Q&A: Sylvan Esso

Throughout the past couple years, we’ve seen an emergence in what I like to consider folk-electronic music rising up from the depths of your favorite underground music venues into your SiriusXM radios. Although the genre has been steadily growing, it somehow has yet to move on as a passé movement in the scheme of genres making a comeback here in Southern California.

Since Sylvan Esso‘s self-titled debut this past May, they’ve set the bar to a whole other level with tracks that reverberate throughout and unique mixes of  top-notch vocals and clean production. From front to back, Singer Amelia Meath (previously of folk trio Mountain Man) and producer Nick Sanborn have created an interesting mix of simple yet mysteriously complex tracks filled with layers of meticulousness that leave for an experience in itself.

The dynamic eb and flow of the album provides listeners with jams like ‘Hey Mami’ and ‘Coffee‘— both to be enjoyed with a pair of headphones or in your nearest hipster dance dive—I personally recommend Dance Yourself Clean at Short Stop. Before the band hit their two night sold-out shows at The Troubadour, LA CANVAS Magazine had a chance to chat with Nick about now, next and how the duo came to be.

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LAC: Out of curiosity, Amelia, having played with the trio Mountain Man (a very folk centered trio, touring with Feist and such), did you ever see your musical journey translating over to a more electronic/instrumental world?

NICK SANBORN: I hesitate to speak for her, but she has always loved electronic music and pop and wanted to try something that was more accessible. Both of us have a bit of genre-ADD, and have hopped around a lot over the course of our “careers”.

We’re booked out for the extended foreseeable future, and working on lots of remixes and new stuff when we can. We’re just grateful to be out here and playing for more and more people, which we’ll continue to do as long as we can.

LAC: Having both come from what seems very different musical backgrounds, what brought you two together to experiment on what is now your signature sound?

NS: We were just big fans of one another. I think any time two people are fans of each other’s music it allows them to contextualize each other. The remix of Play It Right kinda took me by surprise – it showed me a way I could work with someone musically in a different way than I had been before, and thankfully Amelia felt the same way. We didn’t set out with any stylistic goals beyond accessibility, this is just the natural music we make together (for right now, at least).

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LAC: Once you got together and did the first mix of “Play It Right” what was the tipping point when you decided, “Yes, this is the direction we are going to go, and we are going to rock it”?

NS: After that we started trading ideas over email, which was exciting but neither of us had any expectations. The tipping point for me was a couple months later, when Amelia flew out to Durham to hang and record vocals at my house. I had a solo show scheduled at Hopscotch (a festival here in NC) and asked her to join me to sing Play It Right, which I had been using as the closer to my sets pretty regularly. Something just clicked during that song (the first time we had ever been on stage together, in front of six or so people) – we both looked at each other afterwards and decided we had to see where it could go.

*We both look at each other and decided we had to see where it could go…

LAC: The songs “Coffee” and “Hey Mami” seem to building the most traction in the blogosphere, are those tracks in which you were anticipating to hit, or did you have other songs off the album which you’d really like to resonate more with listeners?

NS: Not at all. We kinda had no idea what to release as singles. We had already put out Hey Mami and Play It Right on a 12″ single (just because they were our first two songs), and so we decided to put out Coffee next just because it was an opposite vibe of the other two. We thought it was way more of a sleeper hit than a single, I mean, it’s such a bummer of a song in so many ways.


LAC: The album still seems to be building serious momentum since it’s release in May, and with a nation wide tour, what are you thinking is the next level for Sylvan Esso?

NS: Who knows? We’re booked out for the extended foreseeable future, and working on lots of remixes and new stuff when we can. We’re just grateful to be out here and playing for more and more people, which we’ll continue to do as long as we can.

LAC: I have to ask (sorry if this has been thrown your way a million times) but what is the meaning behind the name “Sylvan Esso”?

NS: It’s loosely based on a video game called Swords and Sworcery that both Amelia and I would highly recommend.

