Sylvie Interview in Exclaim October 29th, 2008

November issue of Exclaim has a feature interview with Sylvie

Sylvie’s Home Sweet Home
By Josiah Hughes

Regina’s Sylvie are a hometown band if there has ever been one. After three albums and multiple North American tours, the band still consider friends like Ghosts of Modern Man and Geronimo as their main influences, and find homesickness the hardest part of touring. After ten years as a band, guitarist and singer Joel Passmore and bassist Riva Racette have built a life on forward momentum.

“It’s been a constant progression,” Passmore says. “I look back years ago and it was a completely different band.” That constant self-improvement can be seen throughout the band’s discography. “If we’re just going to sit at home and do the things we’ve already done, I think it would taper off and eventually we might not be content.”

Though they grew up and discovered independent music in the same town, they didn’t even notice each other until later. “Joel and I lived parallel lives,” Racette remembers. “We were both in a French immersion high school, and we didn’t hang out at all.” Eventually, they were introduced by a mutual friend and started a band together. “We went through two years of playing crappy, trying-to-figure-out-your-instruments music,” she says. It was a time of awkward change that found them playing in bands with names like “Ned of the Bush” and “Funkenstein” before finding their footing with Sylvie. Trees and Shade Are Our Only Fences, the band’s third album, is arguably their defining statement. Aided by guitarist Chris Notenboom, keyboardist Erin Passmore, and drummer Jeff Romanyk, the band have combined off-kilter, post-hardcore aggression with plateaus of indie rock as sprawling and vast as their prairie home. In its 11 tracks, the album combines harmonic guitars, layered synths, and busy drumming with Passmore and Racette’s soothing vocals for a modernized, Canadian version of Washington, DC indie rock.

It only made sense, then, for the band to ask East coast post-hardcore mainstay J. Robbins to record Trees and Shade. As huge fans of Burning Airlines and Jawbox in high school, it was somewhat of a celebrity encounter. “Chris sent this email to J., kind of a shot in the dark, and then we actually heard back from him,” Racette recalls. “I was like, ‘Oh my god! J. Robbins knows that I, Riva, exist in the world!” Though he first thought of it as a “ridiculous pipe dream,” Passmore’s experience with Robbins was similar as it materialized. “It was more like ‘I want to go eat breakfast with J. Robbins and talk about recording after,’” he says.

The recording process was delayed by a year due to Robbins’ son Callum being diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, but the band eventually struck a balance that allowed Robbins plenty of time to spend at home. “We developed a schedule where he was able to go home at dinner time, and then come back.” In exchange, Robbins created a relaxed but challenging environment, encouraging the band to perfect their performance. “Focus and performance in the studio comes across way more than you think,” Passmore says. “It really gave us the confidence to play that way live.”

That live aspect has been tested this autumn with months of touring. While that means a lot of time away from Regina, the band have found home in each other. “For someone like me, who tends to get homesick and miss my dogs, it makes it that much better to have Joel around,” Racette says. “When you’ve spent a few weeks with everyone else, the van eventually feels like home.” She pauses for a second, then adds with a self-conscious chuckle, “I like being in a band with my man.”

Category: Sylvie