Famous Like Me > Composer > S > David Sylvian
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Profile of David Sylvian
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||23rd February 1958
|Place of Birth:
||Lewisham, Kent, England, UK
David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, February 23, 1958) is a British singer/songwriter who first rose to fame as the lead vocalist of the band Japan, and whose subsequent solo career has been influenced by a variety of musical styles, including jazz and electronic music (primarily ambient and electronica).
Early life and Japan
David Sylvian was born in 1958, in Beckenham, Kent. Japan, whose other members included Mick Karn, Rob Dean, Richard Barbieri and Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen, began as a group of friends who grew up together. As children they played music together as a means of escape, playing David's two-chord numbers – sometimes with Mick as the frontman, sometimes with David as the frontman. On Christmas of 1973 David's parents gave drums to Steve and a guitar to David.
Eventually, they became a glam rock outfit in the mold of David Bowie and The New York Dolls. Their music became more sophisticated – drawing initially on the art rock stylings of Roxy Music. Due in large part to their visual image, the band was tagged with the New Romantic label. Their later albums were, however, more sophisticated musically and lyrically than new romantic bands such Duran Duran and generally lacked the obvious pop hooks.
After a successful tour, they broke up in 1982, and Sylvian embarked upon a solo career. Japan's final show was on December 16, 1982 in Nagoya, Japan. The live album from this tour, Oil On Canvas, charted well in the UK.
Sylvian's singing met with a great deal of early criticism for sounding affected, and too much in imitation of Roxy Music's frontman Bryan Ferry. But by the end of Japan's run, his voice had begun to mature into its own distinctive baritone.
The usual recounting of the ending of Japan has to do with various interpersonal relationships, tensions therein including Sylvian linking with Yuka Fujii, a photographer, artist and designer who also happened to be Mick Karn's former girlfriend. According to Sylvian, however, the real reason for the break-up was Karn creating songs for his first solo album and thus betraying an unspoken rule within the band about how all their musical energies should be poured into the band. In an interview with Mojo Magazine (April, 1999), Sylvian states: "I gave Mick the ultimatum: if you want a solo career, let's break the band up. He said, 'I'd like to keep the group going as well' – a safety net, and that didn't feel right."
By the early 1980s neither Sylvian nor Japan had achieved the same level of awareness in the United States as they had in Britain. But the chosen name of Japan had seen their career taking off in that country.
Yuka became an important figure in David's life. She was an established artist when she met Sylvian. Her reasons for coming to England from her native Japan, included the wish to photograph British jazz musicians. Through Yuka, Sylvian was introduced to the world of jazz music, which gave him the inspiration to continue the direction that began with the later Japan tracks. Yuka also influenced Sylvian to incorporate spiritual discipline into his daily life. Throughout David's solo career, Yuka has had a role in the design of David's album artwork, often handling the cover art entirely herself. David and Yuka formed Opium (Arts) to manage David's interests.
Around the time of Sylvian's first solo album he also collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto on the soundtrack music for the Nagisa Oshima film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), which produced a hit single, "Forbidden Colours", credited to Sylvian/Sakamoto. A year or so later Sakamoto produced an album for Virginia Astley and Sylvian was brought in as a guest for the song "Some Small Hope".
Sylvian's debut solo album, Brilliant Trees (1984), met with critical acclaim and yielded the single "Red Guitar". His follow-up was an ambitious two-record set, Gone to Earth (1986), which flouted convention (and perhaps commercial wisdom) by featuring one record of vocal pop songs and one consisting entirely of atmospheric instrumentals. Guest artists included Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson.
His third album, Secrets of the Beehive (1987), was more acoustic and oriented towards somber, emotive ballads. It yielded one of Sylvian's most well-received songs, "Orpheus," and was supported by his first solo tour, 1988's "In Praise of Shamans." Sylvian's touring band included ex-Japan bandmates Jansen and Barbieri along with trumpeter Mark Isham, bassist Ian Maidman and guitarists David Torn and Robbie Aceto.
