Kathrine Shepard, Sylvaine: "Making music is absolutely a cathartic process for me"

All photos by Daria Endresen — Kathrine Shepard, Sylvaine: "Making music is absolutely a cathartic process for me"
All photos by Daria Endresen

Creative path before the solo project foundation, and what is it like to be the only member of it, making the job for a whole band. The Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and Sylvaine’s frontwoman Kathrine Shepard has answered to these and other Noizr Zine’s questions. Can project’s music be categorized as black metal, what the upcoming album will be like, what expectations do the musician has on her way to Kyiv and what plans does she have for the first performance in Ukraine — read on in the interview below.

Before Sylvaine’s foundation in 2013, you have played in various projects with different music genres. Tell us about this experience, how it has reflected on Sylvaine’s future works?

Kathrine Shepard: Yes, it’s true that I was a part of a lot of smaller projects before I created Sylvaine. Everything from regular bands, to duo’s to vocal groups and choirs. Between doing 7 years of musical education and having bands on the side, I was lucky enough to experience a wide range of musical expressions from an early age. Thru being in other projects, where we were playing different types of music, it made me realize what type of sound laid closest to my heart. I realized that this contrasted style of music, with harsh and very atmospheric elements put up against each other, reflected me as a person in the most accurate way.

In 2013, you started working on your debut album "Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart". Back then, what has encouraged you to create your own project?

Kathrine Shepard: Making a project that would be very personal and where I wouldn’t have to compromise on the artistic vision and the sound of the music, was something I had wanted for years. One of the main reasons Sylvaine is a solo project, is due to the fact that I feel like the previous projects I have been a part of always ended up taking a different artistic direction than I personally would have liked. That’s not really a problem in itself, but it meant I wasn’t able to fully express my most personal moments – the ones I would preferably like to write music about; the things I struggle to deal with in any other way. It didn’t feel appropriate to bring all of that with me into another band, with other members also co-writing the music. So I decided to try to do everything myself, to make it as personal as possible and Sylvaine was born. I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it, as my self-confidence level when it comes to music has always been super low, but when I had finished my first album "Silent Chamber, Noisy Heart", it actually sounded good to me. I was very surprised and also very happy! It was a huge step for me on my musical journey.

You’re responsible for composing, recording, producing, and playing all instruments in the band. What were the main difficulties that you faced while working on the debut album?

Kathrine Shepard: Well, the first issue was if I could do everything on my own and make something that was worth listening to at all… It was a big task and right up until the very end, I didn’t tell anyone around me about making my debut album, in case I would fail in the end. I would never claim to be a good musician or skilled at the different instruments I play, but I did however realize at that point, that what I could do was more than sufficient enough to express the emotions I wanted to communicate to my listeners. This experience truly changed my life and opened doors that I’m forever grateful to have unlocked. Other issues I met along the way, was that I had only engineered a few minor projects before I decided to record my whole album on my own, so I had to learn a lot about the recording process, microphone techniques, pre-amps, effects etc. in a very short period of time. It was seriously an amazing period! I loved every minute of it, hour after hour working in the studio all alone in my own world. Looking back on it now though, I’m sure there are things I would have chosen to do differently, purely because I have more knowledge about the process now. In the end though, I think the debut album came out really good for a first effort in every field!

Being the only member in Sylvaine, can you name the advantages and disadvantages of one-man band?

Kathrine Shepard: As mentioned above, the main advantage for me being a one-woman project, is not having to compromise the meaning and visions behind the project. I am fully free to control the direction of everything related to Sylvaine, so it stays as personal and true to the origin of the creation as possible. This is superimportant to me at the moment. I want to be free to express what I need. One thing I suppose would be a disadvantage would be the fact that I must work on all the different sides of the project myself, meaning in addition to being the composer and musician behind the project, I am also the problem solver, booking agent, the manager, the press manager, the visual manager/designer etc. Sometimes this means I will have to spend my day replying e-mails and fixing business related issues, instead of playing guitar/singing and writing new material. That doesn’t always feel as good to be honest, as my preferred things in this world are to make music on my own and to convey it in front of an audience at concerts. I absolutely love my job with Sylvaine though, and feel so privileged to be able to focus on it full time for the moment. It is my life, pretty much.

Talking about Sylvaine, you have noted that the project’s music and lyrics are "inspired by life seen as a constant conflict with oneself". Tell us more about it. Which of your songs you can call as the closest to you?

Kathrine Shepard: For both of my albums, I wrote a lot about the feeling of longing for something, without knowing why or what I was longing for. I often feel like I do not belong here, and this makes me feel isolated and therefore lonesome. Even if I feel accomplished and happy in my life, I always have this sense of missing something, which makes for a constant, melancholy outline. The duality between happiness and melancholy, the outside world and my inner world, as well as the duality between nature and urbanity, are all subjects included in these conflicts. Making music is absolutely a cathartic process for me and becomes a way to deal with all of this. It’s not something I do just for the pleasure of it, but it’s something I need to do to feel complete in my life. One of the songs that captivated the birth of my second album, was the title track "Wistful". It was written early on and completely embodied everything I’m trying to convey with Sylvaine. That is also why I decided to name the album after this track, as I feel even the title captures the essence of Sylvaine as a project. This might be the song I wrote that is my favorite out of all of my creations so far. This song is so special to me, making me feel exactly the same things that I did when I created it and when I listen to it today, something I expect it to keep on doing in the future as well. The song expresses something so pure, so innocent, yet so incredibly strong, frustrated and hopeless. To me, this song represents the ultimate feeling of being homesick in a spiritual sense, not feeling like you belong to this place and longing to go back to the peaceful existence we have in this other "home". "Wistful" will always have a special place in my heart.

