Interviews Sylvan Esso © Sylvan Esso

Veröffentlicht am 21.09.2020 | von Daniel Demmler


SYLVAN ESSO – Interview

Foto-Credits © Sylvan Esso

Kurz nachdem im April das Live-Album WITH erschien ist, legen Sylvan Esso direkt nach: Free Love heißt das dritte Studioalbum der Band und wird bereits am 25. September veröffentlicht. Wir haben es uns nicht nehmen lassen das zwar etwas übernächtigte, aber trotzdem grandios sympathische, Duo Amelia und Nick zum Gespräch zu bitten. Wir präsentieren den beiden Kommentare aus dem Social Media Kosmos, reden über den Erfolgsdruck, der mit jedem neuen Album aufkommt, und ihre musikalischen Einflüsse.

Hi and thanks for taking your time for this interview. First of all, how are you doing?
Nick: We accidentally stayed up all night, so we’re quite tired.

Amelia: Yeah, we finished a project last night and then our manager did his thing that he always does where he gets you to start drinking and then you stay up until 6 in the morning.

Nick: And that’s exactly what we did.

Amelia: So, we slept for 3 hours and now we’re here!

Great, but how do you feel during these pretty crazy times?
Amelia: Oh, God, so sad!

Nick: … and also so lucky.

Amelia: Excited in that it feels really wonderful to have something to contribute that will help people have a break or find joy in a different way in their house that isn’t through television.

Nick: I’ve always felt like a big part of our job is giving people emotional connection and joy, like giving them the doorway to feel that. And I feel like there’s never been a time where that feels like a more important job to have. So, in that way I feel really lucky.

Amelia: Yeah. Music is always such a wonderful shortcut into your feelings.


Sylvan Esso Free Love Cover

Let’s talk about your upcoming Album Free Love. I read that parts of the new album were already finished at the end of last year when you were practicing for your WITH-Tour. When was the album finished?
Amelia: We were really finishing it in March. We were in L.A. mixing right when America went into full lockdown. We took a plane on March 10th or something like that and while we were doing a connection flight, the American stock market crashed. And then we got home and then we were sad for like a month and couldn’t do anything.

Nick: The end of the project was certainly drawn out by our depression. But it was mostly done – we pretty much finished writing just before that, maybe in February sometime.

So, Covid-19 was not an influence into the album itself?
Amelia: No, but it’s oddly prescient. It feels really present in the record. That might be the human impulse to apply whatever you’re feeling to whatever you’re hearing and seeing. But at the same time the record is about trying to find love and staying in power and connection in a time when it feels like the world is falling apart around you and you know, that was true last year.

Nick: Yeah, that was true last year, too.

When you announced the album you said: “It’s a record about being increasingly terrified of the world around you and looking inward to remember all the times when loving other people seemed so easy, so that you can find your way back to that place.” Can you elaborate more on that?
Nick: I’m not sure we can say it any better than that.

Amelia: The lyrics that I write, particularly in most of the songs on this record, where I talk about the cycle of life and a cycle of narrative where there’s birth and death and how, at any point you can kind of put the start point of either death or being born or how it is constantly shifting. And that is also what the record is about.

Nick: [laughs] The lack of sleep is really kicking in now.

Amelia: Don’t you do that! I did a great job!

Nick: It was fantastic!

Did you have any other specific influences when making Free Love?
Nick: Oh, what are we even listening to? It’s so tough to go back and try to pick out things that influenced the album.

Amelia: Yeah, we got really into listening to dance music really loud while we were driving.

Nick: That has definitely a big one. Also, we’ve been waking up every morning to Suzanne Ciani’s Buchla Concerts 1975, which feels like a real touchstone for the record, in a weird way. It’s such a natural electronic expression, and I feel like that maybe I’m drawn to it for the same reason that I’m drawn to the music that we’re making. I’m not sure. It’s tough to go back and even think about what it that was.

Amelia. That was it!

Nick: Good. [laughs]


YouTube video


You released What if as a teaser in July and I like it a lot. It is also the first track on the album and I really like how it pulls you into it. Do you have a certain favorite track on Free Love?
Amelia: My favorite track is Numb because I’ve been wanting to write a song like it forever and ever, in that I always want to write songs about dances like songs like The Twist or Cool Jerk or any of those silly Sam Cooke, fun nineteen fifties songs that are like: “Here’s how you do it: You shake your hips like this and you do a little dance and then you turn around.” And so I’ve been wanting to write a song like that and as I was writing them, it became this song about figuring out how to shake yourself out of depression and atrophy. Nick and I wrote it really fast. It came out like in a jam.

