Meet Sylvia, the Best Unsigned Band in the USA!
In which Sylvia take valuable time out of their rehearsal to give TovH the dirt on all things Sylvia!
Maine’s Sylvia got their start in roughly 2012, coming together with founding members Candy Carlson and Reuben Little fresh off the dissolution of their successful doom project, Ocean. The band experienced a revolving door in terms of membership at the beginning, eventually stabilizing with the addition of guitarist Sean Libby and allowing them to record all of their material to date. This year, the band had one more change; they added new drummer Michael Anderson, who has spent the last several months learning the band’s numerous songs on the fly, as Sylvia have been playing a series of local gigs while Anderson practices the discography.
The video for Luv U 2 Death does a good job of showing off both their musical chops and their sense of humor in video form.
Sylvia first showed up on my radar back in October, when they played a show as openers for Today is the Day and Lord Mantis at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland Maine, a performance that solidified them as a nominee (and my vote) for Maine’s Best Unsigned Band. One of the things that stood out to me was just how much fun they seemed to have on stage… and how much fun they had off stage after the show. Indeed, that’s the whole point of being in a band for Sylvia; nothing is more important than having fun and playing. “I wasn’t even sure if I was ever going to play again. I’d just taken 6 months off when Sean asked me to be in the band. This is some really smashing stuff where I can just hit (the drums) hard and it’s a lot of fun for me,” said Anderson, the member with the shortest tenure. “We tend to decompress and party after shows, it’s pretty awesome.”
Sylvia’s death march through the Best Unsigned Band gauntlet culminated in a victory over Michigan’s Blackgate in the finals. “We’re still waiting on the Biggest Unsigned Check,” Libby said of the win. “Maybe we can get one at Kinkos and use it as a banner.” In celebration of their victory, they invited me to hang out during one of their practices and let me ask some questions, where Sylvia’s fun-loving style and sarcastic sense of humor was fully on display.
How has becoming the best unsigned band in the USA changed your lives?
Libby:”We’re still celebrating,”
Little: “How *hasn’t* it changed our lives?”
Anderson: “My parents are finally proud of me!”
Carlson:”My parents… haven’t mentioned it.”
“What’s this about you and a toilet, and number 1 or number 2?!” Libby cracked with an improvised imitation of Carlson’s father.
How did it feel to win the ToH Best Unsigned Band Competition?
Anderson: “Just being a part of this competition was a huge honor, and the fact that we were nominated without initially pursuing it just makes it more so.”
Little: “Our native tongue is sarcasm, but I hope everyone reading understands that while we talk a lot of shit, it’s really awesome to us that people showed up and voted, it’s been really humbling. Maine is solid as shit, and I want to thank all of our fans for showing up on the site and voting.”
Anderson: “We got a huge amount of support. We’ve got more fans than friends and family, apparently!”
Randall Thor insisted that I ask you this: Which Manowar album made the biggest impact on your life?<
Little: “DUDE! I’ve got a Manowar tattoo, the Sign of the Hammer, right here on my left hand! I’ll go out on a limb and say that I’m the only Manowar fan here in the band.”
Anderson: “Yeah, I’m more on the Gwar side of the spectrum.”
Little: “It’s gotta be Kings of Metal for me. Fighting the World is up there, but Kings of Metal is the best.”
On that note, what are some of the influences you have in terms of writing music for Sylvia?
Libby: “The Melvins are definitely a big one.”
Carlson: “Yeah, The Melvins, Today is the Day, High on Fire…”
Anderson: “Yeah, Sean and Matt Pike are buddies too.”
Libby: “He only likes me because I gave him a guitar.”
What are your ambitions for the band?
Carlson:”We all really like a good time.”
Anderson: “We’re all in it for fun, there’s nothing really too serious going on. I’ve got a van we can tour with, so if the fans let us know, maybe we can head out to their town!”
Libby: “I’d like to get out and do a small tour or something.”
Carlson and Little began to talk about some of the other competitors in the ToH Competition when the inimitable Jelly Nutz Justoner came up.
Carlson: “Actually, that’s one of our goals- we could join that guy and play The Gathering.”
Little: “You know what, fuck it, that’s our goal now! I’d love to play the Gathering with that guy, that’d be so fucking rad! Juggalos get a bad rap, man, but at least they’re real. At least they’re down with something, y’know? I mean yeah, it’s a clown, but whatever!”
What are some of the themes that inspire your music?
Little: “We had a concept album that didn’t totally come to fruition where we thought about like, the people who get knighted these days. You know how Elton John and the Beatles are knights? We had this whole idea about shitty knights, like what would you do if a dragon came? You gonna call Sir Elton John to go fuckin’ fight a dragon? You’d be fucked! He and Eric Clapton would blow it 100%. What if England was imperiled? Who’s going to save them, Sir Elton John? He’d just be writing a song about how Bono rode into battle and got killed and it’d sound like ‘Candle in the Wind.’
What’s your song-writing process like?
Carlson: “We tend to come together with ideas, then run it through the Sylvia filter in practice.”
Libby: “Well, (Carlson)’s ideas are usually pretty set in stone and we don’t have to change them much. I walk in with a riff or something and Candy has to fix it and make it cooler.”
Little: “Yeah, we ask Sean to bring in riffs and then we just make fun of him, like ‘who do you think you are?!’ That might have something to do with why our recording process takes so long.”
