With two Grammy nominations, a brand new label, and nearly a decade under their belt since their debut self-titled album, Sylvan Esso dove head-first into a pool of success. They’ve been gracefully swimming through the fear and insecurity that is known to fuse itself to such critical acclaim ever since. From their tender 2014 mega hit “Coffee,” to headlining Electric Forest this past June, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn have consistently cultivated their set of gifts through a unique sonic landscapeâindependent of genre constraints. In 2022 they’re in the running for a Grammy yet again. This time for Best Dance/Electronic Album for their 2020 studio album Free Love. To up the ante, they landed an opening slot on ODESZA‘s upcoming fall tour. And now, they’re sharing their fourth studio LP, No Rules Sandy. Dancing Astronaut sat down to talk with the pair at this past Electric Forest to discuss brand new LP, as well as their fortuitous sonic collision and not long after being one of the most sought-after acts of 2022.
Conveniently taking a year off in 2019 before what they assumed would be a hectic year of touring come 2020, Meath and Sanborn unwittingly created an album that encapsulated a moment in time without having yet lived it. Free Love is an amalgamation of confusion, curiosity, apathy, and hope, making it a driving anthem for many as life indoors became the new normal. “I think for the first time when we went back to the creativity pool, it wasn’t just blanks or the ghost of ideas,” reports Meath. The intentional break in 2019 came out of necessity, following a long-winded grappling with their massive success from their debut LP.
Free Love diverges from their prior two studio LPs, Sylvan Esso (2014), and What Now (2017), pulling back the layers of their sound for their most raw and well-examined body of work yet. “For the first time, when we began writing Free Love, we were able to come to the table fresh,” says Meath. Continuing, Sanborn says, “I think that because we took a schedule off of it, it allowed the music to happen extremely naturally at its own pace. So everything just kind of bloomed in its own time… It just felt really like natural and easy, even though it took a really long time to make it.” Where their aptly titled What Now cultivated a sense of scarcity in their lives, their most recent album gave way to a quiet confidence, most assuredly in tandem with a dedication to moving through the fear and into the unfettered expression that lay waiting on the other side.
After releasing their latest in 2020, the husband-and-wife duo remarked that this Free Love was the crescendo to their three-album arc, marking it as a natural progression and ultimate conclusion of this chunk of their lives together. When asked what the trilogy resembled to them thematically, Meath recalled that much of their work thus far included themes of circularity. “The circle theme comes up with so many different songs…I think [at first] it really was making a record to test and see what it felt like to make music together. Discovering that the thing that we had made was much larger than the sum of its parts, and then trying to find peace with that,” she tells Dancing Astronaut. “For me as a person in general, being summarized naturally makes me feel terrified.” “And full of rage,” Sanborn chimes in with a chuckle.
In the center of the crowd at their recent stint headlining Electric Forest where this Astronaut was standing, it was clear to see just what brought everyone together to their Sherwood Court set. Meath seemed to almost hover and and vibrate on stage in a bright blue leotard and Sanborn masterfully toyed at the knobs behind the decks; the two curated an effervescent, otherworldly atmosphere. “We’re kind of like a scrappy, we-want-to-prove-it-to-you band,” Sanborn describes it. “That’s what we love about opening too. I love going out there and seeing blank stares and thinking to myself, like, ‘I’m gonna make you like this.’” This is their primary objective as the two get ready to embark on tour with ODESZA beginning this coming September.
Alongside their shift into a fresh sound as they close out this trilogy is their brand new label, Psychic Hotline, which they procured to house the records that they’ve recently recovered rights to, as well as an outlet where they can feature up-and-coming artists in ways that larger labels in the industry are less likely to. “[Big labels are] just banks now pretty much,” Meath maintains.
Touching upon the business aspect of their creative endeavors, Meath asserts, “… the problem with being a human being, we have so many feelings.” It certainly doesn’t seem like a problem for these two. In fact, “so many feelings” is perhaps the best part about Sylvan Esso: their desire to be seen and heard for their eternally visceral, supremely intuitive approach always ends up outweighing desire to be loved by the masses.
Eccentric and free-flowing as ever, Sylvan Esso delivered their first LP since Free Love, in 2022, the aptly titled No Rules Sandy. Whizzing with energy, the album begins with “Moving,” a cacophony of untamed synthesizers and frenetic murmurs. Following the beat of their own drum once again, the LP combines unconventionality with sincere sentimentality. “[Your Reality] is definitely the weirdest track we’ve ever released,” Meath recalls referencing the quixotic pre-album single. As a whole, the album weaves in and out of jolting, extended sonic explorations and the utter vulnerability fans expect so intimately from the pair.
One of the album’s most replay-ready excursions lies in “Echo Party,” a track teeming with club-fueled vitality and playful, glitchy nuance. The video accompaniment for the track, released alongside their album on August 12, offers fans a peek into a visual translation of the new soundscape they’ve conceived for the venture. Meath’s folk-like vocal tonality is almost completely offset visually, featuring the singer in a tight leather catsuit surrounded by friends donning futuristic mesh ‘fits, jamming out in a warehouse equipped with the necessities (strobe lights and lasers, of course). The video later counters this gritty, almost cyber punk assertion, with shots of Meath adorned in moss and flowers in a curated and backlit field. It’s an expert commentary on the duality of humans, and the singer-producer pair themselves.
Sylvan Esso has blasted into a stratosphere of non-conformity, exactly where they belong. Musically, the pair have found their own sect of electronic music, and fused it with folk, pop, indie, all in the name of creating a lane entirely of their own. Economically, they’ve been lucky enough to access the system in a way that swings to their advantage, earning back the rights to their own music while forming a safe space for emerging artists to do the same. The duo has fully embraced their deliciously odd approach to art, and the music world has embraced them right back.
Stream Sylvan Esso’s newest album below and don’t miss them open for ODESZA this coming fall. Get tickets here.
Featured image: David LaMason
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