Having set sail for the hustle and bustle of New York City several years ago, life for Silya could not be sweeter for this now self-confessed New Yorker.
It was an act of pure serendipity when FLW was given its first introduction to Ol’ Golden Tonsils herself, Silya Nymoen. What began as a random Friday evening soon became one of great discovery once NRK’s (Norwegian equivalent of the BBC) programme Beat For Beat clicked into gear. In amongst the guests on this particular episode was a voice so striking in its delivery that one could do nothing except stop the clocks and wipe the steadily formulating froth from one’s mouth due to being in sheer awe at the events unfolding in front. There she was, standing full of confidence and belting out a cover of ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’ that seemed effortless and at the same time meant to be as here was Norway’s answer to Ruth Brown, or nearly almost any other classic singer from the 50s onwards by way of Imelda May’s wardrobe.
Why had FLW not heard of this obvious natural talent before now? Probably due to the fact that Silya now resides in the Big Apple, and has done so for the past seven years, only frequenting Norway every so often.
With serendipity wielding its hand once more in terms of securing an interview via a tip-off from a Norwegian record label that the self-proclaimed New Yorker was going to be in town – Oslo to be precise – a heartfelt plea was wired with much hast in the hope that Miss Nymoen would agree to such a rendezvous with FLW.
Fast forward and FLW finds itself in the company of Silya straight off the back of a long-haul flight and looking surprisingly alert considering the time difference. This is reflected further in her mood as she proves to be an exceptional interviewee due to possessing a vivacious character that is overflowing with enthusiasm to each and every question fired at her. Then again, such a positive attitude after many hours up in the air is probably second nature to Silya considering the hard as nails approach one must adopt if you are going to survive in the city that doesn’t sleep.
“I had been to New York before but had never lived there,” explains Silya regarding her first experience stateside, “but when I got there I realised that this is my town and it was where I wanted to be. It has been seven years and I call it home. I say that I’m visiting Norway now, as I’m not going home. New York really beats the s*** out of you, but I like it! It is like an abusive relationship that you can’t leave as it’s really good and really bad but I like the struggle and feel that I’m fighting for something. It would probably be easier for me if I was in a smaller place, but I like the fact that I’m surrounded by super talented people as there is constant competition and I have to step up my game all the time. It feels like I am alive, literally, as there is great energy and it’s inspiring to write.”
Apart from stints in the choir and playing the piano when she was a child, this musical journey actually began as a serious venture for Silya thirteen years ago, when she was utilised more as a ‘hired help’ than anything prolific in the creative department when it came to Norwegian popsters Multicyde. The next serious breakthrough, however, did not arrive for Silya until a production deal was struck in Stockholm, Sweden. In addition to this production deal, all artists involved decamped to a remote forest situated on the outskirts of Stockholm as part of a creative writing department.
“I received a production deal in Stockholm with a music company who had produced big American hits such as ‘Toxic’ for Britney Spears,” explains Silya. “I spent a lot of time there, as I lived in a house with a bunch of people in the woods with nothing else to do except write constantly. After this, I tried to find my own weird way of writing as I didn’t want it to be too straightforward. I’m the complete opposite now, as I want to keep it simple, but I had to go through that whole writing experience as you’ve gotta go through certain venues to get to another one.”
Such a venture in Sweden started to show signs of positivity as various bigwigs in America started to take note of this fledgling talent with offers of a trip stateside to perform live in front of various chief executives.
“We recorded a bunch of demos and this guy from New York came over and he heard one song; a sample of Freda Payne’s ‘Unhooked Generation’ and we made a very good song out of it,” recollects Silya. “On the strength of this [demo], we were invited to New York. Meetings were arranged with Island Def Jam and Columbia. I remember going to New York to sing to L.A. Reid [Island Def Jam] in his office, and I was extremely nervous. He put his head on the table in order to feel the music, and he really felt it as he said, ‘Play another one, play another one!’ So he really took his time and was super nice and it was a great experience but he usually signs people who are younger and builds them up. So he didn’t know what to do with me as I was 27 and old [laughing] but that was ok. Then I met with Columbia who suggested that they couldn’t work with me if I continued to live in Norway and that I had to move to New York. I mentioned that I could be there tomorrow. So I moved to New York.”
Just as Silya’s musical assault on American soil was beginning to gain momentum, the proverbial trapdoor lay in wait and duly triggered shortly after a deal with Columbia Records was struck as Silya explains.
