Interview with Nad Sylvan
Nad Sylvan took time out of his busy tour schedule with Steve Hackett to talk with Tim Price from RockShot magazine. His new solo album Courting The Widow has just been released on Inside Out Music. He spoke about family, cats, quitting his full time job and John Wayne.
Nad, thank you for meeting with us here just two hours before you go on stage for the Genesis Revisited Tour. These Steve Hackett show’s sell out year after year, on worldwide tours, so how long how long do you see yourself being active as the front man in this particular project?
As long as he wants me, as long as I have time, at present there is no ending to this story. I don’t really know how long it will go on but hopefully as long as I can perform.
You were recommended to Steve Hackett by a German Tour agent, what is your memory of that introduction?
Yes, I was indeed recommended by Winfried Voelklein, who is the promoter for the Night Of The Prog festival in Germany and I received an email from Brian Coles, Hackett’s tour manager, in April 2012 and he suggested I come over and meet Steve, so we met up here in the UK and decided to work together.
Steve told me that he had heard a recording you made of a version of 32 Doors from The Lamb Lies Down which grabbed his interest prior to that meeting?
Yes, I did a recording of that song for Dave Kerzner as he wanted to use my voice, but ultimately he did not like the recordings, he had thousands of ideas of how I should do it but none really grooved. I sent one of the recordings to Steve prior to our 2012 initial meeting and partly to do with this tape, he took my voice on straight away.
Your voice blends both styles of Gabriel and Collins almost perfectly.
Definitely, but I have to answer that and why that is. I sing the songs the way I have heard them, I could do more with them, but I have so much respect for the songs and also for Steve’s wishes. Also my vocal happens to be in the same sort of range or family of voices as theirs. If you like, my voice does not command the same range as the Yes type of music, my voice just doesn’t go there.
You mean as in singing like Jon Anderson?
Yes, that’s right, I don’t have a tenor voice, I am more like a baritone really, I can stretch down to bass and if need be up to the higher registers, particularly with songs like Squonk, or the highness of Supper’s Ready, When I started out with Steve I was not used to singing in this way, I was very much comfortable in the mid range so I had to very much reinvent my technique, it got better during the first year but still I wasn’t used to it, then after through studies you learn from your mistakes.
Well, I don’t think you can call those mistakes, it is surely development.
Well, development as you say but for me they are mistakes, it is what I should have done technically but I did not have the expertise back then, let’s just say it was growing into it the role.
Talking about growing into it, your new album Courting The Widow has recently been released to very positive acclaim.
Thank you, it came out in Europe on 16th October 2015 and was released in USA on 30th October
The total eight tracks are very refreshing. In particular, Where The Martyr Carved His Name is one of the most stunningly original pieces of music I have listened to in recent years and has a Burt Bacharach feel to it.
Well, it is funny you should say that, as I have heard someone else mentioning a Burt Bacharach feel, but I would apply that to the first song, Carry Me Home which has more of a Bacharach feel than anything with a sixties sort of vibe, I remember Nick Beggs said it conjured images of sunshine in my hair in the Californian breeze and very la la!
You say your father knew Burt Bacharach? (Nad had talked about this on the way to the interview)
Definitely yes, my dad who was a tennis star back in the 1950s – knows Burt Bacharach and was also very close friends with John Wayne as he played tennis with him from time to time.
Yes my dad was a big player at Wimbledon and Monte Carlo and all that stuff, he was a top player on the world tennis league in the 1950s, which is where he met my mother,
When were you born?
You don’t look anything like your age, I mean you don’t look a day over 40!
That is the best compliment. I intend to stay young; you know, with no wrinkles and the long natural hair, in my case it has to be the genes, which are my father’s genes.
Do you play tennis and coming from Sweden did you meet Bjorn Borg?
No, unfortunately I don’t play tennis and I never met him. I know my dad met him and I do know if I had been raised by my father and lived with him, which I never did, I would probably have been a tennis player, but I was raised in Sweden by my late mother..
