British singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas goes big, instead of going home, on new album
Lucie Silvas has certainly earned her scars over the years. She rode valiantly into the great, wide yonder in pursuit of bewildering, ever-elusive songcraft and commercial success. Signed to Mercury Records in the early aughts, she issued two sticky-sweet pop-rock records, 2004’s Breathe In and follow-up The Same Side two years later. But an ache quickly set into her bones. She soon bowed out of her mainstream career and didn’t return until 2015’s rootsy Letters to Ghosts, which rises and falls with tremendous heart and soul, dripping between the leaves of love-torn heartbreak and ending with an evocative, smokey cover of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It.”
But the British singer-songwriter didn’t come fully into her own until her new record, E.G.O., which extends the musical ambition she set out to accomplish three years ago for a record that’s propulsive, vulnerable and soaring. “Kite” burns down the house around her in witchy magnificence, while “Smoking Your Weed” slides into cheeky pontificating about learning other’s true intentions. After “First Rate Heartbreak” grooves hard and long into the night, the second half pulls back the reins rather abruptly for a sequencing that’s as personally cathartic as it’s timely and crucial for the current state of the world.
The record, produced by Jon Green, is packed with a roster of uber-talented musicians, from her husband John Osborne (of Brothers Osborne) to Derek Wells to Fred Eltringham and countless others. Even in its most intimate and stunningly grim moments, there is truth to be extracted and applied to our lives in heavy and healthy doses. “Just for the Record” and closer “Change My Mind” firmly plant insightfully sharp details about what could have been alongside what is right and tangible in this very moment.
On album release day (August 24), Silvas spoke freely about the album’s artistic peaks, keeping her fingers on the pulse of the world and a humorous tale of smoking weed.
Three years since your last album, 2015’s Letters to Ghosts, feels like a long time.
It really does! I mean, I’ve never been an artist that moves quickly. Since my ‘Letters to Ghosts’ album, yes, it’s been three years. But before that, it was seven years before I released anything. So, three years is good. I’m getting better. It does feel like a long time, but so much has happened in that time. It was the perfect amount of time for me to be able to move to this record. It hasn’t been a really easy path. It’s been a fun path. But figuring out how to do it as an indie artist, the timelines aligned so incredibly that it really couldn’t have been any less time than that.
It seems like E.G.O. is an extension of the work you were doing on 2015’s Letters to Ghosts, only with bigger guitars, grooves and melodies…
Oh, thank you. [laughs] It’s definitely a progression. I thought about it a lot with my time in Nashville. You know, I’m a British artist that has influences outside of country. You’re exploring and evolving all the time when you’re a creative person. Now, it came to a point where I felt a great sense of independence. I was going into the studio going, “Well, I love Nashville. I love country music. I love what I grew up on, as well with Motown and pop music. It’s time for me to do something that involves exactly where I came from, something that’s new but with all those influences.” I felt like Nashville was the perfect place to do it. ‘Letters to Ghosts’ gave me the confidence to move forward even more and really do something that felt completely myself.
Did you have even more creative independence with the new album than you’d ever had before?
Absolutely. I really did. I think that maybe that would have come anyway in whatever situation I was in, music business-wise. But it could be the age I am, as well. I definitely feel because of my experiences, particularly both in and out of labels, the roller coaster that my career has been and my personal life, that has all made me. I have very special people in my life. You know if you’re around the right people, they want you to be 100 percent yourself. Whether that means you’re crazy or whatever. I think I have that. That has made me confident in feeling like I can do something that I love, and it doesn’t really matter where it sits. I had no label telling me — not telling me what to do but expecting something from me — and I’ve also been relatively under the radar for a long time. I feel no one was necessarily waiting for me to make music. It was all up to me to go, “Oh, I want to do this, and I love this and want to make more music.” That’s a very freeing place to be. I don’t ever take that for granted. It almost felt like a debut album all over again.
Musically, the album is steeped in hearty guitar grooves, funk and soul, especially from songs like “Kite,” “First Rate Heartbreak” and the title track. Was that result something you had envisioned in your mind as you were writing these songs? Or did that develop inside the studio when you had a chance to play around?
