Sylvana Joyce Spotlight Series Interview
TLN: On 12/9 Sylvana Joyce and the Moment will presenting brand new material off of your next album, “Heavyhead” in collaboration with Christopher Robinson. Your music and performances are very theatrical, you say “there is a theatre inside me”. Tell us a bit about what that means to you and the chance to work with broadway talent for this show.
SJ: Ever since I was a little girl, I was fascinated with acting. My mother would take me to the movies almost every weekend, and she was glued to TV evening dramas like Dallas, so I would mimic plots of her TV shows whenever I played with my own dolls. Around the time I started to write songs more frequently, I had just scored a role as an understudy in a Broadway show, and I quickly learned that music and melody of a song had a way of also alluding to that hidden conversation within the lyrics. So, in a sense, I’ve definitely felt that songwriting and theater were connected in craft and spirit.
At the time I started my band, I was in my mid-twenties and I was frustrated – I’d spent a year taking auditions for plays and nothing stuck. I quickly learned that having a band became my opportunity not only to live through some very personal songs, but be the script writer, director, and producer, as well. Having that full creative control was addictive. It became the beacon of hope through which I started channeling all my creative ambitions. Things quickly shifted in my life from a kind of confused mess, to, “okay, I think this is what I want to do with my life.”
Meeting Christopher Robinson was kind of magical – we had an instant connection, and after mentioning I was a songwriter with a band, he took a listen to my music and became very insistent that he help light me. In this industry, I’ve had people (emptily) promise me all sorts of things, so I didn’t know how seriously to take him, but he was for real. A very genuine, generous, passionate person wanting to help. And the best part is that he gets that under-current, all the unspoken emotion underneath, and he knows how to express that through lighting. More important that him lighting me, though, is knowing that creative people like him exist. It’s too easy to get cynical, and I’m glad I met him when I did.
TLN: What do you want an audience member to get out of a SJ&TM show? How have past performances shaped what you are looking to evolve with shows going into 2017?
SJ: I am unabashedly dramatic, and I love these grand, dynamic, sweeping epic song journeys. When I learned that about myself, I worried it was too much, it expected too much of the audience. But I slowly realized through performance to performance that there were people who wanted to be led into that kind of experience – and that inspired me to want to make the production bigger, to be more daring with how I presented the songs and my performances. Even now, I feel like this show is a test model, the new status quo of what I can do. And I just want to keep growing, keep daring. I had a thought the other day that I want to get to the point in my shows where people feel like they just experienced some form of magic – not a trick – but that some real, supernatural thing happened that night. I feel like when art has an impact on me, it has this almost spiritual, course-correcting, healing ability. I want to get there with my shows; continue to build that world.
TLN: Talk about the role of visuals + music together on stage, how does this help solidify what you are expressing as a songwriter, does the music need to only stand on its own or can the visual help fill in the gaps?
SJ: I do feel like my music was meant for a kind of spectacle. There’s an aggression and a rhapsodic nature in the way that I write where tempo changes or mood changes can happen within a song itself, and when the visuals comment on those changes, they really help to create an immersive experience with the audience. As a storyteller, I welcome that interplay. It’s almost like the visuals become characters, themselves. You as the performer can interact with those changes, notice them, draw attention to them, and I think it enhances the whole experience. I think you end up listening differently and engaging in the whole experience of a live show differently.
TLN: You have asked artists to interpret your music and create visuals for an art book to accompany your upcoming album release, what is it like to see how others view your music? Anything surprising or different from what your original vision was?
SJ: That’s kind of the thing. What’s amazing about collaborating with the visual arts is that I really don’t have a stranglehold on the visuals of my music. I’m almost kind of like someone who would rather you read the book than watch the movie, so you can form the characters’ voices and visages in your own mind. So, to me, asking visual artists to create something based on my music was more about getting a chance to explore the world in their head. I found it fascinating that with every single one of the artists who have created art from my music, their art standing alone would have that same emotional residue, that hint, that scent of what I do, or what I was trying to evoke. It became a language we shared. One of my favorite circumstances was when I was trying to visualize what my first album would “look like”. All I could form were colors, and this idea of an egg or a cocoon, something warm and inviting but dark and full of contrast. Without giving any description, I offered my friend Eliya Stein the gig to create album art, and lo and behold, the art work he came up with was a goosebumpy, stole the idea and sentiment right out of my mind, situation. It was so perfect, it really encouraged me to continue working with others. The collaboration of visuals with music is undoubtedly something that enhances both experiences.
TLN: Anything else you’d like to add heading into your show on 12/9?
SJ: This show has been a passion project, with some elements and music that have been over a decade in the making. The culmination of which, will absolutely be near and dear to my heart. Anyone who comes to this concert/taping will know just how much the night means to me. It’s one of those…moments. In life. Where you go, “THIS IS WHAT WE TRAINED FOR!” I hope I can dare to build more of those. But for now…this is it.