Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, of Sylvan Esso, came together for the first time at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee. The duo out of Durham, North Carolina, will return to southern Wisconsin Thursday, Sept 4, bringing hip swaying, head thrashing electronic pop to the Majestic Theatre.
The band’s free-spirit and diverse experience will lend itself to a night of dancing and odd imagery. “I would like it to be like a dance party in a swamp. You know, weird floating lights, magic, little gas geysers,” Meath said.
When they met they were sharing a three-band bill, both with their own respective projects. They became friends, and when Amelia’s record label pestered her into looking for someone to mix her stripped-down folk single “Play it Right,” she turned to Sanborn.
This seemingly haphazard fluke debuted at number 38 on the Billboard 200 when it dropped as a single off their debut album, Sylvan Esso. The album cut is essentially the same as the original Sanborn created, because their style and musical talent was an instant match.
Before starting this venture, she was part of a three-piece women’s folk group from Bennington College. Now, she is excited to break into a new atmosphere of live performance. Although the transition may seem abrupt, Meath explains it is the sound she has been looking for and making the switch feels natural and exciting.
“When you decide you want to go in a different direction, it’s fun and exciting, and parts of it are difficult but those are the more interesting parts, like playing to rooms full of dancing people rather than sitting people,” she said.
Their first full length LP just dropped in May 2014, but demand for their show in Madison is so high they had to move it to the larger Majestic venue to accommodate all of the dance-happy Sylvan Esso fans.
Their self-titled album is an experiment in what Sylvan Esso means, what they sound like and what they want to write songs about. It is a free-flowing exploration of different ideas that are important in their lives. There is no one central theme, and Meath feels like the listener should have some reign over the meaning of the songs.
Meath’s delicate yet forceful vocals float around Sanborn’s syncopating and precise bass drops and beats to create a sound that is unmistakably liberating and powerful. The spotlight is on vocals, and they don’t rely solely on loud dance beats. Atmospheric synths, clean production and catchy hooks support Meath as she bounces around a broad vocal range. Although they are still in the figuring-it-out phase, their music is distinctly electropop and borrows little from their old folk genre.
Meath describes it as, “Nick and Amelia music. It is electropop music. It makes me really mad when people call it electrofolk; I think that’s bullshit. We haven’t left that part of us behind, it must have some influence, but people just say that because they know I was in a folk band once.”
The first track on the album, “Hey Mami,” has garnered media attention for its topical theme of catcalling. However, it is not a ballad about the woes of Internet harassment, nor is it an inherently negative song. It’s more of an discussion about the different angles of the controversial topic.
“I was catcalling some boys from my car with a bunch of my pals on the way to a swimming hole,” Meath said, explaining the inspiration behind the song. “Then I realized, if that had happened to me, I would have a totally different reaction to that, depending on my mood. It’s so interesting: ‘Hey Mami’ is not necessarily a judgmental song. People like to think of it as an anti-catcalling song, but at the same time it’s like I also do that sometimes, like it is a very human impulse.”
The theme of following human impulse and being very honest about their sound recurs throughout the album. It is a powerful harbinger of great production to come in the future and certainly a sample of the energy and danceability of Thursday night’s show.