Speaking about her upcoming Dublin gig, Sylvan Esso’s lead vocalist, Amelia Meath, reminisces about the last time she played in the city. “I played there on my 21st birthday, that was the last time I played there. Though, maybe it was my 22nd, I think it was my 22nd”. Unsurprisingly, Dublin is a favorite spot of hers to visit: “My mom was there and that was really nice. I loved it. It was really fun and she got me this amazing spandexy onesie that I am actually wearing for the last scene in the ‘Coffee’ video. So I wore that, for the show.” Disappointingly however, the onesie performance seems to have been a once off. “Unfortunately it’s in my closet at home, but if I had it I probably would wear it.”
It’s clear Meath has an eye for what others may view as unimportant details, particularly when recalling certain anecdotes. When telling the story of how herself and Nick Sanborn, the producer and other member of Sylvan Esso, came together, what she remembers is less about the conversations, but the details of the moment it happened. “We were at Eller’s Deli, which is in Madison, Wisconsin. We went out and got some very good matzah ball soup, and I ate a grilled cheese sandwich.” It’s this attention to detail that shines through both vocally and lyrically when Meath performs. Songs such as ‘Could I Be’ or ‘Uncantena’ work especially well because of the intricate work which Meath invests in her word choices and performances, with her vocal work beautifully intertwining with Sanborn’s uniquely offbeat music.
Sylvan Esso released their first single, ‘Hey Mami’, in May 2013, with their second single ‘Play it Right’ following a couple of months later. After ‘Coffee’ became a viral hit amongst indie sites, Sylvan Esso’s stature began to grow. Their breakout success was solidified when they played The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon during the summer. It has been a steady rise to prominence for the duo, and Meath is astonished by this trajectory. “It’s kind of hard to describe, because it feels great, and also you really want to control it, and you can’t control it because you reached your goal and then everyone has their hands and minds and ears all over your music and you can’t take it back from them and say ‘No, no, no, it’s this!’, so you have to hold onto the little whiskers of the dragon.”
For Meath, this sort of success and the success of her previous band, The Mountain Men, was the kind of career she always wanted to have: “I always wanted to be a singing person. That was my plan when I was three or four. I learned how to sing with my dad around the dinner table.” Her success as a musician came quite early, as she was still in college when she met the original members of the band that would make up The Mountain Men. “It was basically, I had moved into a brand new house, off campus and decided we needed to have a house show to commemorate us moving into the house, and then I asked Molly and Alexandra to play, and then somehow or other we realised that we should just play together.”
Sylvan Esso started out as a project between vocalist Meath and producer Sanborn, who was originally part of indie rock band Megafaun. Meath and Sanborn met at a club in Milwaukee. “That was after he had done a remix of ‘Play it Right’, and we realised that we should just make more tracks together. Then once we finished ‘Hey Mami’, we realised all of our friends were saying ‘this is really really good’ and we were really really excited.”
Part of what makes Sylvan Esso’s work so exciting is the variance in song structure and the eccentric rhythms they explore and develop. When asked about the process of creating such a unique catalogue of songs, Meath explains that her and Sanborn’s working process is uniquely fluid. “Usually it starts with one of us having a single idea and going to the other one and being, ‘Hey! This idea!’, and we sit around and talk about it for a while, and then we go off into our own little corners and work on it, or sometimes Nick has a full beat and I just write over it, or sometimes I have a full song and Nick writes a beat over it. It changes all the time.”
No matter how many articles are written, or assumptions made about the electro-folk nature of Sylvan Esso’s work, Meath does not like to categorise her work strictly as folk, but instead sees a different commonality between her previous and current bands. “Mountain Men was a folk band. We don’t use any tuning on my voice, so it sounds authentic and real which was the goal of Mountain Men as a band and is part of the goal of Sylvan Esso as a band, bringing humanity into performance and electronic music.”
So what next for Meath after she leaves Dublin? “Oh you’ll definitely hear new Sylvan Esso music eventually, but quite honestly we’re pretty much scheduled through to next summer, and then we’ve got a couple of months off. I plan on reading a lot of books, learning some more musical instruments, resting, and making a lot of food.” Considering the whirlwind of a year she’s just had, it will certainly be a well-deserved rest.
Sylvan Esso play at Workman’s Club tonight, Oct. 7th