Amelia Meath, singer of Sylvan Esso, was in a Zoom audition for a movie when her iMessage app on her laptop started blowing up with texts. Instinctively, she silenced it and continued reading through the scene without thinking much about it. Once she got out, she checked her phone and saw that everyone was calling her to congratulate her on being nominated for a Grammy. “I yelled a lot,” she says succinctly, then adds: “There was a lot of yelling.”
Sylvan Esso, whose other half is producer and Meath’s husband Nick Sanborn, have their sprawling 2020 LP Free Love up for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album alongside Black Coffee’s Subconsciously, Illenium’s Fallen Embers, Major Lazer’s, Music Is The Weapon (Reloaded), Marshmello’s Shockwave, and Ten City’s Judgement. The album, their third, was met with critical acclaim, with Consequence Of Sound calling it “arguably the best the band have put out so far” and The Line Of Best Fit describing it as “Sylvan Esso at their most cohesive.” It was hard not to enjoy and praise Free Love; it had an inexplicable gravitational pull embedded into its vibrant sonic textures.
When Uproxx talked to the pair ahead of the release of Free Love, they emphasized their confidence, which was a result of their success in touring on their prior record WITH, as well as just spending enough time together to feel comfortable trying new things. Meath and Sanborn still love the record now, a year and a half or so later: “It just feels like the best songs we’ve ever written and the weirdest stuff we’ve ever done,” Meath reflects. Sanborn adds: “To me, it feels like it’s the most open and strange, and it’s my favorite lyrics that we’ve written. It feels the most us to me.”
This, though, is how they feel after working on any record; they realize this with laughter. “I guess,” Sanborn says, “I’m worried about the day when the last thing we make isn’t my favorite thing.” At this rate, that day will probably never come. Their discography is clean with all of the albums flowing into each other seamlessly, and the music steadily getting better every time. “Free Love feels like a conclusion,” Sanborn contemplates. “Those first three records are like a trilogy to me now. But I don’t think I felt that that way when we were making them.”
Despite their appreciation for Free Love, they don’t feel like they’re the same people they were when they were making it, which was mostly in 2019. “Is anybody that same person they were in 2019?” Sanborn says. Meath agrees, saying, “That’s like thinking about when you were like a little baby.” That is the effect of the pandemic; the stress and weirdness of these unprecedented times has made us collectively feel as though we’ve been aging faster. At the same time, the album release was not complete to them until late last year, when they were finally able to play the songs live. Their tour kicked off at Edgefields, outside of Portland, Oregon. Recalling the show, Meath sighs dreamily and says, “It felt really, really good.” Sanborn adds, “It was absolutely magical.”
It makes the risky act of putting out an album worth it. Meath laments the process of sharing such an intimate, vulnerable part of herself with the world: “You spend all of your time trying to be as articulate as possible about how you feel and your experience with the world and then everyone takes that and… it’s like when you’re trying to communicate and it feels isolating because no one ever really understands what you’re saying. Or the thing you are saying they can only relate to it through their own experience, which is kind of nice in a lot of ways. But it also means that the amount of time that you invested trying to be articulate just kind of disappears in the wind.”
Sanborn adds: “There’s this whole period where it’s just yours, and the minute it’s out there it becomes about other people. That has its own benefits. There’s parts of that wonderful, but it can never really be yours again.”
It makes sense that this would be a worry for the duo. What a lot of fans love about Sylvan Esso is their unbridled honesty and transparency that imbues their pulsating tracks with a warm sincerity. The emotional nakedness is as vital to their music as the effervescence. Still, their fear never stops them from setting their creations free into the wild, and they’re rewarded for it not just with the pure joy of shows and the laud from critics, but also with award nominations. Sanborn was with his parents when he found out about the Grammy news: “How often do you get that — like, actually having the little kid experience of a cool thing happening while you’re with your parents?” he says. “I think when you choose kind of a nonstandard life, there’s part of that that’s kind of isolating because your success is harder to translate to your friends and family. Things that are a big deal to you might not be a very big deal to them. But there’s a couple of things that transcend that, and the Grammys in music is one of them. Everybody gets how big of a deal that is.”
The Grammys are less than a month away during this chat, but they giggle mischievously at the idea of having a speech prepared. “Maybe we’ll make a list the night before of people we actually want to thank,” Meath poses. Sanborn agrees, “Yeah I would have to do that because I will absolutely forget in the chance that we do win this thing.” They’re also presenting awards at the premiere ceremony, but they don’t know much about that either. “They were just like, ‘Do you want to do it?’ We were like, ‘Yeah!’ It means I get to wear two outfits, which I’m excited about,” Meath beams. This is the spontaneous, silly energy that livens Free Love; they go with the flow, braving the future with only infectious excitement and a deep trust within themselves and each other.
The 2022 Grammys airs April 3 at 8:30 pm EST. Find out how to watch it here.