Sylvan Esso spent three weeks making an album that is “more genuine and about us, even if it was embarrassing”
There are no rules. Sandy was recorded in their Durham studio and was inspired in part by the success of Free Love and their tour, which “sort of freed us from the necessity of sounding a specific way or achieving a certain goal.” It simply served to remind us that if we tried, we’d end up sounding like Sylvan Esso.”
They return to Los Angeles nine months later to celebrate No Rules Sandy’s publication. It’s an unplanned album that will be published by Loma Vista on Friday (August 12), and the title refers to both Sanborn’s surname and the sense of limitlessness they had while making it. They both agree that the album was made in a fraction of the time it took to make their previous three albums, Sylvan Esso (2014), What Now (2017), and Free Love (2020), the latter two of which received Grammy nominations for best dance/electronic album.
Sandy clearly defies convention, as Meath’s distinct voice floats over imaginative, humorous, and frequently challenging soundscapes that lean further toward IDM than previous work. The record is the oddest thing they’ve ever made, but it also feels the most like them.
It also comes at a turbulent time. Sanborn recently released GRRL x Made of Oak, a techno collaboration with fellow North Carolina producer James Maple-Brittle, while Meath recently released The A’s, her debut album with Mountain Man’s Alexandra Sauser-Monnig. Sylvan Esso made their Newport Folk Festival debut on July 24, followed by a summer amphitheatre tour as the opening act for ODESZA, with whom they had contracted before electing to release the new album. (In 2023, they will tour with No Rules Sandy.)
While they both agree that there is too much going on at the same time, they appear to be extremely calm and enthused about everything this afternoon. Meath and Sanborn explore selling out (or not), vulnerability, and the new album as “the odd junk of this scrapbook moment” in this video.
You mentioned that Free Love appeared to be the conclusion of a trilogy, but No Rules Sandy marks the start of a new era for Sylvan Esso. How precise does it feel?
The first was about experimentation, whereas the second was about fear and dealing with the first’s success. And it appears that we had discovered the third — Free Love came pretty readily. Given that the release came during a pandemic, it was obviously extremely regrettable. But all of a sudden, this thing we’d been trying to figure out, album production, seemed so simple. We understood the formula, but we didn’t know what it was…
Sanborn, I believe there is a formula here. I assume we were still debating the subject, “Who do we think Sylvan Esso is?” What are the band’s objectives? What do we hope to accomplish with this compilation of songs? All of these concepts remained when we were developing it. Free Love appeared to be the band’s swan song in many ways, as they appeared to have stated everything they wanted to say and developed the notions they began to consider on their debut album. Lyrically, even the end of the record returns me to the beginning. It refers to the first song we wrote together. It completes the circle.