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Reconnecting with friends from other cities is always a struggle; it might be because of scheduling conflicts or the fact that you now have new friends that are in your neighborhood. NYC’s Syd Silvair and Los Angeles’ Jess Best took the time to reconnect during this pandemic and here is what they had to say.

Syd: You made the move from NY to LA about a year and a half ago. What sparked that move, and how has LA impacted your creative process in comparison to NY?

Jess: A big part of what drew me here was wanting to shift the focus away from solely pursuing my artist project towards writing for other artists and helping them fulfill their vision. Since moving out here most of my work has come from songwriting for other artists and that’s really where I want to be –  in the heart of writing and creating all the time. I’m pretty addicted to the feeling of making things, and when I’m working on a project with another artist it’s great that I can fully focus on creating. Then, when that album’s done, I can move onto writing the next project rather than promoting and releasing the one I was just working on. Also, when I was living in New York and creating out of my living space, I was craving those exhale moments, cause even when you’re alone in your apartment in NYC, you’re not really alone. Sometimes I think the time surrounding the music — i.e., how your body feels, state of mental health, what you’ve eaten that day — are just as important as the time spent making music. I’ve definitely found more space out here to focus on that stuff. I do miss the east coast community a hell of a lot though!!

Congrats on your new project! It’s exciting that I get to interview you the day before it will be released. Would love to hear the story behind your vision for Reverie. I love the way that you’ve developed a world for it to live in, and wonder what the path was like for you to get here? 

Syd: Thank you! It was definitely a long and winding path. I was fascinated with all things occult from a young age, and I always felt drawn to the archetype of the witch. I think my 4th grade birthday party sums it up: we lit hundreds of candles in my house, a psychic medium came to give readings, and everyone brought home a crystal instead of a goody bag. I sort of lost touch with that part of my life for a period of time–I guess I fell into the trap of taking myself too seriously. Then, I went through a rough period where I lost three loved ones over the course of a few months, and in my grief I found myself returning to witchcraft and tarot as a way of healing. Once I invited that into my life again, it was like a missing piece of my identity was finally back in place. From there, all that imagery and ideology started coming through my writing very naturally. So this project was really born from that revelation, which makes it that much more meaningful to me.

We were introduced by our mutual friend (the wonderful Steph Cohen) when you were running a weekly showcase called Sunday Sounds at 61 Local in Brooklyn. I’ve always thought of you as an artist who is so immersed in the live music scene–what’s it been like for you to adapt to this new lifestyle without music venues? 

Jess: Yes, that live music scene in New York is incredible. I miss the Sunday Sounds community so much, and am so thankful that the series in Brooklyn has been continued on by my dear friend Josh Smith. It’s been really exciting to dive into what’s going on here in LA. Right before the pandemic hit I was finally feeling the space to start performing in LA since I haven’t done so since moving here. The road to recovery for music venues feels pretty uncertain and hard to even imagine what they’re going through right now, but it might mean more intimate performance settings until then…which is hard to come to terms with. Honestly most of this is hard to come to terms with. Maybe the light is that we get a chance to shape where it will go and how that will feel.

From what I’ve gathered thus far, it seems like a lot of the artistic world is struggling to make things in the midst of the pandemic. What is your process like when you’re feeling stuck and in need of inspiration? 

Syd: I try to be as patient as I can with the creative cycle. I think it’s important to honor the fact that we’re not called to create 100% of the time. If I’m not feeling inspired, I try to be really intentional about listening to the world around me, and absorbing everything I can during that period, so that I have that much more to pull from when the creative fire does come back. I find the concept of “writer’s block” to be sort of toxic–it implies being stuck in one place, when in reality we’re always moving through some kind of cycle. I’ve started to trust that the spark always comes back sooner or later.

You might be an exception to my statement about artists not being called to create 100% of the time–you’ve already had such a prolific career, and your releases don’t seem to be slowing down! Do you have any writing rituals or routines that keep the songs flowing out so consistently?

