Sylo Nozra and his debut EP, Late & Dawn, featured on the second volume in our Oneiric Escapism series, his velvet vocal and laid-back, gorgeously constructed tracks providing a particularly successful answer to the problem of acquainting oneself with an especially relaxed yet emotionally present mood. A Lonely Ghost Burning caught up with Sylo, discussing the ease with which he is able to create, his desire to see the world as a constantly touring artist, and how music is his life.
Music, really, is the base of it all; I think about it pretty much whenever I'm awake.
Sylo: I grew up listening to classical music. I was listening to hip-hop and R&B at the same time because I had a sister who was ten years older than me, but I really think that classical music opened up my sense of musicality and my sense of feeling music. I grew up singing and dancing, and then I joined a rock band when I was thirteen years old – had my whole phase of rock music – and then I got back into R&B and hip-hop after high school. I was tired of working with other musicians, and I wanted to come up with my own personal sound and be in control of the whole spectrum instead of having other people’s input. So, that led me to producing. I’ve been learning how to produce in the last year and a half, and at the same time working on my EP, Late & Dawn – I conceived that last fall/last winter.
Sylo: The sense of harmony and melody. I guess all music sort of comes from classical music, right? One of my favourite artists, Nina Simone, was a huge jazz icon, but her sound came from classical music – she learned classical music as a child. I think classical music really only influences my sense of what harmony and melody go well together; what sort of movement and flow goes well with the song. But, I don’t think you can necessarily hear the classical scales and melodies. [laughs]
Sylo: If you listen to my music, you can definitely tell it’s more musically orientated. I wouldn’t really consider myself a strong lyricist, but that’s an area that I’m trying to focus on, as of late. So, before, my process would be: making an instrumental first and then coming up with a melody and rhythm to vocals and fitting whatever words make sense into those rhythms based on the syllables and stuff. I’ve really been trying to sharpen up my lyricism and my poetic skills, so, my process now is: coming up with chords for a song, singing on top of it, making lyrics and then building the instrumental around that.
Sylo: Listening to a lot of good lyricists and, I guess, trying to incorporate their style of writing. Right now, I’m really liking this artist called Bryson Tiller, from Kentucky – it’s very genuine, the way he writes; what he talks about, and it really fits and flows with the music. So, I want to find that harmony between music and lyricism, because I hear a lot of singers who try to fit too many words in a phrase, and what they have to say is very deep, but it doesn’t necessarily fit with the music, so it’s sometimes hard to listen to.
Sylo: Pretty easily. I’d say I have a pretty good feel for what belongs in a track and what doesn’t. I really love improvising – when I play live shows, I have a pianist who would play a set of chords, usually, and even when we rehearsed, I would just improvise to it; sing rhythm and melody; try to come up with words. It comes pretty naturally. The only problem I have right now is when it comes to producing. My ideas can’t really manifest as quick as I want them to because I’m not that skilled on the technical side, so I’m trying to work on that.
Sylo: Not really. I guess the more inspired I feel, the better, but really, I could create anytime – I don’t really have trouble. A lot of my friends have writers block, but I don’t tend to get that. I can be on the go whenever. I think I write better when I’m feeling emotional instead of being in a more neutral, content state; whether that’s being super happy or super sad or super depressed. The music all comes out dependent on the energy that I feel.
Sylo: I think I’m definitely lucky to have that, but I think it was being so immersed in the type of music that resonated so well with me as a kid. I used to have very vivid imagery in my head when listening to classical music – I’d picture myself in the woods or something – and, I guess, that sort of imagery I always associated with sound. So, nowadays, if I try to imagine a setting – the sunset, walking on a beach or being with friends – it really comes naturally. Maybe it would have been different if I’d grown up listening to jazz or rock.
