NPR logo Sylvan Esso Just Wants You To Be Free

Sylvan Esso Just Wants You To Be Free

Singer Amelia Meath explains the joy and dreams behind the band's new album, track by track.

Amelia Meath and Nick Sanborn are Sylvan Esso. Their new album is What Now, out April 28 on Loma Vista. Shervin Lainez hide caption

toggle caption
Shervin Lainez

When you listen to Sylvan Esso singer and lyricist Amelia Meath talk about the band's new album, What Now, you quickly learn how profoundly she's motivated by love. There's the love of magical sounds and the euphoria she feels when music "lifts you off the earth." There's the love for the audience, of connecting with and freeing them through song. And, especially for Meath, there's the love of dance and of feeling the body (literally) become the music.

For today's release of What Now, we asked Meath to share some of the stories behind the new songs. She revealed a lot about what went into each track, but also reflected on the kinds of things that can keep her up at night, like whether being in a band matters when there's more important work to do, how she's sometimes sad when everything is awesome and how flagrant sexism in the music industry can ruin everything.

You can read her thoughts and hear the tracks individually below, or listen to the full album through the Apple and Spotify playlists at the bottom of the page.


1. Sound

"Writing 'Sound' was one of the more relieving moments of creating What Now. Once it was finished we knew that it was the first track. It became a reassuring light post through what would become a rather intense and doubt-filled writing process. That opening sound is an old, half-broken Korg MS-20 being tuned by my voice. So much was wrapped up in that initial sound for us — the mission statement of our makeshift reverse-auto-tune, the combination of the two of us in a single sound, the idea of translating your humanity through a machine in the hopes of connecting with someone on the other side, it all feels contained in that moment. It functions as a statement of purpose and a love letter to the listener. 'Here you go, we made this for you, let it take you away from your general day-to-day for a little while, let it lift you.'"

2. The Glow

"'The Glow' is about listening to The Microphones' record The Glow Pt. 2, one of the first records that I really loved. Each track made my heartsick, high-schooler self feel less lonely and more safe. I used to listen to it on a Discman while I walked home from shows at The Middle East or TT The Bear's in Cambridge MA. All of the people mentioned in the verses are people I went to high school with, whom I was completely in awe of — pretty much still am.

"Overall, it's a song about being lifted off the earth by music — a feeling that I was so used to when I was 14 and which I am constantly reaching towards and trying to create as a musician. I miss it and I'm worried that it's happening less and less. I want to give it to other people."

3. Die Young

"I wanted to write a love song. There are so many of them that I tend to avoid directly writing about love. Poor love — its been compared to everything! But I wanted to get in the game, because I am in love and wanted to see if I could do it. So of course I write this bummer of a happy pop-dirge."

4. Radio

"Lyrically, this is mostly me talking to myself. Hilariously enough this song is on the radio now, but at the time I was feeling an immense amount of pressure to write new songs for What Now even though we were still mid-cycle on our first record. Most of the song is spent accusing myself of trying to become a successful musician when there are so many other important things to be doing other than sucking up to the man, trying to get America to think you are cool. Also — getting on mainstream radio is like trying to join a secret society, particularly if you are female. Stations have literally come back to us saying that they already have 'a female vocal' in their playlist. GUUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHHHHH!"

5. Kick Jump Twist

"This is about jumping through hoops trying to get people to love you. Be it practicing your dance moves and sexy face in the mirror, or prepping your audition for RuPaul's Drag Race. It's a song about how we perform our lives — and also, about being in a band and touring forever."

6. Song

"My favorite manifestation of heartache is wanting to be a piece of music. As in, actually being so filled with emotion and energy that you leave your human body and transcend into pure melody. For real. That is what this tune is about, as well as the reality of being in love versus what love songs and rom-coms tell us love is like — how sometimes a song can make you feel more in love than the real thing. Or at least it gives you a moment to completely feel it, without distraction."

7. Just Dancing

"I wanted to talk about how Tinder has made it possible to only go on first dates forever. How all of the sudden it is completely possible to be in control of how potential romantic partners see you. How if you wanted to, you could be your own most ideal version of yourself. But you would have to keep on changing who you were dating to keep that beginning of a relationship feeling. How you could live in this false image of yourself, reflected through your partners' eyes, never landing."

8. Signal

"It's about life mimicking technology and technology mimicking life. Searching for truth and honesty in a sea of noise. How, despite all the changes to the ways we go about it, we all still want the same thing any human has ever wanted: to be, connect with other humans and feel understood.

9. Slack Jaw

"Everything is awesome — and I am still sad."

10. Rewind

"This is about me watching scenes from movies over and over again when I was a kid, learning turns of phrases and dance moves, and how to be a person. The chorus is about repeated viewings on VHS — how when you are rewinding something the picture dims and when you press 'play,' the room floods with light again. It is about building your personality from media, and then slowly dismantling it to become an honest human and an amalgamation of your influences from family, friends, movies, music and idols."