Last spring we had the pleasure of premiering the opening song on Wistful, the second album by Norwegian composer and multi-instrumentalist Sylvaine. On that album, Sylvaine again composed all the music and performed vocals and almost all instruments, with Alcest’s Neige and Stephen Shepard splitting the drum performances and with additional guests Coralie Louarnika and Thibault Guichard performing violin, viola, and cello on the title track.
Aided by Sylvaine‘s ethereal voice, the album is entrancing and enthralling, a beautifully layered atmospheric work that’s capable of transporting listeners far away from the mundane aspects of daily existence, though the places it may take you are deep inside the crevasses of your own memories and emotions.
In this post we bring you an interview of Sylvaine by John Sleepwalker of the Greek web zine Avopolis.gr, which has also recently been published at that site.
Most people are aware of Sylvaine due to your second album Wistful and your cooperation with Season of Mist. However, Sylvaine started as an independent and self-financed band by its sole multi-instrumentalist and composer: meaning, you, of course. Do you feel your patience has been rewarded? And how much work does it take for a new musician to reach out to bigger audiences nowadays?
Oh absolutely! I am very happy with the progress of Sylvaine so far, which motivates me to work even harder for the future. Seeing as the project was almost completely unknown, I think we already accomplished really great things and manage to touch individuals spread out over the whole world. Hopefully though, it’s just the beginning. There’s so much work that goes into making any band work, but especially when you are in the beginning phases, trying to create an interest around what you do. Not to mention the fact that we nowadays have tons of different bands out there, making it even harder to grab the attention of an audience.
This is why Sylvaine is my full time job at the moment, which I am so grateful for. Being able to use all of my time, working on something that is so personal and dear to me is a gift, really. It really is time-consuming though, since I am taking care of everything on my own, if people only knew…. The most difficult thing in doing a project on your own, is being able to balance the time spent on business/non-musical related stuff and on the creative process of writing music. Many days I spend hours upon hours answering e-mails and figuring out issues related to non-creative things, which leaves me very little time and energy to create. I still love it though, and see myself as lucky every single day.
The differences between Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart and Wistful are what some would call a “progression”. However, I don’t think evolution exists in music, but only change; and after all, it would be very unfair for a debut to be equally as good as your second album. How did the change in style occur, and how many differences do you have in mind for the future of Sylvaine? Do you have in mind the need to keep things interesting?
That’s an interesting way to put it actually. To me, there is definitely a development between Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart and Wistful, even though you can find a lot of the same sentiments on both records. Wistful sounds more like a complete unit to me, where each song intertwines with the next in a very natural manor. On my first album, Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart, I was still experimenting to try to find my way and my sound for Sylvaine, so the album reflects this, showcasing a wider range of sound thru songs that were written over several years.
From the first album, I was trying to bring this dualism between atmospheric, ethereal and melodic and the more heavy, harsh side of music to the ideal balance, as this was something I always loved as a listener of music myself. Given that Wistful was my second album for Sylvaine, I think it embodies the true sound of the project in a fuller way than the first, as well as diving into the underlying meaning of the project in a more profound way as well. Entering the studio the second time for Wistful, I was more aware of what to do to achieve the sound I was looking for on a technical level, something I wouldn’t have gained without going through all the steps of recording my first album on my own.
On an emotional level, having made my first album Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart also allowed me to immediately know what I needed to say with my second album.
Why has Sylvaine mostly been a personal project and not a full band? Did you attempt putting together a full line-up for studio purposes as well? Have you been a part of other bands in the past that we are not aware of?
I have been a part of many different bands and constellations since my interest around music became more serious from when I was about 14/15 years old, but nothing that ever did anything outside of the local community we were a part of. The reason why I created Sylvaine as a solo project, was simply because I wasn’t interested in making yet another project where I would have to compromise the creative process, to please other people. That sound a bit harsh, but since I’m not a big fan of compromise when it comes to art, it seemed like the best way forward.
I really wanted to keep the project super-personal, allowing myself to express exactly what I need to, without anyone else having a say in the direction of the music for Sylvaine. I guess you could say I’m a bit of a control freak for this project, haha… Since I very much enjoy exploring all the different ranges of each instrument, recording everything myself was a given and a goal I had from the beginning of the project. Also, as I write all the music and lyrics myself, it seemed logical to me to play as much as possible, as I’m the person that knows best the intentions behind each song.
Of course, I know I have my limitations as a musician, so I won’t sacrifice the quality of a piece just to be able to play everything myself, which is one of the reasons why I brought in session drummers and only did a few drum tracks on each album myself. Maybe I will bring someone else into Sylvaine in the future, but for now I’m very satisfied with being able to do this more or less on my own.
