Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Awakening Our Inner Dreamer with Sylvia
[00:00:02] PF: Welcome to the very first episode of On A Positive Note. I’m your host, Paula Felps. Each month, I’m sitting down with a songwriter, recording artist, or both, to talk about music that can lift our spirits and heal our hearts. To kick off this monthly podcast, I’m excited to sit down with songwriter and recording artist, Sylvia. Her mega-hit, Nobody, made her somebody in the 80s. Since then, she’s always wanted to record an album that could be enjoyed both by children and adults.
Now, she’s done that with her new concept album, Nature Child – A Dreamer’s Journey, which is earning rave reviews and has put her back on the Billboard music charts. In this episode, Sylvia talks about how this album was 30 years in the making, where the songs came from, and why she wants to awaken the dreamer in all of us.
[00:00:56] PF: Sylvia, welcome to our very first episode of On a Positive Note. I’m so excited to have you as our inaugural guest.
[00:01:04] S: Oh, thank you. I’m honored to be your first guest. That’s just wonderful.
[00:01:09] PF: Well, the timing on this was pretty spectacular. By the time this airs, your new album will be out. It is truly delightful. It’s also a big departure from your previous work. Tell us, what inspired you to create Nature Child?
[00:01:24] S: This album has been in the works, in a sense, since the late 80s.
[00:01:30] PF: Oh, wow.
[00:01:31] S: Yes. Six of the songs on this album were written – I wrote those six with Berlin Thompson, and they were written between 1988 and 1990. The idea came to me when I was processing all those years on the road during the decade of the 80s. I looked back and I realized, what a gift it was, all these children showing up at my shows, unbidden. I mean, it was it wasn’t anything anyone thought would happen, but I mean, kids brought their parents to the show.
[00:02:01] PF: Oh, that is interesting, because I listened to you in the 80s and I would not have thought to bring a child.
[00:02:09] S: Well, it’s interesting. When Nobody hit, when that song hit in 1982, that’s when I began to see a lot of children show up at the shows. I know why it sold 2 million singles, because all those little kids, they told me, when I would sign autographs after a show, they said, “I saved up my lunch money, so I could buy your record.”
[00:02:28] PF: Oh, that’s adorable.
[00:02:30] S: They would bring it for me to sign. When I would sing the song in concert, they would have little dance moves all worked out, and it was just so precious. When I was looking back on those days, in those concerts, I realized, “Oh, my gosh. What a joy it would be to actually sing to kids messages, things I would really want to say to a child and to their parents.” When I realized later, since it’s been so many years, that this music isn’t just for children. It’s really for all. It’s for the dreamer in all of this, and that’s why I subtitled the record ‘A Dreamer’s Journey’, because there’s no age limit for dreaming. We can dream all of our lives. I think our culture sometimes tells us to put away our dreams and get serious and get a job and make money. All those things are important, but I think we don’t have to quit dreaming.
[00:03:23] PF: Yeah, I would agree with that. You had some of these songs set aside. How did you then decide, okay, it’s time to parade them out? Write new friends for them to play with and create that album?
[00:03:36] S: I love how you put it. That’s really nice. What I did in the intervening years is I had a marriage and a dog and a life that just took off in another direction. I just set that music aside, the half that had been written, and just always felt, “Well, I’ll get to it. I’ll get to it.” Well, in 1996, I ended up creating my own record label, Red Pony Records, and I started recording my own music and my own records. I think, I had to get a few records under my belt as a co-producer with my friend, John Mock and get down the line, writing songs, recording songs to really get ready for this record.
I don’t think this record could have been made in the way it sounds, in the way I write now, just the maturity of living life. It’s come about at the perfect time, though I would have never guessed it, it would be that long. I think it’s absolutely the perfect time for this record to be out.
[00:04:36] PF: Did you immediately know, okay, here’s the gaps that we need to fill, here’s the journey that this record goes on? Or, what was the genesis of the overall project?
[00:04:48] S: Thank you. That’s a good question. I didn’t really know how this record was going to go. I knew that those six songs were where we needed to start. I told my friend, John Mock, I said, “Let’s work on recording these six and we’ll get just in the energy of this music.” Because I think from there, out of that energy field will come other ideas and other music. That’s exactly what happened. Four of the songs were written in 2020 as we were recording the project, and those four, John Mock wrote the music for them. He’s a composer. He doesn’t really normally think of himself as a songwriter, though his composing has a folk element to it usually, and also, a Celtic influence. He and I both have some Irish ancestry, and I think, our DNA, it just comes out in our music.
