Sylvan is one of the best progressive bands to ever come out of Hamburg, Germany. In September of 2009, they celebrated their first decade as a band with one of their best album releases, Force of Gravity. That album was a fantastic invitation to the sound they planned to provide in the future.
Now they're back with a dynamic, emotional, and epic new double album,Sceneries, featuring five tracks full of raw power and emotion. I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with the band back in 2009, and when I heard that they would be launching this new epic double album this year, I jumped at the opportunity to do another.
Sea of Tranquility readers I bring you Germany's Sylvan!
Mark Johnson, SoT: Welcome to the Sea of Tranquility. We appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule promoting your new album "Sceneries" and rehearsing for your tour, to answer some questions for your fans here at the Sea of Tranquility.
Mark SoT: First, I understand, from your website and press release that "Sceneries", is "the search for those very things that make our life worth living". I also understand that each chapter represents a band member's perspective. Please tell us who each of the chapters represents.
Matthias, Jan, Sebastian and Marco: We decided to keep the secret of who is the "godfather" of a chapter for a while. So please don't be angry with us, that we will not betray this secret at the moment. We are looking forward to some speculations of the fans :-)
Mark SoT: Your albums have always been full of emotion. But this one seems to be over the top. Was it the current economic, environmental, political times and circumstances which influenced you to write with this much emotion, or was there another inspiration?
Jan: I think it is rather based on our inner development than on aspects from outside. During the making of the album we felt sometimes like we are cut off the world like a very special inner circle.
Sebastian: A very intense feeling, during this whole process. A lot of emotional parts just came to us. I mean we jammed a lot just for fun and it ended often in that emotional style as it is right now. It wasn't that we sat there the whole night, discussing about how we can turn the album into a more emotional direction. It was more that we sometimes asked ourselves, whether it's not a bit over the top but we believed in what we did and that's the result.
Mark SoT: Let's take them one at a time. In The Fountain of Glow, you seem to conjure the power of the Beatles, with the inspiration of love and its power to heal the world. Is the key love or is there something else even deeper in the lyrics, "Then an angel brings you heaven!" "It is on you, comes from you…hand it over".
Matthias: What can be more complex or deeper then love? It is the force that keeps the world running. People start wars because of love but they also forgive their worst enemies because of love. With "Sceneries" we made an album about the veritable parts of life, an album about those very things that make our life worth living. There is no way around to start this album with a chapter about love :)
Mark SoT: The piano has long been an important instrument in the delivery of your music and message. It is especially prevalent in The Fountain of Glow. What is it about the truth and power of this instrument that you think allows it to deliver the clarity, calm and strength of a message so well?
Matthias: Volker and I are both piano players. Because of that many new ideas have their beginning on this instrument. Apart from this we also love the intimate sound of a real piano. You can transport your own feelings without competing with the vocals. In a good written piano part there is space enough for both.
Mark SoT: "Share the World with Me", is full of some of the best lyrics on the album for me. I definitely share your wonder and love for walking or hiking in the mountains. After all, you're from the land of the "The Happy Wanderer", ("Der fröhliche Wanderer"). "When I look ahead, where the mountains rise. Where the winding path stretches out of sight". Describe what it is like for someone who has never seen mountains to experience a hike or walk in this pristine nature and for the moment be alone with your thoughts.
Marco: "Share the world with me" is about the unrestrained wish to experience the world around us without any filters, without any burden or limits. This liberty, the place on top of the mountain where we can simply be ourselves is hard to find but worth looking for. It's a place where you sometimes would like to be alone to get your thoughts right, but sometimes you'd like to share this special place and all the emotions you connect to it with somebody, someone near to you, perhaps somebody you lost before.
Sebastian: And the mountain does not necessarily need to be a mountain. It can be any special place in the world, where you can exactly feel this emotion, that you somehow wanna share it with someone or even be once with nature and with the world in this moment.
Mark SoT: "The Words You Hide" is another deep song about our motivations as individuals. Do you think we are most motivated by our past or the future we are planning? The wonderful memories, of what we rarely discuss in the present can drive our emotions to return to simpler times. Or do we strive to find the same feelings we used to feel in a world full of changes, which push that former life further into the past?
Marco: I think the past is a very important factor for your motivation in life: either by striving for something you knew, but lost or by fleeing from things you experienced before. Perhaps it's also a sort of anchor we need in order to find our line in a world of worries and problems. "The words you hide" is about the fact that looking back sometimes prevents us from noticing the way that lies ahead of us. Searching for something we had in the past, or eagerly waiting for something we desperately hope to have, is somehow natural, but might emphasize doubts and hinder us from looking forward.
Mark SoT: "The Waters I Traveled", may be the deepest lyrical song on the album. Who is the "You", which is referenced throughout the piece? For example, "And here you calm me, safe me, guide me with your light. You listen so patiently to tales you don't believe. Below the surface of my life…but you taught me to face it".
Marco: This person is your personal beacon, the person(s) who helps you to get out of the water, out of your fears. Those people who are able to lead you beyond the darkness, who give your life a meaning. What would we be without those people, who influence us on a very personal level, who give us the direction and hold us, when we are weak?
Mark SoT: It feels as if the sea is a metaphor for something much larger in life on the track, "The Waters I Traveled".
Marco: The sea is simply a metaphor of ones fears. We can not make out what lies under the surface, what is waiting down there ... and these thought can indeed be heavy in life.
Mark SoT: Lyrically, this is one of your best albums…ever. Was it easier to write from an emotional perspective, or did the personalization of the messages raise the level of your abilities to capture images and emotions so well in words?