What styles of music would you cite as influences, but also what artists irrelevant to your sound were important along the way?
There’s been so many wonderful bands and artists that have inspired me along the way. Just like any other artist, the music I love inspires me, but at the same time I try not to draw too much direct inspiration from these bands/artists. I want to create something that is mine, my own sound. I’m a very big fan of all kinds of ethereal and emotional music, but in general listen to any music in any genre that touches me somehow.
I love stuff from the post-punk/dreampop/shoegaze scene and the old goth/darkwave/new wave scene, as well as the black metal scene, the grunge scene, and the newer post rock/post metal scenes. Of course, some of the bands from these genres have inspired my sound and I’m not completely surprised to find small traces of that in what I’m creating myself. As for actual bands that have inspired me through the years I could quickly mention Type O Negative, The Chameleons, Hammock, Alcest, Bathory, Dead Can Dance, Slowdive, 40 Watt Sun, Cocteau Twins, Depeche Mode, Warning, Burzum, The Cure, Mono, Chelsea Wolfe, Low, scarling, etc.
I think the band that really opened my eyes to what I found to be my own expression, was Type O Negative though. They have been a super-important band to me, and I’ll forever be heartbroken not to have seen them live before Peter Steele passed away.
Sylvaine and Alcest are two bands helping each other: you have toured together in the past and you made a guest appearance in Kodama, just as Neige performed drum parts on Wistful. How do you feel about the two bands working together? Does any comparison to Alcest annoy you at times, or maybe you just think it’s something expected for a musician new to the scene?
Alcest is without a doubt a band that has had great meaning to me on a personal level. When I first discovered their music in 2011/2012, I was amazed by the message it carried and it comforted me to know there were other individuals out there, feeling somewhat out of place like myself. The fact that I later on would be able to work with such talented musicians, has been a dream come true for me. When I first met the guys and we automatically hit it off, I knew this friendship would be of great importance to me. Therefore, when someone compares Sylvaine to Alcest I am absolutely not annoyed, but rather take it as a compliment. There are definitely worse bands to be compared to in our world, haha….
Neige was also a part of Sylvaine’s first live line-up for a while. How come he left? Due to his obligations with Alcest, I suppose.
Yes, it was just unrealistic to think he would be able to continue being our drummer, due to his busy schedule with Alcest. It was really cool while it lasted though, as his drumming style fit the music in Sylvaine like a glove. We did agree that he’s always welcome to join us for special occasions in the future, so who knows; maybe he’ll be joining us on stage again at some point!
What are your expectations from your upcoming show in Athens on March 31st, and how do you also feel about playing with Saigon Blue Rain, who are performing on the very next day? Franck plays guitar in both Sylvaine and SBR and this is his first show with both bands together.
It will be an amazing experience and I know all four of us, in the live division of Sylvaine, are super-excited to be in Athens together with our Greek fans! It will be an honor to play in your beautiful country and to share our fifth Sylvaine show ever with you. All of the guys in Saigon Blue Rain are close friends of mine too, so it will be such a pleasure to share this whole experience with them. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to see them play live, so it will be so great to finally see them perform! I can’t wait for this weekend, for several reasons 🙂
Last question is one I don’t like asking. What comes to mind when you hear the term “female fronted band”? I never liked that term and it puts me in mind of many bands that are not my cup of tea. Plus, if you had to pick some Norwegian singers as favorites, who would you choose? I’d probably say Kari Rueslåtten and Agnete Kirkevaag.
Honestly, I never saw the need to specify that a band has a female singer. You never see the words “male fronted band”, so why should it be any different for bands with a female singer? I still don’t understand the need to separate men and women in music, as I really couldn’t care less if the musician in question has boobs or not. As long as they create their art with honesty and true emotions, this is all that matters in my opinion. There’s always been a strong imbalance between men and women in the music business, but I do feel like it’s getting better these days, which is cool.
I think my favorite Norwegian singer would actually be Susanne Sundfør. I know, that’s really not a metal answer, haha…. But she’s a unique alternative pop artist that I personally enjoy. She’s weird; I like weird! You also have a lappish singer called Mari Boine, who is very interesting too. Kari Rueslåtten has a very nice Norwegian folk character to her voice, but it’s not something I have listened to much. I could of course also mention a young Ihsahn, a young Burzum or a young Kristoffer Rygg as some of my favorite Norwegian singers, but I suppose you were referring to female characters.