Sylvan Esso On The Pressure To Make Magic — Again | KERA News

Sylvan Esso On The Pressure To Make Magic — Again

Apr 27, 2017
Originally published on April 28, 2017 8:20 am

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn each spent time in bands that never made it big. But when the two of them joined up to create Sylvan Esso, everything changed. They started filling up high-profile music venues, became famous internationally and almost immediately started to feel pressure to make magic a second time. Now, three years after the band's debut, Sylvan Esso has a sophomore album, out Friday. The name of the record, What Now, offers some insight into how Meath and Sanborn felt making it.

"We realized we had just grown up a lot since the last record had happened," Sanborn says. "And I think the biggest lesson we kept coming back to, the biggest 'growing up' lesson, was this realization that nothing is ever over, and that no great success is going to save you, no love is going to make you a better person ... and on the flip side, that no defeat is ever the end."

Meath and Sanborn spoke with NPR's Ari Shapiro about what was on their minds as they worked on What Now, including the burdens that can come with success. Hear their conversation at the audio link and read highlights below.

Interview Highlights

On the single "Radio" and navigating creative pressure

Amelia Meath: I wrote this song mostly because I was so personally frustrated with my — the stress that I was feeling on myself about writing new songs. We were a year into our record cycle, and I already felt immense pressure to work on our sophomore record. ... It's wonderful being in a band that doesn't make it big. Then you're just excited if like 50 people come to a show — you're like "Oh my gosh! We did it!"

On walking the line between success and self-doubt

Nick Sanborn: There's this wondrous feeling of, on one side, everything you've ever wanted is working out. People understand what you're saying and you feel like you're heard, and they feel that way too, and this glorious thing is happening. And then, the other evil, terrible, clinical-depression monster within you comes out and says, "You don't deserve this."And "It won't last," and "What are you gonna do now, you faker?" And I think everybody knows how that feels. I think that happens to everyone, in every line of work.

On the sacrifice that goes into partnership

Meath: When you find someone that you really, really like and want to hang out with for — forever, or for the foreseeable future — you lose a part of yourself when you agree to be with somebody. ... We're OK, though, we're good. We laugh at each other's jokes still.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn each spent time in bands that never made it big. When the two of them joined up to create Sylvan Esso, everything changed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COFFEE")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) Get up, get down, get up, get down, feel the general attention and stop, see the mix won't work.

SHAPIRO: They started filling up high-profile music venues. They became famous internationally, and almost immediately, they started to feel pressure to make magic a second time. So three years after their debut album, Sylvan Esso has a sophomore record. The name gives you some insight into how they felt making it. The album is called "What Now."

NICK SANBORN: The reason we named it "What Now" was that we realized that we had just grown up a lot since the last record had happened. And I think the biggest lesson we kept coming back to, the biggest kind of growing up lesson, was this realization that nothing is ever over and that, you know, no great success is going to save you. You know, no love is going to make you a better person really.

AMELIA MEATH: Or whole.

SANBORN: Yeah, and on the flip side, that no defeat is ever the end.

SHAPIRO: It's funny because I was thinking that the title could be either anticipatory, like, oh, what now, what next, or it could be, like, exasperated, oh, what now.

SANBORN: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: And you're saying that's both (laughter).

SANBORN: Yeah, that's why we kept it without punctuation. It was probably the phrase I woke up with in the middle of the night in my head the most in the year that we made the record, which was last year.

SHAPIRO: Which was 2016.

SANBORN: Yeah. I mean - which is a year for kind of our species to be shouting that at themselves all the time. But it was also just personally and professionally - it just took over every aspect of, I think, both of our lives, that one idea.

SHAPIRO: Probably the track on this record that is the most explicit about its point of view is "Radio."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) So slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio, three point three oh. Slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio, three point three oh.

MEATH: One of the joys of this song is the fact that it's actually gotten on the radio...

SHAPIRO: That's crazy.

MEATH: ...All over the country, which is just hilarious to me.

SHAPIRO: This indictment of the radio.

MEATH: Yeah, exactly.

SHAPIRO: Will you tell me why you wrote this song?

MEATH: Honestly, I wrote this song mostly because I was so personally frustrated with my - the stress that I was feeling on myself about writing new songs. We were a year into our record cycle, and I already felt immense pressure to work on our sophomore record.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you're talking about the curse of success because you never had that kind of pressure when you were in bands that had not made it big.

MEATH: Oh, no, it's wonderful being in a band that doesn't make it big. Then you're just excited if, like, 50 people come to a show. You're like, oh, my gosh. We did it.

