We catch up with Sylvan Esso after their secret London show

The electronic duo reveal more about their upcoming album, the secret to their sell-out live shows and clear up one of our longstanding questions.

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Sylvan Esso have that kind of understated yet irresistible charm that has sold out every single one of their live dates since they began releasing music. Coming together from different musical groups, Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn formed their partnership in 2013, releasing their debut, self-titled album a year later, which managed to break the Top 40 of the Billboard 200. Their folky electronic style, unconventional subject matter and solid musical style have won them fans across the globe, and this Spring they embark on a huge worldwide tour with dates spanning until September. Ahead of their new release, What Now they played a secret show for fans in London. We caught up with them to find out how exactly they sell out every show and more about the upcoming album.

Notion: Hello guys, tell us about the secret show you played for fans in London?
Sylvan Esso: It was great! You can never really be sure of how a secret show is going to turn out but this was a wonderful experience, especially for our first time playing in London in quite a while.

Did you play any of your new stuff from the upcoming album? What was the reaction?
We did, and it went really well. We’ve been playing them all for a little while now (though we did premiere one new one), and we feel really lucky to have a fanbase that isn’t just willing to hear our new stuff at shows but rather is openly excited about it. Not many bands get that luxury, and we’re very grateful.

We saw you play Oslo in London last time you toured and there was a lot of dancing. How dancey is the new album?
Medium to dark roast dancey? 60-75% dancey? Tough to say. Sometimes I don’t realise something we’ve done is particularly dance-inducing until we’re playing it at a show and someone starts dancing!

Your shows are always super high energy. What’s the secret to getting the vibe right when there are just two of you on stage? 
The same thing that makes any creative output great: honesty. This will sound cheesy, but we really just try to go out there and be ourselves, in the present, with each other. My least favourite shows aren’t the ones where something breaks or the energy is low or whatever – they’re the ones where I feel like we were “putting on a show” or not really connecting with each other.

Are there any themes to this album? What was informing the sound and lyrics?
‘What Now’ is the phrase I woke up with in my head most often during the year we made the record. At first, it was for selfish reasons – we had achieved this goal we’d been working towards for our entire adult lives, but then we didn’t get to ride off into the sunset. Life just went on. What were we going to do now? It evolved as the year went on, though. It became a central question in my personal life and then for our country and species as a whole. We grew up a lot in the three or four years since we made the first record, and one of the central lessons we learned was there in that phrase: that nothing ever ends, that no love or goal achieved will save you, that no defeat is ever permanent, that life just goes on until you die, and then it goes on without you. Like most life lessons, it’s really depressing until you realise that it’s one of the most beautiful things about being alive.

‘Die Young’ is one of our new fave songs. Can you clear something up for us, though? Is the meeting of the person mentioned in the song a blessing or a tragedy?
It’s a tragedy for your juvenile, overly romanticised, misguided image of yourself. It’s a blessing for your actual self.

We also heard it was Nick’s birthday last week. How did you celebrate? Did you ever figure out where that mysterious tape came from?
We celebrated with a cake at Maida Vale and a nice steak for dinner. The tape remains a mystery, as it should.

You’re about to start a mega season of touring. Do you have any pre-show rituals?
We look each other right in the eyes and say “Picnic”. Really.

Photography Marcel Le Bachelet
Find Sylvan Esso on Twitter and Instagram
Follow Phie McKenzie on Twitter

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