Sylvan Esso: Kendrick Lamar was on constantly while we made this record

Categories: Q&A

Photo by Elizabeth Weinberg
Sylvan Esso are zipping down the interstate toward New York City in a Prius. There, vocalist Amelia Meath and beatmaker Nicholas Sanborn will perform on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon with the Roots' bandleader ?uestlove adding live drums. They opt for "Coffee," a glitchy, bells-strewn track with a coda referencing Tommy James and the Shondells, but virtually anything off their self-titled debut could spread their organic synth-pop to the masses.

Sanborn's past musical allies include indie stylists Decibully and bearded porch-rockers Megafaun (more on all of his bands here) and in Meath's background are Mountain Man's room-filling Appalachian harmonies and the ambient-folk collective BOBBY. She also has harmonized live with Feist, and he has produced beats solo under the Made of Oak moniker.

On Saturday, Sylvan Esso will warm up the stage for Polica at the second annual 10 Thousand Sounds Fest in downtown Minneapolis. Gimme Noise Spoke to Sanborn about the band's early success while Meath was behind the wheel.

See also:
10 Thousand Sounds: Behind the Bands

Gimme Noise: Tell me a little bit about the experience opening on the tUnE-yArDs tour.

Nicholas Sanborn:
It's a bunch of people in their audience who are real listeners and also have a really open mind about music -- but at the same time come to the show wanting to have a good time. It was a very cool group of people for us to be able to play for every night, and we feel very lucky to be out with them. Plus just the tUnE-yArDs group, they're such an inspiring group of musicians. All of them were so talented, interesting, and generous. They would give us their rooms for us to sleep in while they were on the bus. I watched their whole set pretty much every night. Usually you get fluid or you get intricate, but it was both -- like watching this extremely well-organized chaos.

How well-organized is Sylvan Esso at this stage?

We created this record totally in a vacuum. We just did the whole thing with nobody paying attention. We didn't even play for our friends really. Nobody heard it until it was like done, basically. The way are comfortable working is when it's just the two of us figuring out the song. That's when we're at our happiest. Having a stage show is kind of like that too. I think we invite everyone to get on board, hopefully, when we get on stage.

How has what you've created translated into a live show?

I play the songs so much differently now than when we started. The stuff on this record we play live can scale up and down really easily. About a year ago we randomly got to open for Beach House one night. It was our first time playing in front of more like 200 people. There were like 1,000, it was a big room, so it was louder. It's just the two of us, so it's small physically no matter what we do. How it scaled up emotionally for us was a big surprise. I was pleasantly surprised at how it has worked in big rooms -- mainly because it's something we made in my bedroom.

What electronic music did you listen to growing up?

Electronic was how I got into hip-hop actually. I started working at a record store in Madison when I was 15. Pretty soon after that I found out about Autechre. That EP7 was like mind-boggling. That kind of led me into Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and Boards of Canada. Then, I suddenly found instrumental hip-hop and J. Dilla. Electronic music was my entry point for a lot of different things when I was younger. I've always been making electronic music but this is kind of the first time I've taken it seriously. I'd do it when I was at home or I'd do a remix for a friend or when I was off tour. [Amelia and I] met at like my second solo show. I had never done shows even though I'd been making music like that for a long time I just decided to start playing shows.

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