Interview by Miriam C.
Sylvaine is a multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter from Norway and in this thorough interview she took some time to explain how her music career started. What you can evince from her words is her true and pure passion for the music, in the most highest and refined way. Although she’s Norwegian, Sylvaine divides herself between Oslo and Paris. In her second full-lenght “Wistful”, out now via Season of Mist, she avails herself of the collaboration of many different musicians such as Stephen Shepard and Neige from Alcest, so let’s read directly from her words what she has to say about this release.
Hi Sylvaine, thank you so much for accepting this interview and welcome to Femme Metal Webzine, how are you?
Thank you very much; it’s my pleasure! I’m doing just fine at the moment, getting the last pieces ready before my second album is released. I truly can’t believe it’s just a few days left before I send my baby off into the world… It’s really crazy when you have been working on something for years to then “let it go”, if you see what I mean. It’s a bit scary, haha. I’m also working on my third album at the moment and starting to prepare the live shows we have with Sylvaine this summer. It’s so great to be writing music again and also to know there will be shows awaiting us in the near future. Can’t wait to get back on stage!
Your second album “Wistful” will be released on 13th via Season of Mist. How and when was your first approach with the label and how did you get signed with them?
After releasing my first album on my own, I really wanted to give “Wistful” a more proper release, with a bigger reach than I could have on my own. I really felt this album deserved that, so when it was finished recorded during spring 2015, I started to contact various labels to see if anyone would be interested in releasing it. There were actually 5 different labels interested, but Season of Mist gave me the best offer, as well as I thought working with them would be a good choice for Sylvaine. I already knew about the label for many years prior to that and had thought about them for a collaboration with Sylvaine, knowing the label was renowned and very respected in the business, which for me would translate into a reach and a contact network I could only dream of having on my own. I’m very happy with the choice and must say it’s been a great pleasure working with them so far!
As I said before, you are set to release your new album, “Wistful”. What can you tell us about it?
“Wistful” is an album that holds extremely personal moments to me, conveying a heighten state of alienation, frustration, resignation and restriction, showcasing a more aggressive and darker approach to the universe than on my first album “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart”. I think the darker sound of this album might somewhat be due to the fact that it was writing most of the music in a new environment (Paris, France), where everything known was far away, making me more open and with elevated emotions. The feeling of being misplaced was higher than ever before and I was willing to share this in a more open way than in my previous music. The album was written during late 2014/early 2015 and was recorded partially by myself in 2014 and partially in Drudenhaus Studios in France, with Benoît Roux in 2015. “Wistful” has a more focused expression, with songs that all relate to one another in a more natural way than on my first album, due to the fact that they were all written in shorter time frame than the first album, getting me closer to what I imagined to be the sound of Sylvaine when I first started the project. I’m very proud and happy with the outcome of this album and really feel that the compositions on it show a development in the right direction from the first one. Some of the songs on “Wistful” fully embody Sylvaine as a project and will be songs I’m proud to say I wrote for many years to come.
On “Wistful”, both Stephen Shepard, Neige (Alcest), Coralie Louarnika and Thibault Guichard contribute respectively as session drummers, violinist and cellist. How were they involved during this album’s session? Could you share some information about Coralie Louarnika and Thibault Guichard?
After all the songs and parts were written out for the album, I was lucky enough to get in touch with such great musicians to do session work on “Wistful”. I had written all the parts myself, but know my limits as a musician and therefore decided it would be for the better to bring in a few other people to make the songs sound as good as they possible could. My father, Stephen Shepard, did most of the drums on my first album, so it was natural for him to lay down a few drum tracks for the second one too. As the second recording session happened in France and Neige had mentioned he would be interested in playing drums on a few on my songs, it made sense for him to join me in Drudenhaus Studios to finish the album. For the title track “Wistful”, I was lucky enough to get in touch with both Coralie and Thibault thru common friends, to do the violin, viola and cello tracks. Coralie has been playing in different bands for many years, amongst others Bran Barr, Kroazhent and Mind Asylum, while Thibault more recently got into playing the cello. They both did a wonderful job on the title track of the album and I’m very thankful that they showed such enthusiasm for participating on “Wistful”!
In which way your music (and here I quote from the press release) “serves as an emotional catharsis”? Which subjects do you treat in your lyrics?
