Nad Sylvan: The Progarchy Interview

Born in California and raised in Sweden, singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Nad Sylvan is a music lifer who formed his first band in 1968, toured for the first time in 1975 and signed his first record contract in 1983. With three eclectic solo albums already under his belt, Sylvan’s 2008 collaboration with keyboardist Bonamici Unifaun caught the prog community’s ear; it’s a stunningly fine pastiche that goes beyond superficial gestures to embody the musical soul of Genesis’ progressive period. One thing led to another from that point: Sylvan joining Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold in Agents of Mercy; his ongoing gig with Steve Hackett, providing a visually and vocally flamboyant focus for multiple Genesis Revisited tours since 2013; and the deliciously Baroque solo albums on Inside Out that constitute his Vampirate trilogy (2015’s Courting the Widow, 2017’s The Bride Said No and 2019’s The Regal Bastard).

Nad’s new effort Spiritus Mundi sees him joining forces with guitarist/songwriter Andrew Laitres to set poems by W. B. Yeats — including visionary classics such as “The Second Coming,” “Sailing to Byzantium” and “The Stolen Child.” This is a fresh, winning album, focused on Laitres’ acoustic guitar, shimmering orchestral colors — and Sylvan’s voice, ably navigating the spry melodies, inhabiting Yeats’ weighty words with grace, power and panache.

Nad Sylvan spoke with us last in 2019; after seeing him in concert with Hackett three times, it was delightful for me to chat with him about Spiritus Mundi and related topics. Recovering from a long day of shipping out preorders (roughly five times the amount he anticipated), Nad was nonetheless thoughtful, charming, and engaged throughout. The audio of our conversation is below, with a transcript following.

So, let’s talk about the new album, about Spiritus Mundi.  How did you decide on a direction after you finished the Vampirate trilogy?

You got that one right!  Vampirate — good!  It’s my own invention; think of the vampire and the pirate combined into one character.

Well, to make a long story short, I was approached by Andrew Laitres, who I’ve done this record with.  About two and a half years ago.  And he asked me if I would be interested to track my voice for a song of his that was gonna go on one of his solo records.  And that was a song called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree,” which turned out to be a bonus track on The Regal Bastard, my previous album.

So I asked him, “could I use this for this album?”  ‘Cause I thought, it just went so well, it sounded so good, and I thought, “what a nice thing to use as a bonus track.”  And so he granted me permission to do that!

So after I’d finished the trilogy, I immediately came to “where am I gonna go now?  What should I do now?  I feel like doing something completely different.”  And then before you knew it, you had the pandemic as well come along.  And I thought, well, spiritus mundi means sort of “the spirit of the world,” if you like.  And that’s very much what we’re concerned about these days, more so than ever.  It’s also a quote from the first song, “The Second Coming.” Where he sings about spiritus mundi.  And it sounds so lovely, and it’s got some power behind those words.  And I thought “why not use that as a title?” 

And so I asked Andrew, “would you be keen to make a full album with these lyrics of Yeats?  Let’s write these songs together.”  I don’t have any prestigious thoughts about “I have to do everything.”  I’ve already proven that I can write, ‘cause I’ve done three albums already.  So he was enticed to go along with my idea, and then we started to work together – I would say it kicked off December of ’19.  So during the whole pandemic, as I returned home from the tour with Hackett about a year ago – I would say mid-March of 2020 — I’ve been completely absorbed by this work.  And it comes down to everything, even the artwork I’ve done for the album, so I could totally focus on this record, and I think it shows.  It just sounds and comes across as being a bit more mature this time.

Well, that was one of the things that struck me, that you’re using Yeats’ poems for lyrics, because that strikes me as an amazing challenge.  They’ve been set to music almost since the moment they were originally written.

Yeah, I know, but this was Andrew’s idea, you see.  I wasn’t even that familiar with Yeats’ poems; I’ve heard of him.  But once [Andrew] presented all his demos for me, I’d cherry pick: “Oh, this sounds nice.”  And we started to mold the songs together, like “maybe this bit should be restructured” or “maybe we should change these chords” or stuff like that.  It was very much a combined work effort.  So, yes, Yeats has been covered by The Waterboys, back in the late 80s, I believe.  But I didn’t even know that!  I just thought, “what lovely poems!  Let’s do it.”

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Bryan’s Best of 2019

Here we are at the end of another year. As you’re probably well aware, 2019 has been the latest in a string of great years for progressive rock and metal. Overall it didn’t blow me away like other years have (a few particular albums did however), but I think that’s more because of how my year has gone. I finished up grad school in the spring, and I spent the entire year job-searching before finally starting a new job at the beginning of this month. A couple of important people in my life died this year as well, so overall it has been a year full of challenges. My ability to properly soak in all the great music that has been released understandably suffered. But nevertheless, I found much to enjoy this year, and the following are some of my favorites. They are in no particular order except for my top three down at the bottom of this list.

