Anyone who has gone to one of Steve Hackett’s “Genesis Revisited” concerts in the last six years will be familiar with singer Nad Sylvan, who covers both Gabriel and Collins’ roles on stage. Over the past few years Sylvan has come into his own with a trio of solo albums where he plays, arranges and produces much of the music himself with several top name guests. Having previously worked with Roine Stolt for three albums with the band Agents of Mercy, and Unifaun and other solo albums prior to that, Sylvan is creating quite a discography and a name for himself.
It started in 2015 with Courting The Widow. Continued in ’17 through The Bride Said No. And now we reach the climactic conclusion to Sylvan‘s impressive vampire trilogy with the album The Regal Bastard. Sylvan has written most of the songs here himself, although he has collaborated with noted Swedish producer Anders Wollbeck. This album is very much Sylvan‘s vision, and he has firmly taken hold of the reins in the studio. He wrote, arranged, produced and mixed the album. And once again, he has pulled together a tremendous array of musical talent to bring his inspiration to life: Steve Hackett plays guitar on one track, Guthrie Govan on two, while Tony Levin does the bass on a song. Jonas Reingold plays bass on much of the album, and Nick D’Virgilio handles the drums.
In this interview, Sonic Perspectives correspondent Scott Medina chats with Sylvan about his the record, his life while on tour, his future plans and much more. Read below.
Hi everybody, this is Scott Medina for Sonic Perspectives and we are very happy today to catch Nad Sylvan who has just come off the road, doing about 31 shows singing in Steve Hackett’s band. Is that right, Nad?
Exactly the right figure, yeah. 31 shows in six weeks!
Wow. How was that run for you?
Well, quite a few shows were back to back, but I kind of prefer it that way because then I’m all warmed up. I tend to sing better when I do a couple of shows back to back. I’ve got better control of the voice. Luckily for me, I have developed a technique that I don’t strain the voice at all. I just go for it and it keeps getting stronger! But it’s more the traveling that can be a bit weary, with long stretches, you know, and then the show on the same day and you’re pretty knackered when you’re supposed to go on stage. But I’ve learned that if I yawn before going on stage, that will always present a good show!
Well that’s really fortunate because I’ve heard others singers saying that if they do two or three nights in a row, they really need to have a night off. But it sounds like you just have a good technique that you get on a roll
Yes, I feel I’m being warmed up better and that’s why I’m there. I’m on the road to perform. But of course, you know, if you come to a city like Rome or Paris, it’s very rewarding to get a day off because you can walk around and just do things. So yeah, I can definitely enjoy a day off!
And how is it when you’re on the road and you’re celebrating a big birthday? I hear you just had one
Yeah, some days ago I turned 60! I know, it’s scary shit. But not really; I remember turning 50 and I was in a haze all day. I was just thought, wow, you know, I’m really old now! People called me that normally never call me! So that day was strange, but 60 was nothing. I think I was so well prepared because I’ve been thinking about it now. But it’s just another day in your life. That’s what it is.
Now we just have a few weeks until your new album The Regal Bastard comes out. Could you guide us through the story of the Regal Bastard and how this is the third part of this trilogy of albums that you’ve put out over the last few years?
Well, it’s easy to believe that it’s a story…but it’s more short independent stories with the same characters, if you like. You know, like a picture book. So the bride is no longer with us. Well, she is like in a metaphor kind of a way, but I more tend to look at the music more and how that has evolved since the last one, which is, it’s more of everything really, you know? And of course, there is a story in the sense that the regal bastard is actually the guy that started off the previous album, the Quartermaster. That’s really him. But it’s also an analogy or metaphor of myself and my father and my bloodline, because apparently there this ancestry…there’s a guy who wrote me an email…not only to me, but to thousands of Swedes where he claimed that he had evidence that I’m 15 generations below King Gustav Vasa who was a tyrant king back in the 15th century of Sweden. And that my blood line descends from the bastard of his. So it’s almost like a pun, but there is some truth in it as well. So I’d say that a lot of the lyrical content on this album derives very much from my own life, but I’ve turned it into metaphors. So it’s kind of tricky to understand what I mean sometimes.
