Sylvan Esso

By
Photography Norbert Schoerner

Published June 11, 2014

SYLVAN ESSO IN LONDON, MARCH 2014.ON NICK SANBORN: SUIT: ERMENEGILDO ZEGNA COUTURE. SHIRT: CHESTER BARRIE. ON AMELIA MEATH: DRESS: DIANE VON FURSTENBERG. TOP (WORN UNDERNEATH): AMERICAN APPAREL. STYLING: ANDERS SØLVSTEN THOMSEN. HAIR: TINA OUTEN/STREETERS. MAKEUP: HIROMI UEDA/JULIAN WATSON AGENCY.

The charming electronic-folk duo Sylvan Esso can’t help but give themselves a round of applause on their self-titled debut album—six of them, in fact. “There are these claps that come in right at the beginning of ‘Hey Mami,’ ” producer Nick Sanborn says of the record’s first track. “I recorded those on the fly. Then we proceeded to use that on six songs, just blatantly the exact same clap track. When you don’t have any money—” “It’s easy to be resourceful!” concludes his vocalist counterpart, Amelia Meath.

The Durham, North Carolina, duo may jest about their ingenuity, but they display it in spades on the delightful, altogether surprising Sylvan Esso. Recorded largely in Sanborn’s bedroom, the record is an ambient, densely layered electropop song cycle that combines Meath’s emotional, fluttering warble with Nick’s excitable, often arrhythmic Moog effects and found sounds. Together, their range is vast—from the first single, “Coffee,” and its muted melodicism akin to M83, to the scratchy, dubstep-influenced banger “Dreamy Bruises” and the subtly U.K.-garage-leaning “Wolf.”

The variance is even more impressive given the pair’s earthy, niche main projects. Meath, 26, is a member of the Appalachian roots trio Mountain Man, while Sanborn, 31, plays regularly with the freak-folkers Megafaun and produces his own instrumental hip-hop under the name Made of Oak. The pair began writing music together after Meath asked Sanborn to remix one of Mountain Man’s tracks, and loved the off-kilter results. “We’ve each been excited about doing something where we wouldn’t have to feel bad about trying to be accessible,” says Sanborn of Sylvan Esso’s more danceable sound. “When I make something, I’m trying to keep it changing regularly enough that I stay interested in it. I think I have a lesser attention span than most people.”

“I don’t play any instruments, so I write a capella,” adds Meath. “Which usually looks like me sitting on my porch, getting really frustrated.”

On the heels of their album release (on Partisan), Sylvan Esso have been hitting the road hard since early spring, supporting Wye Oak and Tune-Yards in Europe and the U.S. In late summer they’ll graduate to a headlining national and European tour. It’s a lot of work, but the modest duo are eager to continue their momentum. “We’re just happy to be working,” says Sanborn. “We’re scratching an itch.”

COSMETICS: DIOR, INCLUDING ADDICT FLUID STICK,DIORSHOW OVERCURL MASCARA IN BLACK,AND DIOR HOMME REPAIRING MOISTURIZING EMULSION, J’ADORE BODY OIL.HAIR PRODUCTS: FRÉDÉRIC FEKKAI,INCLUDING COIFF BOUFFANT LIFTING AND TEXTURIZING SPRAY GEL,AND SHEER HOLD HAIRSPRAY. SPECIAL THANKS: BIG SKY STUDIOS.