SHAPIRO: And now you feel pressure to sell out multi-thousand-seat venues.

MEATH: I mean, yeah, when you book them. It would be cool if you sold them, right?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) Faking the truth in a new pop song. Don't you want to sing along? Slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio, three point three oh. Slave to the radio...

SANBORN: It's weird. I think a lot of people think that that song is about some other artist or some other group of artists. But I think it's mostly about us.

SHAPIRO: Oh, like you're afraid that you've been a sellout, that you're...

SANBORN: You're singing a song to yourself, yeah.

MEATH: Yeah, or I'm not afraid that I'm going to sell out. It's just true because I'm writing songs with the hope that people will like them all of a sudden, you know?

SHAPIRO: Well - but what's the alternative, to write songs hoping that people don't?

SANBORN: No. See, this is the stupid paradox that we put ourselves in. How can I say this? Like, there's this wondrous feeling of, on one side, everything you've ever wanted is working out. People understand what you're saying and you feel like you're heard and they feel that way, too, and this glorious thing is happening. And then the other evil, terrible, like, clinical depression monster within you comes out and says, you don't deserve this. What are you going to do?

SHAPIRO: And it won't last.

SANBORN: And it won't last and what are you going to do now, you faker? And, you know, I think everybody knows how that feels. I think that's - that happens to everyone in every line of work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) Do you got the moves to make it stick, yeah, to get the clicks, yeah, technicolor our every move. Can you keep them coming like a machine? Yeah. The old blue jean, yeah. What can we do to get you on the news? Slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio, three point three oh. Slave to the radio, slave to the radio, slave to the radio, three point three oh. Slave to the radio...

SHAPIRO: So what do you make of the fact that you write a song about that which becomes your biggest radio hit to date?

SANBORN: Ah, irony (laughter).

MEATH: Yeah. It's just funny. Also I kind of had a feeling it was going to happen like this. You know, we wrote - we wrote it that catchy so that it would be caught and it was.

SHAPIRO: Thematically, these issues of kind of the pressures of success and growing up and the sophomore record in a way remind me of the song "Die Young" on this album, which even though I guess it's, on its face, a love song, these lyrics seem to me like they're kind of about growing up in a way and abandoning the dream of sort of flaming out in a blaze of glory in your 20s.

SANBORN: Yeah, like ditching your adolescent, overly romanticized vision of yourself.

SHAPIRO: Am I reading too much into that?

SANBORN: No, that's...

MEATH: No, you're reading exactly, perfectly, right...

SANBORN: That's what we wanted.

MEATH: ...Into that. Yeah, that's exactly what we wanted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE YOUNG")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) I was going to die young. Now I got to wait for you, honey. Now I got to wait for you, honey. Now I got to wait for you, honey.

SHAPIRO: Is this a song of sweetness or disappointment?

MEATH: Both.

SANBORN: (Laughter).

MEATH: I think it's both. When you're - when you find someone that you really, really like and want to hang out with for...

SANBORN: Ever.

MEATH: Yeah, forever or for the foreseeable future, you lose a part of yourself when you agree to be with somebody.

SHAPIRO: This is obviously true of a relationship or a marriage. Is it also true of a band that has only two people in it?

MEATH: Darn tootin' (ph).

SANBORN: Of course, of course, yeah.

MEATH: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: You're stuck with each other.

MEATH: Yeah.

SANBORN: Very much so.

SHAPIRO: Especially now that you're successful.

MEATH: Yeah, exactly.

SANBORN: Darn it.

MEATH: We're OK though. We're good. We laugh at each other's jokes still.

SHAPIRO: Still?

SANBORN: The crucial bit.

MEATH: Still, you know, yeah, yeah.

SHAPIRO: Well, you've only just started your tour for the second album, so...

SANBORN: That's so true.

SHAPIRO: ...We'll check in with you at the end of the tour.

SANBORN: Check in - hit us up in nine months or something and see how it's going then.

MEATH: It's true.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE YOUNG")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) I've got the fire, electric light so high, so wild. It's not like I chose, not like I tried. But now I got to wait around and watch you burn so bright. I was going to die. I had it all planned out before you met me.

SHAPIRO: Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, thanks so much. This has been really fun.

SANBORN: Oh, thank you so much for having us on your wonderful show.

MEATH: Yes, thank you. We appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: They're the band Sylvan Esso, and the new album is called "What Now."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIE YOUNG")

SYLVAN ESSO: (Singing) I had a plan. You ruined it completely. I was going to die young. Now, I got to wait for you, honey. Now, I got to wait for you, honey. Now, I got to wait for you, honey. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.