Jess: I think it’s so interesting that I’m considered prolific cause when I look at the discography of my favorite artists — Joni, Prince, Stevie, The Beatles…– they were releasing an album a year, plus touring, making movies, painting, etc,  and I wonder if that was considered prolific during their time. It was kinda expected that if you’re a musician, that’s what you do…you make music.  I feel motivated to create a body of a work like that, and it’s been cool that the more music I release, the more I feel the space to experiment and be playful with it. I like to think of writing and the practice of creating as a muscle, and I do my best to exercise it as much as I can. Even if it means I wake up and I’m frustrated and I think I’m going to write the dumbest song I’ve ever written, I’m going to write it and do my best to finish it. A lot of my process has been getting rid of my inner editor until the song is actually done. I also can’t answer this question without a shout out to Connor Schultze, my producer/songwriting partner, because we’ve spent years developing our work flow together, and it means everything to have a process that feels so fulfilling and focused on using music as a medium to keep growing.

Jess: I’ve loved listening to the singles off of your new project! The chorus lyrics of Obsidian really caught my attention when you ask, “Are you the curse or are you the cure?” Can you give me the inside scoop of where you were at when you wrote this?

Syd: That line came to me out of the blue, and I thought it had a beautiful ring to it. It was the seed that eventually grew into Obsidian. It’s a good example of the friction I look for when writing lyrics–things that appear to be opposites, but have some kind of crossover. I like to challenge myself to write within those grey areas, because we all spend so much time in them, but they can be hard to put into words. In the case of this song, I think the takeaway is that sometimes those difficult relationships that feel like “the curse” end up being the exact thing we need in order to grow.

You’ve released five full length albums, which is so refreshing in a world that seems to be moving towards singles and EPs. I’m such a fan of albums as an artform, especially ones like yours, which you can put on start to finish and just get lost in. Is working in an album format a conscious part of how you create your music? And what are some of your favorite albums?

Jess: I don’t think I’ll ever stop being optimistic about listeners enjoying full projects. I love working in album format because it feels like an exhale that captures what I’m exploring at that moment in my life.  I think it’s hard to release singles and still go through a sort of evolution as an artist, where you’re using your music to discover something new.  I usually listen to music in album form – some of my all time favorites that have been on repeat during quarantine are Tapestry, Songs in the Key of Life, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and the Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway record. I’m thankful they didn’t just release singles 🙂

Your project feels like a collage of a lot of influences, and the musical and visual elements of your vision feel so intertwined. Can you describe some of those influences and how you come up with imagery that accompanies your music?

Syd: I love that you used the word collage, because I grew up surrounded by collages. My mom is an artist/art teacher, and collage is one of her primary mediums. This EP feels like a particularly nostalgic collage to me, because not only was I returning to the witchcraft that played a special role in my childhood, but I was returning to a lot of the 70’s music I had listened to as a kid (ELO, Marvin Gaye, Bee Gee’s, Fleetwood Mac). These nostalgic influences really summoned my inner-child.

I also have a background in visual arts (I studied painting, drawing & sculpture in college), so it’s hard for me to separate music from visuals. I always have a color scheme in mind when I’m making a song (if not a full blown painting), and the way I envision the production has a lot to do with the qualities of the colors. For this EP, I was also incorporating the color schemes/images of the tarot cards into the production, which was a fun way of enhancing my usual process. Colors have such powerful and distinct charges to them.

This two part project of yours called “Sincerely,” is so intriguing! Can you tell me more about the concept?

Jess: I released Sincerely, last August and have been spending most of my time during quarantine finishing the other side. I got a record player last year, and it blew my mind that until then that I’d never listened to some of my favorite albums in the way they were intended – as two sides.  I got really inspired by the idea of creating a project that has two very different sounding sides, and had the idea of starting it one way, and then adding another half that puts the first side in a totally different context.  The process of releasing Sincerely, has felt very raw, since it’s existed in the world for a while without its other half…but that has been the idea all along. I wanted people to sit with this project and get to know it as a whole idea before I let the other half into the world.

I don’t think any of us could have predicted the current state of the world, and we’re all coping in different ways. What are some unexpected things that have come up for you during the pandemic?

Syd: I used to be completely obsessed with my Gameboy. But I’ve always found gaming to be addictive, so at a certain point I just cut myself off from it. I felt guilty about playing because I didn’t think it was a productive use of my time. Now that we have this new relationship to free time, I’ve allowed myself to dive back into games, and I can’t believe I deprived myself of something so fun for so long. I think one silver lining in all of this is that we’re rediscovering the value of pastimes that are purely for pleasure. I have a feeling this will have a beautiful impact on our collective mental health.





photos & story / Syd Silvair & Jess Best

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