“I kinda went with everything as it just happened. I got signed in 2006, and then I moved to New York but everything went to s*** during the autumn as the whole business [Columbia] started falling apart with merges and people getting fired. I was sad for six months as I didn’t know what to do. People suggested coming back to Norway but I was adamant in staying as I had stuff to do and I didn’t want to go back to Norway.”
Despite this unfortunate turn of events, the aforementioned strong work ethic embedded in the New York environment has definitely rubbed off on Silya as she dug her heels in defiantly to not only prove any doubters wrong, but more importantly to stay true to herself and remain on this musical journey no matter where it may end up. In fact, the previously mentioned notion of events falling into place for this Norwegian via New York songstress reared up once more as by sheer chance Hollywood Records came calling.
“All of a sudden, Hollywood Records heard some of my demos and they wanted to present it to somebody,” says Silya. “Vanessa Hudgens from High School Musical heard it, and she wanted to do a song, and then all of a sudden I was a songwriter and I didn’t intend for that to happen. I was put forward for sessions to write for people, but I didn’t like this at first. After a period of time, it became kinda fun to pretend to be someone else for a minute. The good thing about being signed to a big label was that I got sent around quite a lot. I was in LA and I went to Atlantic to duet with CeeLo Green, which was amazing. I went to London a lot and New York. So I met all of these wonderful people and stayed in touch with a lot of them even when I got dropped [Columbia].”
Do you believe that certain events happen for a reason?
“I believe in the idea that you meet certain people for a certain reason and all of a sudden that leads to something and you work together and it’s beautiful,” replies Silya rather pensively. “I experienced a horrible winter with a lot of personal stuff and then, all of a sudden, when spring arrived all of these things started lining up musically, and it was almost too easy and I started worrying why this was going so well. But that is nice too, as I work really hard for certain things and then all of a sudden it lines up and it surprises you.”
Silya’s current venture involving a full band known as The Sailors has developed from such similar circumstances whereby events have a habit of falling into place without necessarily endless months of planning. In addition, the attraction of all things nautical has given the whole project added spice and harks back to her homeland, which is literally surrounded by the sea.
“I started this new band Silya and The Sailors who are beautiful musicians and I love all of it!” she enthuses. “The initial vision I had is that I want to be the captain and the guys to be sailors with the outfits, as I’m obsessed with nautical things (shows tattoos on her arm relating to nautical themes; something of a regular occurrence for FLW when it comes to interviews). We produced this video and used some of my old and new songs, as I have produced a lot of disco, electronic and soul stuff and wanted to use this material but with a new wrapping. So we did a lot of rehearsing and it has been turning into something that feels right and when I feel that it’s right, things around me start to line up and it works out; it’s a little scary but it’s really good.”
Do you feel your interest in nautical themes has evolved from Norway?
“Yeah, as my grandfather was a fisherman and I’ve always loved the wild of the ocean as it’s scary and beautiful but also unknown and you just have to dive in,” Silya replies in equal measures of enthusiasm and trepidation. “I feel that my life is like that, as I don’t have a five-year plan. I don’t know what I’m doing, as I’m just going with the waves so to speak. I feel like a pirate because friends keep remarking that I’m turning more and more into a pirate, but I like that as I go treasure hunting for vintage clothing, spending hours doing this, and you have to be a hustler in New York, so I hustle a lot and therefore feel like a pirate. It makes sense to me because I’m from a place far away and I have a song called ‘Drain The Atlantic’ and it’s about moving across the ocean as it’s the ocean between New York and Oslo.”
Bearing such comments in mind, the reasonably low profile of late of Silya in Norway has led to much curiosity when it comes to any interest given by her home nation. If anything, it comes as a surprise that Norway has not provided a much larger platform for this singing sensation as Silya is a marketing department’s dream ticket if the Imelda May bandwagon is going to be hijacked and ridden off into the sunset with the promise of gold bullion at the end of the rainbow.
“Good question,” replies Silya after some initial thought. “First of all, I think that when I first started the writing and went to Sweden I had a name because I had been in that band [Multicyde]. So I knew all these people in the business, but looking back I probably wasn’t ready in terms of songwriting. I didn’t get any response here [Norway] from anyone who wanted to help me grow as an artist. When Sweden opened their doors to me and then followed by getting signed in the US, of course I decided to go.”
Were you given much press coverage in Norway during this transitional period in your life?