LAC: I am not sure how many times either of you have been to Los Angeles (we are very excited for your show at the Troubardour), but is there a spot in town that you must hit while you’re here?

NS: We’ve recently been addicted to this breakfast taco spot called Home State, so that’ll be on the docket. Other than that our trip will hopefully involve hugging my friend Spencer, eating bahn-mi at this pop up place by Jackie’s house, and taking a hike up several of your urban staircases.

LAC: If you had one thing to say to describe your current tour, what would it be?

NS: Fantastic and exhausting.

LAC: What are some bands or songs that you two currently have loaded on your playlists right now?

NS: The Lounge Lizards – Voice of Chunk (whole record), Jessy Lanza – Keep Moving, Caribou – Can’t Do Without You

Follow the band here and be sure to purchase their new album out now at your favorite local record store.




Scenario: Music duo In The Valley Below sit next to you as Jeffrey Jacob strings his guitar and the angelic Angela Gail sips the same cocktail you have in hand – the kind that have those lit up ice cubes in it, with a cherry floater. Shriek! These two musicians bring sensual electro-pop new life in their Man Girl EP — their hit track “Peaches” went haywire earlier this year with remixes from the hands of international DJs and producers, and other tracks like “Hymnals” set the tone of what we may expect from them as they grow as artists and bring us future music.

We all give a genuine smile, salute our drinks and compliment one another’s personal style — she in a floor length white dress and he rocks a classic white button up and suspenders. We are at the EventBrite LA‘s BriteSpace LA pop-up closing party hosted by LA CANVAS, and the magnitude of chemistry exuding from them fills the green room we lounge in, and is as amplified and passionate as their stage presence. Abide:

LA CANVAS: What brought you two together? 

ANGELA GAIL: I randomly saw him playing at a club in LA. We came here separately. I thought his guitar playing was perfect. I wanted to get to know him and we became friends.

LA CANVAS: What brought you two together? 

ANGELA GAIL: I randomly saw him playing at a club in LA. We came here separately. I thought his guitar playing was perfect. I wanted to get to know him and we became friends.

JEFFREY JACOB: I actually don’t remember meeting her the first time, which is awful, but we just kind of all of a sudden we were hanging out all the time, within the same circle of friends and musicians. She was just there. We are both somewhat shy so it was a slow friendship evolution, and then it took a long time before we started writing songs together. That was also a slow process too, and writing songs with another person is really intimate, especially if your not used to it, which I wasn’t. First few songs we wrote together was pretty bad, but we got comfortable, opened up a little bit and it started to get better.

LAC: Give us a few words to describe what your partnership in music and compadre-ship is like: Your process, things you abide by when you create music

JJ: We write all the songs together, so it’s definitely a collaboration on everything. Every song is different, so some songs start off with an idea that I have on the guitar or vocal, and she’ll come in for that or she’ll come in with an idea and we’ll finish it out together.

AG: I feel like every song starts with some idea that falls upon you. Almost like you channel something and you want to sing it over and over, so you have to build the song around that one little piece.

LAC: How do you separate that from your friendship? Is it always just about the music, or can you go to dinner and talk about other things? 

AG: We do try to do that. We just love music so much and because it’s such a big part of our life, it’s what we end up talking about so it’s OK.

LAC: About your spark and manifestation of creating a song, and about something bigger. What rituals do you have in your creative process? 

AG: We usually write all the music first. It’s gibberish. Sometimes it starts on the piano, sometimes it’s the guitar, sometimes it’s drums and bass. We just want to write something that’s catchy and fun. The lyrics we want to spend a little more time with, so they’re not cheesy or obvious.

LAC: We blasted the Peaches remix by Bloc Party on the way here. What’s the deal with all these amazing remixes popping off?

AG: There are a lot of remixes out there right now. The Passion Pit remix is a fun one!

JJ: There’s a good one by this Austrian duo called We Love Machines. They did a really aggressive remix.

AG: My favorite may be the Dirt Caps remix.

LAC: What artists are on your wish list to work with?

AG: Peter Gabriel

LAC: What are you listening to right now?

