Music of Hanging Out: A Sylvan Esso Interview

Your shirts ripped. - So's yours. - No more fighting with knives alright? - No deal.
Your shirts ripped. – So’s yours. – No more fighting with knives alright? – No deal.

A bit ago we were lucky enough to catch up with Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso the Y chromosome half of a fantastic pop duo that currently calls Durham, North Carolina home.  Vocalist, Amelia Meath, comprises the other half of the band that just wrapped up a tour with Volcano Choir and jumped ship to tour with Minor Alps. Sadly there are no L.A. dates. Below Nick discusses everything from how excited he is by current pop music to Justin Vernon to the Green Bay Packers. Full disclosure… Go! Pack! Go!

If you like what you hear and read then head on over here to pick up their vinyl and mp3. Below are their two currently released singes. The catchy as hell “Play It Right” and the even better “Hey Mami.”  

SM: You guys both had careers in other bands previous to SE and have stated that you are both attracted to independent pop music and where it’s been going recently.  With SE how do you guys see yourself within that independent pop world? 

Nick: I think what we’re really excited about is the idea that right now audiences’ definition of ‘accessible music’ is expanding while artists seem to be considering accessibility more often, leading to a ton of music being made that could be considered ‘pop’.

SM: Is there a conscious effort on your part to carve out a little space to differentiate your sound? Things you’re trying to do or stay away from? 

Nick: Not really. I’ve said this before, but I think our only goal is to make smart, accessible songs – pop music that doesn’t assume the listener is an idiot. We’re lucky in that we really understand each other’s point of view artistically and it makes working together a really easy, natural thing. It never feels like we have to make preemptive stylistic choices, the music we make is just the sound of us hanging out. I’m sure it’ll change over time as we do.

SM: You’re touring with Volcano Choir which features a Wisconsinite in Justin Vernon who has done the opposite of yourself, Nick, moving to Wisconsin from North Carolina. How did that tour pairing come about?

Nick: All of us are old buds from Wisconsin, I lived in Milwaukee for a long time before moving to NC and played in Collections of Colonies of Bees for the past few years. All those guys have just been huge cheerleaders for us from the beginning. We’re really lucky to have such amazing, talented, and supportive friends.

SM: Have you guys bonded over the Packers?

Nick: Oh, you mean the most remarkable and humble franchise in the NFL? The team with immense quantifiable legacy? That beacon of sportsmanship and ego-free productivity? Yes.

SM: It’s common for musicians to move from city to city for one reason or another. If at all, how influential has a particular cities culture influenced your music?

Nick: Oh, environment is hugely influential, at least for me. Not necessarily in a direct musical way (although that can happen too), but as far as creative energy is concerned I’m very influenced by who or what is around me. We currently live in Durham, NC, and it’s amazing. So many driven, creative people doing exactly what they want to do. I think it’s easy to see someone doing something amazing and think “oh, I should do something like THAT…” but this place seems to instead encourage the thought “oh, I should do something TOO…”

Does that make sense?

SM: You’ve both lived in a multiple different places in your life making music. Is there a place that you haven’t lived that could see yourself moving to?

Nick: The only two cities that spring to mind right away are Seattle and Utrecht. Both are places I’ve been to many times and always felt completely at home in, which is a very rare thing for me. Utrecht especially – it’s such a beautiful city, so calm but simultaneously buzzing with energy. Also home to my favorite coffee shop ever, The Village, and favorite tour manager ever, Martijn. Total two-fer.

SM:How do you approach songwriting and production? Is every element wholly collaborative, or do you each have separate roles and responsibilities?

Nick: I’d say I do most of the production and Amelia writes most of the lyrics, but the process itself is very collaborative. She really speaks my language and I think I speak hers, so communicating ideas for what the other could be doing is a pretty fluid thing. There’s a lot of trust, and it makes the lack of well-defined musical roles a ton of fun.

SM: Who or what influences you most musically? Doesn’t have to be another artist necessarily. 

Nick: I could rattle off all the records I’m in love with right now, but that would probably extend the interview by too much! I think more than anything we’re influenced by our friends. I feel very lucky to be surrounded by so many talented people, and it definitely keeps a fire under my ass to be productive.

SM: It may be a little simplistic but what is it that you love about Sylvan Esso?

Nick: Everything. For me, though I’ve been playing in bands and touring for a long time, it’s kinda the first time I’ve really felt a sense of ownership over what I’m doing. I think both of us feel like we’re applying all these lessons we’ve learned over the past several years on this new thing that’s completely ours and feels completely natural. I’m having a ball. Life rules.

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