Nick: Yeah. The birth of it was all at once, but it took a long time to finish.

Amelia: Yeah, we had to figure out the arc. I think it’s the danciest song that we’ve ever done.

Nick: I’m really proud of it!

Amelia: …and then it goes like [imitates the melody going higher and higher]

Nick: [laughs] we are always really hesitant any time anything feels to like saccharin too anything…

Amelia: too EDM-y!

Nick: or too referential – and for that one we came up with that instrumental section and we immediately sent it to our manager Martin and we’re just like: “This is too much, right?”

Amelia: And Martin was like “Way to go, kids!”. But what’s your favorite track, Nick? Are you having one?

Nick: [hesitant]

Amelia: Everyone wants to know what you think. I want to know what you think!

Nick: I think my track my favorite track is “Make it easy”. And I just think that it’s my favorite song you’ve ever written. There are so many things I love about it. I love that it mirrors the opening of the record and it scoots you back into it, but it’s also the end of it. To me, it references “Play it right”, which is the first song we made together. So, it’s like a loop within a loop. When I hear it, I think about reminding myself that the core of our species is still love, that as much as everything else tries to overtake it or overtake me, that that’s this constant wave that has always been happening.

Amelia: [nods]

Nick: The minute that I wrote it I knew that that was a song that I was going to sing for the rest of my life. Like I knew that my relation to it would change as I aged.

Amelia: Thank you!

Sylvan Esso 2 @ Sylvan Esso

I guess you can say that you have proven yourself as artists with your first two albums and the live album – how did that influence the new album? Did that pressure you into achieving the same success, or did that give you the freedom and stability to work freely and creatively?
Amelia: I think on the second record we felt a lot of pressure to prove ourselves. With this third record, with Free Love, all of a sudden all of the joy came flooding back in. Writing, at least for me in particular – all of a sudden, I got all of the tools back. I think I was self-conscious in the second one, just trying to prove that we belonged in our success.

Nick: I think Impostor Syndrome is a really powerful thing that is really common.

Amelia: I guess it is imposter syndrome. I just felt like the thing I was struggling with most was that in order to be the kind of artist that I wanted to be, I couldn’t be myself.

Nick: Yeah, it’s just not true. It’s the only way.

Amelia: Exactly. It’s really weird. What a weird impulse to be like: “Well, I’ve got myself here – and now I’m going to be a totally different person”.

Nick: The desire to make something better than what we’ve made before. To me, the loosening up between the last record and this one – that’s all internal. Now, I want to make the best thing I’ve ever made for me, because if I don’t, what’s the point? I just I feel like that’s where it’s at now, where I want this to be and if I can’t keep improving  – and by improving I simply mean finding a more honest way to communicate how I feel in the moment – then what are we doing? That pressure is so personal now and that feels exclusively positive.

Amelia: Totes.

Let’s move on to playing shows and festivals. For the foreseeable future there probably won’t be live shows as we know and love them – which sucks – but how do these home-recorded sessions feel for you as a band? For example, do you prefer recordings that are professionally edited and published afterwards, or do live streams with immediate feedback from the viewers work for you?
Amelia: All that! I need the attention to live, I do!

Nick: [laughs]

Amelia: I’m like a flower that photosynthesizes applause.

Nick: Weirdly though I think that’s why the live streaming things are somehow worse because you think you are going to get that but you can’t because you’re trying to connect with a phone or a camera or and you’re just seeing this little scroll of that. It’s so much more difficult to reach through that medium to get to the person on the other side. But the fact that it’s live makes you feel like you should be able to. It’s not fair to anybody. I think for us, we’ve started to lean into pre-taped stuff just because…

Amelia: we need money! [laughs] No, no!

Nick: …because I think it allows you to focus on what this situation makes possible rather than what the situation makes impossible. Instead of thinking about what we can’t do, all of these different things and there won’t be an audience and there will be all this – you can instead focus on what does this opportunity allow us  for? We can make this much more of an intimate experience. Someone can be right in there with us, they can feel very close. From a gear perspective, we can make things that we would never be able to tour with – use instruments that are very fragile or very temperamental, that just don’t work on tour, that it can be this much more fluid and close interaction. That’s kind of where we are right now with it. But I’m assuming that will change just because it has always been changing.

Amelia: The streaming shows are just a very different thing. You can’t make a show if you don’t have community.