Sylo: I guess, wanting people to hear my ideas; sharing my feelings; sharing my vision. What really motivates me these days is wanting to see and experience the world but also do what I love to do, which is music. So, my ideal life right now would be to be on the road constantly, playing shows every night, seeing new faces, meeting new people, having new conversations and creating on the way. That’s the ultimate goal. I don’t even care if I’m not able to buy a mansion or something. If I’m able to make a comfortable living then that’s fine with me, as long as I’m able to do what I love to do and keep sharing it with the world – sending positive vibes throughout the world – that’s all I could ask for; being a contributive force in that way.
Sylo: [laughs] Well, that’s sort of like the American/Canadian dream these days, right? The 21st century dream for a lot of artists is becoming big, but I’m fine with a bungalow in the forest – that sounds good to me.
Sylo: The greatest creative obstacle I’ve faced so far is not really knowing any technical theory. I use everything by ear; I learned to play guitar by ear; I learned how to sing by ear. I’ve only had a few lessons in my life. I know basic theory, but in terms of knowing how to translate the chords in my head to actual words – I would not know. So, I guess, on a collaborative level – working with other artists and musicians who do know theory, and me trying to translate the ideas in my head – that’s a creative obstacle… But, these days I’m not really having a hard time, because I’m able to sing the notes accurately, so I can bring the note to the chord pretty quickly and they can get it using their ear, which you want in the end; you don’t want to rely on theory. I think using the brain and using the ear to transcribe music is the best way.
Sylo: Yeah, it’s definitely not a priority right now. I think getting better at producing and writing is definitely a better investment. I’d only want to learn theory if I was playing really theoretically based music like jazz and stuff. The music that I’m coming out with is pretty simple, and I’m going for more of the feeling rather than how complicated I can get it. A lot of my favourite artists have all gone to Berklee and stuff, but they tend to forget the theory, and their instrument becomes such a second nature thing to them that the instrument is their ear. I feel like I’m missing a few steps, and it would have been nice if I had learned more theory, but I don’t think I’m going to want to; definitely not in the near future.
Sylo: The base of it all is inspiration and raw feeling – raw happiness or sadness, or whatever emotion I can incite people to feel. I think a lot of the world right now is very numb – I sense a lot of numbness in people – which I think also goes hand-in-hand with depression. I don’t see depression and sadness as the same thing; I see depression as something that numbs you. I want to incite more raw emotion; even in myself. I used to sort of suffer from a lot of depression when I was younger. I think it was only because I felt very disconnected from who I was, and I was trying to figure out what I was trying to do and what my identity was. I was able to resolve that through music and meditation, and find peace looking for peace. So, if I’m able to translate what I’m feeling into my music and have other people listen to that, and help them in a time of numbness; my job’s done. That’s what I’m looking for.
Sylo: It’s my life. I really don’t have any other interests. I used to be pretty athletic; I used to love playing soccer. I love watching sports; I love watching baseball and basketball and soccer. I don’t really have any other interests in my life. Music, really, is the base of it all; I think about it pretty much whenever I’m awake. I’d say I’m even neglecting my social life for it. At times, I don’t leave my house – my studio – for weeks; I don’t see any friends for months. They’re all in school anyway, so that doesn’t really matter right now. It is definitely the base of who I am and what I’m living for.
Sylo: The reason why I’ve been staying in the studio so much is because I feel that the more I spend time here, the faster I’ll be to where I truly wanna be and truly wanna do, which is on the road, going to new places, trying new things and just experiencing the world. I was born and raised in Toronto, and I’ve never really left here. A lot of my friends would go for vacations in tropical places and I never really did that. I never even went to Disneyland or Disney World, which is a big no-no as a North American kid – every North American kid should have gone to Disney at some point in their childhood. I missed out on all that, and about three years back, I actually visited Korea, which is where my parents are from, and I loved it. I stayed there for five months, and I met my ex-girlfriend there. She was also from Canada, and we made plans to go travel in Southeast Asia, backpacking.
That sounded like a grand idea to me, so I came back here to work and make more money, because in Korea I didn’t really make that much – I was doing a minimum wage job – and then I travelled to Southeast Asia. The feeling and inspiration that I got from it was incomparable to how I could ever feel here, being stuck – in my eyes, I see it as being stuck – in my home city. That feeling of constantly travelling, constantly going to places, being on the move, being busy, waking up in a new room every few days and wondering, ‘where am I again?’ I love that feeling, and I never really missed home at all, which is a little scary because it makes me feel like I’m so detached from my family and my friends and my home city, but I think it’s something that my soul really wants to do in this life – to experience what the world has to offer.
