So, what now?
Sylvan Esso describes the title of their sophomore album as a response to the pressure of creating new music in light of their successful debut release, but it also might be the most commonly asked question of 2017.
It seems that every day there is something new – and it’s something bad. Something negative, unbelievable, or obvious. And something with consequences. Many of us are scared, or anxious, or both. And the only people in the U.S. who aren’t at least feeling something tense lately are the ones completely avoiding all news.
Then there is simply the daily pressure of living one’s life under that shadow. Continuing to get up in the morning and get on with the day. Getting work done. Cleaning the house. And still doing the things that are enjoyable! I even feel pressure to write my next best piece, the one that will get even more attention than the last, every time I write now. And I’m doing this in my free time!
There is a point in one’s life, one’s career, one’s relationship, and so on, when ending something, just stopping or quitting, becomes an alluring option. What if I just gave up? What is the point of continuing?
“I was gonna die young, now I gotta wait for you hun.”
Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath argues in “Die Young” that the reason to keep doing it – doing anything, really – is love. It’s a fictional account of a character who was going to skip out, give up, leave their story early on their own terms. But a reason came along that thwarted their plan completely: a new love interest, who they want to continuing living for. It’s vague enough to be understood as both a love song between two humans, and as a representation of how hard it is, and how much passion it takes to continue on as a band when your first album does so well it threatens your future success.
If we’re on the edge of giving up, how do we find that new love interest in our lives that will lead us on? What can lead us to it? What can we do until we get there?
It’s easy to believe that Meath and musical partner Nick Sanborn would argue that the answer is: we dance.
Moving through, moving on
I was leaning against a support beam near the merch table, waiting for my friend to show up. But I felt like I had been waiting for this night for much longer. It was September 2014, and half a year earlier Sylvan Esso had released their first single, “Coffee.” In mid-March, a friend emailed the YouTube link to me, thinking I might like it. I fell in love immediately. The next day, I started a new job. It was a time of positivity and fresh beginnings after 1. learning about the end of my brother’s marriage over email and 2. finding out I was being cheated on via Facebook, both during the month of January. So on September 3, 2014, the day my brother’s divorce became finalized, there was nowhere I’d rather have been than in First Avenue, waiting to see Sylvan Esso on stage. I needed to dance.
I looked up from my phone, taking in the moment, when Sanborn himself walked right past me. I smiled, thinking, “wow he IS tall!” and at the same time, feeling like the luckiest person in the place. Like I’d been visited by the gangly dancing saint of modern electronic music. He smiled back, a genuine grin that echoed the fact we were both so excited to be there. Without words, he knew I was a dorky fan of his music and I knew he was probably so jazzed at the fact his new band had so many (dorky) fans. What he couldn’t know is how much I needed that moment, that mutual smile, that memory of a fleeting gift. I photographed it in my mind.
And soon after, in the middle of a huge crowd in Minneapolis, swallowed by the sound, I danced to Sylvan Esso.
I sang along to every word that came out of Meath’s mouth. I mimicked her dance moves, I made up my own. I held nothing back. I cried when she sang, “hey mama, won’t you come down” and felt something inside of me ache when she crooned, “All I want from you is a letter and to be your distant lover / That is all that I can offer at this time.”
Home among strangers
Under a tent in the hot sun, Sylvan Esso took the stage at the inaugural Eaux Claires Festival in Eau Claires, Wisconsin. It was July 2015, and I felt like I had been reborn. The previous night a severe storm swept through the festival campgrounds, and my friends and I had serious doubts about our survival. But the dawn came, and the only damage done was to cars and tents. The sky was a clear blue, clouds lazily floated by, and the temperature couldn’t have been much over 80 degrees. The day was simply perfect.
So when I ended up in a tent full of strangers, separated from friends, I didn’t really mind. Because by the end of Sylvan Esso’s set, every single person jumping, dancing, singing, grooving, and shaking their body to the beat was my new best friend.
I sweat through everything multiple times, lost my voice, and probably burned more calories than I’d eaten (or drank) in the past two days. Sylvan Esso played two new songs (probably “Radio” and “Kick Jump Twist”) and we all lost our minds. I remember thinking “they did it again!” and that there was nothing that could stop their creative genius from making a fantastic second album. And although they themselves doubted it, those doubts have in no way succeeded.
Meath told NPR recently that the second track on What Now is a song “about being lifted off the earth by music — a feeling that I was so used to when I was 14 and which I am constantly reaching towards and trying to create as a musician. I miss it and I’m worried that it’s happening less and less. I want to give it to other people.”
Well, Amelia, that day at Eaux Claires? A part of me burst open, soaking up the endless energy in the air, like your voice was my lifeblood, and Nick’s beats pumped it through my body. I felt more like the music than myself; my body more in the air than on the ground. I became the songs, never landing. And all that was because of you.
“I had it all planned out before you met me / I had it all planned, you ruined it completely.”
So if you, dear reader, have given up, thrown in your cards, or plan to – prepare to have your plans ruined. We want to be in control, we want to think we know what will happen, we want to expect the worst. So if your life is getting you down, if current events are squashing your motivation, your umph, your desire to create, to contribute, to continue, I need you to ruin your negative negotiations. I need you to go see Sylvan Esso live this summer. I need to you blast What Now in your room and dance. I need you to fall in love with someone, with something.
Because it’s not time to die young. Not this time. And when you’re dancing, it’s easier to feel convinced that the end is not an option.
There has never been a better time to be in love with indie music and the musicians who create it. I write about and share what I discover because I find it difficult not to.