(Photo by Conner Reddan)
San Marino High School

Q&A: Syd Silvair on the disco-drama glimmers and technicolor lyricism of debut EP ‘Reverie’

In an era when women must “always be optimizing,” music must follow the binaries of stream numbers and algorithm panic, and students must strive for success with an Ivy League sweep, wasting time is, by extension, wasting money, and comes with a pang of guilt.

Staring at the stucco ceiling in the middle of a Zoom class, daydreams are no different — time better spent maximizing productivity. But on her debut EP, Syd Silver realizes the true power of a “Reverie” — a bridge between the ideal and reality, a soundtrack of roller-rink-ready beats and disco-drama glimmers, and a world infused with both mystery and magic.

Reading tarot in New York City, Silvair found inspiration in the Magician, the Moon, the Tower, and Temperance cards for each respective song on her four-track record, but the story behind “Reverie” goes beyond her day job. Ahead of its release, the singer-songwriter took time to answer some questions and discuss growing up on Saturday Night Fever, reconnecting with her great-grandmother, and visualizing the storyboard behind her lyrics. Read her responses below.

The music that we listen to growing up can be artistically formative. Who were some of your first CDs, and who were some of the musical influences from then (and from recent listening) that you saw come to life on “Reverie”?

My influences actually came full circle in the process of making Reverie; I was returning to a lot of the music I listened to as a kid, and that nostalgia was a real driving force behind the production choices. Growing up, three of the CDs that played on repeat in my parents car happened to be soundtracks: Boogie Nights, Saturday Night Fever, and Practical Magic. It’s kind of funny now that I think about it–these soundtracks pretty much sum up the sonic palette of the EP: mystical disco inspired by the 70’s (with a touch of 90s). Those CDs gave me my first tastes of ELO, Marvin Gaye, Boney M, The Bee Gees, Joni Mitchell and Stevie Nicks, all of whom were influential to Reverie in one way or another! 

As one of the main sources of creative energy behind “Reverie,” how and when did you get into tarot? Did you have a thought process of which cards you wanted to embody in the EP, or was it more of an instinctual decision?

I’ve collected tarot decks for as long as I can remember, but I found my way back to them in a more meaningful way a few years ago, when I learned that my great grandmother was a card reader. I started using them as a songwriting tool whenever I got stuck on lyrics. The more I integrated them into my writing process, the more I felt those two parts of my life (songwriting and the occult) were meant to come together.

For the songs on this EP, I worked out the lyrical themes first, and then the corresponding cards came to me very intuitively. Once I knew which card related to which song, I tried to capture the essence of the card through sound in the production process. This allowed me to connect with the cards in a more visceral, abstract way. So in the same way the cards informed the music, the music has actually enhanced my understanding of those 4 cards. 

In terms of narrative, the tracks that bookend the EP are similar to each other, but different from the inner tracks. On “The Moth,” you become this symbol of danger, warning future lovers “You’re gonna end up broken by the morning every time” while the romance in “Maraschino” seems so easy (“Lean in to you ‘cause you’re steady as a strobe”).

What does your songwriting process look like, and were there any differences in it when you were creating these two different visions?

I’m like a sponge when it comes to other people’s feelings which can be quite exhausting, but it really comes in handy for my songwriting process. I like writing from as many different perspectives as possible — I think I’d get bored if I were the sole narrator in all my music. It’s not always a conscious effort, but my songs are usually a combination of my own emotions and experiences, mixed with those of the last person I had a heart to heart with. So it makes sense that you’re picking up on contrasting POV’s in this EP! I have my empathic tendencies to thank for that. 

Your lyrics sometimes sing like poetry — tangential but all-encompassing. The opening line of “Heroine” is the perfect example: “You looked at me like I was a colored TV in 1953.” Is writing something that has come naturally for you that you do in your free time? And besides other musicians (and tarot, of course), where do you draw inspiration from when creating music, whether that be from movies, books, or art?

Thank you so much. My love for poetry definitely fuels my lyric writing. I always keep Leonard Cohen’s “Book of Longing” nearby, for when I need to remind myself how powerful words can be. Both literary and visual arts are constantly feeding into my music. My mom is an art teacher, so I was exposed to a lot of art from a young age. Then I majored in visual art in college, where I was really able to explore my aesthetic through painting, drawing, and sculpture. That visual orientation has a major impact on my lyric writing; I visualize the scenery and the color scheme of songs as I write them. And works of art often inspire me to write–I’ve been slowly chipping away at a song I started after seeing the Hilma af Klint exhibit at Guggenheim last year. Excited to finish that one! 

What did you gain from the process of writing “Reverie,” and what do you hope listeners take away from the EP?

I had so many moments of pure bliss in the studio with Dillon (the producer) and Mark (my guitarist/long-time-collaborator) as the arrangements took shape. The instrumental layers were growing into this lush, dreamy soundscape that hit the exact nerve I was striving for. I was reminded that crafting songs is a sort of sorcery.

It’s easy to become disillusioned with music when navigating the ugly parts of the industry, but in the creation of Reverie I regained that sense of enchantment, and that is everything to me. I hope this EP can spread some of that enchantment to listeners, because with the current state of the world, I think we could all use a little magic.

What are your plans for your music in-media and post-quarantine?

I’m really looking forward to playing shows again! Hoping to bring our live set outside of NYC and do some touring. And I’m excited to continue expanding on the multimedia elements of the music. I want the world surrounding my songs to be as immersive as possible, because I know how healing that opportunity for escape can be. 

Listen to “Reverie” on Spotify