So, that’s what I really daydream about. I would always work odd-jobs here and there, but now I’m doing this full-time. Every time I would work a job that really didn’t have to do with music at all, I’d feel like I was wasting my time – I’m giving my time to make someone else’s dream come true; that’s how I saw it. That feeling eats away at me, so I couldn’t take it and even though I’m really struggling right now in terms of finances – I guess my parents are helping me out a little bit, and I don’t have to pay for rent, which is awesome, but… The more I spend time making music, trying to hone my craft and master what I do, the faster I’ll get to where I want to be. That’s what truly motivates me right now.
Sylo: I loved travelling Southeast Asia, but it wasn’t really what I chose. It was my ex-girlfriend’s idea – before she even met me she was planning to do it by herself, so I kinda just went along with the ride. I had no idea what to expect. It was beautiful. I went to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. They were all really beautiful. The only problem I had was the heat; it was unbearably hot – I’m a winter guy; I love cold and I love winter, especially in Canada; it’s awesome. The heat was really what killed me, and, I guess, the poverty stricken cities that I went to. In Cambodia, I went to Phnom Penh, which is the capital city yet the roads were still dirt roads. There were so many homeless people and there was garbage everywhere. I think that’s what also made the people know what true happiness was; being happy with what they had, which was being with friends and family – there was no material temptation that blinded them like we struggle with here. But, also, being that poor made them desperate, and I had to deal with a lot of people trying to take advantage of travellers and tourists and stuff.
The place I would really love to travel to is Europe – the Scandinavian countries; Iceland, Norway and places like that. Apparently, they’re some of the happiest countries in the world, so I’d love to go to places like that. I’d also really love to go to London and France. The reason I want to go to London so bad is because of the culture. A lot of my favourite artists – up-and-coming artists too – are coming up from the London scene. If I was to name someone in particular, it would be Little Simz. There has to be a reason why artists that good are coming out from a region, because I find that the area in which you’re in really influences your sound. There’s so much good music coming out from London; I want to see what the cause of that is. I want to visit Scotland and Ireland as well. A lot of my favourite artists come from those places – James Vincent McMorrow, Lisa Hannigan and Damien Rice.
Sylo: A common misconception that people have, before knowing what I actually look like, is that I’m black, because of my voice, the way I sing, the way I phrase words and the tambour of my voice. So, a lot of people see me and they’re like, “Oh! You’re Asian. I didn’t expect that.” I think that could also become an advantage for me – I’m not your typical Asian person. [laughs] I get contacted a lot by rappers and they call me the ‘n’ word and stuff, and then they see a picture of me and they’re like, “Oh! You’re Asian. I thought you were black.” [laughs]
Sylo: Really, I just wanted a different name. I wanted a name that sounded more artistic. The name itself doesn’t have much meaning behind it, but I’m very sensitive to the quality of words; the quality of sounds and how it affects me. So, just saying the words, ‘Sylo Nozra’, it makes me feel like it could make be seen as an artist more, rather than just having a normal name like Albert and trying to come up with music that doesn’t sound like an Albert would make necessarily. [laughs] So, I guess it’s just the quality of the words. How I got the name Sylo Nozra is a long story and it’s really stupid; again, it really doesn’t have meaning behind it, so I won’t go into that. [laughs]
Sylo: I think, just the very idea of seeing myself get better as a singer, as a producer and as a lyricist – seeing it happen before my eyes; seeing my progress – I love that. I love getting better at things. I love becoming my own master in what I do and taking those boundaries as far as I can; taking the potential as far as I can. So, that’s what I hope to accomplish right now, and just seeing where it can take me on a personal level. How good of a singer could I be? How good of a producer could I be. What kind of sounds can I create? What kind of potential can I reach?
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