To say that life is hard for most people is a bit of an understatement. One obvious tool people use to help cope with their problems is art, whether as an artist or a devotee. Art in its various forms such as music, movies, or books can help people get through life. As far as music goes, it can be a tremendous tool in helping people through tough times, but it also acts as an immediate connection between people who would otherwise be strangers, either between artist and fan, or an entire group having a collective experience that you can only experience live at a concert.
For talented artists, the emotions expressed through the songs create a strong connection between a listener and the musician. One artist today who excels at expressing the emotional core of a song is Sylvaine. Her latest album, Nova, rolls heavy emotions and experiences into an album that plays both as a deeply personal project while simultaneously open for all listeners to get their own emotional therapy session through listening.
Coming off the release of Nova, she and her band had their first US tour with metal heavy hitters Amorphis and Uada earlier this year, and then they got back out on the road with Zeal & Ardor. Not only is she the sole creative force of the musical part of the project, she is also involved on every end of the entire spectrum, from administrative tasks to acting as her own tour manager. We had the pleasure of chatting with the artist, as she took time out of her busy schedule to discuss her musical background, creation process, Nova, touring, and the effects worldwide pandemic with us.
How did you get into music in the first place? Growing up, what kind of music were you drawn to and what’s your journey with that?
Sylvaine: My whole family is in the music business, basically, from aunts and uncles to my parents. My dad is a drummer. He was a professional drummer for I think around 35 years or so, touring around the States, because he’s American. My mom was working on the other side of the business. She was working in record labels, she worked with big promoters, she worked huge festivals, and stuff like that. So it was just kind of something I naturally grew up with. It was always around me. I can’t remember a time in my life when music wasn’t such a huge part of our family connection, actually. So yeah, I just kind of naturally fell into it when I got a bit older.
I remember, I think I started getting more into music with typical stuff like the Spice Girls, stuff like that, you know – 90’s kid! When I was maybe, I don’t know, it feels like it was ‘96 or ‘97 or something along those lines, I was six or seven years old and I started to get obsessed with different kinds of projects. The first true lover I had of a band was Aerosmith. Like I loved Aerosmith so much. I can’t remember how I discovered them, actually, but somehow I found them and basically they were my first real lover in music, besides the Spice Girls, that was an actual band. And from there it just developed eventually; I got into different stuff very often by finding artists through artists that I liked and their bands they liked and stuff like that. It just kind of developed in all kinds of ways, and here we are today, where I’m liking pretty much everything from classical music to soundtracks, to hip hop and rock, and everything, so yeah, that’s pretty much how it worked out for me.
How did you get into playing music?
Sylvaine: So I remember my dad bringing me to rehearsals when I was really small actually. I think I was maybe four or five and he would put me behind the drum kit and let me have at it. So [it] probably is not considered music, but definitely instruments were around my life. I think I started being more into singing first and foremost when I was a kid. I have this memory of singing for other kids at school or at day care, that kind of thing. Then basically getting into playing piano a little bit later on, drums of course, and then base came, then after that came the guitar. It was the last instrument that I kind of picked up and learned on my own. So yeah, I got more seriously into music and [realized] that it was really a way that I could express myself unlike anything else when I was around fourteen / fifteen. I think that was when it really started to get more serious and from there I just kind of never looked back.
You went to college for music, correct?
Sylvaine: I did; that’s correct, yes. Actually I have a Master’s Degree in Musicology, which is basically like music science more or less, within that there’s a whole lot of stuff. We did everything. I had vocal lessons [during] that time. I was doing production, like computer-electronic production work. Working in the studio. I was composing for string quartets and all kinds of stuff, in addition to all the music history, the theory music therapy – that was another one. So yeah, I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Musicology and I’m also classically trained vocal-wise.
So then how did that lead you to starting Sylvaine?
Sylvaine: Basically, I had been doing a lot of different projects up until that point [and] been in different bands and different kinds of groups, like even vocal groups, if it was like 3, 4, 5 people doing acapella stuff, and I just always felt like the groups that I was a part of ended up taking a kind of direction that I wasn’t really feeling. Which wasn’t the problem in it of itself, but it just didn’t feel like a space where I could release my own personal music into it.
So when I gathered up the confidence to actually write more of my songs, I felt like I needed an outlet for this, but none of the bands that I had been a part of up until that point felt like the right place. I did actually play a few of the songs that are on my first records with the last band that I was in before I started Sylvaine. It didn’t feel right to put my very personal feelings and wonders in projects where everyone might not feel the same. You don’t want to shove your emotions onto other people and be like, “We’re doing this now.” So I just decided that I I think it would be better to try this on my own as a solo project, even if I was still very lacking self-confidence at the time.