Nick: I think you have to stop trying to make it what it was and start trying to make it what it could be now.

Amelia: We should just call them specials.


YouTube video


On a more serious note, in these crazy times with so many pressing issues, do you think you as a band with a large audience have a responsibility to make political statements, or to encourage your fans to do certain things or believe in certain values or do you rather focus on your work and the creative process and keep the politics separate? In short: do you think art should be political?
Nick: They’re all the same thing. And pretending like they aren’t is rude.

Amelia: Your politics is in everything that you do.

Nick: Pretending that they’re different creates a false choice.

Amelia: Yeah, I think it’s very important. Particularly now in the States where there’s so much awfulness; there’s so many things that need to be fixed, that were just knocked over by a terrifying, petulant death monger child. And even then, before he was here, there’s so much that needed to be improved like and looked at. People talk about our past presidents like they were so great, and I mean comparatively…

Nick: Yeah, but it’s like “Oh, they only drone bombed thousands of people rather than tens of thousands”. It’s so insane.

Amelia: There’s so many things that were happening before this that were like science fiction nightmares. But now we’re in this situation. You know, we have detention camps in our country right now…

Nick: If you are a person who people listen to and you aren’t talking, I think you need to re-examine what your life is about.

Great answer. Let’s go back to a funnier topic. Do you watch your own videos on Youtube and do you read the comments?
Amelia: Jesus, no! No, absolutely not! Oh, my God!

Nick: [laughs] The quickest path to a bad week.

But we found a few very funny ones – do you want to hear them?
Amelia: Are they like “Amelia is a sad fish”?

No, they’re actually really nice. Like this one from Typical voice where she can sing a pizza menu and it sounds like that time you lost your puppy to cancer.
[both laugh]

Nick: That should be the sticker on the record!


YouTube video


And the other one is “Woman sings while man has good time defusing a bomb.” (Sylvan Esso: Tiny Desk (Home) Concert). So maybe you should check them out.
Amelia: That’s nice to hear. I’m going to stay well away. Every time I’ve dipped into them, I’ve come away feeling terrified.

Nick: That classic where a thousand people will be like “You’re the best!” And then one person is like, “I wish you weren’t born!” and you’re like “Oh my gosh, maybe I shouldn’t have been born!”

Amelia: Even this morning, I was looking at our Instagram and someone said “I like your old record better.” I was like “Bitch, our new record isn’t even out!”

Nick: But you know, it sticks with you.

So, you do read some comments on Instagram?
Both: Yeah, maybe a little bit.

But are there some that you remember in particular?
Amelia: We’ve been getting a lot of really nice ones.

Nick: We are so unbelievably lucky with the group of people who care about our band.

Amelia: Yeah, it’s true.

Nick: They are the kindest, gentlest, most open people. I can’t believe the fan base that we lucked into.

Amelia: Yeah, we really, really lucked out because you can’t choose your fans.

Nick: The group of people who have found and follow us and say stuff when we put stuff on the Internet – If I’m having a really terrible day, I know that I can go and dip into that and remember that our work has touched people.

Amelia: Yeah. And that really helps. I was looking at the comments for a music video that we put out a couple of days ago and people are really excited about it and that feels good.


YouTube video


What kind of band or music did you listen to recently that people should definitely check out?
Amelia: Are we even listening to music? No? Yes, no, I mean, we definitely listen to music.

[pauses] Oh, but you know what? Oh my God! There’s a pop country guy named Hardy!

Nick: Oh my God!

Amelia: I don’t know if he’s a good person.

Nick: Up in the air.

Amelia: He writes amazing songs as a songwriter. His flipping of English to mean so many different things – it’s extraordinary. The deepest, silliest country ever. The lead single is called Truck, just Truck, and it’s just about his truck. And I it will kind of make you cry. It’s so good. And the record is called A Rock.

Nick: I just realized that this might be a uniquely American phenomenon, like pop country is such a distinct –

Amelia: People fucking love country in Germany, right?

Nick: Yeah. It’s so huge. It’s so weirdly American, I just assume it doesn’t ring the same way everywhere else, you know.

Amelia: It’s the same. That’s the amazing thing about country. What is country. Where is it?

Both: It’s Everywhere!

Is there anything else you want to tell us?
Nick: Take care of each other and wear a mask!

Amelia: …and be kind, oh God. If we were all nicer to each other, I bet it would be much better.

Nick: It always will be.

That’s great, final words. Thanks so much for your time and all the best for your album release!

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