Sylvaine functions as an “audio diary” for me, like for many other artist, so the subjects that come out thru the music are usually conflicts or subjects residing within me, that I need to express in some way. Writing music functions as a sort of therapy for me, letting me get all of my emotions out in stead of keeping them inside, allowing me to process them in a way. I have been speaking a lot about the feeling of profound longing for something, without knowing what or being able to reach it and the feeling of being lost and not finding your way back to shelter. “Wistful” also speaks a lot about the feeling of being trapped in this place, inside a human vessel, which is restricted by its senses, leaving one unable to go back home in a spiritual sense. Other than this, I also tend to be inspired by the duality between happiness and melancholy, the outside world versus my inner world, as well as the duality between nature and urbanity.
“Delusion” is the track that you have chosen to introduce “Wistful” to the media and fans. Do you have any particular info to add about it?
Actually, the first songs released to the media from “Wistful”, were “A Ghost Trapped in Limbo” and “Earthbound”, as I felt these two songs are some of the catchiest on the album and a good way to introduce people to the different styles that the album embodies. “Delusions” is the longest piece on “Wistful”, featuring a lot of the different elements from the other songs, sound wise, style wise and also emotionally, something that made it the natural choice for the opener of the album and also, a good choice for the last song premiere, before the actual release. The song is very dynamic, breathing and moving between the parts in a very natural way, which is important to keep the listener captivated thru the whole piece. I really wanted to start the whole album in a very minimalistic way, to build the tension, little by little, so I therefore decided to make the first part of the intro an a cappella vocal part. I wanted the listener to feel like they were part of some kind of ancient ritual. Sounds very cheesy when you write it, but I think the intro does have a bit of this feel. “Delusions” takes an emotional path that ranges from a more hopeful state, to a state of realization, where the brutal world we live in becomes reality towards the epic end of the song. The song was one of the three tracks from “Wistful” that was recorded in Drudenhaus Studio in France, during May 2015, with Neige behind the drum kit. I’m very happy to have worked with him for the drum parts on this song, as I feel Neige’s drumming brought a new, very positive aspect to the track.
What prompted you to become a multi-instrumentalist artist and, additionally, do you have any particular method to learn to play a new instrument?
When I first started to get into music more seriously at around age 14, I was mostly singing, playing piano and playing drums with my father. After a while, I figured it would be very interesting to play all the ‘traditional’ band instruments, as it would give me first hand experience on each instruments character and feel, something I could benefit from a lot while writing music. Understanding how each instrument participates in the sound landscape to create a song is very important to me, giving me a better understanding of how everything has to fit together to create a whole. Besides, each instrument has their own charm and allows me to express myself in different ways, something I find very liberating. That being said, I definitely don’t see myself as real bass player or a drummer or anything like that, I just know I have the ability to express something thru all these instruments, which happens to work in my own music. When it comes to learning a new instrument, I don’t have any particular method for it. With both the guitar and bass I just sat down and started to experiment with the instruments, which later started to develop into a certain style of playing. I guess it was the same for all of the instruments actually, discovering my ‘voice’ on all of them on my own, but I did take classes for singing, piano and drums later on, during my years of musical education.
I was positively impressed by the cover of the album. Do you mind to share with us some insight on its creation and what meaning it has to you?
I was lucky enough to stumble upon this young, talented French artist by the name of Sylfvr. One day I was browsing the internet. I instantly loved his work and figured his soft, ethereal and textured universe would fit perfectly with my music. I contacted him and it turned out he already knew about Sylvaine and would be more than happy to create something for the cover of “Wistful”. We had a lot of the same ideas for the cover, creating these dreamy texture based in nature, with some kind of enigmatic character being the centrepiece of it all. The image was made specifically for this cover and I truly think it represents the music on the album perfectly. I’m very thankful and happy to have worked with Sylfvr on this and hope to do so again in the future!
Being a solo artist has its pros and cons: which are the main difficulties that you face every time you schedule a tour? How get everything organized?
For me, the main difficulty of scheduling a tour is finding a time that works for all of my live members. As they all have their own projects in addition to playing with me in the live version of Sylvaine, we always have to make sure everyone is free to do shows/tours at any specific time. At the moment we only have a few shows booked over the summer, but we’re working on a European tour that is supposed to take place during autumn/winter this year. I’m working with a booking agent part time at the moment, to help organize our shows and tours, but other than this, I am doing everything on my own. I’m very happy about being a solo artist, as it gives me a certain sense of freedom in all the different parts of my project, which I like a lot. It’s more work, no doubt about that, but I’m still content in this position for now.