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

The first album by Philadelphia-area duo Rise Twain is a stellar example of what popular music should be. Brett Kull and J. D. Beck are excellent songwriters and equally talented musicians. They combine the simplicity of a good song with the more technical aspects of prog. While it may be hard to call this a “prog” album, it certainly has many varied influences that make this a solid showing. Check out my review and interview with Brett Kull here: https://progarchy.com/2019/08/30/a-conversation-with-brett-kull-of-rise-twain/

Soen – Lotus

This is a magnificent album. Beautifully heavy, as any metal album should be, it retains an ability to move int0 peaceful contemplative spaces. When this album rocks, it rocks hard, and it keeps an upbeat tone that so many metal albums often lose. “Lotus” delivers musically, lyrically, and vocally. Check out Time Lord’s review here: https://progarchy.com/2019/01/09/album-preview-soen-lotus-soenmusic/

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Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19

Steve Hackett, Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI, October 3, 2019
Band:
Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, Roger King

Setlist:
Set 1
Every Day
Under the Eye of the Sun
Fallen Walls and Pedestals
Beasts in Our Time
The Virgin and the Gypsy
Tigermoth
Spectral Mornings
The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
Clocks – The Angel of Mons

Set 2
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Deja Vu
Dance on a Volcano

Encore
Los Endos

I had been looking forward to this concert ever since I bought tickets at the beginning of the year. I had never seen Steve Hackett live, but it had been at the top of my bucket list for a while. He’s my favorite guitarist, and I’ve loved all of the recent Genesis Revisited live albums. I consider Selling England By the Pound to be one of the finest albums ever made, so I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Mr. Hackett and company perform it live. They didn’t disappoint.

During the first half of the show, the band played highlights from Hackett’s 1979 solo album Spectral Mornings and this year’s At the Edge of Light. The whole set was very strong, but I particularly enjoyed Craig Blundell’s drum solo. Some drum solos can be a little boring, but not this one. Very engaging, interesting, and complex. The opening “Every Day” really highlighted the light and airy style of Hackett’s solo music, while “Beasts In Our Time” showed how heavy his music can be. Jonas Reingold’s bass was exceptional all night, but the bass line on “Under the Eye of the Sun” really allowed his talent to shine.

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Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up

There has been a lot of quality prog released this summer. Overall I’d say there isn’t as much top tier level stuff (i.e., albums that rank with some of the best ever made in the genre), but there have been a lot of solid albums worthy of your attention released lately. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it should be a good starting point for people looking for some new music. Order is completely arbitrary. Ok maybe this first one is at the top for a reason.

Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard

Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist released his best solo album to date this summer. It is a little more accessible than the first two albums in the Vampirate trilogy, but it retains some of the same themes and motifs. Sylvan has a lot of talent, and this album stands above the crowd this summer. If you only listen to one album off this list, choose this one. And check out my interview with Nad from earlier this summer: https://progarchy.com/2019/06/30/the-vampirate-speaks-a-conversation-with-nad-sylvan/

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I’ve only ever passively listened to Tool, but I found this album to be quite good. Was it worth the wait for diehard Tool fans? I’m not sure, but this is a solid album that is heavy without being overpowering. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2019/09/01/tool-fear-inoculum/

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The Vampirate Speaks: A Conversation With Nad Sylvan

Nad Sylvan, The Regal Bastard, InsideOut Music, 2019

Tracks: 1. I Am The Sea (7:49), 2. Oahu (4:19), 3. Whoa (Always Been Without You) (7:22), 4. Meet Your Maker (6:36), 5. The Regal Bastard (12:22), 6. Leave Me On These Waters (5:49), 7. Honey I’m Home (3:02)
Bonus Tracks: 8. Diva Time (4:52), 9. The Lake Isle of Innisfree (3:43)

On July 5, the mighty Nad Sylvan releases the third in his trilogy of Vampirate themed albums, following 2015’s Courting the Widow and 2017’s The Bride Said NoThe Regal Bastard finds the Swedish artist subtly transforming his sound for a third time. Across all three albums, his sound has developed and matured while remaining distinctly Nad Sylvan. Nobody else makes music quite like this. He honors the tradition of progressive rock (can a tradition be progressive?) musically and lyrically. The music is complex without being overly technical, and it shifts in style enough to keep the album incredibly interesting on repeated listens. In fact, it is layered in such a way that the listener discovers more with each listen.