She did a very good job on you! I have read that at home in Sweden you had a very healthy upbringing and that you ride horses?
I have been riding off and on since I was 11 and had my own horse in the 1980s. In fact there is a stable close to where I live now which has Icelandic ponies, I made an album a few years ago with the Agents Of Mercy called the Black Forest which is influenced by these ponies.
Moving from the four legged to an eight legged spider theme and your new album Courting The Widow, is this your second solo offering?
No, actually it is my fourth!
Gosh, where have all the other pirate treasure been buried all these years?
Well, I know why the disparity. My very first album was released in 1997 and was called Life of A Housewife but before that I did one in 1995, which is only available on MP3 download and not even out yet as an official release but we are working on it.
What is the background to the character of your Widow album as you portray a very spooky vampirism, haunted house and deathly image on the front cover?
This is a character which developed on stage with Steve Hackett which culminated over the past years with all the clothes and makeup I just thought, wow, this is a natural progression, an evolution. I didn’t even have to think about it too much, as I was already looking like a vampire, but also rather more a ships pirate, and so I am a Vampirate!
So, the new album is not necessarily about the Vampirate in entirety?
Actually, my Vampirate story is contained in the sleeve notes with ships log numerals I – V (5 parts) it is a metaphorical musical journey; the Widow is the symbol of death. In fact, the whole album is about death in one way or another, even Ship’s Cat.
Ship’s Cat, the first time I heard this track it knocked me out, almost a blow-back to old traditional sea shanties, which were sung in Cornwall & Devon in the South West of England, where the first pilgrims sailed from to America.
Cornwall, I have never been there, I don’t know what a shanty song is, I have not been in that part of the world yet but to be in those kind of places is in the spirit of the last song I worked on, which was Where The Martyr Carved His Name, so I really would like to go and experience it all.
What, then, is Where The Martyr Carved His Name all about? It is compelling.
Martyr is about a man who is about to be beheaded and his journey after his death.
Did you write all the songs on Courting The Widow yourself?
Yes, everything, yes.
Turn The Other Side is the longest track at some twenty two minutes, the early parts of which are incredible, then it goes off in places as an extended progressive piece.
Yes, very much with the long wandering bass chords sequence as compared to Yes and some Gentle Giant chords aswell. It is bringing everything I have listened to in my life into that one piece.
Bringing in guitar works by Steve Hackett you have added incredible depth and real quality, but you also play guitars on all of the songs, can you expand?
Steve provides enspiring tailor made solos on Carry Me Home, To Turn The Other Side and the last track Long Slow Crash Landing where he is heavily soloing in the middle section and ends with a gospel type feel but it is actually me starting the piece. On the entire album I play all the guitars, but I’m not a guitarist, in fact I am a shit guitarist!
Tell me about Echoes Of Ekwabet as there appears to be an underlying Native American theme?
It is inspired by a statue which I saw on the River Fox, in St Charles, just outside of Chicago, where we were playing on tour. I had no idea at the time that three and a half years later, that I was going to make a solo record, I just wanted to write, including music for Agents Of Mercy. I just had to write.
So, when I was at St. Charles I decided to study the history of what happened with the Potawatomis Indians at the time of the Civil War. They named the statue Ekwabet, (meaning watching over) in order to give it protective spirit and it has such a rhythmic sound to it, EK-WA-BET, coupled with a melodic sound, and that is what I am into as an artist.
I then recorded all the sounds myself including the guitar which I always had in mind Steve Hackett would play for me with his own final touches. When it came to it Steve decided the tape was as good as it could get, he could not improve on it, and so my guitar work on Ekwabet stands on the album, which is an ultimate accolade for me.
However, it now stands that Echoes Of Ekwabet is a studio recording and I just could not go on stage and repeat that guitar in the same way as I would just have to practice a lot. I am not a stage guitarist, I am a writer, composer, singer and interpreter.
Do you envisage then, that you can take the studio material of the Courting The Widow album and your Vampirate character into a live environment on the road?