AG: Classic Rock, old Bonnie Raitt, London Grammar.

JJ: Saint Vincent had a show at The Wiltern and it was pretty good. Bob Segart. We’ve been on his kick for a long time.


LAC: What does your voyage as emerging artists feel like?

AG: It’s really exciting. We’ve done so many things we’ve never thought we’d be able to do but only dreamed of. But then you get to the next level and there’s so much more that you want to accomplish. At the same time, it’s like a Cinderella effect: you get a great opportunity and then your back home and nothings happening — and that happens over and over and over. I guess it’s hard on the ego but it’s also good for it as well. It keeps you in check. We’ve realized how lucky we are, we try the best that we can.

LAC: Do you ever work each other’s nerve?

JJ: When you’re on the road, everybody kind of gets on each other’s nerve. A month in a van leads everyone to need their own personal space, but not from any mean way, it’s just the nature of touring. You’re stuck together 24 hours a day and you gotta put up some barriers to keep your sanity.

AG: We’re pretty easy going though, so…

JJ: We’re pretty mellow…

LAC: Any advice for young musicians out there or words to live by to share?

AG: I think it’s important to go see a lot of music. You can then learn about where and how you’re gonna fit in. It’s also about having a great song — if you’re a songwriter or if you are looking for songs it’s important to go see shows.

JJ: If you’re a songwriter, you have to write a ton of songs. It’s a numbers game. You have to write a lot to maybe get one good one. You can’t just write three songs and then expect them all to be amazing. You’re gonna write some crap songs and that’s just the way it goes. Keep writing.

LAC: Tour life. Favorite on the road moment or city? Best crowd you’ve played to?

JJ: My favorite was Prague.

AG: Poland. Couple cities in Poland, the crowds were amazing.

JJ: Further east you go in Europe, the less bands tour through there. So Poland crowds really appreciate the bands that trek it there to perform. Cause its a trek from Germany which is right there, but its an 8 hour drive from Germany to the first city in Poland. They give you a lot. Same with Prague, they give you a lot of energy.



YBH Rewrites An Old Story
[dropcap letter=”T”]he catchy melodies and uplifting tones of Youngblood Hawke’s tunes would suggest that some sort of idyllic confluence brought them together. That isn’t the case. Members Simon Katz and Sam Martin found themselves increasingly alienated from their frat- party, electro-pop band, Iglu and Hartly towards the end of the last decade and were struggling for direction. Martin tells the story best: “There were three of us—Simon, another guy, and myself. We started out kind of all on the same page. As the band got successful, the other member turned into a really dark dude. It got really ugly and became everything we were against. We walked away, and it was a really scary thing to do because it was going well in Europe and the UK. But we knew we had to do it because we were fucking miserable. The music was not the music that I wanted to be making.”

Sam and I locked ourselves in his bedroom. It was tiny and had no air conditioning. We just wrote songs all summer. That was our way of putting all the other shit we had to put up with for the past couple of years behind us.

They walked right into their next project. “Sam and I locked ourselves in his bedroom,” Martin continues. “It was tiny and had no air conditioning. We just wrote songs all summer. That was our way of putting all the other shit we had to put up with for the past couple of years behind us.” From there, their musical ascent continued on the same humble trajectory that a myriad of other Eastside LA bands have before them. “Our first show was at The Silverlake Lounge,” Martin recounts. “But we didn’t tell anybody. There were literally two people there—including the bar staff. We were completely nervous. It was our first time playing a show with the rest of the band. Alice had done acting before but had never played a show. I walked up to her after, and she was like, ‘I wanna do that again and again and again.”


They found a sense of home pretty quickly. “Playing The Satellite was cool because, when we first moved here, It was one of the first places we went to see live music. We felt comfortable there. They asked us to do a residency, and it was an obvious yes. That was kind of what started it for us. We didn’t really play that much as a band before. The residency was our third or fourth show. We would walk in the door and be like, ‘Are there gonna be 20 people there? 15?’ And then it was sold out. It was such a great response. People really reacted to the music in such a genuine way. It just felt natural. You can tell when the crowd’s into it.”