I’ve said this in interviews before, I didn’t tell anyone that I was making the first album . . . I decided, “Okay, I need to try. I owe that to myself. I know that I’m struggling and I know it’s going to be difficult,” but I never had a plan B [so] this is the moment that I need to try this. I have the things to say, so I decided “Okay, let’s give it a go. Worst thing that can happen is that you fail. But at least you tried.” And well, a few years down the line, and I guess I didn’t really fail, so I guess it was a good move [laughs], probably.
What is your writing process for when you’re composing songs?
Sylvaine: What I’ve learned, basically, over the years that I have been composing, now that I have been making music, albums, and EPs, and stuff like that, is that there are basically no rules when it comes to creation. It seems to take a little bit of a different shape everytime, and you might think there are patterns, and there certainly are patterns, but they don’t always go “that way.”
For me, I see that there’s a tendency that my songs start out basically with just me, my unplugged electric guitar – I’m looking at my guitar right now – just sitting down in my bedroom, just jamming with myself and trying to project what I’m feeling into what I’m playing and that’s usually where my songs start. It comes out as a chord progression, or as a lead melody; maybe sometimes there’s a main vocal line that sticks in my mind that I can’t get out and I’ll try to find the guitar parts around it. More or less, I think that my writing process starts with just me, my unplugged guitar, and the main melody line vocally, and also the main chords on the guitar.
Depending on the piece, it can take [anywhere] from just a few days to finish a song, sometimes even less, to a few months. It really, really varies. Like some of the longer pieces that I have that are kind of not as traditional in structure, they’re a bit more kind of like part A, B, C, D, [they’re not] verse / chorus, verse / chorus, some of them have taken quite a long time to define the right form to present the story behind the song. So again, there’s no real rules there. For example, one of the songs on my last album, Nova, called “I Close My Eye so I Can See,” that song came together super fast, like at the very end. It was two weeks before I was going into the studio and I went, “I would like to have one more song” and I just wrote that within a matter of days, and I was like “Yeah, that works! Great! Let’s move on.” That doesn’t happen that often, I have to say, but then again there’s other pieces like “Fortapt,” on Nova as well, that took me ages to get the structure right. . . I had many different versions of the song before I landed on the version that’s on the album, because when you have a 12 [or] 10 minute piece, you’re taking a listener on a journey, and it’s so important that they follow the steps that you want them to emotionally when you’re making the song.
Your music does a really great job of combining harsher, black metal elements with more melodic-folk elements, and it makes a really cool contrast. What appeals to you about those kinds of worlds and how did you come up with the idea to combine those styles?
Sylvaine: Well thank you very much for that, and that’s very, very nice to hear. . . I’m not sure that I made a conscious choice of that, of mixing different genres. The only thing that I knew at my start of Sylvaine as a project was something that I really liked in music as a listener was the duality between the light and dark, the heavy and the melodic, really ambient things with really rhythmic stuff, and that opposites attract and come together to make something new and interesting. I knew that would be a big part of the Sylvaine sound. So that was definitely a conscious choice.
But in terms of all the elements that kind of seeped in, like you said, the folk music that kind of seeps in, especially in some of the Norwegian songs, a bit of the Norwegian folk music is coming in there. There’s elements from all kinds of genres. It wasn’t really a conscious choice. It’s more of “What does the emotion behind the song need, and how can that best be communicated to the listener?” And both choices are basically made from that. That is the most important to me, that whatever I decide to do with a song, it really builds the emotion and the initial idea, the initial thing I want to communicate to the listener when I first made the song.
What’s your lyric writing process for your songs? It seems like a very personal experience for you. Is the goal to experience an emotional catharsis while writing or is the goal for the listener to have an emotional catharsis? Or both?
Sylvaine: All of the above. Hopefully that’s what happens. I think when you create art in any kind of form, if it’s visual, if it’s audio, if it’s written, I think that the whole point is that you have something that you need to get out. You have something you need to process in a way, and that’s obviously your own emotional catharsis, and the best-case scenario is if you can make someone else feel something. That’s literally the only thing when people ask me “What do you want from people when they listen to your music?” I don’t want anything. The only thing I would like is to make them feel something. It doesn’t have to be the same thing that I felt when I poured my heart into my songs, but it can basically be making them have an experience and feel some kind of emotion.