[00:05:37] PF: You feel that in each other.
[00:05:39] S: I think so. We just allowed the record to evolve as we went. Those six songs became the foundation pieces. Then, we allowed this music that John wrote to fit with what all we were doing. Because we were in the soup of the record, of that energy field of the record. I didn’t really know where these songs were going to go.
John would put them down on an iPhone recording and he would send it to me, and I would just listen to the music over and over, until words just started coming, and images started coming. I would just describe those images. It really came out of the music he composed. It was very magical. The whole process of making this record was absolutely magical.
[00:06:23] PF: What’s so fun with this is there are so many different musical styles and textures. Now that you’ve explained John’s writing, that makes so much sense. As I was listening to it, I really thought about that like, “Wow, how did we end up going from an Americana song to the one with the train whistle, to something that has a very Celtic feel?” Was it then intentional that you would have all these different textures, or is it just because that’s how John wrote music and it fit?
[00:06:51] S: Well, he wrote the music to every time a train goes by, which is probably the most rootsy sounding thing on the record. He also wrote the music to (Hey, Hey, Hey) It’s a New Day in Nature Child, the title cut. John is a composer and he’s a multi-instrumentalist, so he’s playing a lot of the instruments on this recording.
I think, it just weaves itself together in this really magical way that I can’t explain. It’s like, you can play and it’s like, okay, we want all these songs to feel they’re threads in a part of one fabric. I think we were successful at that. I feel like, there’s enough variation between them that it keeps it interesting, but there’s some things that really, what I call the ethereal vocals. This is something I’d never done on a recording before, but I’ve always loved the music of The Carpenters, and I’ve loved the music of Enya and Loreena McKennitt. People like that, who have this beautiful, mystical quality to their music and to their harmonies. All of that came to bear in the recording process, because I felt as – well, John and I always do. We always start with a vocal and guitar, acoustic guitar vocal, and we build everything around that.
That’s how our recording process always is. As we were building it, it’s like, I don’t want the music to feel this mystical, magical feeling. I thought, what if we did ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that were background, an ethereal feel that will support the lyric in this way? Because I intended and wanted this music to usher people into their imaginations without pushing them in. They’re just inviting them in. I think those vocals became a really key component to the sound of this record. I think, it was one of the things that helped weave the songs together.
[00:08:51] PF: Yeah. I grew up with Alan Parsons Project, Pink Floyd. love the whole concept album idea. Talk about how that’s different then, as you said, just individual songs.
[00:09:05] S: Well, it’s different in that there is a theme. I didn’t set out really for there to be a theme, except that I wanted this music to all be things I would want to say to a child, or I’d want to say to a coaching client, which am I’ve been working as a life and career coach for the last 20 plus years. I’m often in conversations with people about, let’s talk about what your gifts are. Because often, people come to see a coach when they’re stuck and there’s a lot of focus on what isn’t working.
I like to shift it around and say, “Well, what is working and what do you feel passionate about?” It doesn’t have to be something you make a lot of money at. It can be just a hobby. There’s a correlation there in that inquiring about our gifts and our passions and our dreams and then in this music doing the same.
[00:09:59] PF: You do have so many different elements to this. Let’s talk about the album as a whole, because I’ve listened to it, so I have a huge advantage over everybody listening to this podcast. Talk about what this journey is that you take them on.
[00:10:12] S: The journey begins by talking about this place. It invites you to go to a place called Avalon. For me, that’s a metaphor. Everything in every image, everything in this music is metaphor, really, as a good story is; any fable, or story we all have lived with, everything is metaphoric. To me, Avalon is a metaphor for our imagination, and it’s inviting you just beyond the golden sunset. There’s this magical land. That’s what I’m ushering in, in that song. Then in the next song takes you into, well, what is your imagination and why should you use your imagination? Imagination is your friend. It’s assuring you that you can come on this journey and you have everything you need to take this journey. Then the train song, it’s called Every Time a Train Goes By, that the message in that song basically, is about facing your fears.