In the review for "Wistful", one journalist has wondered if you sleep at all, noting how much you work on the project. So, how much time do you spend on Sylvaine and how do your weekdays and weekends usually look like?

Kathrine Shepard: Haha, that’s a good question. It is indeed very time consuming and a lot of times I wish the day had more than 24 hours in it… I think when you are involved in such a project, especially if it’s a solo effort, you never "turn it off", if you see what I mean. You are constantly working on new things, improving old things, new music, booking shows, preparing stuff, practicing for live shows etc. It’s always in the back of your mind. I don’t necessarily have weekends off or many holidays to be honest. I love what I do and it’s so important to me, that I would rather work hard to see things evolve with my project, than to have a more normal life rhythm. That’s all I ever wanted since I was a teenager, something I have been working towards for some years now. Sometimes a vacation is really needed though, not to get overwhelmed with the amount of work and stress out completely. It’s important to let your body and mind breathe at time too.

Your music has a marked influence of black metal, a genre that has a lot of conservative and even radical fans. Amalie Bruun (Myrkur), whose music is also associated with black metal, has forced to restrict the ability to write her in the social networks because of messages full of threats and hate by such radical fans. Have you ever faced with something like that?

Kathrine Shepard: I think this sort of attitude is quite surprising and disappointing to be honest. People take themselves too seriously at times, creating hateful situations that bring nothing positive with them. It’s quite strange considering that we are a part of a day and age where everything is evolving and fusioning in art – the borders between genres are slowly fading or being diluted. It’s very important to stay open-minded. Luckily, I have not experienced such negativity regarding my project yet, but have almost only been met with great support and warmth from the people discovering my music. I figured that one of the reasons Myrkur got so much hate around her project, is because she herself categorized her music as black metal, something I suppose a lot of black metal fans saw as a bad move. For me, I never did such a thing, as I am well aware of that my music is not black metal. I definitely have some influences from it and use some elements from this style, as it’s a genre I like a lot but never gave my music this tag myself.

In addition to the CD format, Season Of Mist have offered you to release "Wistful" on vinyl. And what about you? Do you have any preference how to listen to music — CD, vinyl, streaming services?

Kathrine Shepard: I love the vinyl format myself, as I think it offers not only a unique listener experience, but also beautiful visuals, that you don’t get in the same way in the other physical formats. The cover artwork of a vinyl is a work of art in itself, which is a nice bonus to the music. Being a very visually inspired person, I appreciate this added bonus anyway, and of course, the actual audio quality is quite specific in vinyl, which I appreciate a lot too. Like a lot of other artists, I am not a fan of the streaming services, even though I see the practicality for people in the use of them, as they in general function as a reversed Robin Hood outfit, that rip off and steal from the creators (that in general are not the ones with the most to their name) and give to the big business people behind them. This type of model has baffled me for years, so I am not using any of the streaming platforms now and intend to keep it that way for the future as well.

As far as we know, you’re planning to release a new Sylvaine’s album. Could you tell us a little about this new record?

Kathrine Shepard: I am almost done with the album now actually and will start the recording of it this summer. Very excited to start that process! It’s strange, for the first 2 albums I had a clear feeling of what the album stood for as a whole. This time around though, I feel the songs are more independent and somehow different, leaving me still wondering what I can collectively say about the record. One thing is sure: the musical expression is quite dark once again and it bears more influences from the outside world, something that is new to me as a writer. On this album, I also speak about how the outside chaos has affected my inner turmoil and how I feel the world has taken a turn for the worst. That’s also maybe why it feels a bit different than the two other albums, having this new, outside influence. As far as line-up goes, I’m quite sure it will be the same as the two previous albums, but for the mixing/mastering team, I will work with new people.

In 2017, you will give a concert in Ukraine for the first time. So far, do you have any plans or ideas for the upcoming performance?

Kathrine Shepard: We already started working on the concert set in December last year, so we do indeed have quite a good idea of what it will be like. We are doing everything we can to bring the Ukrainian audience the very best of Sylvaine, to create a very special and memorable evening for everyone. The show will consist of a nice mix of songs from the 1st and 2nd album, featuring some tracks we didn’t play live before, something that will be exciting. I speak on behalf of all 4 life members when I say that we truly can’t wait to be there and to play for all of those beautiful people in Kyiv! Hope to see as many of you at the show as possible and wishing you the very best for the start of your new year! See you soon :)

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Do not miss Sylvaine's concert in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 17

Interviewed by Yuri Somov, Anastezia