So with my lyrics, it’s always funny with the lyrics, because you make music to try to avoid troubles of trying to put all these things into words, and then you kind of trap yourself by having to do it anyway. Making lyrics is always a little bit of a challenge. It’s something that always seems to come later and later in the process these days. I have a document on my phone where I’m alway constantly writing down ideas or little sentences, or words, or little paragraphs, because my project is basically my audio diary, so the lyrics kind of have that feel. It just reflects who I was, or what I was going through at the time. I personally really love lyrics. I’ve loved poetry since I was a kid, so the words have quite a big weight for me in music, so I’m trying to be very careful to be able to put the right words on these feelings that I didn’t know how to put into words in the first place [laughs]. So it definitely is a process that takes a little time. There’s some trial and error because obviously has to fit musically as well with the right amount of syllables and kind of not so [grammatical] . . . But it definitely is a catharsis for me and a way to try to process. It’s so funny sometimes, when you’re writing lyrics, you’ll read a line and it will really hit you, what you’re actually trying to express and it will make you feel really emotional about it. So writing lyrics is a heavy process and one that has come later and later for every album that I’m writing [laughs]. It seems like I’m putting it off until the very end [laughs again]. Like I don’t want to deal with this part! But I also love it, so it’s like love/hate, I guess.
With your lyrics being so personal, do you ever find yourself pulling back, thinking “I don’t know if I want to necessarily put this much out there.” Or are you pretty open-book when it comes to that?
Sylvaine: I think there’s no such thing as too personal, actually. I think it’s really important when you have that kind of approach to music, like an audio diary, that you stay true to that kind of stream of consciousness thing. Of course there’s some moments where you go, “Oooh I’m going to have to talk about this afterwards and I’m going to have to explain why this is the way it is and what it’s about.” There’s many ways of doing that. Of course, you don’t have to be completely explicit, like “This is exactly what this is about” but in general, I try not to be afraid of that because I think that also shows authenticity and you can see people reacting to it and they can feel what you put into this is super real; it’s honest and you don’t try to and haven’t filtered it just because it can be difficult, or it can be something that’s, like you said, is very personal. So no, I try not to worry about that, because it makes the art very authentic.
Shifting gears a little bit, we saw you on tour earlier this year with Amorphis, Uada, and Hoaxed, and I was just curious what your relationship with your band that you tour with is like. Are they a group that has been with you for a while, or are they people that you just try to find that are talented to help share your vision?
Sylvaine: So as a solo project, that’s probably been one of the hardest parts, is to basically be able to find musicians that are not only okay with the situation that I’m offering, because I’m basically giving them completely written out parts and saying “Play this and don’t add your own touch” almost [laughs]; which is terrible, [but] of course they add their own touch because they have their own way to communicate and their own way to express, but the project is still written out, it’s still kind of like line note for them, so it’s hard to find people that are okay with that and also that understand the vision of the project, of course. That’s like with any other project; mine is not special for that. To have someone that really feels the music and can really communicate in a way that’s appropriate for what the message is.
So I have my drummer, Dorian [Mansiaux], he’s been with me since 2017, so that is the year after we played our very first show in Romania back in 2016. So he’s been with me for many years and has become basically like family to me. We have been through so many things together and he’s been such an asset to this project. [He’s] very helpful on everything that goes on behind the scenes in terms of the technical side, like we made this live session in Paris that he was fully in charge of, which was wonderful. He did such a good job on the visuals and the mix and everything. So Dorian has been with me for a long time, and this live band would not have been the same without him at all.
My guitar player, Florian [Ehrenberg], and my bass player, Max [Mouquet], basically they’ve been with me for a little shorter period of time, but really, the group that I have now, I feel so at home with my band and everyone is so enthusiastic, everyone is so supportive, everyone really understands the vision that we’re trying to communicate and it makes it so enjoyable to share all of those journeys and times on stage with these guys. . . For me, it’s not like I can replace any of them easily. For me, the unit that we have now is really strong and something that I hope will last for many years to come.
How affected were you by COVID and the lockdown in terms of playing live and getting music recorded? Did that have a big effect on you?
Sylvaine: Well I think it had a big effect on everyone in different ways, and I wasn’t an exception there. My album was supposed to be recorded in 2020, which didn’t happen because COVID kept kind of pushing the date back and it just ended up going into 2021 instead, which actually turned out to be perfectly fine. As I told you, I wrote one of the last songs on the album right before the studio, which might not have happened if I was in the studio, so everything happens for a reason.
