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Q&A: Sylvan Esso celebrates 10 years of making music and gears up for the Good Moon festival

Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath, the Durham-based duo that performs as Sylvan Esso.
Brian Karlsson
/
Courtesy of Shore Fire Media
Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath, the Durham-based duo that performs as Sylvan Esso, are celebrating 10 years of making music together.

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are celebrating their 10-year anniversary as Sylvan Esso.

The Durham-based duo got their start with the wildly infectious and futuristic single "Coffee." They've now released a deluxe version of the self-titled debut album with five tracks, new mixes and bonus tracks.

The band is also hosting the two-day Good Moon festival in conjunction with their record label Psychic Hotline at Durham Bulls Athletic Park on May 31 and June 1. The festival lineup includes Fleet Foxes, Hippo Campus, Reyna Tropical, Truth Club and Dehd. Meath and Sanborn recently joined WUNC to chat about the album, the festival and their journey over the years.

This is an excerpt of an edited transcript of that conversation. You can hear the full interview by clicking the LISTEN button at the top of this post.


Did you ever think when you filmed "Coffee," the video in Carrboro 10 years ago, that this would help propel you around the globe?

Sanborn: No.

Meath: No — at that time we were just trying to put something together and having fun.

Sanborn: I think I would have been much more self-conscious during the filming of the video had I been thinking that.

Meath: Me too, and thank goodness we weren't.

I do love this shot on the couch where you're on opposite ends of the couch, and you two couldn't look less interested.

Sanborn: That's our old squat house that was recently condemned.

Well, I guess you won't be reshooting that video.

Sanborn: Not going to happen anytime soon.

Was it an experiment to see if you could work together musically, or did you have a plan for something longer-term?

Sanborn: I mean, the dream was for it to work out, but I don't think either of us saw it working out quite like this.

Meath: It started mostly as an experiment because I remember thinking, I would like to write pop songs, and Nick would be a very good person to do that with. And then, once we wrote a couple, it became obvious that there were more, if we just did the work to uncover them.

Sanborn: Yeah, and I think also at the time we were both just so hungry. I'd been in a lot of bands that broke up, like bands do. All I wanted to do was be on the road and be making something that I felt ownership over. And I think Amelia was in a somewhat similar position and I think we really bonded over that and our shared desire to just like be out there and have a thing we could say.

Meath: Yeah, we followed the adventure.

What is your next record going to be like and when's it coming?

Meath: Oh boy, I'm so glad that you asked because it's actually starting to take shape.

Sanborn: Right now.

Meath: And by take shape, I mean we decided when we're going to sit down and write it.

Sanborn: We've already written a couple songs.

Meath: It's true, we have. And for this one we want to take our time so we're dedicating a lot of writing time. And hopefully we'll be able to pick from a pool of songs, which honestly has never happened.

Sanborn: We keep saying that, and we say it this time, it's never going to happen.

Meath: Yeah, usually we write 10 songs, and then we're like, OK, we did it.

That's enough!

Meath: Yeah. It would be nice to be able to choose.

Sanborn: Well, we're also always excited about them, you know what I mean? I think that's the joy of creating something.

Well, let's talk about Good Moon. You guys have hosted big events in Durham before, at least one other time. Is this going to become an annual event that you're going to do?

Sanborn: We're not sure yet. I mean, like everything we've ever done here, it kind of feels like an experiment. We keep kind of changing the format and the location because we always want it to feel special. We never want to do something rote in our hometown. So the dream is to have every time we do something, have it feel like a special event that people can feel like has never happened before that is gonna be a new thing.

How did you decide on who is gonna be with you?

Meath: Well, it's everyone we like.

Sanborn: It's really easy when everybody that you love says yes.

Meath: We wanted some people who are on Psychic Hotline, we wanted some people whose music we're just really into.

Sanborn: Dehd — we just went on tour with. The same with Reyna Tropical, Truth Club. We've just been obsessed with since they started their band. Fleet Foxes, obviously are the Fleet Foxes. Robin (Pecknold) is the coolest.

Meath: Hippo Campus.

Sanborn: They have an amazing new record. And so it was just kind of like, if we were going to go to two shows downtown, what would we want to go see?

How did you go from being in a band, to forming a record label, to putting events together?

Sanborn: I mean, it is a lot. All those are just kind of a natural progression of wanting to do it yourself, though. It's kind of our DIY mindset we've had the whole time, which is, essentially, if we're going to fail, we'd rather that we're the ones that failed rather than —

Meath: — the people we trusted. It's also a testament to the partnership that we have with our management and the people that we've surrounded ourselves with — Martin Anderson, who's from here, has like every step of the way as we've progressed and as we've realized that the getting attention, it is wonderful, but also you can do a lot with it instead of just buying nice things.

Sanborn: Basking in it.

Meath: Also, you can never bask enough. It's just like sunshine to a lizard. You always want more. All of these things have become very easy because we actually have the bandwidth with the people that we have partnered with to be able to create kind of a universe of small companies.

Sanborn: I think with the label too, we were getting the rights back to our first album, which we just put out this anniversary edition of, and the Mountain Man's first album. And we needed a place to put them. And the more we looked around, the more we went back to that same mindset of like, Well, this might just be better if we just do it ourselves. And then if we do it ourselves, what opportunities does that open up? Who else can we bring into this?

Nick, one of your side projects, Made of Oak, is among the attractions for a series of after-show parties. What can people expect at these after-show parties?

Sanborn: So the one night I'm playing is also being curated by Alec Lomami, who runs the unbelievable "No Visa" set of parties that happen here, which are my personal favorite events to go to in town.

And then the other night, Sean from Black Power Social Club is putting on a show with himself and Suzi Analogue and some friends. We just wanted a no pre-sale tickets at the door, straight up afterparty.

I literally don't know what I'm going to play yet. I try not to play DJ sets until like moments beforehand 'cause I just really want to be in the moment improvising.

Well, I'm sure then one thing leads to another that you didn't expect anyway, right?

Sanborn: Well, that's kind of the whole thing. I think especially DJing, I just have a hard time thinking too much about it ahead of time because you want to be in the flow of the dance floor and with the room and I don't know what that day is going to feel like yet. It'll probably be very fun though.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.