No Rules: The chemistry between Sylvan Esso members Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn is immediately palpable. Not only bandmates since the project came to be 10 years ago, the pair have been married since 2016 (three years later). Clearly, they’ve found in each other a relationship that just works, both personally and professionally.

They bounce off of each other in conversation (which makes transcription a nightmare, but that’s OK), reading their respective minds and sharing thoughts. It’s a lovely, and impressive, thing to witness.

In May they released the Live at Electric Lady EP, featuring five orchestral versions of songs from last year’s No Rules Sandy album, with string arrangements by Gabriel Kahane.

“When Electric Lady asked us if we wanted to do a session, we immediately thought like, ‘Oh this will be a great opportunity to have full string arrangements in a studio, live. And we can do it in a way that we like doing band recordings, where we record everything live’,” Meath says. “To have it be a true performance, a thing that is an expression in the moment. One of the best parts about the Electric Lady session was that we hadn’t heard the string arrangements yet. So as we were recording, we were hearing the arrangements for the first time, and it was such a joy.”

Sanborn says that it felt like a “musical trust fall exercise,” pointing out that the entire concept that they based the session around was the open tuning they had no idea about.

“It’s so rare to get to feel the expression of having a live experience that is recorded,” Meath says. “To be able to have everybody in the band responding in the moment to something and having that be recorded.”

All of the tracks on the EP were recorded in one or two takes, to retain that “live experience” vibe.

“It was this exercise between us and Gabriel,” Sanborn says. “We trusted him, but we didn’t know exactly what he was going to do. He was asking us more for vibe notes than musical notes. I explicitly was like, ‘I’d rather you just do what you’re going to do, and we don’t do notes.’”

​The Attacca Quartet is the string quartet that they worked with, an ensemble that Meath describes as being “deeply in line with each other.

“They were saying how refreshing it was to be in a studio and instead of talking about precision, to just talk about the way that it felt,” Meath says. “Which is usually the guiding light that we use to make music. It was so fun to get to give that to classical musicians who so frequently are trapped by the fanciness of their instrument.”

The key, Meath says, was to allow moments to develop spontaneously, without crushing creativity by over-thinking.

“I can ‘Larry David’ about sessions pretty hard,” Meath says. “So I try to never think about what I don’t want to have happen. If I avoid that, everything that happens is something that I’m responding to. There’s a way of accidentally crushing the creativity of a moment by being like, it’s going naturally in this direction and I don’t want it to, I want it to go in this place that I think is right. That can crush the spontaneity, or the gift of what it is to bring a bunch of different people in a room. You can’t decide that you’re the best brain.”

This latest EP has landed almost a year after the release of No Rules Sandy, and 10 years after the group was born. Meath says that she’s still excited about the future, because she doesn’t know what it holds.

“I think it’s difficult to have perspective on even how we sound different, because I don’t listen to our records to be honest,” says Sanborn. “Every time I’m confronted with that, it’s wild to hear recordings. Even as an electronic band – we play stems when we play live in a lot of contexts. So I’m hearing things that were on the records, but my experience of them and the way we play them feels totally different now than it did then. Even though I don’t know if I charted that linear change as it was happening. So it’s tough to say. I’ve listened to the latest record a bunch, and to me it feels like us right now. Which is how I always want everything to feel. The synthesis of our dynamic together, at any given moment.”

When we talk to the pair via Zoom, Sanborn is wearing a Grateful Dead shirt, so we ask if they endeavor to play the old songs differently each time (in true jam band fashion).

“It’s weird because at the end of the day we’re a pop band,” Sanborn says. “If somebody knows one or two of our songs, and is coming because they love ‘Die Young’ or whatever, I don’t want to alienate that person by playing that song in an alienating way. But I also know that there’s people like me in the crowd who are maybe a little bit more weird electronic heads or like jam bands, and want to hear the thing they know but in a way that is fresh and is happening right in front of them on stage. So finding a way to hold both of those things and make the show work in both those directions is kind of the fundamental challenge of the thing. I feel like we’re always changing the way we solve that problem.”

Sylvan Esso isn’t working on the next album just yet – they’re finishing up the current tour and then they’ll take a break. The forthcoming show at the Greek Theatre should be special though.

“We’re doing that and then we’re also playing at Pappy + Harriet’s for two nights” says Sanborn. “So I think between those three shows, some L.A. friends are going to come out. That’s the beauty of coming to L.A. – everyone’s around. It’s nice. I’ll never forget running up Griffith Park, and then running back down, and in the time it had taken me to run down the hill, the fire had started last time and our show almost didn’t happen. The L.A. Fire Department saved both Griffith Park and our show.”

And after that?

“We’ll be right into soup season,” says Sanborn. “Soup season’s real, man. Also, the fall in North Carolina is unparalleled. Chill in the air, break the sweaters out.”

We’ll take your word for it.

No Rules: Sylvan Esso’s Live at Electric Lady EP is out now.





















































































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