“I remember there was a big write up about me going to America,” replies Silya. “When it fell through [Columbia], I felt that I had disappointed them [Norway]. I started seeing a shrink in New York, as everybody does it, and she asked if I felt whether I could go back. But then I did Eurovision two years ago, as I was talked into doing it, but it had to be on my terms, with my song. I did it, and dipped my toe back in Norway a little bit, but I think the way I performed in a corset and a whip was probably a little bit too much. So I felt that half of Eurovision [audience] thought that I was a horrible role model whereas the other half viewed me as a breath of fresh air.”
Do you still receive offers from Norway to come and perform live or to be a part of a TV show?
“I have been invited back to perform and to be a part of TV shows, but I still feel that I’m not a part of it somehow,” ponders Silya. “It’s weird, I come back to Norway now and I feel that I don’t fit in exactly and I feel more at home in New York than I do in Oslo, which is my hometown, but I guess I was meant to live in New York as it’s in my personality as I can be myself completely when I’m there. I can here [Oslo] as well but not really because it’s very Norwegian and a little hard sometimes.”
The truth is also that Bisi Music (Norway) has shown signs of interest in Silya by backing her not-too-distant single ‘No Use In Runnin’. But how exactly did the deal with Bisi Music come about for this single?
“I met them last year at this writing camp in Sweden, and they’re really cool people and very sweet. They asked if I wanted to release something in Norway. So I met with Universal and Warner but they didn’t like the fact that I lived in New York as I had to be here [Norway]. They [Bisi Music] mentioned that they’re a small label and they’d like to try something. I’m a little scared to sign anything because I’ve been f***** over so many times, so I suggested one song to see what happens and we did that and it was good to do something.”
The video to this smooth groove of a song contains an interesting tale of its own, as it has been rumoured that ‘No Use In Runnin’ was filmed just as Hurricane Sandy was fast approaching. Care to elaborate Miss Nymoen?
“Yes, it’s true,” answers Silya without any hesitation. “My friend John and I were setting this video recording up, as I do all my own stuff. There were people leaving [Coney Island] and the cops were patrolling and asking people to get off the boardwalk as you could see the storm coming. We were thinking that it’s not going to be a big one and it’s fine [laughing] but they [police] were insistent. We kept asking for one more shot, which they allowed us to do really quickly. So it was a really interesting day, as Coney Island is a great place but deserted and spooky so a bit of a weird vibe.”
It seems ironic that the day of the video shoot for ‘No Use In Runnin’ should take such a dramatic turn of events as the uncanny resemblance of the disastrous weather conditions coincided with the unhappy sentiments engrained within the song.
“I was married to an American and he had a lot of baggage and I kept saying to him that, ‘You’ve got to deal with your s***’ and he never did as he kept running away from his problems and we’re no longer married. When I wrote it, I wasn’t really mad at him anymore because he’s not going to be happy until he deals with his stuff. I do love that song and play it all the time with The Sailors as it means a lot to me. I wrote a lot of songs after that breakup, which you do as you don’t write good stuff when you’re happy. When I left him, I didn’t have a place to live for a year. I went to LA and slept on friend’s couches but I didn’t really live anywhere. I had never written so many songs in my entire life as they just poured out of me as I needed to get it out. It was like therapy, as I had to do it to get it out of my system. This song was kind of like revenge but not in the sense that I hate you. He knows that it’s about him, but I haven’t talked to him since then [breakup].”
Such difficulties in her personal life have infiltrated her music and are perhaps one of the reasons why Silya encounters difficulties in terms of finding her niche musically. This is also largely due to the chameleon nature her music transmits as she is equally at home blowing out the blues with a torch ballad-esque approach in various supper clubs located in the heart of the Big Apple or dabbling with various elements of electronica. Such an approach to differing styles of music brings to mind the late, and godlike, Billy Mackenzie whose vocal chords bordered on the operatic with slow burning numbers ‘Breakfast’ and ‘Nocturne Seven’ but was equally at home with various dance influences by way of Boris Blank of Yello fame.
“I’ve had a problem of trying to work out where I fit in,” comments Silya, “as I’m no spring chicken as I can’t do that super young pop artist thing as that would be ridiculous. I like the fact that I am experienced and that I’m a little older and know what I want and who I am and know how to sing my songs and get the message across. So I feel a lot more comfortable now than I ever have when performing. Also, in the studio, if the producer had an idea I used to go with that whereas now I’ve taken more direction. This is because I feel that I know what I’m doing now, and it feels really good.”
It is the late-night, slow burning numbers that FLW is most at home with when it comes to the music of Silya. No doubt the supper club scene of New York provides the perfect backdrop to an altogether different era of music and culture. Therefore, it is worth further investigation to see just how exactly Silya found herself at the centre of a dinner club scene that harks back to earlier periods in history and is often frequented by the celebrities of Hollywood.
