5 minutes with David Sylvian (The Times, March 2012)

Published at March 3, 2012

Nice little interview with David Sylvian in the Times (UK March 3rd, 2012) by Alex O’Connell

David Sylvian, 54, born in Beckenham, Kent, is a British singer-songwriter who came to fame in the late 1970s with his band, Japan. Influenced by David Bowie and Roxy Music, they were fond of big hair and make-up. But the group suffered from personal and creative clashes and Sylvian broke away. His first solo album, Brilliant Trees (1984), won critical acclaim. His partnership, musical and marital, with Ingrid Chavez had a profound influence (they have two children and are now divorced). Sylvian retains a dedicated fanbase who are exhausted by most contemporary rock and pop and want music to read Merleau-Ponty by.

Tell me about the title of your new compilation album A Victim of Stars.

It was the title of the track I wrote with the late Hector Zazou. I always liked the piece, though it was pulled from distribution by Virgin. I’m not a fatalist, but I do believe that there is a predestined path that you walk and if you are aware you can begin to walk around problems rather than repeating patterns again and again.

You’ve always been a thoughtful pop star, a fan of philosophy . . .

I had a poor education, so I needed a philosophical grounding to live my life if I was to produce anything of influence. I had to do it inside myself rather than in shifting sands. So I began to look around, read widely  – that was predominantly in the early 1980s when a lot of personal questions started surfacing.

Do you believe in God?

I don’t like the word God, or the language related to the spiritual life, which, in general, is very archaic. I don’t believe in the external being, maybe I do believe in universal consciousness. In that sense everything is a god. But I am not totally sold on this one. If that doesn’t turn out to be true, I am equally comfortable with that. I’ve worked out that Buddhist principles are the correct way to conduct myself, regardless of the deeper meaning of the religion.

Do you ever listen to Japan? Why is there no Japan on the new album?

I don’t look back or listen to that material. One retrospective in a lifetime is enough for me. I didn’t need to review it again. Even recent material I don’t go back to.

Do you ever miss you, the pop star?

What? Miss the young man who was confused, neurotic, exploited, alone? I am so grateful to be out of that place. While it had its enjoyable aspects, the community of a band working together, the way the machine behind us fell on my shoulders and the spotlight – I was more than happy to move away from that. It’s not in my nature to turn back to it.

Do you listen to contemporary music?

I don’t listen to a lot of music now. I’ve been more involved in classical music. I have an outline of the key players in 20th-century
classical composition. I listen to more popular music through my teenage kids. I can appreciate some – James Blake. I appreciate what people do sonically.

How do you listen to music?

I listen to MP3s generally — I am not at all fetishistic about the way that music is delivered to me. Back in the day, most people were listening to cassettes and the quality was godawful. MP3s are light years ahead of 1984.

What’s next?

I’m writing material with Joan Wasser [otherwise known as Joan As Police Woman]. We decided to record an LP together. It’s got no release date and no title as yet. I hope to see it out by the end of this year.

Is it hard to make a living as a musician?

You sell fewer albums than you did. It gets harder.

If Gary Barlow calls to ask if you’ll perform at the Queen’s Jubilee concert this summer, what would you say?

I do expect to get the call, but I’d have to turn it down [he laughs]. I rarely do live performance. God help me! I’ve never performed at a festival. My closest friends know better than to ask me to perform.

Who are your fans?

I don’t know. I get artists sending me music they wish me to contribute to — sometimes it’s so beautiful I do. I live a very isolated existence and tend not to know about the public persona. It’s the healthiest way that I can live my life.

(many thanks to David Nibloe)

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