Interview: Sylvan Esso
They say it’s best for actors to have palpable chemistry when onstage. That the best grow from such an obvious connection, convincing the audience of their authenticity and emotional reliance. Unlike actors, Amelia Meath and Nicholas Sanborn don't need to convince anyone who listens to their music that they are genuine- it's felt within their pop infused soul that pours out of speakers. There is no acting.
What bounces between Meath and Sanborn is more than just chemistry- it’s an ease that within minutes of speaking with them from their hotel in Paris I was immediately sucked into. "Enveloped with open arms" would perhaps be better phrasing. Much like their pop that’s been spreading like wildfire, it's no wonder that such a duo has found success. Beautiful in their complexities, Sylvan Esso epitomizes the people at a party I'd love to be friends with- they'd probably be the ones to jump into the pool first, too, laughing at the new fun they'd just created in their own joyous world.
Amelia: So, you're gonna see in a minute my crazy hair. We did a photo shoot in Paris yesterday and my hair is still crazy.
Kick Kick Snare: I'm ready for it- oh, that has some nice girth to it!
KKS: So, to jump right in- how did you two meet?
N: We met like four years ago in Milwaukee, where I lived at the time, and I got asked to open for Mountain Man and Twin Sister headlining. Yeah, so I was inexplicably asked to open the show. We just really liked each other’s music right away. We just kind of became Internet friends.
KKS: Which is the best- I have a Carrie necklace, like in ‘Sex & The City” that says “Internet.”
A: You have a Carrie necklace that says “Internet”?! What-where did you get it?! I’ve been thinking about getting a Carrie necklace that says “Yonce.”
N: What if we just got you a necklace that just had a DVD copy of “The Net” starring Sandra Bullock? I thought you liked “The Net”?
A: I’ve never seen it!
KKS: “The Net”?
N: You haven’t seen it either?! You guys have to watch it. It was this movie that came out in 1996, right when the Internet was becoming a “thing.” When it wasn’t just prodigy.net and all of that was beginning to happen. Sandra Bullock plays a hacker-
A: A hacker?
N: Yes, and it’s kind of like Will Smith’s “Enemy of the State,” it came before- you remember that movie, right?
KKS: Yeah, it’s a good one. Freaky, but good.
N: Yeah! So it’s a little before that time, but with similar vibes. Sandra gets embroiled in something, her identity is stolen and she gets framed for this crime. Then it’s a race for the clock and they’re scenes with progress bars filling up and waiting for files to copy so she can run lots of places. It’s fucking amazing.
KKS: Wasn’t she in that movie about the rehab center? She was an alcoholic?
A: Oh, 28 Days Later!
N: 28 Days- Not the zombie movie, 28 Days Later.
A: Right- not 28 Days Later, but there was a comparable vibe….
KKS: Now I’m just imagining this mix-up with zombies in rehab. There you go, a new music video idea.
KKS: Back to the music- how would you describe it to someone?
A: Hm (looks to Nick) we usually say “pop.”
KKS: I wanted to say pop, but sometimes I’ve found that people aren’t so down with guessing genres.
A: No, no, I am so down- as long as it’s not called “electro,” I’m happy. People can call it whatever the fuck they want as long as I’m concerned. It’s definitely pop music.
KKS: When I saw you at Bottom of the Hill I was dancing like crazy.
A: If it makes you shake your ass then it’s definitely pop music.
N: What we’re going for is smart and accessible.
KKS: If your music was a taste, and I’m very curious to hear what you say, how would you describe it?
A: I would want it to be one of those candies- what’re they called? Zaps? Zotts!
N: Do they fizz? A: Yeah, you have to suck on them for a while. And our sound would be a Zott that worked, because they were always a good idea, but they never work, and I guess never got the manufacturing figured out right.
N: That might be true about our band, too. (laughs)
A: But, you know? It’s a hard candy, but when you bite down your mouth fills with- (laughs)
N: Zott’s also reward patience- you can’t just bite it and have the fizz right away.
