their kids could go out and do stuff in the world. That level of sacrifice is something I always look out for in life and it means something else to everyone. I try to put that level of commitment into making my music so I guess it's for people who notice and can relate to that." he tells me.
Worry Less is a project that was not recorded with any true urgency, a rarity in the music industry today. Work on the project took two years collectively. With recording and primary production beginning in 2019. The inadvertent presence of COVID, however, derailed recording a few times. "The project was essentially done last year. We finished recording and sent it out for mixing and mastering some time in the middle of the year and we got it back a few months later. I stopped recording a few times because there was a lot going on. There was a protest, COVID was raging, I wasn't necessarily thinking about music at the time."
Tim's self-critical nature might be the reason he has no ceiling, however, constantly probing himself and his work in a bid for improvement has its drawbacks. Yet, whatever those drawbacks might be, a few things are clear. His diminutive nature belies his motivation to get shit done and above all, get it done right. This intangible quality is one that is sorely lacking in most of the art produced today, so much so that when audiences receive a project such as Worry <, it reminds them of the necessary elements a project requires to truly touch greatness.
Featured image credit: TSE.