But yeah, it definitely affected [that], and it also canceled all of our shows, and that obviously in terms of income, everything just dropped out, so I have to kind of find creative ways try to spread some positive energy during the time, it was really difficult for a lot of people, and at the same time try to stay afloat; so that was when I started teaching vocal lessons online, something I did in person some years prior to that, and yoga classes as well. I got certified as a yoga instructor during that time, something I wanted to do for years but I just didn’t have the time and that was the perfect moment.
Definitely the whole COVID period, I think it changed all of us in varying degrees. It definitely changed my life a whole lot. I was going through things in my personal life that were hard enough to deal with, and then COVID came on top of it, and it just kind of amplified everything that I was already feeling on a global level, which was really, really strange, because I don’t think we’ve ever lived through anything as together as we had at that moment. So it was definitely super strange, not being able to be on stage and I love being on stage. I love having that moment of sharing something with the audience, so I tried to be more present on social media, which is something I don’t find super easy, but in that moment it just seemed very natural. I have to say that the exchanges I had with my fans during that time, with my friends, the little things I did, like I did some covers [and] I did like a little live session thing, it really kept me afloat that year, alongside writing Nova. I am not quite sure what I would have done without it. COVID was hard, like for everyone else, I think. Could have been worse though; I’m not complaining. I was privileged to be safe.
How excited were you to finally be able to get back on tour and things are actually moving again. How nice was that for you from a performer’s perspective?
Sylvaine: It’s so nice. We actually had a couple of one-shot shows at the end of 2021, and I said it to my guys after the show, I was almost apologizing to them, “Sorry, I must have looked like some Duracell bunny jumping around on stage” [laughs]. Even if the music isn’t really that vibe, but I’m just so happy to be back with my guys and playing music and seeing people in front of you and actually there! You can touch them if you want, but that is kind of creepy, so you don’t, but it was really, really cool. I think people miss so much [being able] to share with other people, because I don’t think it’s possible to do that over a screen in the same way, like the energy exchange you have with other humans just by being in the same space with them, and in addition adding the layer of being at a concert where you have this emotional experience together, you can’t replace that. It definitely means so much to us to be on tour and of course, like always with humans, you have to take stuff away to make them really realize how much they treasure something, and that was the thing for us. I noticed if I don’t have this in my life, I don’t feel like myself anymore, so I feel extremely grateful and privileged that the music business is crawling its way back we’re able to tour again and that we actually have tours and shows to go to is incredible. It feels so good.
So what is the best way for your fans to support you as a musician so you can continue to create music and do this. Is it going to the tour, buying merch, Bandcamp, streaming? What’s the best way?
Sylvaine: Thank you so much for asking, that’s super nice; that’s very kind to ask that. I think the best way to do that is to come to shows. If the bands that you love, the artists that you love are in town, maybe think about spending those extra dollars to go out and support them. Buy a t-shirt, buy a CD, and even if you can’t do that just spread the word! Talk to your friends. If you really appreciate someone, don’t be afraid to share it with others. The word of mouth thing is something that we definitely cannot underestimate when it comes to stuff like music. Bandcamp is a great place to buy stuff. For me, there’s an online store that my label runs which is a great place to get stuff as well. It helps me a lot. Helps me with my label as well, which are also great people and also deserve support through all this. So yeah, just come to shows, come hang out. Interact with us on social media, that’s always great. Just spread the love around [laughs].
I was wondering, how did you come up with the name Sylvaine?
Sylvaine: I didn’t actually know when I took the name Sylvaine that it was a French female name, I had no idea actually at the time. I found that out later. When I stumbled upon this, it was a want to use the word sylvan which [means] “of the forest, being of the forest, a forest creature” because I really liked the look of the word and I liked the sound of it, but I discovered there were already several projects that were already using that specific term, so I tried to find a way to try to kind of reflect what the music was in the name and I thought “Okay, so that’s the nature side, I need the urban side” because I have the duality of the natural world and the urban world together in the music as well. So not like super modern urban, but I chose poetry, so I chose one of my favorite poets, a French poet called Paul Verlaine, and I just took the last part of his name and I merged it with sylvan and it became Sylvaine, basically. So you have the nature and the urban together and two things that have inspired me so much in my musical career, so to speak.
