Miriam Doona interviews the electropop group on the verge of massive success

It can be tricky to track down globe-trotting musicians, even with the vast suite of telecommunications gadgets available to us. 

After a failed attempt to speak with Nick Sanborn, due to lack of connection as he drove driving through remote Wisconsin terrain, we finally got to chat from his location in Brooklyn. Nick is an electronic producer and one half of North Carolina’s electropop duo Sylvan Esso and we spoke ahead of their upcoming debut European tour and subsequent Dublin gig in The Workman's Club, on October 7. The tour is in support of their self-titled debut album."

So, we finally get to chat! My first question is more of a wondering. Your debut European tour is due to kick off shortly and it is bringing you to The Workman's Club on October 7. I noticed you have five dates in Germany to begin the tour. Do you have a particularly big fan base in Germany?

No, not particularly! And we do much better in the UK, to be honest. We love Germany and one of our labels is based in Berlin so are taking the opportunity to expand our fan base in Germany and put our music out as much as possible.

Sylvan Esso is made of yourself and Amelia Meath. How did Sylvan Esso come to be?

We were billed on the same show about four years ago and we got along very well and we got to chatting afterwards and decided it would be a good idea to work together. Amelia contacted me the very next day and we decided that I would do a remix for the song “Play it Right” which she wrote for her then band Mountain Men, which is an insane band to watch live. It took me about a year to do, but then we decided to make a band around us and we have been going strong ever since.

Music-wise there is a mixed pot of sounds when you consider “Play it Right” with its haunting harmonies and “Coffee”, which is made in electro pop heaven and then there is this really cool twist; an almost elevator music element  to “Dreamy Bruises”, which is an electronic dance floor gem. Yet there seems to be common themes in the music; yearning, turmoil and angst. Who does the writing in the band?

Yes, that is fair. Amelia is responsible for 99% of the lyrics and being a human being is hard and never black and white. She writes about that and Amelia uses brilliant and weird metaphors to describe those grey areas. I figured out a long time ago that I have higher standards of writing than my writing actually allows. I am a stickler for lyrics and I hate bad lyrics, they drive me crazy. I definitely express myself better with instrumental music, I tell a much better story that way.

The European tour is bringing you to Dublin to the Workman’s Club on October 7, I gather it is not your first time to visit the city and indeed to the venue; do you have fond memories of both?

Yes, we have played the Workman’s Club before and love the venue and the crowd. The last time we played there we were with three other bands so we are very excited to be headlining. We love coming to Ireland but the worst thing about it is getting the ferry and arriving in at 6am, after driving to the ferry and sleeping in a cargo ship, you just gotta drop the bullshit and get there and get on with it, especially first thing in the morning after a long journey. Once we get there it is worth it, we love meeting people and the place so we can’t wait to check the pulse and throw our music out to Dublin.

Do you ever get nervous going on stage?

I am prone to anxiety in life and tend to stay in my head too much and on stage is the time when I don’t feel nervous. I don’t give a shit; the only thing I worry about is something going wrong on the technical side of things, but I love being on stage and like to prove myself there too.

You played The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in May, how was that experience?

It was insane, I have been doing this for ten years and then someone takes notice! Jimmy Fallon heard “Coffee” and he really liked it. The best part of the experience was afterwards and going to a bar with friends to watch it. It was a pinch myself moment and I was thinking, “Did that really happen?!”

What are you listening to right now?

I am listening to Soul Coughing a lot right now. The music pierces the subconscious with its obscure samples and jazz grooves. To be honest, we are mostly listening to podcasts, audio Harry Potter in the van. We are big Harry Potter fans.

And finally… the name Sylvan Esso, it must have a significant meaning and associated history?

(Laughs)…The name is hard to explain. I am a real tree hugger at heart and I am a deep-set hippy. I have a genuine love of trees, I am an avid arborist, big time and the name is in reference to that fact. It took us a while to settle on the name but it is also loosely based on a character Sylvan Sprite from the video game Swords and Sorcery. It came time for us as a band to register our Gmail account and we had at the time settled on another name, and we both looked at each other and agreed that it had to be Sylvan Esso, that was our band name and the rest is history!