I saw you mentioned that the title track has a connection to your mother
Yes. It’s very much a connection to my mother, and also to my father. I love my mother dearly, she passed away 10 years ago and she wanted me to become someone I wasn’t really, you know. I used to have very long hair – I still have long hair, but I had even longer hair back then. And she would say, “Why don’t you have your hair in a ponytail? Because I love your jaw bones and you look so regal,” and stuff like that. So that was one of the ideas of the regal bastard. I mean, I didn’t like what she wanted from me. But then she passed away 10 years ago as I said, and then success came my way with Hackett and all of that, and my stage persona…I’ve been told that it’s sort of regal in a way with my clothes and my makeup and my hair and all of that. So it makes a lot of sense to call the album, The Regal Bastard. Even though my executive from the label Thomas Waber wasn’t too keen on that name, he thought that would be too provocative. And I said, don’t worry, I’ll explain it. It’s not a bad word. It’s actually the king’s illegitimate son. That’s what it is. I think people understand that, too.
I think it grabs you, and you’ve got that beautiful painting on the cover, and with a portrait of yourself, right?
Yes, yes indeed. So that it becomes very clear, you know.
The opening track “I Am the Sea” draws some of its inspiration from you becoming a full time artist and letting go of the day job
Exactly. Exactly. That’s what that song is all about.
It seems like you’ve really made the most of the past four years since committing to doing music full time
Yes, I handed in my notice in May of 2015 and my last shift was on the last of May, four days before my 56th birthday. I had been on the road with Steve two years prior. But you know, they granted me leave every time. And when we had this three and a half month’s tour coming up, and I asked for leave again, they said you know it’s time for you to make up your mind what you really want to do? And of course that was a no-brainer really. I just said, okay, that’s bye bye from me now because I had been there for 16 years and I was getting fed up anyway. So it was a good move. Thank God.
Although the Steve Hackett work had started before then and many other things as well, you’ve put out three very impressive and complete solo albums since that time. So it’s been time very well spent
Yes. Well, you know, I had always been a songwriter ever since I was a young boy. I started writing songs when I was six, seven years old. I’ve done this for so many years, but I’m still maturing. I’m still learning. I’m getting better at it, and I work faster these days and maybe it’s because I can commit myself so much. I don’t have to divide my hours, you know, to go into work and then this and then that, instead I can just commit myself to music full time. And I think it shows.
This trilogy of albums that you’ve put on the Inside Out label comes over 10 years since your last solo album, you had done a couple of solo albums previous to that
Yes, there was one that came out in 2003 called Sylvanite which was the last effort I did before I went Prog with the Unifaun album that came out in 2008. And even though it’s a lot of me in there, there’s also Bonamici, so it’s a 50/50 deal with him. That was the starting point for where I am today. But little did I know it was going to turn out this way, I had no idea! It was just done for the hell of it. And for the fun of doing prog, you know,
And now you’ve got a lot of great friends who you can bring in for the recording as well
Oh yes. I’ve gotten to learn quite a few wonderful musicians thanks to the years with Hackett. We bump into each other on the road and you just become friends with lovely people. I know all the Yes people and they’re just fantastic guys.
On the new album you have a top notch rhythm section of Jonas Reingold and Nick D’Virgilio. They’ve played on various tracks on your previous albums as well, but it seems on this new album that they’re even more established as the core rhythm section
Ah, yeah. And I even got Tony Levin on bass on one track on this one is called track, called “Meet Your Maker”. And he also played on a previous album on a ballad called “What Have You Done”, which happens to be my most celebrated song really, because of the twin solos by Hackett and Govan. I’ve been blessed, you know. I’ve been lucky, but also I worked hard for this. I’m lucky in the sense that I have such talented friends to work with and that they like what I do. You know, it could be the other way around. They could think that I just sucked, but they don’t. They’re really sweet. So I’m extraordinarily happy with what happened. But then of course I did three albums with Roine Stolt with Agents of Mercy between 2009 and 2011. But then Hackett snatched me up in 2012 and I’ve been busy with him ever since.
I loved those Agents of Mercy albums and got to see you perform that at Rosfest one time. Do you think you’ll ever revisit that project?
Well, you never say never but as it looks now, there’s no time really. I mean, people ask me if there’s going to be another Unifaun album, but I’m busy with my own career at the moment. And also with Hackett. We have so many shows now booked. And my solo records gives me plenty of outlets to do what I want to do musically, you know, without even having to compromise with anyone else. Because you know, we did have to compromise in Agents as you do have to do in bands. But as I said before, I’ve been writing songs for so many years, so there’s really a very rewarding feeling to be able to just be in control. I mean, I know so very well what I want these days.
Many listeners who come to your albums through knowing you as the singer with Steve Hackett are maybe unaware of your skills on a variety of instruments, including producing
Well, some of them know and maybe for some of them it is new to them. I still keep picking up fans. They write to me and are very sweet and they’ll say, Oh, I just discovered you with Hackett. And you know, I’ve been with Hackett for six years, I’m on my seventh and they just found out, you know. And Hackett is still picking up new fans as well. Some people have heard about these Genesis Revisited shows but never really bothered, until now. I guess because of the longevity of the whole thing. We didn’t expect it to go on like it has, you know. We thought it was going to be 2013 that was going to be it! But no, fate wanted something else. So here we are, the seventh year!
