Synth-pop band Sylvan Esso to release 4th studio album in August

Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath talk pandemic and being in the moment

Photo courtesy of Bobby Strickland

Sylvan Esso has a lot going on this summer.

The husband-wife duo is about to hit the road to open for Odesza’s The Last Goodbye tour. And while Sylvan Esso is on tour, its fourth studio album, “No Rules Sandy,” will drop on Aug. 12.

Nick Sanborn, from Middleton, and Amelia Meath, who hails from Cambridge, Massachusetts, make up the electro-pop duo featuring Sanborn’s driving synth beats and Meath’s vocals.

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Wisconsin Public Radio’s Sarah Hopefl caught up with Meath and Sanborn this summer on their production process and what we can expect from the duo coming up.

This article has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Sarah Hopefl: Does the lore stand that you formed Sylvan Esso over a grilled cheese sandwich in Ella’s Deli?

Nick Sanborn: That is true.

Amelia Meath: RIP.

SH: How did the beautiful partnership begin?

NS: I opened for Mountain Man at a show they played at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee.

SH: Bay View represent.

NS: Oh yeah. And we just kind of always stayed in touch and I ended up taking a really long time to do a remix for her, which became our first song. They were on tour with Feist and came through Madison and I just hit her up and was like, “Hey let’s hang out.”

Then I picked you up and took you to Ella’s.

AM: Yeah, I was too hungover. I said, “I need a grilled cheese,” and he said, “I know where to take you.”

Then while we were talking, we just decided to send emails back and forth, making music. And then, you know…

NS: A hop, skip and a week later.

SH: Amelia wrote the lyrics, Nick wrote the beats? Has the process stayed the same roughly over the years?

AM: It’s melded. I’m Team Lyrics and Melody, and Sandy’s Team Beat. We’re always in the room together.

NS: It’s just that we know each other. Any musical relationship should be the sum, the byproduct of your relationship with that moment. I think for us, it’s just how you know anybody, the more everything changes, the more you change and the more your relationship with that person changes and I feel like the way we make music is always changing because of that.

SH: Do you find the Midwest versus Massachusetts personalities affects the dynamic?

AM: 100 percent. Well, it’s mostly just me being like, “What do you mean? Say how you feel!” And Nick being like…

NS: “Oh, I don’t know, maybe we can, it’s cool if we don’t…”

AM: But also then there’s me being loud and abrasive and Nick being like, “Wow, you’re really intense.”

NS: I think it’s kinda nice because I feel like we both learned so much from that dichotomy.

AM: It’s true. I feel I learned a lot from you about non-violent communication.

NS: And I’ve learned a lot from you about productive arguing, you know? Good confrontation. I think for a lot of my childhood — it’s Wisconsin. There’s a lot of like, “What if I avoid this, say, until we’re dead?” I think that duality has been really nice.

Eric Bartos/WPR

SH: You have new music coming. You say the first three albums are kind of a wrap up of a chapter. Can you talk about that?

AM: I feel like with Free Love (the third and most recent album), we put it out during the pandy I think it touched on all the different themes that we’ve been sort of stirring up for the other two records. It felt like Free Love really was the answer to a lot of the questions we were asking with our first three records. We’d been having a conversation with each other and also with ourselves in the air as singular entities and somehow Free Love really just lit the candle.

NS: It felt like the natural conclusion of all the things we’d been trying to do. It felt like, I don’t know, not to toot our own horn, but it was like, all the stuff we’d been trying, we kind of nailed it this time. This was kind of like that.

It almost felt like to do that again, to go back with the same mindset was gonna lead to it getting stale. I think every record in its own way has felt like a rejuvenation of why we do it. But I think looking back on making Free Love was when we realized, “Oh, we did that.” And we feel like different people now, like who are we now?

SH: The pandemic made all of us question that. You have this lyric, “Were there rules originally or are we learning how to be?” That’s scary to look at. It’s terrifying to think everything we thought we knew doesn’t have to be that.

AM: That’s from our new song, “Your Reality.” In the process of making these couple of new songs that we’ve been releasing, it’s so much more about how we are feeling in the moment. All of a sudden, we really trust ourselves in a completely different way. And because of that, it leads to music that feels — honestly to me — a lot more alive. Vital, feeling right now.

NS: I think confidence is one part of it, but then I think there’s a darker part of it which is feeling like, man, everything out there is really scary and like everything’s falling down and starting on fire all of the time.

If you want to say something or do something, now is the time to do it. Stop messing around, stop over-considering, just do it in the moment and get it out there right away. That feels, more than anything, the driving things. We finally have the confidence and skills to react to that feeling, not overthink it, and just do it.

AM: Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s the magic of these new songs we’re putting out. We made them so fast, and they keep on coming. Before it used to take us so long and now when we finish a song we just put it out.

Sarah Hopefl, Sylvan Esso
Sarah Hopefl catches up with Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso. Eric Bartos/WPR

SH: Amelia, when you perform, you’re flying around the stage. How do you prepare for a tour where you’re just doing that every night, every few nights, on the road?

AM: You do all of the things where, like, you run. I do love it. I’m an incredibly extroverted person, and running really helps me get my alone time. So I like that, and I listen to audiobooks while I do it, which is so fun.

SH: What would you say to people who think it’s too late? Music production or any hobby that they’re passionate about?

AM: Everything really only takes about four weeks to kinda understand, I think. If you want to get into music production, just take four weeks. Then you’ll know if you want to do it or not. Take two. Right?

NS: Yeah, and if you’re into it, then you do the Kanye thing. Five beats a day, every summer, three summers in a row. That’s what you do.

AM: Yeah, you just keep doing it. Don’t stop.

NS: I think whatever it is, try to remove it from capitalism within your mind. Maybe read “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. LeGuin first, just to set you in the right mental framework.

AM: Great idea, Sandy.

NS: Then you can figure out if you’re pursuing something because it’s actually something you’re passionate about, and you want to find more passion within something. Beause that’s the only way you can ever be really happy with anything. Just because something doesn’t make you money doesn’t mean it’s not worth spending your life on. Just do whatever seems good today.

Track list for Sylvan Esso’s fourth album, “No Rules Sandy,” out Aug.12 on label Loma Vista Recordings.