5 Questions with Sylvan Esso | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

5 Questions with Sylvan Esso

click to enlarge Sylvan Esso - PHOTO: SHERVIN LAINEZ
Photo: Shervin Lainez
Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso, a pop duo composed of Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, is playing a show in Pittsburgh at Stage AE on Fri., Nov. 5. The North Carolina band’s most recent album, Free Love, was released in 2020 to much acclaim from fans and critics. The album is at once bright, dance heavy, and introspective, and asks listeners to reflect on what we understand of the big experience of loving someone else.

Pittsburgh City Paper asked the duo five questions ahead of their show in November.

1. What do you do first when you’re on tour in a new city?
Meath: Well, it depends. Usually we arrive in the middle of the night in our tour bus, so I wake up around 11 and then I'll go for a run if I feel like running or I'll Google the best coffee in my area from bed and then walk there. And then we'll do whatever interviews or work we have to do that day. I'll jump on my mini trampoline. If we're not in a global pandemic, I would see my friends in that city and maybe go out to dinner or some sort of cool lunch. But when we are in a global pandemic, I don't see anyone and sometimes we're able to get really good food.


2. What is your process of creation like? Do you have any rituals or anything you need to christen the space for songmaking?
Sanborn: I was reading Jeff Tweedy's autobiography last year, and there's this part in there where he talks about realizing that, as an artist, the job really is staying inspired because it's easy, I think, as you get older and your senses get duller and you maybe allow a frosting of jadedness to cover your life ...

Meath: Oh no.

Sanborn: ... to lose that. But that's really, the entire thing is realizing that being inspired is like a conscious choice that you can make, what you fill your brain and your body with are things that you can choose in terms of art. I loved reading that because it just recentered me on the fact that being in a creative head space is a muscle that you have to exercise. We all have moments in our life of inspiration, but I think when your whole life is centered around making things, you have to really work that and figure out how to be there all the time, to feel compelled to be there.

3. What was your favorite song to write on the new album?
Meath: My favorite song to write was “Shaking Up The Numb.” “Numb” is actually what it's called, but the line in it is “shaking up the numb” because we were jamming and it appeared.


Sanborn: It was the end of a frustrating day. That was the best part, we had a really discouraging afternoon where we lost the plot several times. And right before we left, I was like, 'Can we just make a thing, real fast, just to, like, get out of this headspace and like leave feeling better than when we started?'

Meath: And win the day again.

Sanborn: And the whole, the vast majority of it came out in like 20 minutes right before we left.

4. This isn’t true for every song, but some of your music is so danceable. What role does dance play in your life or in your creative process?
Meath: My favorite thing about dancing is that it's kind of hard to think about what you're doing while you're doing it. So it sort of helps get you out of all of the shame that we're taught to feel most of the time, or at least it really does that for me if I dance hard enough. I really like to encourage people to do that mostly because the band is about the fact that existence is really sad, but also that we can be as kind and good to each other as we possibly can be. Somehow that connects to dance for me.

5. Free Love has been understood as sort of this hippy mantra, but the album really digs into the complexities of being human with the capacity to love and be loved. What drew you to this title for the album?
Sanborn: Oh, thank you for, thank you for hearing that in the record. I suggested it as a title right after Amelia wrote that song right in the middle. It's called “Free.” I think one of my jobs in the band is to kind of take a macro view and try to see the long arc of what Amelia is writing about. Because I think understandably as the person who writes all the lyrics, she's very in the moment and contains these weird little worlds. And it's only really later that we can, like, look back and figure out what we were going through at the time. But when she wrote that song, it kind of snapped into focus the rest of the songs she had been writing for the record, which, to me, all were kind of looking back at different types of love and infatuation that she had been in in her life. And all of a sudden, it just, it seemed like the perfect time to reclaim that phrase as being about something that you could do within yourself, that it could have nothing to do with the exploitation of sex as a commodity, but remind you that your ability to care about people you don't know is always there within you, but sometimes you have to seek it out.


Meath: Oh yeah. Well, I also really liked it as a title in that it also feels like a strange commentary about the internet and how artists are interacting with the internet and how so much of the thing that we make is now expected to be free and how weird that is. So I really love the phrase because it really wraps all of that up in one package and also makes people mad because "free love," originally everyone was like “this seems like a good idea.” And then it revealed itself to be kind of gross in a way for people to be cruel to each other.

Sanborn: Every tool is a mirror.

Meath: Yeah. Same with, like, free hugs or all of those college campus things that you think are cool. And then you're, like, ‘Oh no, this is, like, a way of people to use other people’ and being able to reclaim it.

Sylvan Esso at Stage AE. 7 p.m. Fri., Nov. 5. 400 N. Shore Drive. North Side. $29.50-85. promowestlive.com

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