Marco: As we personalized each chapter by granting it a special meaning for every band member, it was easier to put into it a lot of emotional sense. In this way is was not harder in a technical way ... but sometimes harder to cope with the meaning of the words afterwards ...
Mark SoT: The lyrics on "Farewell to Old Friends" sounds like either a tragic loss of someone very close and personal, or at the same time a personal recommendation to appreciate everyone while they are with us. There is nothing more emotional in the world than the loss of life. Your lyrics do a great job of conveying the feelings so well of appreciating the time we all have together while we still can.
Jan: Farewell to old friends is about what lies in your soul. It is about to say farewell to your inner losses, which maybe are still hurting. Sometimes you have to say goodbye to some old friends inside of you before you are able to go on. The old man in the beginning for instance is real. So the lyrics are a mixture of real experiences and the development of yourself as a human being. If you are not able to leave beauty behind you in some cases you will become sad. And this sadness would not allow you to get forward in life. It rather would lead you in frustration and depressive feelings and even more sadness.
By the way, it was very important for us, that the song would end in very positive way, because it not only should have summed up the intention of chapter 5 but also it should have summed up the complete record in certain way.
Mark SoT: If you don't mind, I'd like to discuss some of your other most emotional tracks and albums from the past. Let's begin with "This World is not for Me". This track feels like it belongs so well on this album. If you could change the world, where would you start? What would be the essential qualities or elements of humanity necessary to make this world a better place?
Marco: Less selfishness? More courage to share? That's not easy to say...
Matthias: In my opinion capitalism comes to an end in the next twenty years. It was a viable system for the last century but this globalized world needs something new to survive. I really hope that a new generation will come up with some fresh, unspent and brave ideas for a peaceful cohabitation of all mankind on this planet. And SYLVAN could write the soundtrack for this "better" world :)
Mark SoT: What did you mean by the line, "Millions of stars above I see - all for you - what's left for me?"
Marco: Somehow this points out the answer I gave before: there is so much the world can offer, why do you want it for yourself alone?
Mark SoT: The epic song "Presets" is by far one of my favorites you have written. The lyrics refer to, "Tasted flavors of regret. Paid for all my past preset". What is your greatest regret in life?
Matthias: This questions is hard to answer generally, because all members of SYLVAN would give you a different answer, depending on their own life. Thinking of myself I did certainly hundreds of wrong decisions in my life, just because of my convictions obtaining at the time. So from my present-day perspective there are many reasons to regret something in my live. But that's life. Doing mistakes and having regrets is human and very important to form your individual character.
Mark SoT: Posthumous Silence deals with the very sad and emotional feeling which drives the character in the story to the ultimate point of no return. How can people in this state reconnect and find what is missing to prevent this fateful decision?
Sebastian: That's a hard question. But as I lost my brother right in this time, I can tell you, that for me music is one of the most emotional things on earth. It wasn't me being on that point of no return, but it was him. So I need to continue life today, and a lot of songs helped me with that. And I'm pretty sure, that emotional music is helping people a lot to deal with emotional tragedies. Like a father wrote us an e-mail right after "Posthumous Silence" release, that he had not spoken to his son for a decade and after listening to PS, he decided to invite him. He gave him a ride from the airport home, they did not spoke a word and just listened to the whole album, got of the car in the middle of nowhere and felt in each other's arms and very happy again. That's sometimes what music can do to people.
Mark SoT: Ok, how do you plan to deliver the epic sound of the chapters of "Sceneries" to your audience? Will there be a theatrical side to the presentation?
Sebastian: We would love to play big theatrical stages. We don't plan to have any kind of additional show like with actors or something like that, because our music still is the most important thing to us. But I guess the sound is quite important as ever and we do have a very talented guy on the desk, so he will transfer the epic sound at least to your ears, let's hope that stages look at least half as big as the sound suggests you.
Mark SoT: What are your touring plans for the new year? Is a trip to the USA in the plans for this year?
Sebastian: We are hardily working on our "SCENERIES" tour. As it seems right now only in Europe, as single concerts in the US or in North America make no sense for us. We rather would need at least two or three shows, which are hard to get… But we'd love to of course, so if any US tour promoter reads this, feel free to write me an e-mail immediately.
Mark SoT: Do you plan to make any videos to support visually any of the chapters of Sceneries?
Sebastian: You know what? We do have a lot of plans in mind. But my personal opinion is that a video for supporting the band while acting must be very good. Watching the "Genesis Live in Rome" DVD you can see some very intense and good videos. They're in time as they are triggered to the music and they are totally built into the show. That's fantastic to see on that 100 Meter projection, but if you simply make any mood movies, which will be projected behind the band on a 2 Meter screen, I prefer to leave that away. I hope you understand, what I mean…
And dealing about shooting a music video, we simply don't have the money and the time to do that. Because this would more be for us, then for MTV, as they'd definitely won't play it.
Mark SoT: What subject would you most like to cover on an album of the future?
Matthias: Oh, we don't have any suggestions at the moment. Finding a subject is a very hard process and it depends on so many external factors, that even we don't know, what will come next ;)
Mark SoT: Thank you again for taking the time to answer these questions. Good luck on tour and with the sales of this epic double LP. I'm sure it will finish high in many of our reviewers' and reader's 'end of the year' polls this year. Thank you for sharing it with me.
Marco Glühmann (Vocals)
Matthias Harder (Drums)
Sebastian Harnack (Bass)
Jan Petersen (Guitars)
(Click here to read our review of Sceneries)