It as a bit of both. With “First Rate Heartbreak,” me and Jeremy Spillman were sitting there writing that day. I had been listening to so much of my favorite ‘70s singer-songwriters, and we wanted it to have a rocky feel but a classic throwback style of Roy Orbison. We had that riff immediately, and actually, that day was one of those days where we were scratching our heads going, “I don’t know what to do.” We’d been listening to a lot of Prince that day, as well. We had a groove that almost reminded me of “Raspberry Beret.” We wrote the song to this groove and riff we had. It came out of an interesting way of doing.
When I wrote “E.G.O.” with Natalie Hemby and Elise Hayes, the subject matter was so fun to write. We were poking fun at ourselves, all the trappings we fall into and the general climate of social media and what we all become addicted to. We wanted to write the anti-anti-pop song. It has this poppy melody, but it doesn’t sound like a pop song. The groove of it is very gritty and ‘70s. You’ve got John Osborne on the guitar, which reminds me of [Jimi] Hendrix. The bassline is my favorite thing about the song. That was completely new on the day of recording. We had a bassline on it, but it was different to this. As soon as producer Jon Green started playing that riff, it came alive. It feels sassy and bold. It also feels like a groove that’s nothing serious. It’s playful.
Same thing with “Kite.” It came together with the musicians in the room, like Fred Eltringham and Derek Well. They really got the lyrics, and the darkness of the guitar fit perfectly with the theme. It was just creativity and us having fun in the studio. Everyone was bringing their talents to the mix.
“E.G.O.” is a fun one, for sure. When the harmony rattles in, there’s almost a disco lean to it.
[laughs] That’s so cool. I know what you mean. It’s funny that you picked up on that. There is one part of the song where the bassline does this ascending disco groove. That’s actually one of my favorite things about it. When I visualize it when I’m singing it, I feel like we’re in a New York art studio of Andy Warhol, and it’s the 70s. And we’re all dancing to this song. You think about people like Edie Sedgwick, and I had her in my mind for some reason. It was somebody that was an IT girl that loved being adored, but with that, came a lot of darkness and tragedy. But it is a lighthearted poke at myself and wink to the fact we all get caught up on the nonsense of things.
How have you been tangled up in the web of ego? How did you let go?
I found it really hard to balance myself at times. As an indie artist, [social media] has been my only tool of promotion most of the time. It’s like somebody in another country thinks I don’t do music anymore, and then, they seen on Instagram that maybe I have an album out. This is the first time I even have a team around me. We didn’t have that with ‘Letters to Ghosts.’ It’s been really something for me. But the flipside of that is you don’t want to feel invisible when you’re not on social media.
There have been times I’ve felt the need and pressure to keep up, and you get caught up in comparison. That’s just deadly. I’ve seen myself do that, and then, writing a song about it has helped me. It was cathartic. It made me think, “Well, I’m aware of those things I fall into sometimes, and I don’t need to do it.” It gave me a sense of liberation from it. I’ve always said it, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to be seen to be an artist. I am one. I’ll make music whether I release it or not.” Why would you not do something you love? That’s what drives me to go against all those trappings.
The sequence of “People Can Change,” “My Old Habits” and “Just for the Record” is quite the 1-2-3 emotional sucker punch.
I think I did that subconsciously. It definitely gets a lot more vulnerable in that section. It has very similar themes, and it’s regret, apologetic, justification. In “Just for the Record,” it’s almost going “I’m sorry,” but it’s also “say what you you want, you’re not innocent in this, and I’m going to move on now, but before I go, what happened was real.” It’s really important that I said that.
“People Can Change” was very poignant to me. It actually came out of a relationship and wondering what I would say to an ex if I was sitting in front of them. I wondered what judgement he would have of me and what couldn’t be changed in his mind. I wondered about people in general. You meet new people every day, and we have these snap judgements of them. You don’t know what anyone’s story is and what they’re going through. You don’t know why they act the way they do. And not everyone is going to sync up together. People are going to clash. As I’m getting older, I want to give myself and other people more grace.