Why, because self-esteem plummets every time you start writing?
Libby: “It takes a lot more than that to make me feel like a complete shitbag! Recently it’s been slower just because Mike came in and had to learn all the old tracks on drums just to get to the point where we could move on and add new songs. Plus we still play regularly around town, so we’re rehearsing for gigs and that makes it difficult to work on new things.”
Who generally writes the lyrics for songs, is it mostly Candy?
Libby: “It’s Candy. They didn’t like my idea of lyrics.”
What’s wrong with Sean’s idea of lyrics?
Little: “We had a collection of songs that were kind of lacking lyrically, so we decided we’d come up with lyrics collectively. So we’re jamming one day and Sean is sitting there with a dry erase board, he’s thinking, scratching his head, tongue hanging out. He barks out ‘Play that last part again!’ and ‘Play it back slower,’ and all this stuff, this is like a 20 minute process where we’re playing and he’s writing on this board. Finally he turns it around like ‘I got it!’ I can’t make this up, he had crudely drawn a fucking cat.”
Libby: “It was a Mayan Space Helmet!”
Little: “We were like, ‘dude, you just drew a cat. It took you 20 minutes to draw a cat!’ He got all butthurt too, yelling ‘You don’t get it? Fuck you!'”
Libby: “The words were in the picture!”
Carlson: “He drew 1,000 words for us.”
Libby: “And they didn’t want any of them.”
Little: “After that we mandated that when you write, you have to use words. They don’t have to be good, they just have to be words.”
What kind of plans do you have for releasing new material?
Carlson:”We’re working on writing a new album,”
“We needed to learn all the songs to the point that we can play shows without having to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Slowly we’ve been building songs out of ideas that we’ve had,’ Libby said. ‘(Carlson) has 3 or 4 songs already entirely written, we just need to learn them correctly. He’s a writing machine; also a sweet dancer!”
Carlson: “In the town I grew up in, they actually made dancing illegal because I dance so well.”
Little:”He’s actually the best unsigned dancer (in the country). He oozes talent.”
Anderson and Little were hesitant to put a time frame on the release of new material, but said they believed it would be out within a year or so.
“It’s a little early to say this, but I believe we’ll be working with Steve Austin (of Today is the Day.)” Little said.
How closely have you worked with Steve Austin in the past?
Little: “We recorded with someone else, but Steve mixed and mastered it and brought it to life.”
Libby:”I believe Candy actually sat in his lap during the mixing process for the self-titled.”
Carlson:”He sorta had his arms around me.”
Little: “They looked like Ghost… the movie, not the band!”
What kinds of memories stick out from playing shows?
Libby: “I had Today is the Day, Livver and Lord Mantis crash at my place after the show we played with them last year. It was like 30 people that ended up back at my place; woke up in the morning and Robin (from Livver) has an empty 30 Cube on his head to keep the sun out of his eyes. I go down to the kitchen and Charlie Fell (then lead singer of Lord Mantis) is digging through my kitchen after the first night of their tour. He didn’t know I lived there and is just loading up his jacket and pants with boxes and cans of food, bowls and plateware. I go up to him and I’m like ‘Hey, what’s up?’
‘Nothing man, this place is loaded!’ Fell replied.
‘Dude you can take the food if you want, but please don’t take my bowls- I really like my bowls’ Libby told him.
Fell puts the bowls back and says ‘Oh man, you live here? No problem dude, I can just drink the cereal out of my sneaker.’
Libby: “He looked like he felt… well, not embarrassed. He doesn’t get embarrassed, he’s a monster. Anyway, he put the bowls back. I told him he could eat as much as he wanted, take what food he could carry and… he did. He took everything!”
Wasn’t that the tour that he got tossed out of the band on?
Little: “Man, that band must suck now. (Fell) was AWESOME! I understand though, he sounds like an asshole.”
Yeah, most talented guy in the band… but also the least likeable.
Libby: “No way, I liked him! Hugging him goodbye was awkward though, it hurt like hell with his jacket full of cans.”
What would be your message to all the other unsigned bands out there?
Carlson: “Well, a lot of those bands were a lot better than we were, so I don’t know if I can give them advice!”
Little: “It’s tough to take things too seriously (when you’re unsigned), but you also don’t want to be a fucking joke. There’s nothing wrong with playing rock and roll just because you love rock and roll.”
Anderson: “Just play how you feel.”
The Best Unsigned Band competition produced a ton of blood, sweat, tears and furious arguments over who was better than who. When the dust had cleared only the manic jokers of Sylvia were left standing. Thanks to all the writers, editors and bands that participated in this competition and an extra large shout out to all the devoted fans that turned out to vote each week. I’d also like to personally thank Sylvia for letting me in on their practice to do this interview; they were a lot of fun to talk to, more than this piece can show! Sylvia will be playing a Halloween show at Geno’s Rock Club in Portland, ME with Zud, Sangharsha and Mugwort. After that show, they’ll be fleshing out their new material for release, so stay tuned on their Facebook and Bandcamp pages for more details. Do yourself a favor and use that Bandcamp link to add some of their music- who couldn’t use some more music from the single greatest unsigned band in the USA?
All photos via Last Mercy Emissions. All photos VIA Ben McCanna, Michael R. Batchelder, or J. Morse.