I wanted to ask about the newest album, Nova, which I really dig. It’s a great album. So it’s your fourth album in for your solo project, so at this point are you pretty comfortable in the process? Was it a different process for you at all? Do you ever worry about getting too comfortable? What’s it like four albums in for you to make a new album?
Sylvaine: It basically gets harder and harder every time, because you don’t want to settle. You don’t want to rest on your laurels. First and foremost, there’s no such thing as “good enough.” That should never exist in art. There should never be “This is good enough.” You should always try to push your limits each time, in whatever way that means. It doesn’t have to mean that it sounds completely different, or maybe for a person on the outside it doesn’t change a whole lot, but for you, you have to keep pushing yourself to exceed and to keep growing as an artist and not settle. Settling is not good in art, I don’t think. I think you should always try to strive for, I don’t want to say perfection because I don’t think that exists either, but strive for greatness, which sounds really pretentious and weird but I think you see what I mean [laughs].
It basically gets harder each time; especially this one was really hard to write, because every record is personal but this one had a whole other layer that I didn’t really necessarily expect to be writing about but this happened anyways in my personal life. It took a lot out of me, this record. Like Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone, I remember feeling at the end of that one that that already took quite a bit out of me, and then this one, it’s like I feel like there’s a part of me missing now; it’s in that record. But it’s kind of beautiful because it will always be here because it’s something that will be forever, it will never disappear.
So it definitely was a stranger process with the whole COVID thing happening. I have to say that writing music is harder when you’re not able to live in the outside world, even if it’s a project that revolves around your inner world and it’s everything you’re feeling and your way to process different emotions and issues. . . You basically face yourself by going outside and meeting other people, and being in society, and living in the world, you learn so much about yourself and you notice so much about yourself, and when you take that away and you’re isolated, I felt like it gave another feeling to the whole process of tapping into those feelings inside me. It took longer than usual. It was harder in every way possible. It was a really heavy, emotional record to deal with. I think it’s the first time I ever took [a break in the process], I think I actually at some point last summer . . . I took three whole months just away from the album. I didn’t touch a guitar; I didn’t touch anything. I just needed to stop because I met a wall where I had to keep pushing through, and that really hasn’t happened in the same way before. So there’s always something new for every album that I create, and I have a feeling it will get more and more difficult for the next ones as well, not just this one. It will just get worse for the next ones so to speak [laughs], but maybe the results will be even more worthy, who knows. We’ll see. I never take anything for granted. Maybe Nova was my last record, you never know.
It comes out and it gets really, really good reviews, and I imagine that has to be very gratifying. I see a lot of people online who really connect with the album in general. It meets them where they’re at and helps them deal with whatever is going on in their lives. What has the reaction to that one meant to you?
Sylvaine: It feels pretty surreal, still. I’m still not used to it after four albums that people take the time to actually listen to what I’m doing and to give it the time of day. It’s my personal emotions so it’s not a given that people will take the time out of their day to listen to it. The fact that so many people did that with Nova and the fact that so many people could connect with it just felt absolutely [pauses] – Actually there are no words to describe that! There are no words to describe that. To see that people could connect so much with that, and in a way there’s a part of me that feels sad about that because I don’t want people out there to just suffer necessarily, but it’s nice to kind of have each other and to support each other from afar, which sounds really weird because there’s no connection except for the music, but I’ve been extremely happy with the words I’ve seen written online about the record both from the press and from audiences all over the world. I feel extremely grateful. I’m so happy that people could connect to this record, because when you make something that’s really personal that can also go the other way. It gets too personal and people cannot relate, but I’ve had a feeling that with everything that happened with COVID, everyone could relate to the feeling of loss, unfortunately, in some degree. So I’m really, really happy that some people find this record to be healing. I couldn’t have asked for better comments than that.
When you have those times that you want to put a record on to get something out, or connect, or get through a tough time, what are some of your go-to bands or go to records that you have?
Sylvaine: Well there’s a lot of different [ones]. There’s a nice mixture there. It’s like the same when people ask me to make playlists and they end up with this weird list that has all kinds of different stuff. Well my favorite band is Type O Negative, so that’s always in the mix. It’s always there, forever present. Who doesn’t listen to Type O Negative? If you don’t, try it, you’re missing out! That’s kind of a cliche, but they’re always in the rotation.
I also really love super minimalistic things. Like there is this one record that I always come back to. I forget about it for a while, and I come back to it. It’s called The Melody of Elegance by Goldmund. It’s just literally a piano record, there’s nothing else. Just piano, solo piano. There’s a few tracks on that record, like “Trinity” is one of them, it’s such a heavy, emotionally heavy, record. It’s really, really beautiful.