[00:11:09] PF: We talk about how much music can help us heal. You’ve done a lot of work not only as a career coach, but you were on a board of a non-profit for people with mental health issues. How does all of that, then what you’ve heard from people, what you’ve taught to people, how does that inform the lyrics that you write now?
[00:11:27] PF: Well, everything affects everything. I’ll tell you a little story. I worked with a voice teacher, Gerald Arthur, every week for 32 years, I think. I had Wednesday, 11:30 was my appointment with him. One day, I was in the studio singing and I just – It was one of those glorious days, where you just can’t hit a bad note. Just singing my heart out.
The next week I came to the studio for my lesson, and I couldn’t sing anything. I just felt like, “Uh, it just isn’t happening.” I was complaining to him. I said, “I was singing like a bird last week. What happened?” He said, “Well, what happened between last week and today?” I proceeded to tell him events that had happened. He said, “You know, everything that has happened between last week and this week, it’s in your voice.”
[00:12:22] PF: Oh, wow.
[00:12:23] S: I said, “Oh, I’ve never thought of that.” He said, “Even what you had for breakfast, it’s in there.” He was joking with me, but it was true. He said, “Everything is in your voice.” He said, “What do you think about just maybe singing with the voice you had today?”
[00:12:41] PF: Interesting.
[00:12:42] S: It made my mind stand still. It was a pivotal moment in my work with him, because I wasn’t trying to sing like I sang last week anymore. I thought, “Okay, I’ll just sing with the voice I have right now.” It’s amazing, because when I did that, and then he said, “Okay, now sing. Sing.” I was singing like a bird again. It was like magic. It’s when I embraced all that is in my voice today and sang with that voice, suddenly, it was good again.
[00:13:14] PF: That’s so cool.
[00:13:16] S: I think, it’s a long way around answering your question, that everything’s affected by everything, and it’s all in there, and you just sing, or show up with the voice you have right now.
[00:13:27] PF: I love that. Yeah, show up with the voice you have today. That’s something we can all do. Everybody can learn from that. As you think about people listening to this album and listening as families, how do you see them using this?
[00:13:42] S: A whole bunch of different ways. I hope that people will listen to this record often, because I think it puts you in a space of openness into your subconscious, into your ability to dream, into the ability to believe that something different is possible, if that’s what you want to create. I think, we humans are so much more powerful, powerful than we’ve ever dreamed that we could be. I think it’s so easy, because we’re so fixated on what’s happening out there and oh, isn’t that horrible? What is this? What of that?
We keep looking out there and we keep looking out there for it to get all better, so that we can feel better. I would suggest, that’s the other way around, that we look in here to find the peace and joy and the passion, the things we love and want to create in here. What I hope for families and for children, maybe parents and grandparents will sit down with their kids and listen to this album and talk about it song by song. Well, I love You for Who You Are is the finale song of the album. I think, it could be what we say to our kids and to our nieces and nephews and grandchildren. “I love you for who you are. You don’t have to do anything to win, my love. I love you just as you are.” I think everyone needs to hear that every day.
[00:15:05] PF: No matter what age. Yeah, exactly. I think, the timing of it is so good, because as you said, we’re looking for things outside us to get better. The children are feeling the stress that we’ve all been under for the past two years. I cannot even imagine how it’s affecting them in ways that we’re not aware of yet. What I love about Nature Child is has this healing, soothing, a very understated joy to it. Where it’s not an – I wouldn’t say, an exuberant album. It’s a soothing journey that just wraps itself around you. I think that is what children with families need right now, is just to be able to enjoy that journey together and feel that peace and that sense of belonging and love that exudes through the album.
[00:15:56] S: Thank you for saying that. That is just beautifully said. That’s really beautiful. That’s what I wish for this music. I think, there’s no accident that it’s coming out right now, when we probably need it more than ever, I needed. I mean, this music helped me get through these last two years, creating this music.
[00:16:15] PF: Oh, I’m sure.
[00:16:16] S: Recording this music and getting into the creative energy of possibility. What can we do with this? What does it want to do? Adding some sound effects here and there. It’s like, I wasn’t trying to figure out sound effects. I was just talking with John one day and said, “Oh, we need to put a real train on this song. We need to put the train on there.” Because kids, I thought, kids want to hear that train and feel how it could be so scary, or the water sounds of being in a boat on Home Is. Those things would just come to me.
