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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Sunday, Oct. 26, 2014

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In Music

Sylvan Esso is returning to Milwaukee for a show at The Pabst Theater on Friday, Sept. 5. (PHOTO: DL Anderson)

Techno-pop duo Sylvan Esso comes back to its home away from home


According to Sylvan Esso's Facebook page and official bio, Durham, N.C. gets to technically claim the rising techno-pop duo as one of its musical offspring. But Milwaukee certainly gets to claim some credit.

Nick Sanborn (formerly of Decibully and Megafaun) originally hails from Milwaukee, and he met his Sylvan Esso partner-in-crime Amelia Meath (formerly of Mountain Man) by chance at a gig at the Cactus Club. The city even got on the group's critically acclaimed self-titled debut, with the Milwaukee River playing the role of the ambient noise that starts the insanely earwormy record opener "Hey Mami."

The dynamic duo is returning to its home away from home next weekend, with a show on Friday, Sept. 5 at The Pabst Theater (moved from its original location at the Cactus Club after it sold out). And they're coming back with gallons of deservedly good press, an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon" and the deafening buzz of a band obviously on the rise.

Before then, OnMilwaukee.com got a chance to chat with Amelia Meath about the band's origins, coping with its newfound popularity and that time she went over to a fan's house for dinner – all sandwiched in between a chat about the best tasting BBQ-flavored sunflower seeds (Spitz, according to Meath) and a taste test of the brand's chili lime seeds ("pleasantly tangy" but without "the same commitment to flavor" as the BBQ). Safe to say fame has not gone to their heads.

OnMilwaukee.com: How did you realize that you two wanted to make music together? What drew you to each other?

Amelia Meath: You know, we danced the same. Really, that was pretty much when I was like, "We are birds of a feather. We are pals." Also, Nick's solo project was good, which made me feel things and got me excited. Which is pretty rare for a skinny, dorky dude playing loud electronic hip-hop. That's not very … it's not good on paper.

OMC: How did you guys grow and meld together into Sylvan Esso after that first meeting at the Cactus Club?

AM: Well, we were basically friends on the Internet for a year or two. And then when Mountain Man needed a remix, I asked Nick. And then he took his sweet time, and then I saw him again and said, "Hey!" He was like, "Okay, okay," and then three months later, I got the remix, and it was really good.

At which point, we met up again, and I was like, "Hey! We should do that again!" And he was like, "Yeah! I thought we should too!" And then we did it.

OMC: It's an understatement to say you guys have had a great year so far. How've you been handling this explosion of popularity?

AM: I'm trying to remember to sleep, pretty much. It's insane and wonderful and also slightly stressful. It's really easy to get freaked out when, all of a sudden, other people are taking what you've made and putting it into their lives. Then it becomes something else for them. In some ways, it's like watching your kid go off to college. You're like, "I'm going to control you and call you everyday!"

OMC: It sounds like it's difficult to create something and then let it out into the world, letting everyone make of it what they will.

AM: Yeah, and everything's happening as we want it to. People are actually making things of it and thinking about it and getting excited, which is great. Except for the rare occasion when people decide when they want to talk to you about what your songs are about, and what they really want to talk to you about is about how your songs are about them … and then they tell you about how your songs are about them. I mean, sometimes it's really nice, and sometimes, it's totally weird.

OMC: What's the weirdest song interpretation or story that you've heard?

AM: This one isn't for Sylvan Esso, but when I was in Mountain Man, there was a man who contacted me who said that his wife had just given birth to their fifth child together, and it was a home birth. And for the whole birthing process, she only listened to our record on repeat, and would we like to come over to their house for dinner. And we did.

OMC: You did?!

AM: We totally did! It was great. We got to hold the baby. It was great. We spent the night at their house. They're in Chicago, and we played a show in Chicago at the Empty Bottle and then drove to their house. We hung out with their baby and ate really good fish. It was really fun!

OMC: Was there a certain moment when you realized Sylvan Esso was hitting its stride and that you guys were making it?

AM: It must've been when a bunch of friends started texting me about hearing me on the radio. I was getting, like, (text message beep) "I hear you in a Starbucks!" or (text message beep) "I hear you in this beautiful place!" or "I was walking down the street in Brooklyn today and heard your album playing out of two different places!" It was so cool. It was like I was hearing that scene from "That Thing You Do" in different places. That's where my heart went every time people did that.

OMC: Did you guys have any goals when you starting putting together this album, or was it just let's see how this goes?

AM: The goal was to make a collection of accessible pop songs that were good. I feel like we succeeded in that. That was a goal that we initially going into the record.

OMC: How did the recording process go for the album?

AM: We recorded it in Nick's bedroom. I was a block away from Nick at the time, so I would come on over, and we would record in his bedroom. I would use his closet as my vocal booth.

OMC: How do you feel about the state of most of pop music nowadays?

AM: I love it, and it's also like drinking skim milk. It's like something with empty calories in it that doesn't necessarily have that much substance to it. There are some songs that are really amazing, but a lot of times, all the messages are like little messages that have been said over and over and over again.

OMC: What's next for Sylvan Esso?

AM: Really, the end goal is to have a viable and vibrant career. So that is what we're hoping to do. In terms of immediate stuff, we're going to go on tour forever. We're pretty much scheduled through next summer. Then we'll take a little bit of time off and start writing.


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