I also have albums like Sauvlaki from Slowdive, that is something I am listening to quite a bit now in the summer; basically Slowdive’s catalog. So their last record Slowdive by Slowdive was also something that I listened to a lot. I love this band so much. There’s so many good emotions, like pure goodness, in this music. You can see it in the people too; I had the chance to meet them a couple times [and] they just feel warm, you know? You can feel that in their music, something in there as well. There’s a few other records that I listen to within the metal scene. One that I always come back to that’s quite heavy is The Inside Room by 40 Watt Sun. This one too is super sad, but it’s so beautiful, it’s like super, super great. We also have Thriller by Michael Jackson, or Violator by Depeche Mode. It’s all kinds of different things like that. Again, it’s kind of a mix. I always come back to the soundtrack of Edward Scissorhands too, my favorite movie. So there you go! I like an interesting mix of things, basically. There’s so much good music out there, there’s not enough time to list everything [laughs]. We’re lucky!
So when you’re not creating music, or writing, or teaching, what do you like to do in your spare time?
Sylvaine: Spare time, what is this concept I’ve never heard of [laughs]! Basically, that’s how it felt the last few years, but again, super happy to have had all the chances coming at me the past few years. First thing I need to do to have spare time is to shut down all social media, because my American label is in Europe and in the US so I’m kind of constantly in contact with them all day long, from the moment I get up until when I go to bed because of the time differences, so just shutting down the computer and that helps me get into spare-time mode.
I love doing yoga, even if I’m teaching yoga, that’s like one of the loves of my life. I love it so much. I love being out in nature, just like walking in nature – nothing fancy, but just forest bathing. You know, that kind of concept of just going into the forest and listening to music, that kind of thing. I love cooking [laughs], I’m like such a grandma, [but] I love cooking because food is the best thing ever. There’s a lot of stuff. I love watching movies and stuff like that too because I feel really inspired. I love going to museums, that kind of thing really, really inspires me. So nothing too crazy. Between music and yoga, it keeps me pretty preoccupied in my life, which I’m grateful for!
Was the tour with Amorphis your first US tour?
Sylvaine: It absolutely was. It was our first big tour, period, and it was our first North American run as well, so it was very exciting. We were like children, running around, just completely in awe of everything. It was really, really cool. It was a great tour! It was a great gang: the Amorphis guys were so nice, the Uada guys were so nice, the Hoaxed girls were so nice too. It was really, really the best possible start we could have had in this market, and we’re really excited to come back again so soon. We weren’t expecting that at all, but here we are!
Was that an adjustment for you, being on the road on that kind of tour? When I talk to people, you can tell the ones who have been in it the longest because when you talk about touring it’s like “Ugh, I’ve got to get the van and then I got to be in the van.” Was that an adjustment for you? The touring life?
Sylvaine: For sure. I mean, again, having been around for so long and having so many people in my life that have been touring a lot, I had no illusions of what I was getting into, because I also worked for Live Nation here in Norway freelance, so I’ve been around that since I was 16, so that’s quite a few years now. So I know what goes into it, I know that touring equals hurry up and wait. I know that you’re just sitting on your butt most of the day [laughs], either at the venue, or in the van, or on a bus, or something like that. It’s not exactly the golden, flashy life that some people might think it is, so some days are definitely harder than others. Let’s just put it that way. Some days you hate everyone, you hate everything, but you’re not hating the situation that you can go and play in front of people. You, hopefully, still love that, but you haven’t slept for like a week, you’re kind of a little bit sick because of the temperature differences in the States, and you’re going, “Oh yeah, we have another three weeks of this.” So of course there’s some moments when you’re going, “What kind of life choices have I made?”
But it’s definitely a special life, and it’s not something that I would want to do all the time, to be honest with you, because it disconnects you from real life that it can be hard to relate to other people if you do this all the time. You kind of lose the contact around you because it’s something that a lot of people don’t necessarily understand because they have the opposite life, which is more normal, let’s be honest; but it’s something that I really, really like too, and luckily like I said, my guys in my band, I love them all and they’re really [for] me and we’re really good friends. It really helps to be able to read each other and know when someone needs to be picked up again because they’ve fallen a bit too far down or if you just need to let them be. It’s really, really important on tour to be attentive and show empathy and give people space, and also build them up when you see that they’re crumbling a little bit. But it’s fun! I think we did really well and we’re really excited for the next one! I think it’s, hopefully, we’re going to try to make it, as successful on a human level as the previous one.
