Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are the charming electro-folk duo behind Sylvan Esso. Both are transplants to the city of Durham, North Carolina, and the two met serendipitously one night through a fateful encounter. Sanborn was booked to open for Amelia’s former folk group, Mountain Man. It was only his second show as Made of Oak, his solo project, and when Meath saw his killer dance moves on stage, she instantly knew the two of them should be friends. Shortly after, Meath asked Sanborn to remix one of Mountain Man’s songs, and the rest is history. The pair started writing music together and never looked back.
Recorded mostly in Sanborn’s bedroom, their debut record is a layered electro-pop collection of tracks that are rhythmic and ambient. Together, they’ve created a new sound with their varied range of musical interests and talents. From a more dub-step influenced vibe, to electronic dance, and even elements of pop and rootsy folk, Sylvan Esso is a unique combination of different sounds and genres. Their music essentially weaves together Sanborn’s electronic beats and Meath’s graceful vocals. Naturally, their self-titled debut is highly dance-inducing, enchanting, and fun.
We had a chat with Sylvan Esso about those awesome signature moves, rad clothing choices, and obviously, “asparagus tennis instructors…” Check out their quirky interview, below.
Your first record was recorded largely in Nick’s bedroom. What was the recording process like?
Amelia Meath: Recording in a house takes the pressure off to constantly be productive, which can be both lovely and frustrating when you decide you would rather make an extravagant lunch instead of doing over dubs. I like working on songs outside, so I would sit on the porch for hours writing lyrics. We used the natural reverb of the hallway on the record. The sound of a woodpecker in “Coffee” is actually Nick just wrapping the doorframe to his room with his knuckles. The record sounds like the house. It is great to record in a home!
Amelia, you’ve mentioned that you don’t play any instruments, so you write a cappella. What’s that process like for you? How do the two of you put it all together?
Oh, I can plunk around on things if I need to, but I feel much more comfortable writing in the air. It looks as silly as it sounds. I spend a lot of time just singing single notes and getting annoyed at myself, marking time by hitting my knees. The songs themselves come together in different ways. Sometimes Nick has already made a beat, so I go for a walk and sing over it until I find something I like. Or I record a chorus or an entire song into my phone and send it to Nick. Lately we have been working in the same room, so I will sing something at him and then he plays a little thing back at me. It’s like that scene in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? with the dueling pianos.
What dream collabs do you have? Anyone you’d love to invite as a guest on a Sylvan Esso track?
Little Simz is amazing, but we are still very happy just working with each other. Why this obsession about collaborations, world?
Amelia, on a scale of one to 10, how badly do your feet hurt after dancing in your signature platform boots for a whole set?
Truth be told, I have lost the feeling in both of my big toes at this point. But I mean, c’mon.
Speaking of the boots, where do you get all of your awesome clothes?
A lot of the stuff I wear comes from Dear Hearts, which is a store/styling wizard lounge in Durham, North Carolina where we live. I’m really into Mara Hoffman right now—I just got an extra pair of the Samantha Pleet Port Jeans, because I got nervous about wearing my first pair out. The rainbow uni I wore in the “Coffee” video was made by the amazing people at Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty. And I just got this Incredible backpack that only the Internet could birth (pic attached!).
Is it crazy to think that you have massive super fans?
Yes, it is! There are people that make us cakes and build us signs and someone made a Magic: The Gathering card of me a couple days ago!
You’re both living in North Carolina—what’s the music scene like there? How has it influenced you?
We are actually both transplants. Nick is from Madison, Wisconsin and I am from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Somehow, through the magic of being rootless wanderers, we both ended up in Durham. The music scene here rules! There are a handful of wonderful, small bars that hold the scene down. We particularly love Phil Cook, Hiss Golden Messenger, Blanko Basnet, Mount Moriah, Mipso, and so many different projects that are being made around here.
A lot of people say the song ”Dress” is about self-empowerment and confidence, while “Hey Mami” is about harassment and catcalling. Do you purposefully write songs with a message, or does it simply come from daily life experiences?
I purposefully write them about my daily life experiences.
You’ve been playing a couple of new tracks at live shows, like one that’s being informally referred to as “Dance.” What can you tell us about the new songs?
There are new songs! We are writing more. It is funny that people are naming them before we get the chance to.
What three words would you each use to describe each other?
Asparagus Tennis Instructor.
What new artists or albums are you listening to right now?
Frazey Ford, Kendrick Lamar, Jake Xerxes Fussell, Eurythmics, Jamie xx, and Frankie Cosmos!
Is there a new record in the works? What’s inspiring your writing these days?
We are inspired by all sorts of things right now. I just bought a bunch of plants, and I am having a great time writing among them!