Some have commented that some of the songs take a bit more of a pop approach, and if that’s true, then it is in the vein of Steven Wilson’s definition of pop, not whatever trash is currently sitting atop the American top 40 charts. This music is tasteful. And it is still 100% prog.

It is hard to nail down particular stand-out tracks because every song is fantastic. “Whoa,” “Meet Your Maker,” and the bonus “Diva Time” are my personal favorites, but the longer “The Regal Bastard” is also a very compelling progressive piece. You can’t go wrong anywhere on this album. His guest artists, which include the likes of Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Nick D’Virgilio, Tony Levin, and many other talented folks, interpret Nad’s music faithfully while adding their own touch. Jade Ell, Sheona Urquhart, and  Tania Doko return on backing vocals – their voices have helped add depth to Nad’s music in the past, and it is great to hear them return.

2019 has been an especially strong year for prog so far, and even in that environment, Nad Sylvan’s The Regal Bastard stands out. His music is unique and powerful. This is not an album to be missed.


This past Friday, June 28, 2019, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Nad via Skype about the album, his writing process, singing for Steve Hackett, and other related topics. I screen-captured the whole interview, but even the compressed video file is too big for WordPress’ liking. You can still listen to the audio or read the transcript, which has been very lightly edited for readability, although it is wholly uncensored.

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My Apologies to Nad Sylvan

Dear Mr. Sylvan,

I owe you a huge apology. Last year in my review of your brilliant The Bride Said No, I said: “I feel that Sylvan’s 2015 album, Courting the Widow, played the Genesis card far too safely, making the album sound a bit stale.” Wow, was I wrong. I listened to it again for the first time since 2015, and it’s fantastic! I think The Bride Said No is better, but Courting the Widow is definitely amazing. It is not stale at all, and the Genesis comparison was simply lazy analysis on my part. It doesn’t really sound like Genesis at all. It is all its own. Sorry Nad! I’ll never doubt you again.

Yours,
Bryan Morey

Bryan’s Best of 2017

Here we are again, folks. We find ourselves at the end of another great year for prog. Sadly, we’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing artists this year, including John Wetton, but we at least have their music by which to remember them.

I know I’ve been a bit quiet here at Progarchy lately due to beginning graduate school this fall. Hopefully things settle down going forward, and I’ll be able to contribute more. For now, here are my favorite albums from 2017 in vaguely ascending order.

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The Thrill of Fresh CDs

Look what showed up yesterday! Cheers to Lasercd for the prompt delivery.

I originally wasn’t going to purchase Big Big Train’s Stone & Steel Blu-ray because of the supposed issues with it not playing on some American Blu-ray players. Thankfully, it works perfectly on my home player, and I’m glad I was still able to get a copy before they ran out. The packaging is beautiful, much like everything Big Big Train does. I should have bought it a year ago.

My intro to BBT was English Electric: Full Power, so I still haven’t heard the English Electric albums in their original format. I figured I’d add these to my BBT collection before they too are unavailable. I may be young, but I despise the whole streaming thing. When I can afford it, I love to buy actual CDs. Even though I typically use iTunes to listen to music, I love having the physical CD with great packaging and a booklet. If the artists are going to go to such lengths to make a beautiful product, I want to experience it the way it was meant to be experienced.

Thank you to all the wonderful progressive rock bands out there making excellent music and caring enough about your craft to keep going. You make life for the rest of us a little bit easier.

Unrequited Love: Nad Sylvan’s The Bride Said No

Nad Sylvan, The Bride Said No (Inside Out Music, 2017)

Tracks: Bridesmaids (1:14), The Quartermaster (5:39), When the Music Dies (7:00), The White Crown (6:17), What Have You Done (8:30), Crime of Passion (6:01), A French Kiss in an Italian Cafe (6:00), The Bride Said No (19:25)

Nad Sylvan’s latest album, The Bride Said No, finds Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist truly coming into his own. While I don’t want to detract from his past solo efforts, I feel that Sylvan’s 2015 album, Courting the Widow, played the Genesis card far too safely, making the album sound a bit stale. This new release, however, finds a pleasant balance between new and old.

I decided to listen to the whole album after seeing the music video for “The Quartermaster” (see below), and the album gradually grew on me with subsequent listens. “The Quartermaster” is one of the best rock songs released this year, and if the wider music industry was concerned with actual music instead of money, ratings, and appeasing idiots, then maybe it would be a huge hit. The quiet, eerie opening soon gives way to a synth driven track that also features a healthy dose of harpsichord. I’m a sucker for the harpsichord.

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