Never one to conform to commercial expectations, Sylvian then collaborated on several ambient projects with artists like Holger Czukay and Russell Mills.
In 1991, a highly-anticipated Japan reunion fizzled. Sylvian insisted on calling the project and the album Rain Tree Crow, to the dismay of both his label Virgin Records (who were hoping for a hit "comeback" album) and his former bandmates. Sylvian reportedly assumed a controlling temperament over the entire recording, turning the record, in effect, into his newest solo project. This badly alienated Karn, who has not associated with Sylvian personally or professionally to this day. Like Tin Drum, the Rain Tree Crow recordings were a breakthrough in performance and recording. Guitarists Bill Nelson, Phil Palmer and Michael Brook augmented the quartet for the recording of the album.
Yuka and David separated shortly after the release of Rain Tree Crow. Around the same time, Ingrid Chavez, one of Prince's associates and signed to his Paisley Park Records, sent Sylvian a copy of her first album. David liked what he heard and found her voice fit in perfectly with what he'd been working on with Ryuichi Sakamoto. The "Heartbeat" single was what appeared from this. After a tumultuous beginning, David and Ingrid decided to travel together throughout the UK and the USA, where they eventually settled after marrying in 1992.
The Fripp Trip
In late 1991, Robert Fripp approached Sylvian and asked him to be part of a new King Crimson. Sylvian declined but suggested they work on a collaboration instead. With frequent Fripp co-hort Trey Gunn on Chapman Stick, and performing a set of newly composed material, Sylvian and Fripp toured Japan and Italy during the spring of 1992. With the addition of Jerry Marotta on drums, the group went into the studio in late 1992 to document the material they had written together.
In July of 1993, Sylvian startled many of his long-term fans by teaming with Fripp on the album The First Day, which married Sylvian's philosophical lyrics to funk workouts and hard-driving progressive rock songs very much in the mold of King Crimson. The group went back out on the road to promote the album in the fall of 93. Sylvian, Fripp and Gunn were joined by infinite guitarist Michael Brook and ex-Mister Mister drummer Pat Mastelotto for "The Road To Graceland Tour". A subsequent live recording, titled Damage and released in 1994, was culled from the final show on the tour. Fripp, Gunn and Mastelotto went on to work in the reformed King Crimson that Fripp had originally wished for Sylvian to front.
In an art space, called P3 (P3 Art and Environment), located in the basement of a modern Zen temple, called Tochoji, in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Fripp and Sylvian collaborated on an exhibition called "David Sylvian and Robert Fripp: Redemption – Approaching Silence". The sound installation featured projected images and text in a dimly room, illuminated only by candles. The music was available as a cassette-only version. The exhibition ran from August 30, 1994 to September 18, 1994, P3, Tokyo, Japan. Music was composed by David Sylvian, with words by Robert Fripp.
In the late summer of 1995, Sylvian undertook a one-man solo tour of which he named "Slow Fire - a personal retrospective". Performing alone on stage with an acoustic guitar or playing piano, Sylvian drew largely upon his first three solo albums for song selection. He also included a few rearrangements from the more recent excursions with Rain Tree Crow and Robert Fripp, as well as a few new peices that were never to be recorded in the studio. The tour marked the end of a highly productive four years.
Everything And Nothing
A period of relative musical inactivity followed, during which time Sylvian and Chavez settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and later in New Hampshire. Prior, they lived for sometime in Sonoma, California to be close to their guru. They have two daughters, each with Sanskrit names. Chavez pursued her interest in photography and music. In these years, Sylvian appeared as a guest vocalist on the album "L'Albero Pazzo" (1996) by Italian singer Andrea Chimenti, and also collaborated with the Italian musicians Nicola Alesini and Pier Luigi Andreoni on their "Marco Polo" CD project (1995). Sylvian also contributed vocals on two albums from Russell Mills project called Undark. Also during this time, Sylvian and Chavez recorded material for a possible Chavez solo work that was never released.