I have also read that you toured along Alcest during their South American leg. Which are the memories that you cherish most?
This was such an unexpected pleasure; to be a part of Alcest’s South American tour in September 2014, which enabled me to play in front of hundreds of beautiful, South American fans for the first time. I really remember how supportive the audience was, something I was very surprised about actually. Being an acoustic act warming up for a metal band, it could just as well have been a disaster! So I would definitely say that that support and warmth of the people there is one of the memories I cherish the most. Meeting all the people after the shows was so nice too. The first day we arrived in Brazil, we had a day off in Rio and had the chance to do a bit of sightseeing for once. This day was absolutely amazing! I never thought I would see any of these countries, but am ever so happy that I had the chance to do so. I’ll never forget that evening when Winterhalter, Zero, Indria and I went swimming at Ipanema beach and then had drinks straight out of a coconut after, haha… There are so many cool memories from this tour, I’m so grateful to have been a part of it!
Back in 2014, you self-released your debut “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart”. Do you have any plans for a full re-release on a larger scale?
I would love to do a bigger re-release of my first album, especially printing it on vinyl, but don’t have any exact plans for that at the moment. I know it will happen sometime in the future though. Right now, I’m just focusing on the release of “Wistful” and also on composing the third album. Soon I will have to start going into concert mode, so I’m taking advantage of this time before, during and right after the release of “Wistful” to get some material written for the third album.
On top of that, if you could draw a parallel between your debut “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart” and “Wistful”, how do you think your approach has changed since then?
I guess it’s only normal to evolve as an artist, something that can be traced thru the music on the different albums, but I think “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart” and “Wistful” do hold a lot of the same sentiments and thoughts. After doing something once, you learn a lot and will be able to know how to achieve what you want easier than before, something that was the case for me when I was making “Wistful” . Each time the process of creating an album is somewhat the same, yet somewhat different, which of consequence gives a bit of a different approach to each album. One thing that was quite different between the writing processes of the two albums, was that “Wistful” was created in a much shorter time-frame than the first album. On “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart” you’ll find a mix of songs that were written many years ago and more recent creations, where as on “Wistful” everything was written in a matter of 6 months – 1 year. This makes “Wistful” a more homogeneous album, whereas “Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart” is a bit more of a “mishmash”. The locations for the writing process were also different between the two albums, as the first one was created in Oslo, Norway and the second one was created more or less in Paris, France, something when thinking about it in hindsight, might have resulted in a darker second album, as mentioned before. Other than this, the process was quite similar. I tend to write music in a spontaneous way, trying to always write in a purely emotional way, not over-thinking my process too much, but just doing and making choices intuitively. The only important part to me is that the music expresses something real, something I think is most easily achieved by just letting your mind flow and work with whatever comes out at the time.
Although you’re Norwegian, you divide yourself between Oslo and Paris, but where does your true soul lie?
That’s a very good question actually! I would say I have left a piece of me in both of these places and of consequence, am always feeling like a small part of me is missing both when in Oslo and when in Paris. Don’t get me wrong, I feel very lucky to be able to inhabit two such beautiful and rich cities and draw a lot of inspiration for my art from both of them, but I do realize that both cities have both good and bad sides to them. I’ll always have a very special connection to Oslo though, as this is the place that I grew up, that helped shape me into what I am today, where I have all my family, friends and all the places I’ve known since I was a child. No matter where I go in the world or how much time passes by, I think I’ll always consider Oslo my home.
Where can your fans catch you in the next days? Do you have any plans for a full EU tour?
As I mentioned earlier, we just have a few dates planned over the summer as of now, among other playing at Dark Bombastic Evening in Romania in August, which will be very exciting for us, but we are also planning a European tour during autumn/winter of this year. As soon as we have more information on this, we’ll let everyone know! I think I can speak on behalf of everyone in the live division of Sylvaine and say that we truly can’t wait to get out there and play for all of you in the close future!
So, Sylvaine, it’s time for your parting words – I really thank you for your time – please greet freely our readers and your fans. Thanks again!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to do this interview and for the interesting questions! I hope everyone reading this found it interesting in some way and I thank all of you for supporting my project! I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Have a wonderful summer and hope to see you on tour very soon!
Photos by Anais November