I would just be listening to wherever we were in the process of recording, I’d be listening to the song and then suddenly, I just heard sails flapping in the wind, and a lighthouse horn going off in the background, and the sounds of water lapping up against the boat and that ended up being in the intro of Home Is. It was just magical, how just the music let us know what it wanted.
[00:17:10] PF: Right, right. Yeah. Every song will tell you what it needs, if you’ll sit down and listen to it.
[00:17:16] S: Absolutely. Absolutely.
[00:17:18] PF: Yeah. With the album out now, are you going to tour? Are you doing shows? What happens now?
[00:17:24] S: Well, I want that to happen. We’ve got to see what’s going to happen with the virus. My plan is to get out there and perform this music for families and kids. I really want to do that. I also would love to sing it with an orchestra. I’ve never done that before.
[00:17:38] PF: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Call the Nashville Symphony now.
[00:17:44] S: Yeah. We’re going to need to pitch it to them and say, Nature Child – A Dreamer’s Journey could be a whole theme for maybe an afternoon children’s program and family and children come, and then that night come to the other performance. Who knows? I’m just very open to possibility and I trust that when it’s time to get out there with this music, it will open up and I’ll be able to get out there and perform it, because I really am eager to do that.
[00:18:11] PF: Absolutely. Do you have more songs coming, or what is – I know people are always – you write a book and people are like, “So what’s your next book?” You’re like, “Come on. We’re talking about this one.” I mean, you put together these family of songs. Is there another little group brewing inside of your mind?
[00:18:33] S: I think there may be. I have no idea at this point. Right now, I’m at this point in time in my life, and I think maybe from being a coach, I’ve learned this, life is changing so fast right now. Technology is changing. Everything is changing so quickly. By the time you make a goal and you set that goal, everything has shifted in the world. You go, “Whoop. I guess, that’s not going to work.” I’m more like, let’s take one step at a time. There’s a lot of energy right now around creating a series of videos, which we’re calling storybook videos. One for each song on the album.
[00:19:11] PF: Oh, nice.
[00:19:13] S: We’ve done one on Avalon, and we’re working on the second one. My plan is, I hope we can do this, is every month, release a storybook video for each of the songs, so that by the end of the year, we will have 12 storybook lyric video songs of the whole album. That’s my focus right now.
[00:19:32] PF: I love that. Yeah. We’ll make sure we have the links from you and we’ll put that on the landing page, because you’ll have a couple of them up by the time this post. Then, they can go check them out and then start following it and collect the whole set.
[00:19:46] S: Yeah, yeah.
[00:19:48] PF: This is terrific. You’ve done so many different things with your music. You’re evolving into a completely different voice than we heard with Nobody, which was really what introduced you to the world. What do you think that your legacy in music is going to be?
[00:20:04] S: It’ll probably be a mixed bag, because I think that Nobody was such a huge record. I think for most of my career now, that’s been my signature song. Though, I had other hits and other number ones. Drifter and Tumbleweed and several other hit songs, but it just overshadowed all that, which is a wonderful thing. I would hope, though, in the long run, that this music would be what would be my legacy, the legacy that I care most about as far as it comes from my heart, it comes from a desire to connect in a genuine and heartfelt way with people through music and through story. That means a lot to me, because I think for thousands of years, humans on this planet have connected around story and around the fire, with a book for the last several hundred years. I would hope this would be what endures over time, long after I’m gone, because I think it’s meaningful in a way that can be supportive and a loving message.
[00:21:13] PF: It is. That’s wonderful. Sylvia, thank you so much for giving me this time today and for creating this beautiful album. I’m excited for our listeners to learn more about it and be able to listen to it. We’re going to give them links and let them know how they can learn more. I look forward to you going on tour.
[00:21:29] S: Me too. I’m looking forward to it so much. Thanks.
[00:21:33] PF: All right. Well, thank you again for kicking off On a Positive Note for us.
[00:21:38] S: Oh, you’re so welcome. I’ve really enjoyed it.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:21:43] PF: That was Sylvia talking about her new album, Nature Child – A Dreamer’s Journey. You can learn more about Sylvia, where to buy her album, how to view her storybook videos and follow her on social media just by visiting livehappy.com and clicking on the podcast tab.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this inaugural episode of On a Positive Note and look forward to joining you again next month. Until then, this is Paula Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.