That whole section of the album just feels like a softer side. There’s longing and sadness in it, and I have that in me. Maybe they’ll always be there, but it helps me to write about them to help me deal with those things.
The strings that open “Just for the Record” feel cinematic, almost film noir-ish in nature.
John arranged those strings. It was amazing to see. He put them in the front of the track, and they’re so beautiful. It feels quite haunting when I listen back to that. I love the people I wrote it with, Ruston Kelly and Jarrad Kritzstein, and we had a real connection that day. To hear John treat it in the way he did in the studio, to understand the melancholy nature of that song, is really great. That’s what you look for in a producer. You look for someone that understands where you were when you wrote the song.
The guitar parts in “My Old Habits” feels very late-80s, early-90s country, in a vein akin to The Judds.
The great thing about that is I wrote it with my friends Daniel Tashain and Keelan Donovan. We were at Daniel’s publishing company Big Yellow Dog. We kept the vocal that we did into an SM7 mic, and a lot of what you hear is the original demo, a worktape almost. We added to it. It was very laid back. There’s some of it that sounds slick, but it really isn’t. It’s quite rugged in its production. We felt influenced by all our loves of country music.
You don’t really think about it too much when you’re writing. It just comes out. And my love of Carole King and James Taylor felt like it came out in those chords. It definitely has a nod to all those influences I’ve had living here in Nashville. I grew up with old country like Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton, and a lot of Elvis Presley. I wasn’t immersed in country like it was for a lot of my peers. So, I guess I had a different view of it, because I didn’t live in it. Now, living in it, I have a deeper understanding of what it really means to people.
“People Can Change” feels incredibly timely. Was the state of the world on your mind?
It was. I have been thinking about it a lot. I’ve moved countries a lot, and I’ve had friends I’ve kept in touch with my whole life. I’ve also had people I’ve lost touch with. I’ve wondered about them and where they are and if they’ve thought about me and if I’m still the idiot I was. I’ve wanted to change those opinions or at least have the opportunity to sit in front of somebody and say, “How about we be who we are in this moment?” It’s really important. We’re all fed ideas of other people, other countries, other cultures. We very rarely sit there and make up our own minds — like what if you’re sitting there in front of the person you’ve been told so much about, what would you do on a very human level? That’s what I was trying to talk about in this song. On a very human level, everyone’s a mother, daughter, father, friend, sister… and we all feel with the same things. We get caught up in the outside view of what a person is like.
My mum had some hard times with her family. It wasn’t until one of her family members was on their deathbed that they apologized to my mum for the way they treated her. It really struck me. I was like, “Well, isn’t that crazy?” She waited until she was ready to walk out the door to say that to her. It was redemption. It doesn’t necessarily take away what was said and done, but it gives you the sense of a different way of thinking. They saw an error in what they might have been thinking. That’s incredibly poignant. Don’t make up your mind about people — that nothing can change about them.
What’s the story behind “Smoking Your Weed,” which is the album’s most clever moment?
That’s a fun one. It’s a true story. I was sitting there one night with my husband John and Kate York, who was living with us at the time. We were talking about a friend John used to live with when he was back in college. This girl used to come around the house every night, and they’d all hang out and smoke weed. They were just young musicians. And John’s friend had a huge crush on this girl. She would come around night after night. Of course, he’s getting his hopes up thinking, “Well, she’s here, so she wants to hang with me.”
Then, she starts bringing her boyfriend around. [laughs] John was sitting there going, “Dude, I don’t want to burst your bubble, but she’s literally smoking it all and leaving.” After John’s friend moved away from the house, he never saw her again. I think she found a new supplier or something. [laughs] It was a funny story we just felt like writing about. Also, it has a message behind it. It’s hard to know what people want from you. It’s very important to establish what they want from you. Make sure you have an instinct to know what someone’s agenda is. We were giggling while we were writing this song, though. We did it as a joke. I wrote it about a year before I made this record, so I don’t know if I even thought it would end up on this record.