In 1999, Sylvian released Dead Bees on a Cake, his first solo album since Beehive. It showed the most eclectic influence of all his recordings, ranging from soul music to jazz fusion to Eastern spiritual chants, and most of the songs' lyrics reflected the now over-40 Sylvian's inner peace from his marriage, family and beliefs. Guest artists included longtime friend Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Talvin Singh and Bill Frisell.
In 2001, Sylvian lent his voice to the song "Linoleum" on Tweaker's album The Attraction To All Things Uncertain. Tweaker is the solo project by former Nine Inch Nails drummer Chris Vrenna.
Following Dead Bees, Sylvian released a few compilations through Virgin, the two disc retrospective Everything & Nothing and Camphor, which collected several of his ambient collaborations. An effort to promote "Everything and Nothing" found Sylvian touring Great Britain and the US with a band that included his brother back on drums, Tim Young on guitar, Keith Lowe on bass, and Matt Cooper on keyboards. The US leg was shortened due to poor ticket sales.
Sylvian then parted ways with Virgin (for whom he had never exactly been a chart-topper) and launched his own independent label, Samadhi Sound. The first proposed project was a collaboration between he and his brother and work was begun with bassist Keith Lowe at the conclusion of a Everything And Nothing Tour in the fall of 2002. During a break in the proceedings, Sylvian experimented alone with his guitar and computer. The results were recorded during February of 2003. A few months later, he released the album Blemish. The disc was shockingly stark in its sound and content. The subject matter dealt primarily with the impending dissolution of Sylvian's marriage. With the collaborative effort now put on the backburner due to the strong reception for the new disc, Sylvian and Jansen headed out to promote Blemish with Masakatsu Takagi for their A Fire In The Forest Tour in 2003 and 2004.
Yuka Fujii and Sylvian collaborated again in 2004, participating in a group exhibition called Minus One, curated by Atsuhide Ito and Noriko Tanaka and in the atmospheric Aldwych Underground Station, Strand, London. In empty phone boxes Fujii provided digital photographs and Sylvian the accompanying texts. The exhibition took place 28 & 29 January 2004, 14:00–20:00, 30 January 2004, 14:00–18:00.
Sylvian once again collaborated with Tweaker on his 2004 release, 2am Wakeup Call, peforming lead vocals for the song "Pure Genius".
The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter, an album of remixes of tracks from Blemish, came out in 2005.
With the conclusion of A Fire In The Forest Tour, work had begun again in 2004 on the joint project between Sylvian and Jansen. Contributors included past collaborators Ryuichi Sakamoto and Robert Fripp. But the course of the album took on a completely new tone after Sylvian and Jansen's decision to add keyboardist/vibraphonist/remixer Burnt Friedman to the proceedings and make him an equal partner in the collaboration. The band name of Nine Horses was taken and the cd, titled Snow Borne Sorrow, was released in October of 2005. The sound was a return to more traditional sounds for Sylvian after the radical departure he took with blemish. Elements of avant guarde jazz, pop, folk and electronica were all successfully blended together, creating a sound that seemed like a logical path for Sylvian to follow.
- (1978) Adolescent Sex
- (1978) Obscure Alternatives
- (1979) Quiet Life
- (1980) Gentlemen Take Polaroids
- (1981) Tin Drum
- (1983) Oil On Canvas
- (1984) Exorcising Ghosts
- (1984) Brilliant Trees
- (1985) Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities
- (1986) Gone to Earth
- (1987) Secrets of the Beehive
- (1988) Plight and Premonition - with Holger Czukay from Can
- (1989) Flux and Mutability - with Holger Czukay from Can
- (1990) Ember Glance : The Permanence Of Memory - with Russell Mills and Frank Perry
- (1991) Rain Tree Crow
- (1993) The First Day - with Robert Fripp)
- (1994) Damage: Live - with Robert Fripp) - Re-released in 2000
- (1999) Approaching Silence - with Robert Fripp)
- (1999) Dead Bees on a Cake
- (2000) Everything and Nothing
- (2002) Camphor
- (2003) Blemish
- (2005) The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter
- (2005) Snow Borne Sorrow - Nine Horses
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