Sylvan Esso On Growing Up In "Die Young," Meta-Songwriting
In a twisted stroke of romantic genius, the latest single from electro-pop duo Sylvan Esso declares, "I was gonna die young/ now I've gotta wait for you."
On their way to finding a surprisingly fresh expression for love in "Die Young," the band may have also stumbled upon the theme of their sophomore album, the audacious follow-up, What Now.
Following the breakout success of their 2014 self-titled debut album, the North Carolina duo of singer/songwriter Amelia Meath and electronic producer Nick Sanborn regrouped to write and record 2017's What Now with a much more deliberate yet natural tack.
"The first record was a series of experiments. Now we feel much more confident in getting a song to where we think it wants to be," said Sanborn. "These songs ask for a lot of different things than the songs on the first record did. We just tried to follow the thread but I think we felt more capable of going wherever it wanted to go rather than where our limited means took us the first time."
For her part as vocalist and lyricist, Meath let the material come more naturally this time around, too.
"In general with What Now, we were just a lot more comfortable with many different instruments that we had. With the first [album] we pretty much just used a [Roland] Juno and I wrote in the air," explained Meath. "With this one, it began a much more collaborative effort, so we were just hanging out in the same room together, just thinking about our feelings."
From this more connected collaborative process, which placed priority on establishing a baseline of conjoined comfort, a new freedom emerged for Sylvan Esso. On certain songs, they developed an almost "meta" approach to writing. Such was case with the irresistible single, "Radio."
"The song 'Radio' is mostly born out of my own frustration of feeling pressure, my own pressure that I was putting on myself, to make a really catchy song." Meath admitted. "So I managed to funnel that into a pretty catchy song that's about not wanting to do it and being frustrated with the beast that we live inside right now. That was the general seed of the idea."
Where some groups struggle to follow such an auspicious debut album with something meaningful, Meath and Sanborn seemed liberated by this approach to building songs — one that creates enough distance from the concept to see it clearly without surrendering possession.
"I think one thing I love about your lyrics," said Sanborn, turning to address his bandmate, "is that a lot them seem like you're talking to somebody else but they're usually self-reflective. They're about you."
What Now also marked a huge step forward sonically for Sylvan Esso, with edgy layers lurking underneath moments of tenderness. The next challenge? Translating these studio creations to the live realm on tour.
"I think you learn what a song is in the studio," said Sanborn, "and when you're writing it, it has its own life there, Then you learn a lot more about it and yourself after you've played it 100 times. Its meaning grows and how you feel about it changes."