Sylvan Esso has always been a duo, featuring the beats and electronics of Nick Sanborn and the voice of singer Amelia Meath. But back in April, right about the time Sylvan Esso was releasing its second album What Now, Amelia and Nick got a bunch of their North Carolina buddies to join them in a studio in Asheville to record some of the tracks from What Now with a big, live band. Members of Wye Oak, The Mountain Goats, Hiss Golden Messenger, Mountain Man and Megafaun got together for a day at Echo Mountain studios, reimagined the songs of Sylvan Esso and captured the whole thing for a visual EP they’re calling Echo Mountain Sessions.
On this edition of All Songs Considered Amelia and Nick talk about what it was like to record with a full band and offer an audio peek into what you can expect from this special project.
“We’re all just songs in the end. If we are lucky.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote and it just kind of struck me, properly and truly struck me. So many of these characters will become songs. The things they did, the battles they all fought will forever be immortalised. Daenerys, Jon, Jaime, Brienne, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, Cersei, Asha, Stannis and so many more will all be made into songs and remembered. GRRM’s story almost acts as the prequel to the songs. The origin stories even. This series is the humanity behind the songs. It’s what we get when we strip away the fancy words and look to the bone of the tales.
Characters like Sansa or Bran and Arya, they won’t just fade into obscurity or become another name in the family line. They’ll be remembered. Already we’re seeing songs about them creeping in. There are tales about the huge pack of wolves, led by Nymeria, her own. There are songs about how Sansa turned into a wolf and killed the king and flew out of Kingslanding.
I know it seems hard to associate songs with the abuse and pain all these characters faced but that is exactly the point! Time and history will glorify them, forgetting all the hurt they once endured. The songs won’t remember how Jon struggled with his identity and not belonging but rather on the man who rose from the dead and helped to defeat the Others.
It won’t see Bran the Broken boy or Brienne as someone to be mocked. It will remember that Bran became a godlike figure and ruled over Winterfell for centuries onwards. It will remember Brienne as one of the greatest knights to exist, perhaps it will even forget the reason behind her title, the Beauty.
It won’t think to remember how Daenerys was abused by her own brother and was desperate for a home but rather the woman who did what no other person was able to do, bring dragons back. It’ll focus on how she broke the chains of slavery despite her lineage and past suggesting otherwise. It will remember her as the most beautiful woman and Aegon the Conqueror himself.
It won’t see Arya, a girl forced to give up her identity, plagued by her own fears and insecurity but rather a girl who led a whole army of wolves and avenged her family. It’ll see a twelve-year-old who conquered the world.
Sansa, the girl who was forced to watch her father die and was forced into marriages, abused, sexually assaulted, she won’t be that anymore. She’ll be the girl who slayed a giant. The girl who escaped and killed a king and then helped to rebuild Winterfell and perhaps, even became a Queen. She’ll be a leader and a bringer of peace and a great lady in a song.
Despite what Sansa may think, what we all may think.The songs do exist, they just have to be earned. All the songs are based on somethings. They have to be and all these characters that we’ve just seen develop and grow are what the songs in the future will be based off. They’re the human within the song. The heart beneath the happy veneer.
Obviously, drinking gasoline incurs bodily harm on you, but also, being an accessory to that kind of behavior and having to decide — it incurs harm upon you, too. And then, are you responsible for permitting that? If you stay, are you responsible for permitting it? And if you leave, are you responsible for not intervening? If you intervene, are you out of your bounds? Everything about the song is figuring out how you should act in your level of responsibility for your own health and to others in the dynamic of a relationship, which is a difficult lesson to learn.
I feel like I would have put myself into an unfavorable or unhealthy position for this person and maybe recognizing from an outside perspective that that destructivism is a more healthy thing to do than to stay in it for the sort of, romantic, admirable belief that subjecting yourself to this kind of sacrificial, fatuous love would be more of the right thing to do.
“First time your name was used, it was beauty, and I knew.”
It’s an appropriate opening lyric for James Blake’s video for “My Willing Heart” (a song co-written with Frank Ocean, taken from last year’s The Colour in Anything). The video stars a late-pregnancy Natalie Portman, and was reportedly shot just days before the actress, a fan of Blake, gave birth to a daughter, Amalia.