Is it tough right after to re-adjust to home life and not being on the go all the time?
Sylvaine: Yes! For sure, absolutely. You know, there’s the famous post-tour depression that kicks in. I remember on the Amorphis tour, it already started kicking in for us on the last week of the tour (laughs). Which is kind of ridiculous, but it’s really true that when you get back home you feel kind of empty, because you’ve worked so much make this happen, it’s happening, on tour you’re focuses and at the same time in pure survival mode because you’re eating good or regular, you’re not sleeping good or regular, so you’re body really is in survival mode. So when you get back home again and you kind of let your guard down, that’s when you feel what you’ve actually done to your body, and for me it took about a month to recover properly from that tour, physically speaking, but the mindset is so different [too]. It’s always the same when you have that kind of life, you come back and everything seems so slow. You’re kind of always on the run and you can’t really relax, but your body is like “You have to relax.” It’s a strange aftermath. You even get that when you have a couple small shows here and there, you still get that kind of weird, in-between transition thing when you get back home, and of course with big tours it just takes that much longer to ease back into normal life. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. When I got back from the U.S. tour the last time, I was right back to work, with teaching yoga and lessons the day after, so you don’t have the chance to dwell upon [it], you just kind of get thrown back in! It’s like “Welcome home! Okay, here you go!” Actually in one way, that’s probably better, except for the jet lag, which is not fun to deal with. But you know, you survive!
When you were out on tour, were you ever like “Wow! I’m out on tour with Amorphis! Were you ever, not necessarily star-struck, but was it a pinch yourself moment there?
Sylvaine: Absolutely. Again, having worked for Live Nation in Norway here for the past 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of meeting a lot of people that I admire and a lot of people that are big names in the music business, I don’t really have the star-struck thing. There were only a couple times when I got star-struck, like the moment I met Robert Plant . . . so that was a pretty big deal. The other day, like a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Johnny Depp, and that was a moment when I was a bit star-struck because that’s like a movie star is another thing [laughs].
The moments I had on the Amorphis tour, I remember listening to Amorphis many, many years ago when I was in high school, and I remember listening to some of their albums back then and I had a few favorite songs, and on the first date of the tour they played my favorite song of theirs from one of the old albums . . every night, I remember listening to that song, and in my mind I would think, if someone would have told me back then when I was sitting with my then-boyfriend, listening to Amorphis and being like “Oh they’re so cool,” “In a few years, just wait, you’re going to be able to tour with these guys in the US around the whole country.” I would have been like “Yeah, sure, right.” So it really hit home that I’m really lucky to be able to do this. No matter how hard it is at times and how many times I felt so overwhelmed by the job that I have because it’s so much for one person, I was like, “This is why. This is so cool to be able to be here, on another continent, seeing these people after such a long time where nobody has done anything.” So many people came to us and said this was the first show they’ve been to after COVID. Like you said, it was a pinch me moment, make sure that I’m not dreaming. It was really, really cool.
So with the huge exception of your upcoming tour (with Zeal & Ardor), do you have anything else creative on the horizon that fans can look forward to, or is that to be determined after your tour and it comes to you?
[Ed. note: This interview took place prior the tour in September / October with Zeal & Ardor]
Sylvaine: Yeah, I think probably the last one is the answer there. There is a guest vocal performance that should be released later this year, I’m not exactly sure when, but that will come out when the time is ready. . . We have the US tour and we have a headlining tour in Europe at the end of this year, our first one, so that should be really, really cool. In between that, we’ll see. I have some new stuff for the next record, but I know that it’s hard for me to do both at the same time . . In touring mode, I’m also doing all of the pre-production, getting everything ready, booking everything [because] I do pretty much the jobs of a tour manager, booking agent, and artist. It’s hard for me to do both things because it’s mentally crowded, and it doesn’t really work with creativity for me, personally, so I need a little bit of mental space to able to be a couch potato, sit around, have my guitar there, play a little bit, go and do something else, play a little bit more. That’s kind of the environment I need to be able to really get into the record, or at least start getting into to creating new stuff, so I have a feeling that probably won’t happen before, well I don’t really know, maybe later this year after that last tour we have in December [or] maybe next year, because we have plans. If the plans work out the way it looks like they will, we won’t have a lot of time off next year, which is great, but it definitely means that the creation process will be on hold for a little while. Or maybe it will take a different shape, and I’ll start creating in the middle of everything, who knows! For now, it’s kind of on hold. I have small things I do, like I will be releasing a cover song in not too long, because I still love to do things, but just don’t really have the space to make sure that I create things that are worthwhile for the next record. It’s a heavy subject, so I need to make sure that I’m in the right mindset to be able to give my best to it.
