SYLVAN ESSO: WHAT IS A FOLK VOCALIST ANYWAY?
from the archives.
The mesmerizing electronic indie of Sylvan Esso.
If you’re lucky enough to be sent straight to the voicemail of Amelia Heath, the dynamic singer and front-woman of Sylvan Esso, you’d be met with her impossibly sweet, bohemian voice crooning softly in a sing-song lullaby jingle, “It’s time to leave a message, you know what to do right now.” It’s the melding of this type of surprising saccharine sweetness with crunkified off-kilter, UK vs. BK, dub-wobble beats that has catapulted Sylvan Esso into the upper-echelons of indie-funk musical prestige at an almost unprecedented rate.
The day after their sold-out Westway show in New York City, Heath and her band mate, producer Nick Sanborn, flew home to Durham, North Carolina for the official record release show for their self-titled debut album, Sylvan Esso (Partisan). Heath’s dad-who she claims looks like Santa Clause-presided over the sold out hometown crowd as his daughter led the audience (which included a group of priests in training) in a choreographed rendition of “the family dance” among others. In the video for “Coffee”, the catchy, hipster, baroque premiere single off the album, Heath leads a small group of likeminded partygoers in a playful and seductive dance routine while wearing a skintight workout leotard presumably from the late ‘80s. As much as her soothing voice-a combination of southern charm, Parisian flirtation, and grassroots ambiance-it’s Heath’s undulating, unpretentious, and completely unique dance moves that make a Sylvan Esso show so enjoyable. Like many female vocalist-meets on-stage, male producer duos (see: Glass Candy, ASTR) it isn’t so much about the ego-driven onstage theatrics of rock star yore as it is about providing a visceral and completely organic dance party experience for each individual in the crowd. This is where music’s current sweet spot lies; in the grey area between heavy, studio made, dubby, bass driven dance beats intelligently paired with a live, in the flesh, accessible human element; in this case, the tall, enthusiastic, ginger haired, t-shirt and jeans-boy next door enthusiasm of Sanborn and his gracious, jealousy inducing, and decidedly effortless on stage report with the sexy, supremely talented goofball Heath. They’re clearly having fun up there, and the fun is undeniably contagious.
After the record release show in Durham, NC, Sylvan Esso played a series of shows with the tUnE-yArDs in London, Germany, Brussels, Paris, and Amsterdam before returning to New York for two sold-out shows at Webster Hall. Sylvan Esso is shaping up to be the sleeper street-walker, earbud wearing, house party album of Summer 2014 and despite Heath’s commitments to her other project, the Appalachian roots trio Mountain Man, and Sanborn’s projects Megafaun and Made of Oak, the band is looking to tour extensively in the fall.
Heath spoke with us on the phone from Amsterdam and dropped these gems on us:
On sounding similar to Merrill Garbus of the tUnE yArDs: “I honestly don’t think we sound that much alike. We’re just two bands with young lady singers who sound weird.”
On being called a folk singer: “I think it’s a pack of lies. I don’t think it’s real. I suppose I have kind of a smoky voice. I mean, what the hell is a folk vocalist anyway?”
On NPR calling her a forest sprite: “I could be a forest sprite.”
On naming her band after a Swords and Sorcery reference: “We’re huge dorks.”
On her platform shoes: “I know he’s tall, and we like to see eye to eye, so to speak, but I was wearing the shoes way before I met Nick. They fulfill the dream of being tall. They’re also a lot of fun and I like the way they look.”
On concert production values: “We pride ourselves on keeping it minimal, but for our headlining shows, we’ll definitely have lights. We’re not going to have visuals, I don’t really believe in them. It’s about the communication between us and the audience. I don’t wan it to become a spectacle.”
On their next NYC gig: “There’s going to be a Bowery Ballroom show in September.”
On the track “Hey Mami”: “It’s a build up of lots of different experiences. It’s about how everyone acts differently around you once you grow breasts and a butt and the change between everyone being your friend and then suddenly getting yelled at on the street. It’s also about your own reaction. Sometimes I get catcalls and feel threatened, scared, or unsafe, and sometimes I feel truly complimented. Seriously. Sometimes it makes you feel special. It’s all about the delivery. Sometimes older black men will say something like, “Bless you.” That can make me feel like a million bucks.”
On the album’s freshness: “We’ve been playing the songs for about a year now. The whole lead up to the album was comparable to Christmas or New Years Eve. Our job was to leave a little trail of breadcrumbs so people could discover the album.”
On feminism: “I love that word.”
On “Play It Right”: “It can be about romantic relationships, but for me, it’s more of a humanist idea; everyone just being who they are, being honest, truthful, carrying the light, and playing it right. Life is awesome.”
On mixing up the set-list: “We still feel like we’re introducing ourselves to everyone.”
On touring: “We’re gonna be home for two weeks in July, then on tour again in October. The main goal is to not get exhausted.
On journalist questions that bum you out: “Oh, we hate: How did you get your name? Tell me how you met? Oh man, obviously you don’t know how the Internet works.”