And that was it. “We Come Running” was released months later, and Youngblood Hawke became an international buzz band. Just like that. With their second LP approaching, the band isn’t resting on their laurels. There are rumblings of new directions, but fans looking for the YBH signature sound shouldn’t worry. Martin explains, “I don’t know if there’s any way to describe it other than evolving. The worst thing you can do as an artist is continue to make the same thing over and over again. We wrote the first album three years ago. We’re different people now. I don’t think we’re going to put out a folk record or a dubstep record, though. We want it to be fun for us on stage and fun for the people who come see us. Our first record comes from a pop background and sound, even though the stories and the lyrics are dark. I think we’ll probably take that a little further and just experiment, get a little weirder.”

In a lot of ways, the band’s story is an allegory to the novel from which their name was derived, Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke. It’s an important book to Martin. “It was just one of those books that just blew my mind,” he says. “It was my late uncle’s favorite book. It’s about a young Kentucky boy who moved to New York. My whole family’s from Kentucky and I really connected with the story of someone leaving everything behind and chasing their dream of becoming an artist. There’s a lot of imagery and stuff inside the book that really touched me.”

That’s how we feel about music. It’s the one thing we want to do with our lives. It’s become our lives. We’ve put everything into it.

When pressed about the book’s tragic ending, Martin responds, “It definitely has a dark twist, but you decide what you want to do with your life, and you just do it. That’s how we feel about music. It’s the one thing we want to do with our lives. It’s become our lives. We’ve put everything into it.” Maybe the fact that YBH were born out of somebody else’s unhappy ending means that, this time, they’ll get to write their own.





Skateboarder and artist Eric McHenry shows off his quirky and super cool illustrations in his first solo exhibition at the Slow Culture Gallery. McHenry’s exhibition, The Terrible Tusk Show, features sketches, photographs and various mixed media pieces that really take us from the gallery to art in the streets. We got a chance to talk with Eric and see what his work is all about.

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LA CANVAS: What is The Terrible Tusk Show?

ERIC MCHENRY: It’s my first Los Angeles solo exhibition showing a new body of work created over the past 8 months or so, and about half of this new work is on stationary. I Work a 9 to 5 job so it was real easy to just throw a notepad in my bag and just get out an idea or a thought really quick. I can’t necessarily bring a large sheet of pure white paper back and forth to work. So in this show, you get to see a lot of my thought process and multiple versions of the same drawing. It’s just me figuring it out.


LAC: What got you into illustration and the type of art that you create and what inspires or influences your work?

EM: Skateboarding. When I started skating I got into skate art quickly after. My older brother and I used to redraw the Blind graphics from the tiny CCS deck section. I used to buy boards just for the artist, and not for the skater or brand…still do I suppose. Lately I’ve spending more time is museums and galleries trying to familiarize myself with as many new and old artists as I can. And that’s what inspires me too. Getting exposed to new art and learning.


LAC: We’ve noticed this comical, newspaper cartoon-like style. What’s the process like?

EM: Most of it will stem from a little sketch that I like and I’ll just try and give it as much emotion and make it as animated as I feel it needs. Creating this “dialogue” without actually saying anything. I listen to a lot of movies or music while I’m working, so quotes will get reappropriated in a piece a lot of the time.


LAC: What do you love about LA and being an artist in LA?

EM: I’m not originally from Los Angeles, I’ve only been here for about two years now, but in that short of amount of time I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself around creative minds and people that I can genuinely call friends. There are so many different characters and scenes in LA. I’ve just been keeping an open mind and trying to explore whatever I can, whenever I can. Like one night I’ll be at a Trash talk show getting beat up and the next day I’ll be at the friends gallery in Highland Park working on shit, next day i’ll just clock into the 9-5 graphics job. I’m thankful that LA provides all of that.

Check out Eric’s work at Slow Culture in Highland Park ongoing until July 11th.