Interview Sylvan Esso: “You’ve got to switch it up and keep it interesting”

Electronic pop for dummies: How to break out of the bedroom and make a game-changing debut album.

When Amelia Meath of indie folk bringers Mountain Man struck up a friendship with Nicholas Sanborn (aka electronic producer Made of Oak), something unexpectedly magical happened. “We became instant friends,” says Amelia as she reminisces the fateful night Nick watched one of her band’s shows in a bar. “We just really got along”, Nick agrees. “So we decided to lay something down and then thought we should continue from there.” What was meant to be a one-off collaboration developed into Sylvan Esso, a band consisting of Amelia’s gentle melodies layered over Nick’s reverberating electronic beats.

The duo clearly bounce off one another’s talents and find making music together comes naturally. “It’s all very intuitive,” explains Amelia. “There’s no real formula for what we do,” Nick adds. “Sometimes Amelia comes to me with something she’s come up with and I work around that, sometimes it’s the other way round.” It’s this musical chemistry between the duo that causes Nick to place Sylvan Esso in a different league to his previous collaborations. “Everyone you work with is so different but this is going really great so far, it’s so fun. Every track we work on together has something different about it so yeah, I think we’ll be playing together for a while yet.” For Amelia, the transition from singing and playing acoustically to becoming half of a pop-electronic duo seems a daunting prospect, but she isn’t fazed by it. “I feel the same as Nick. Working together that first time was a trigger for something new.”

That “something new” comes in the form of an album mainly recorded in Nick’s bedroom and he admits the process was somewhat an experimental act. “As we started recording we were still figuring out what kind of band we were, by just writing and playing and improvising.” They aim to share that experience of with listeners through the order in which they release singles. “We want them to be in an order that will kind of keep changing what people think the band is,” says Nick. “I like to think about it as being like dates,” Amelia analogises. “Think about the first single being the first date, the second single being the second date. You can’t only take them out for dinner and a movie, you’ve got to switch it up and keep it interesting.” Latest single ‘Play It Right’ showcases Sylvan Esso’s desire to keep changing, as its stomping beats beg to be danced wildly to, a far cry from the chilled out gentleness of its predecessor, ‘Coffee’.

Each tracks possesses an individuality, but they all share Amelia’s mantra: “Don’t be scared of having fun and being a dummy.” Sylvan Esso are all about experimenting with pop music, emphasising its fun factor but leaving behind its ‘I’m in the club - let’s get YOLO’ style lyrics, as Amelia tunefully chirps. “We want to make music that we’d enjoy listening to and we just hope other people enjoy it too.”

Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut album is out now via Partisan Records. Taken from the June issue of DIY, out now.


Get your copy of the latest issue

More like this