Sylvan Esso on ‘embracing the weirdness’ for new album No Rules Sandy

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn, better known as indie electro duo Sylvan Esso, have spoken to Headliner about their 10th anniversary, the making of their new album No Rules Sandy, and why it sounds “unlike anything we’ve ever written”.

Recorded, announced and released in unprecedently quick time, No Rules Sandy marks not only Sylvan Esso’s 10th year as a band, but also a new way of working for Meath and Sanborn. Having travelled to LA with a makeshift studio setup with the intention of recording some demos, the pair emerged just a few weeks later with a brand new album.

Spurred by the spontaneity of the sessions, they decided to release the album almost immediately. The result is a record that feels intimate, with a homespun quality previously unheard in their work.

Here, Meath and Sanborn tell Headliner how the record came together and why it has provided a clean slate for the band as they enter their second decade…

How did this record first come together?

Amelia: This record is a real change for us. It appeared incredibly quickly. Usually, we take a year to make a record, but this one we did in about three weeks. And when we began writing songs for it, we didn’t even know we were making a record, we were just trying to have fun. And because of that it sounds more free and frenetic than anything we’ve ever made. It’s one of the reasons we called it No Rules Sandy, because we wanted to embrace the mood with which it was made. We announced it like a week ago and now it’s out – we’ve never put anything out that quickly! I love it!

What brought out that freer, frenetic side of you both?

Nick: This whole process just felt like it was the culmination of a lot of things we’d been working on for years, and that made us feel really confident in what we were doing. Any time we second guessed ourselves or tried to back away from a wild decision, we realised we liked it less. It never made a song better, so that gave us the confidence to keep taking chances, and that made us feel closer to it.

Amelia: We’re doing exactly what we do naturally, rather than forcing something to sound more polished. We just embraced the weirdness of it all. For a little while we were almost trying to present ourselves as not a completely independent band, which we are.

You’ve been making music for 10 years now. Did that milestone in any way impact the way you approached the record? Did it feel like a platform to jump from to do something new?

Nick: I definitely didn’t think about that, but one of the symptoms of being a band for 10 years is that for some people it can almost turn into a nostalgia show. For us there has to be a reason to keep wanting to make music together. Hopefully you’re growing and changing as a person over that time, so there is no way to really stay the same unless you’re faking it. And we’re both resistant to that idea. So after our last record it felt like we were closing a chapter and we needed to find the reason for the band to continue to exist. It had to happen. We had to change because we are very different people than we were 10 years ago. The weirdest part is that this feels like when we were making our first record, but as us now.

Tell us about the production process?

Amelia: This one was quite improvisational. We had rented a place in LA and brought a mini studio with us, assuming we were just going to make some demos, so every day we would just improvise together, and then we’d record an idea and build around it. But all the seeds of the songs appeared in unison.

Nick: It was all being formed in front of our eyes in real-time. We’re way more used to the painstaking way of making records!

Was there anything you did sonically to reflect the mood the album was made in?

Nick: When we were making this it felt really scrapbooky and rough around the edges, and we realised that made it feel intimate. It felt less polished and therefore more welcoming. And we started putting these interludes together, where we show you the vocal loop that Amelia made that we then turned into the beat for that song. We wanted people to feel included in that process.

Do you have any particular highlights from the record?

Amelia: My favourite is Cloud Walker. I like it because it’s unlike anything we’ve ever written. It appeared so naturally, and it was something that Nick didn’t like! He didn’t like the beat and I think the beat is unlike anything he’s ever made. It’s really cool. And I had to fight for it!

Nick: You were right, you made that song amazing.

Amelia: You’re right!

Nick: My favourite is definitely Your Reality. It might be my favourite song we’ve ever made. It felt like the one where we were cracking the knuckles of the band, it felt totally free and outside of any trend. It feels like its own piece of music. Like, I can’t imagine who else could possibly have written that aside from the two us. And to do that at this point in our career is really exciting.

Will you carry on with this approach?

Amelia: I don’t know. I think we’ll have to see where we’re at when we go to make another record. This one feels like a cleaning of the slate, so I’m not sure.

Nick: The lesson here is that we can’t know or predict how the next one is going to go, which is so exciting. It feels really free.

Will you be touring the record?

Amelia: We’re in the strange position that we were already going to be opening an arena tour at this time, so now we have this record we’re going out to tour opening up for ODESZA, which is really wild and exciting. It’s the first time since the first record we’ve released an album and not been going straight out on our own tour.

Nick: We haven’t opened for anyone in about seven years.

Amelia: It’s incredibly cushy for us as we play for 40 minutes, and we’re done by 9pm! And we’re playing to 17,000 people a night!

Nick: That used to be our bread and butter. We used to revel in playing opening slots and trying to win people over, so it’s so cool that at this moment what we are doing is going back to that feeling.