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Sylvan Esso talk about their new live record and film, ‘WITH’

Sylvan Esso at Surly Brewing Festival Field, 2018. (Maddy Fox for MPR)

While the music industry is shut down, and the concept of a live show seems very far away, Sylvan Esso have put out a timely release of their new live record and live concert film: WITH gives fans an opportunity to revisit the live music experience. The Current’s Morning Show host Jill Riley had a chance to connect with Amelia Maeth and Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso to discuss this release – including the full band that they formed for this project – and also how they’ve been holding up throughout this public health crisis.

Jill Riley: Hi you guys. How are you doing?

Amelia Maeth: Hi, we’re good.

So Durham, North Carolina. How are things there?

Nick Sanborn: Comparatively speaking, pretty good. We have a pretty low infection rate here. We were one of the places that was very early on the stay at home order, and so far it’s really been working. Everybody’s really come together. It’s been really cool.

Maeth: Indeed. We’re also lucky enough that we have a studio that we go to everyday, so we still have the semblance of work, or we have another place to go to, which really helps.

It’s so easy to do your part, and your part is [to] stay home, you know?

Maeth: Yeah.

Sanborn: We’re lucky enough that staying home is an easy thing to do, and that’s not the case for everybody. We feel really lucky.

This is very true. You’ve got a studio. You’re able to use creativity as an outlet. What does your day-to-day look like? What are some of your coping mechanisms?

Maeth: My main coping mechanism is Animal Crossing, right now.

Sanborn: I’ve been biking. I try to take a morning bike ride every morning, up and down a nature path near our house. It’s like flossing. You really gotta commit yourself, but if I do, I feel great about it.

You guys have some pretty big news. Tell me about the new live concert film and the live record?

Maeth: Thanks, we’re so excited about it. In November and December we asked eight of our favorite musicians to form a live band with us, and we took that band on a seven-day tour. We did two nights at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. We did two nights at the Beacon in New York. We did a night at the Ryman, and then we ended up at home for two nights at the DPAC, the Durham Performing Arts Center. We recorded those last two shows and made a record and a film with them. We’re so excited. It feels like a really nice time to revisit live music. We were really happy we were able to give that to people right now.

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Can you name some of the musicians that were on tour with you? I recognize their names as part of that Eaux Claires Festival crowd. 

Nick: Nothing would please me more than to name and praise all of the people who are in the band. Why don’t we start with Meg Duffy, who has a band called Hand Habits, who played lead guitar. Drums, we had Matt McCaughan, who plays in Bon Iver, and on the other end we had Joe Westerlund, who I played with in Megafaun for a long time, and who plays in Mandolin Orange. We had Jen Wasner who plays in Wye Oak, Flock of Dimes, and also now plays in Bon Iver. [We had] Dev Gupta from Mr. Twin Sister on keys and synths. Adam Schatz, who plays in a hundred bands, but his own band is called Landlady, playing saxophone, bass, and clarinet. We had Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Daughter of Swords and Molly Sarlé, both who play with Amelia in Mountain Man, singing backup, and that’s it. There we go.

By the way, the concert video and live album are called WITH. I want to mention that it was the WITH tour. You mentioned a bunch of the venues that you played at. What was it like to play on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville?

Maeth: Oh, we love playing the Ryman. I’ve been lucky enough to play there. It was my sixth time, which was great. We’ve done it with Sylvan Esso just as a duet before as well. I love getting to play there. It’s so magical, and it’s pretty rare when you get to become really familiar with one of those famous halls that you grew up hearing about.

Sanborn: Yeah, you really feel attached to a slice of American musical history. It’s a really cool experience. Plus, after the show you can walk out the side stage door and walk into the back door of Robert’s Western World, which might be the greatest bar in America.

Maeth: Arguably my favorite bar in the whole wide world.

I really appreciate you guys calling in from North Carolina. I’m glad to hear that things are going well during this time. I know that it can be stressful for a lot of people, but we’ve been saying that music is that thing that’s kind of holding us together. Would you agree?

Sanborn: Oh, absolutely.

Maeth: Now more than ever it’s proving itself to me as a rope that I can hold on to as pass over this wild chasm of history.

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