Yes, doing the whole Selling England by the Pound album
Yes. We’ve been doing that now and are going to continue to do so for about a year.
Yeah. Maybe through Cruise to the Edge next year, I guess?
Yeah, we’re definitely gonna do that at Cruise to the Edge. And then we’re going to do other parts of the world we haven’t been to in a while.
But still a lot of audience members will see you on stage and you’re singing and they think, Oh, he’s doing the Peter Gabriel thing, or maybe some of the Phil Collins thing too, but they don’t realize that once they get your solo album, Lo and behold you’re playing pretty much all of the keyboards and guitar aside from the guest solos. It’s quite impressive with all of the instrumentation you have there
Well, thank you. I started playing piano when I was five. I can’t say I’m a brilliant keyboard player. I know people that are a lot better than I am. But you know in the studio you can always make it work. You use sequencers, you use whatever, because you just hear in your head what you want, and where you want it to go. And you keep going at it until it’s there. Same thing with guitar work. I’m really not a very skilled guitarist, but in the studio I can make it work by practicing and recording just that bit that I want to be a certain way. And then of course I forget about it!
But you can bring in Guthrie or Steve Hackett if you choose
Yes, of course I can, and I have done so when I know it’s going to be a bit more of an elaborate thing. But sometimes it’s not only about that, it’s also that I want them to surprise me because then I can alter the song to make it fit even more what they had in mind. Or they intrigued me to do things that I probably wouldn’t have done without them. So that’s also letting the song evolve even further.
I love the track Leave Me On These Waters, it’s such a beautiful piece
Thank you, you’re the first one to mention that track. That song has a very special place in my heart because it’s one of those songs that starts to build up inside my head for years in the melody and the chords. It just kept growing maybe four or five years in my head. And I always thought that the bridge sounded something like the Beatles had done, so I was worried that it would sound like a rip off. But when I started recording, it didn’t! And so I was pleased with that. And of course Guthrie Govan comes in and tracks a solo that is so gorgeous that I was just floored when I heard it! That whole segment has such tension and release. So that’s actually my favorite track on the album, just that track.
Yeah, that’s worth the price of admission right there. It’s just gorgeous
Yeah, I’m very pleased with it. Thank you.
Anything you want to share about the song “Diva Time”?
(Laughs) Actually this is what it’s all about, I co-wrote that with Anders Wollbeck who I also co-wrote “I Am the Sea” with. He came up with the title “Diva Time”. And I had just fallen out with an old friend…over nothing really. But there was such a reaction…she even wrote me a letter saying how I’m the diva of the year. And she wasn’t well informed as to what really had happened, she didn’t understand. And I paid her back with calling her a drama queen on this song. And of course it’s diva time, it’s me…. I’m playing a diva in this song. Now I don’t really see myself as a diva, I must say. I really don’t. But it’s fun. You know, you make fun of the word. You can make fun of the situation. And that’s what I’ve done.
Do you have any aspirations to perform this material live in concert?
It would be a dream to do that! Of course, I can’t do all three albums, but I could cherry pick the songs that I think would work live. And if that is going to happen, it can’t happen before the autumn of next year because I’m fully booked with Hackett at the moment. And we were talking about many, many more shows to do. And you know, it’s my livelihood.
That’s right. But I can imagine that you would enjoy being able to expand your onstage persona even more with all of your own material
Yes, of course, it would be a dream! And so I am looking into it. I’m thinking of talking to my record label; I’d need some funding because going on the road as a solo artist, you need to be able to pay musicians, pay everything and it needs to come out of your own pocket, you know. It’s risky business but I have plenty of time to investigate to see how great the interest would be from the public’s perspective.
And maybe you could put together something with another band. Didn’t Agents of Mercy go out with Karmakanic back in the day? So maybe a double bill or something like that could work
Yes, that could also happen, that’s also a possibility. I’m looking into that as well actually. Well I’m really glad you enjoy the album, that puts a smile on my face. It’s like I just gave birth to this one, just squeezed it out and I just hope that people will enjoy it, you know.
Well, I would think that this album probably will be the most satisfying of all three albums for most of the folks who’ve been following you
I hope so. I hope I won’t disappoint them.
Well we wish you all success with the unveiling of the Regal Bastard and cheers on the road with Steve Hackett!
Thank you Scott for your time and attention to my album. Is much appreciated. Bye now!