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Interview: Sylvan Esso Talk Pop Magic Ahead Of Laneway Festival 2018

Interview: Sylvan Esso Talk Pop Magic Ahead Of Laneway Festival 2018

Jess Fu / Tuesday 23rd January, 2018 10:36AM

Sylvan Esso was created after Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn decided they just wanted to enjoy themselves. The North Carolina electro-pop duo have been experimenting with the recipe for pop music since 2013 and now they have a Grammy-nominated album under their belt; their sophomore album What Now (2017). Meath and Sanborn take advantage of the ease of pop to comment on our technology-obsessed society. Sylvan Esso aren’t making music for the sake of making hits and getting into the charts, they are genuine and honest in their work. The duo will be hitting the stage at Laneway Festival 2018 in Auckland next week, we had a chat with Amelia Meath about their upcoming festival performance, their latest single 'PARAD(w/m)E', and the Grammys...

You are coming to play in Auckland for Laneway in a week, do you know much about New Zealand?

I was there six years ago, I have a dear friend named Lucky Paul in Auckland but other that, no I don’t know much.

Well at least you’ve been here!

I was doing Laneway with Feist but I don’t think I was very good at motivating myself for adventures, but hopefully I’ll be able to see as much as possible while I’m there.

Where does the name Sylvan Esso come from? Because I was wondering because I thought it was just going to be one person. It does sound like an actual name of a person.

[Laughs] It never occurred to me that it sounds like a person’s name but it totally makes sense. We are named after a video game, Swords & Sorcery, and in it if you’re doing everything right, you can do this particular move called ‘singing a song of sorcery’ and when you do that you start to glow and beautiful creatures start to come out of the trees.

You and Nick both come from folk backgrounds.

Kind of. I mean, Nick played in Megafaun but he also played in rock bands for ten years.

You were also previously in folk trio Mountain Man. How did you both transition into doing pop music together?

We just thought it would be fun honestly. We figured we were very good at writing songs together. I said I want to be in a pop band. He had done a remix for Mountain Man. It’s actually one of our first singles on our first record called Play It Right. After he did that, we both decided we needed to do it again and we did it again. And that’s how the band was born.

When you’re writing pop music, do you have to put yourself into a different mindset?

Yeah but we try to write pop songs about the truth about being a human being. It’s like trying to figure out a really great puzzle. There’s very distinct parts in pop songs. The key is trying to figure out how to hit all those parts while still being truthful and saying something that is worthwhile and not just about how much you want to make out with somebody - even those songs are still important too.

Your songs have quite a bit of irony and satire. With your song radio for example, singing “slave to the radio”, you’re offering some critique on pop music with a pop song. What are your thoughts on the current state of pop?

I’m excited about anyone who wants to make anything. I’m not necessarily excited about people who are making things that they know people will like, not investing the time and energy to make it the best that it can possibly be. We deserve that as humans. Everyone deserves good art.

What I like about Sylvan Esso is that you are unapologetically pop but unlike some musicians, you have a message for your audiences.

We just put out a new single called, 'PARAD(w/m)E'. That’s also about global warming. We also recently put out a video for it.

Oh I didn’t realise it was about global warming! Is that the concept behind the video?

Yeah, or the concept is that the apocalypse has happened and we are looking for food. But it’s also just a fun, silly video.

You’re playing Auckland Laneway which will be the same day as the Grammy Awards. And you’re actually nominated for a Grammy, the Best Dance / Electronic Album category. That’s so cool.

Thank you!

You won’t get to dress up or anything though since you will be in Auckland.

I know! We won’t but that’s okay. I’m manifesting that we will be nominated again.

How did you feel when you found out that you were nominated?

So excited! There’s really not many people who get heard by enough people that makes it so you can be nominated for a Grammy. We are so grateful and we are in such beautiful and wonderful company with the people we are nominated with. It’s totally going and super surreal.

What can we expect from your set at Laneway?

Dancing and fun and excitement and all those good things. All the things that live music is supposed to give you. And lots of jumping.


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