Is that difficult for you being the person in charge of all of it? Or do you find that it’s worth it so that you can have it be your driving creative voice and not have to filter it through other people as well?
Sylvaine: That’s exactly it. That’s why I actually felt that a solo project, even though when I first started it seemed far out of reach and maybe not doable, but I wanted to try because that way the expression stays very true and very authentic and very pure, because you don’t have, like you said, to filter through others. Of course I’ve had people along the way that I’ve collaborated with that have left their mark on the records, but in the best possible way, and on the music, at the same time, keeping that kind of center, as it was when I first started, with me being in charge of everything artistic.
There is nothing artistic that’s released under the name Sylvaine that is not okayed by me, nothing is left up to chance. That’s very important for me. All the visuals too, the merch, the signs, posters, everything like that, basically, is also stuff that I’m involved with. It is a lot. It’s a lot for one person to deal with, and there’s a lot on the admin side that’s like the super non-romantic side of the music business but is so necessary and also has to be done. [Laughs] Sometimes I want to throw my computer out the window like, “I don’t want to book more hotels!” or “I don’t want to do the routing!” [Laughs again] In a way, it’s actually really cool to be a part of that process too, because then I learn, and I know how it can be done, I know what shouldn’t be done, I know how it should be done. I learned a lot in the time in the time that I’ve been doing this solo project, and definitely, I think it gives you a bit more of an advantage over the people that may not know a whole lot about the other processes around what’s creating an album, or getting a band out on the road, what that means.
It’s a lot and sometimes I feel very overwhelmed. Actually, during Nova, I got sick a couple times because my body actually shut down and said, “You have to stop now.” Most of the time, I think it’s really interesting, and I know why I’m doing this. I started this project and I feel so grateful that I can be here and do this, so I always try to remember that. The days that feel extra heavy because I’m sitting by my computer just answering emails and doing all kinds of stuff that’s not music-related, I remember that not everyone even gets a chance to do that, so that keeps me very motivated to keep doing it, even if it is a lot of work.
I was wondering, since you have such a strong background in music and exposure to different types of music, do you ever have the urge to do something that you’re interested in, but for fans of Sylvaine might seem out of left field? If you were to pursue that would Sylvaine be the project for that or would you do that in a different manner?
Sylvaine: That’s a good question. I already had a little moment after Atoms where I really wanted to do an acoustic album, or very stripped down. I say acoustic, it never ends up acoustic, there’s always layers. Just try to get back to the core of how the music is created, like a bit more close to that expression where it first begins. I ended up doing that with Unreqvited from Canada. We did a split EP, because he arrived right at the moment when I was feeling that, and I did a more stripped down version and he went in a little bit of a different direction. It has occurred to me, doing [different] stuff. I also, for example, really like ambient, more like ambient soundscapes, and stuff that could also be more cinematic, not orchestral . . experimenting with synthesizers. I love experimenting with my guitar. So many recordings I end up beating my guitar, doing things that are not necessarily playing it normally, because I think it has a big potential outside the way that you would normally play guitar. It has all kinds of textures that you can work with. I would love to explore stuff like that, more ambient stuff that could be more cinematic. A dream would be to have something actually put to images, like being able to use some music in TV shows or movies, stuff like that, because that’s something that really speaks to me as well.
It’s hard to say if it’s something that could be done under this name, or if I would want to keep it under a different name. The good thing about having a solo project is that it’s me, so technically, if I decided that this is where I want to go now, I can do that. But of course, as you said, there’s some certain expectation of what you’re doing from the audience, but as I said before, I try not to think about too much outside stuff when I’m creating and just let it be what it is, and I think it’s important to keep a little of that. I mean, you don’t want to, of course, alienate your fans totally, that’s not the point, because they’re a big part of why you exist, but at the same time, I try not let things like that seep into the creation process because I want to keep that more pure and I can have my worries later. So who knows! Maybe. There’s definitely things I’d like to explore. Maybe in the future. Maybe under Sylvaine, maybe not.
Photo at top: Nova album cover.