That is a very good question. I realize now with Courting The Widow I would love to tour the world but it has to do with many things, how could I find a way to get the “widow” on the road? I would have to employ people and maybe take on a Kickstart type of thing which scares me in a way.
It can be scary, even for established stars. As an example, Jon Anderson and Luc Ponty went out last July to raise $99,000 for their campaign to stage their inaugural gig and live album in Colorado. With any Kickstart campaign you need to be certain that the fans will be patient after pledging funds as projects take time, and if they are not patient they will ask what has been done with that money.
That is one aspect, I do not want to upset anyone and the time available is also the stumbling block as that by end December I will return home again from the States after the completing the present tour with Steve and by the end we will have done sixty-seven shows.
So. Who looks after your cat when you are away for these extended periods?
N: One of my best friends looks after Skrut and takes care of her, she is very sweet.
Is Skrut actually Ship’s Cat or was that about any cat which came to mind?
N: Well Skrut, she always lies on the top of my keyboards when I am recording, purring, I let her do this and she always lies on my tummy, making noises, so I decided to record them and let her appear on the album.
So, obviously then you have a studio at home, is that where you recorded most of the Widow album?
Yes, mostly at home studio, but the drums are recorded either in America or England by Nick D’Virgilio and I used Gary O’Toole. Nick Beggs recorded his bass on the road through the internet. When it comes to the vocals he has soft quality to his singing which did actually come over well on the internet. I used a lot of his voice and blended it together with my own as well as with Jade Ell. Nick also sings lead here and there as well as backing vocals on Martyr. I recorded the background vocals mostly myself so you can call it egotistic, but I know what I want.
I think you are now making a name for yourself with what you have been doing with Steve Hackett for the last three years but this solo album could make a nice break for you in order to take your career to the next rung of the ladder ?
Well I just quit my day job in the last five months.
You quit your day job?!
Yes I was working in a surveillance centre on evening and night shifts in Sweden.
So, I gave up my job and I realized that this was little bit scary as all the revenue I now have is touring with Steve and my music. I do have an agent looking at future projects which may possibly work alongside existing commitments, but this is now my career.
What quantity run would you be looking at first pressing for your album?
I don’t know, I have never asked them, I am, in a way, too scared to know.
I have all the answers from you about what we wanted to ask, you have been very forthcoming and a breath of fresh air with your engaging approach.
There is one thing I would to add though, I have seen a lot of reviews that say my new stuff is just like a take on Genesis but I have to say that this was never intended. Early Genesis are certainly one of my inspirations, but these negative critics have not really listened to, for example, the first track of my album, Carry Me Home, where I am a lot more of a soul singer than anything I sing from say Selling England By the Pound.
Absolutely, and also more blues and even folk, you have a chameleon voice.
In a sense, I am a chameleon; in so much that I can adapt my voice into many different styles. I sing in a way I think my voice is required, accommodating changes.
Finally, with the recent news that Phil Collins is coming out of retirement and making noises about reforming with Genesis, where would this leave you if the original Genesis did decide to reform?
I tell you what. Steve has always been there for me and the band but if they wanted him in Genesis again he would go and do that, he would do it now and that would be the real thing. When it comes to Genesis, as it stands I am just an interpreter of the songs, but if I was ever asked to sing with the original Genesis, in any form, I would say no,
I don’t want to see myself in that original band at all, no, not never, ever and I don’t think the fans would like to see me in that role. They like to see me as interpreter. So, as regards Genesis I am just an interpreter of their material, I do not copy Peter Gabriel in my own music, I like to do it my way, in my own style,
For me the show must go on and so from mid December until the end of March 2016, I will be working on my follow up album to the Widow. .
It has been a pleasure meeting you. According to your concept maybe death is not such a painful experience after all as the album is a very enjoyable listen!
Interview with Nad Sylvan on October 30 2015
Tim Price interviewed Nad Sylvan at The Birmingham Hotel assisted by Shirley Ann.
Portraits by Simon Jay Price www.simonjayprice.com