A: Yeah! And then there’s the little hole and you wait for the flavor to burst in your mouth.
N: This is super good.
A: Yeah, I like this! Orange or watermelon?
N: I always say no to watermelon candy, so I’m going to go orange.
KKS: What?! Watermelon and sour apple are always wins.
N: Yeah, maybe because watermelon was super big when I was a kid.
A: For me I always avoid blue raspberry and banana.
KKS: You like banana?
A: Oh, no, I hate them.
N: I used to dislike the banana Runts, but over time I started to like them. Now I love banana runts.
A: I kick them out. Kick’em out of the handful.
KKS: I think that means you root for the underdog, which is good for you, Nick. It’s a good personality indicator. You can say at parties, “I’m the type of guy who goes for the banana Runts.”
N: Yeah! And then I found out that there were only banana bags, but I would never want just banana. I only want banana amongst the other fruits.
A: (whispers) Have you been thinking about this a long time? N: I realize now I have a lot of opinions about Runts. Like, I know what I want in a Runt.
A: Runts always seemed like a paper without a thesis statement to me.
N: See I always thought that they were always a good halfway between other fruit candies and Nerds.
N: I love Nerds.
KKS: Was there a moment when you both clicked? In the sense that you thought it was good and then other people came up to you to say that it was working?
N: I knew when we were working on “Play It Right.” For me there’s always that moment when you’re working on a remix, and because there’s already material there, you feel like you’re kind of fighting with it. That moment where the sky opens up and it all works. That moment was particularly intense with that song. But even then I thought Amelia would be too busy, so I thought that I would like to have a band like this.
A: And then one day we were hanging out in Madison, Wisconsin and Nick took me to a dope grilled cheese place and I said, “Yo, we should start making more songs,” and then at that point we started emailing each other back and forth.
N: Yeah, and it was so easy right away.
A: We first got that it was an exciting thing live when we sang “Play It Right” at the end of one of Nick’s solo sets at Hopscotch in 2012 which is a festival in North Carolina.
N: Yeah, I had just moved there like a week earlier and she was on tour with Feist. I was like “Yo, I’m gonna be in this town and why don’t you come for these two weeks, and we can just record all the vocals.” And then I asked if she just wanted to sing the vocals since I’d been closing live with it anyway.
A: There were like five people.
KKS: But the luckiest five people! And to think grilled cheese brought you together.
N: Yes! And it was Ella’s Deli in Wisconsin.
KKS: What was the inspiration behind the “Coffee” video? I read in another interview that you’re known for your really great dance moves- was this at all an offshoot of those perhaps?
N: Amelia wrote that whole treatment!
A: Yeah, I did! The inspiration was contra dancing. It’s kind of a dance that I grew up doing. It’s like square dancing, but it’s in a line and originally French and English. It’s mostly around the East Coast- I have been to a dance in San Francisco and I’m sure there’s contra dancing done in Berkeley.
KKS: Does it have anything to do with the derivative “contra” which means “against?”
N: Hmm, it could be.
A: Yeah, there’s a flow of forward and backwards.
N: There’s also a binary aspect.
A: At the beginning of each dance, before the band starts, there’s someone called “the caller.” There are like 25 dance moves that everyone knows. You do them in succession and that either progresses you up or down the line. It’s really, really fun.
N: You keep the same partner, but you also keep switching partners.
KKS: What is the song about for you?
A: I wrote it about when you’ve already been in love before and you’re falling in love again. You’re really excited, but at the same time scared about what’s coming.
N: Or that it might take the shine off of-
A: Yeah, exactly- that it might take the shine off of it. You know what’s coming and you know how to fall in love now and how that happens. It’s also how that’s similar with every experience.
N: And that’s how contra dancing is mentioned in the chorus.
A: Yeah and how you’re just constantly moving through life all the time. It’s actually a little bit of a negative song.
N: Yeah, it’s kind of sad…
Their debut album under their name is out now on Partisan Records.