The Magic Behind Sylvan Esso

Meet Amelia—one half of Sylvan Esso’s electro-pop duo, your new favorite band (if they’re not already).

Syvlan Esso, aka the North Carolina electro-pop band who are responsible for your summer soundtrack circa last summer (and let’s face it, all of your summers hence forth), began back in 2013. Before that point, singer-songwriter Amelia Heath was a part of the folk trio Mountain Man, and Nick Sanborn, a solo electronic producer under the name Made of Oak. After watching Nick perform, Amelia reached out to request he do a remix for Mountain Man. Despite creating extremely different types of music, the pair immediately clicked, and they decided to come together under the name Sylvan Esso (a reference to the Super Bros’ game Sword And Sworcery, FYI). The band’s offering on pop music, with the combination of tender and sometimes hilarious lyrics, Amelia’s light and beguiling vocals and Nick’s synths and bouncing beats, might have seemed unrealistic or even impossible on paper, but maaaan does it really fucking work.  We caught up with Amelia to chat about the art of losing all inhibition on stage, the band’s collaborative process, and foraging for mushrooms. 

How’s the tour going?

Yeah, great. It’s been a good run so far. We’ve been having a lot of fun. We don’t usually get to play a lot of stuff in the middle of America, which is one of my favorite places.

Cool.  Where are you up to? Are you nearly done?

We have a week left. Well, actually three days left. Two shows, after tonight.

Is it quite hard to unwind when you finish a tour and finally get back home?

You know, I spend so much of my life pretty much on tour that it’s really novel when I get home. I haven’t been home for more than a week in about 6 months. So…I’m ready.

I can imagine. Was music a big part of your childhood? Could you ever imagine doing anything else?

It was a very big part of my childhood and at this point I don’t have any other marketable skills, other than charm. Haha. I could act, I would like to act. I’d like to be in a movie or a play. Or maybe forage for mushrooms. But in terms of any big life changes I don’t think that’s really a possibility for me anymore.

I’m so into your cover, “There are many ways to say I love You” by Fred Rogers. What made you choose to cover it? I read somewhere that it was for a tribute?

Yeah, it was for a play that our friend Josh was doing. It was very easy to pick through Mister Rogers songs; he has so many truly incredible ones. But I feel like “There Are Many Ways To Say I Love You” is a pretty important thing to talk about in America right now, particularly because everyone’s not realizing that there are other ways of expressing affection other than just saying it, or by buying people things.

 

Another song I love is “Glow”. It’s super fun and feels really nostalgic. I was wondering—are the people you mention in it real people or fictional?

Oh yeah those are all the people I went to highschool with.

I like that. Is the rest of your music as reflective of your own personal experiences?

They’re about my life or about the lives of other people I love or know. Sometimes it gets kinda fantastical, sometimes I make belief plots and stuff, but it’s usually just fantasy based.

Can you tell me about what inspired “Glow”?

That song is about the feeling music used to give me when I was 14. The feeling when you hear a song on the radio and you’re lifted up in the air, and it feels like another world or universe is possible. That’s what that song is about. And trying to shape it down and recreate it as an adult, you know?

I love that. What does your writing process entail?

I sit down and I try and figure out something that I wanna write about. You know, pop songs are wonderful songs to write ’cause they’re so fun to write. And I’m so lucky to have Nick as a collaborator, we basically bounce ideas off from each other for a while and then once I actually figure out what the theme is I try to write. Sometimes Nick has a little bit of a beat, and I’ll listen to that and write off that, or sometimes I’ll just write a whole song on my own. It changes all the time.

You have such a presence on stage, it’s crazy how there are only two of you and yet you both manage to get the audience going with so much energy. You’re so expressive not just with your voice but also with your body. How do you get to that level of energy?

Thank you. First of all, you just have to forget that everyone is watching you, because otherwise you’ll get really scared. And then you just act like a loon and do exactly what you feel like you wanna do. And the best thing about that is when you are that energetic and excited in front of an audience, they then follow you and support you in that energy, so it’s easy to keep it up.

Yeah, when you see someone perform with low energy, it really affects the audience.

Yeah, it’s not fun. Well, sometimes it is if it’s a show about having low energy, I guess. More often than not, I see bands really trying to be cool. And unfortunately that doesn’t really work. You need to go in some direction in order to incur a similar feeling in the audience.

Who has blown you away on stage?

D’Angelo. I saw D’Angelo play the best show that I’ve ever seen at Bonnaroo in 2014 or 2015—the year that we played it. It was incredible. It was the best show I’ve ever seen.

Amazing. So, going back to Nick, you guys have been working together for a while now, and you’re a couple, too. You have so much chemistry together on stage. What about backstage–does it ever become quite difficult, do you ever have to have time apart, or is it super natural to work so closely?

It’s all of the above. I think the reason why we’ve been able to keep on being in a band with each other is because we’re really good at fighting, and we’re really good at fighting about what we’re fighting about. We’re just very good at being able to invest some time and energy to figure out why we’re upset with each other and articulate ourselves. And there’s no danger of abandonment or the band breaking up or anything like that. You know what I mean?

Yeah. And I guess you guys have to be so very honest with each other when it comes to your work.

Yeah. It’s annoying too ’cause you have to admit when you’re wrong, which I do not like at all. But I’m getting better at it.

Is Nick similar to you when it comes to creating your music? 

He’s very similar in that he goes through ideas in the same way I do. He has a brilliant mind and is really incredible at being a composer. I don’t know exactly what goes on in his brain when he’s thinking about writing songs but it’s some kind of incredible sensation between feeling and sound. It’s wild to collaborate and be able to hear what you’re trying to convey, understand it then retranslate it on his own. It’s really cool.

 

l’m loving your latest single, PARAD(w/m)E and its music video. Can you talk me through its meaning?

It’s about the end of the world and a search party looking for clues.

I like that it has that under layer of darkness to it which isn’t immediately obvious at first.

Thank you. We’re quite proud of it. It’s been doing really well at the shows. Everybody already joins in at the clapping part, which we’re really excited about.

Do you have a song, other than that one, that you’re especially proud of?

I’m really proud of rewind. That’s my favorite. I love it because of the jump part but also because I think I did a pretty good job of articulating what it feels like to be a kid learning how to be a person by watching television.

What’s next on the agenda?

We’re gonna dive right back onto making the new record, and I’m making a record with my other band, Mountain Man!

For more info on Sylvan Esso and to catch the next leg of their tour, follow ’em on Instagram or check out their website here.

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