A Bold New Sound – Sylvette Q&A

Meeting as first years in 2015, Charlie Sinclaire (guitar, vocals), Ashley Garrod (Bass), Philippos Rousiamanis (violin, keyboards) and Pete Leaver (drums) had a vision to carve out their own soundscape and make music they believed in. Fast forward to 2020 and the five-piece art-rock band Sylvette, with new member, guitarist Jack March – were set to release their second single, launch their second album, and embark on a six-date tour of the UK when COVID-19 hit. Here they reveal their story so far and how they’ve adapted during an unprecedented year.

How did it feel to make that transition from being a student to carving out a career in music?

Ashley: I didn’t really have time to register it happening as straight after I graduated I had a 16-date tour with another band. But once things settled down, I got a chance to look back on all that I personally accomplished and what we’d done as a band and it was incredibly rewarding.

Charlie: I would say it was a fairly smooth transition as I did a lot of the same work that I’d been accumulating in the last couple years of College. Sylvette’s always been the focus of my time and that’s not changed!

Did you always want to be musicians?

Ashley: I wanted to be a vet until I got a bass for Christmas in 2011 and fell in love with music. I ended up in multiple bands gigging every chance I got, but I didn’t really consider being a professional musician until my friend told me about the RNCM just before an Open Day. My brother drove me up from Taunton at five in the morning and the rest is history.

Charlie: I wanted to be an actor until I was 12. I’ve loved performing since a young age; I come from a theatrical family, so it runs in the blood. I picked up a guitar and fell in love with it instantly – becoming obsessed with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, Jimi Hendrix and Gary Moore. I soon got writing and channelled all my energy from theatrical performance into that form of self-expression, and that’s when I knew I wanted to write and play music for a living.

How did studying at a conservatoire help you develop your craft and what are your RNCM highlights?

Ashley: Being at the RNCM changed the way I view being a musician. I met so many talented players and artists from different walks of life and learnt so much from them. I discovered new favourite artists and saw wonderful gigs at the suggestion of new friends. Supporting the Session Orchestra with the Ollie West Band, as well as playing our song, Memories, with the Session Orchestra were particular highlights, but constantly getting challenged to play and write different kinds of music really helped me craft my musicianship.

Charlie: I experienced a lot of artistic maturity at College. My appreciation for the nuance involved in writing simple but beautiful parts and songs has grown significantly, as has my general pool of listening. One highlight has to be getting the chance to tour with New Order as part of a keyboard orchestra – touring multiple countries with influential artists was an opportunity I wouldn’t have got otherwise. It’s how I met Phil Cunningham, who’s now a great friend and the producer for our second album.

You studied different degree paths: Charlie, Pete and Ashley on the popular music programme and Philip as a composer on the classical route. How did you get together?

Charlie: Me and Pete were in the same first year ensemble project and we quickly started fleshing out songs I had from before the RNCM. We got Ashley involved about two weeks’ later, just before our first gig, and we haven’t stopped playing music together since. I was a huge admirer of Philip’s compositions and we found that we had a very similar artistic philosophy, so I eventually asked if he’d be interested in joining Sylvette. He was a perfect fit and his compositional training has brought so much to the band, forcing us to challenge ourselves in the compositional process.

What advice would you give the ‘first year you’, just starting out on your RNCM journey?

Ashley: My advice would be to make the most of it. Have fun, be confident in yourself and what you have to offer and don’t be afraid to embarrass yourself and make mistakes. There’s so much to enjoy on this journey so relax and love every day – there’s always a way around every obstacle so don’t let anything stop you.

Charlie: Focus on your personal musical journey, limit the time you spend comparing yourself to other people as much as possible and nurture what makes you feel like you. You have an entirely different musical identity to everyone else and you should work on developing that – allow others to inspire you, music is not a competition!

The band is named after artist Sylvette Lydia David. How did she inspire you?

Charlie: To be honest, I was just struggling to find a band name that felt right and started looking at paintings for inspiration. I saw several of Picasso’s paintings of Sylvette, who was one of his muses, and found them particularly striking. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, it just felt right so we named the band Sylvette. About a year later I discovered that she was still alive and living in England. I got in touch, told her about our band and we became friends. She’s an incredible artist and kindly let us use one of her paintings for our début album cover. We then played several songs from the album at her exhibition at the Mall Gallery in London.

How would you describe your sound?

Charlie: We go by the genre art rock. We take inspiration from a variety of different styles and artists including Björk, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, James Blake and Neutral Milk Hotel. Every time we write an idea that feels new to us or is exciting we know we’re onto something worth following and that’s what we thrive on. We’ve slowly gained confidence to be bold and uncompromising and this allows us to create what we feel are original compositions.

You’ve been together for five years. What are the highlights so far?

Ashley: Supporting Arthur Brown at Factory. He was incredible and his dancer was a real inspiration to us. Other highlights include our album launch at Ruby Lounge before it closed, our single launch at Band on the Wall, and the album release tour. It was so much fun – playing to a full room in the city I started properly gigging in (Bristol) was a wonderful experience.

Pete: Definitely the Panel of Glass single launch at Band on the Wall. The immense energy both on stage and from the crowd made it an unforgettable experience. And working with Jake Evans and Phil Cunningham in the studio (and the trips to the pub afterwards) were everything I love about music – constantly bettering yourself artistically whilst having a great time with lovely people.

You were about to launch an album and tour when Covid struck. How did that affect your plans, and how have you managed to keep your motivation and creativity flowing over the past year?

Charlie: The pandemic hugely affected our plans for last year. All our incomes from live music were stopped dead so we had to get other jobs just to tide us through. It was very difficult not being able to rehearse together but we were able to write an album remotely. It was the main thing that kept us going, knowing that we still had exciting music to work on and we now feel so grateful to have all this new music to work with going forward. We’ve also had to re-arrange our tour for the fourth time but hopefully this time it will happen!

Jack joined Sylvette just before lockdown. How did the dynamic of the band cope with a new member during a time of physical separation and online music-making?

Charlie: Jack joined about six months before lockdown, but all of the work we’d done with him pre-Covid was just gigging and recording sessions. It was strange that the first time we collaborated on a song was in lockdown but it actually turned out well. Jack’s an incredible producer and is very creative about using unusual and interesting sounds in songs so having time to himself allowed him to develop these ideas before presenting them to the band. Through this process we’ve become so fond of Jack’s production style that we’re going to produce the entire next album ourselves with Jack mixing it.

What does the future hold for Sylvette as we move towards live events again?

Charlie: We just released a single called Blanket of Dust that we’re very excited about, and then we’ll focus on finishing the recording of the third album and finally getting out on tour again in August/September!

To find out more about Sylvette click here.

2 August 2021