“I had this record that I did with an indie label and my manager at the time got me this residency and I started upstairs at this smaller place to prove myself,” comments Silya. “After a while, I got to go downstairs and perform in the bigger room. Also, some of the places are horrible to play and some are really great such as The Living Room, which is a beautiful place and where Nora Jones was discovered. In terms of The Supper Club, that is a new thing for me as I have been doing it for a year.”
Do you perform using only your own material or do you have to sing a lot of covers?
“A lot of these people I have worked with at these supper clubs do not write themselves, as they perform covers and interpret songs,” responds Silya. “New York has a lot of burlesque and cabaret [clubs] that kinda mixes into the whole supper club scene. I have started mixing in my own material with cover songs that I like to do. So Silya and The Sailors has become mostly my own material, but also I will throw in a cover that I like.”
Has it been difficult on occasions trying to convince audience members with any new material you may perform at The Supper Club?
“Right now, it’s going really well and I’m going this way as it feels good to do my own stuff in that setting because a lot of time people at these places want to hear familiar stuff. I don’t think it really matters though, as people have complimented me on my music after various performances. So it’s working out, my plan is working as it feels that I’m a scheming pirate and it’s working,” she says laughing. “Steve Martin [actor] has a quote, “Be so good that they can’t ignore you” so I work really hard and then people start talking and then they can’t ignore me. For example, in New York, you have some of these places where celebrities walk around because they live there and it’s not a big deal, whereas in LA it’s more you can’t see them. At these supper clubs, a lot of people go there and they’re big names like Leonardo [DiCaprio] who was there the other night. So my point is that it doesn’t matter who you are because you get surprised all the time. Also, Bruno Mars was in the audience, and I didn’t know that he was there, and I did a Bruno Mars song and he complimented me and I was very grateful. So that was fun but it also means something when a total stranger [in the audience] says that I made them feel something and that actually means more [to me].”
Surely, this is where your experience counts for something as well in terms of the supper club gigs?
“I think that if you don’t know how to play live, you’re not really an artist. You could be a recording artist and record and be great at that, but if you’re not good live you’re not really an artist. I think that’s a big part of it. I play every weekend for three nights and by Sunday I have no voice [left] but that’s how you become good. Before, in the old days, people would play their a**** off and they would become really good so that when they did make it, they realised they had it. People get signed now, and they’ve never even been on a stage! Therefore, I wanted to become like a machine that keeps working so that when we go in the studio it will all come together.”
FLW sincerely hopes that when Silya and her merry band of sailors venture to the recording studio over the coming months that indeed it will all come together. It is also hoped that this songstress will lean heavily on the torch balladry for any future creativity because her vocals were clearly moulded for such endeavours. A big debt also goes out to NRK’s Beat For Beat as this meet ‘n’ greet with Ol’ Golden Tonsils would never had seen the light of day if not for that one momentous rendition of ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’. No matter what the future holds for Silya, there is one thing that will remain constant and that is her ambitions will not simply disappear into the ether as there is enough experience in the tank to realise that this journey is fraught with peaks and troughs.
“I’m not a fan of overthinking something as you have to just grab the opportunity if it presents itself. If it feels right, just do it no matter what other people say. I love quotes and here’s another one I love, ‘Life’s not about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself’ and I feel that I’ve created myself. I didn’t know who I was until I moved to New York as I created myself in New York. I think that it’s important to stay hungry. I want to work and make stuff and I think that if you’re in it for the right reasons, it shouldn’t matter if you go up and down like this as I’ve made it many times as I have lost it many times but I’m still going and I love it.”
I think the way I performed in a corset and a whip was probably a little bit too much."
FLW - From the Tapes
Apart from a royal appointment in Sweden recently that required the services of Silya to flex her vocal chords in celebration of the royal wedding the night before the big day, it seems she has a habit of being in the right place at the right time when it comes to chance meetings.
“I have this theory that if I haven’t done it before, and someone asks me to do something and it sounds fun and a challenge, I will do it. Life’s short, so why wouldn’t I try it? For example, I received a phone call about whether I could go up to Bruce Springsteen’s house and sing on a song for his new album he was recording. So a car came to pick me up and I went up to his house. He didn’t end up using the song, but I met him and sang for him and couldn’t believe that it had happened. They were supposed to get Mavis Staples to sing on the track but she couldn’t make it, so I was recommended to Bruce Springsteen by a connection of mine. So you never know.”