“Sittin’ With Sylvie”
A while back I had the honor of interviewing musician, acclaimed music journalist and author Sylvie Simmons when she was touring with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand (see our interview with Howe here) at the Don Quixote’s International Music Hall in Felton, California.
If you’re not familiar with Sylvie’s music, you’re missing out. Her passion and skill with the ukulele are second to none. There is a confessional twee-like vulnerability to her songs, harkening back to the innocence of youth, with twangs of American heartland sentimentalism mixed in. If you combined the vocal stylings of Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star and Neko Case, and added some stellar and minimalistic ukulele playing, you’d have an approximation of Sylvie’s sound. It’s filled with solace and beauty. Her debut self-titled album was released in November of 2014 to positive critical reviews, including commendations from Devendra Banhart and Brian Wilson.
Sylvie disclosed that she’s been told by some fans that her album is a big hit with canine listeners, who apparently find it calming. That’s certainly not to say that her music “is for the dogs” but being able to captivate one’s faithful furry companions with music is admittedly a pretty magical accomplishment, a transcendence of aural limitations imposed by biological speciation that renders us mere humans oblivious to subsonic frequencies. Sylvie may just be the “Pied Piper of Ukuleles,” driving her listeners to much greener pastures and away from the confines of musical mediocrity.
Like her music, her written output as a music journalist and author has also successfully resonated on various levels through the years. In 1977 Sylvie began working for Sounds magazine, moving to LA from the UK to write a weekly column entitled “Hollywood Highs.” During the 1980’s she began covering the burgeoning “big hair” LA rock glam scene, bringing early attention to Guns N’Roses and Mötley Crüe (even co-authorizing the first ever book about the band in 1994). She also interviewed some of the biggest artists of the era (including Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Black Sabbath and the Clash). In the 80’s Sylvie lived more than one proverbial “double life.” In addition to her writing commitment to Sounds magazine, she began writing under the pseudonym “Laura Canyon” for Kerrang! magazine, changing her hair to blonde as part of her undercover double identify. As if she wasn’t busy enough during that time, she also wrote a column for syndicated Knight-Ridder publications, Japanese Music Life magazine and contributed to Creem magazine as well.
Sylvie has authorized a number of books, including a biography of Neil Young and Serge Gainsbourg (that has already been translated into eight languages). However, her most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work was “I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen” (which was named 2012 best biography of the year by NPR). If you’re a big rock star and want someone’s help in writing a biography, Sylvie is your gal! She is someone who is able to adeptly juggle multiple creative endeavors concurrently without dropping any of the balls, leveraging her well-deserved street cred in scoring and successfully carrying out projects that her peers would be envious of. This adaptability and resiliency has served her well through the years.
Sylvie was gracious in sitting down with me before she took the stage. Once she began talking, I immediately recognized I was sitting in the presence of greatness. Although she was very unassuming and humble, interviewing Sylvie initially felt intimidating to me. After all, she was someone who had skillfully interviewed countless huge musicians herself. Surely my prowess as an interviewer could not compare to hers, right? And yet, I felt a sense of clarity and focus when I realized that, in many ways, it seemed only fitting that someone like Sylvie, who has worked most of her professional life to cast a light on her subjects, be herself under the spotlight and the much-deserved focus of attention. A very meta and self-referential “full circle” if you will.
Sylvie is an inspiration both as a musican as well as music journalist and I look forward to possibly interviewing her again in the future.
To stay connected with all of her various creative projects, check out her official website at sylviesimmons.com or stay connected to her on Twitter at @sylviesimmons. P.S., Sylvie if you or “Laura Canyon” would ever like to be a contributing writer for Inner Edge Music, just let us know. The door’s always open. 😉
Inner Edge Music
Here’s a Spotify link to Sylvie’s solo album. Be sure to go buy a physical copy today too!