There are some interviews that just stay with you. Such was the case with singer/songwriter Sylvia. The Grammy-nominated country star might be known for some of her popular 80s hits like “Nobody,” “Tumbleweed,” and “Drifter,” but it was us who found ourselves drifting into the most delicious conversation with singer/songwriter Sylvia as she discussed her new album, Nature Child — A Dreamer’s Journey. We spoke with Sylvia about honoring our inner child, why this album was over three decades in the making, and learning to always ask ourselves, “What wants to happen?”
Sylvia, Nature Child is so beautiful. The album is like an adventure.
Thank you! I’m calling it a concept album. It really does take you on a journey. It’s not popular to do a concept album these days; people are just putting out singles, but I’m not going to let this deter me! (laughs)
The first track sounds like a Broadway show. It feels like you’re going to have a moment.
The idea for this album was born 34 years ago. At the end of the RCA days, I took a break from touring and I wanted to focus on songwriting. I wanted to write for kids, because kids came to my shows in droves. Since the songs “Nobody” and “Snapshot” were so bouncy and fun, kids were attracted to that.
The child in me has never gone dormant. The child in me has always been alive; I have a rich inner life. When I looked back on those years, I felt a tinge of sadness that the things weren’t being said that are in this music. And that’s why the impetus for writing this was for them.
Sometimes it’s all about timing. Now, you wrote this during the pandemic. How did that affect your writing process?
We started it in January 2019 and I was doing road work, but it really in earnest began in 2020. We took a break to get vaccinated, and we wore masks in the control room, but the process was just magical. Four of the songs weren’t written until we started recording the project. It felt like it wanted to be 12 songs, and once we got into it, I would live with the melody to tell me what it was all about.
Even when I’m writing, sometimes I have to sit with it, and find out what it wants to be. Not what you want it to be, but what it wants to be.
Oh, I just love those words because sometimes I use that very phrase: “What wants to happen?” My coach, Dan Peterson, gave me that phrase years ago, and I have used that question pretty much every day of my life since then. “What wants to happen?” takes you out of your thinking mind and drops you down into your intuitive sense of self where you’re listening instead of trying to think your way into the answers.
Or sometimes we’re just a portal to make things happen.
Oh, I love that. Jennifer, you and I are on the same wavelength because as a writer and as a singer, I’ve learned the more I can get out of the way and let the song come through me, rather than put emotion or something else on the song, the better it is. And that’s why this didn’t happen years ago. There’s a different perspective that has come into place during those years where I’ve become more of a storyteller. I want to stay in the lyric and stay in the story, and then everything else falls into place.
What do you want the takeaway to be for Nature Child?
What this album does is it puts you in a state where you’re tapped into your subconscious where you can readily dream. I’ve been listening to it a lot because we’re planning on making videos, but we want to do a storybook video. Dreaming just naturally comes to the forefront, but as we’re on this journey of following our dreams, we discover who we are, beyond the labels of mother, father, child. We are creative beings that are capable of so much more than we can ever dream.
Oh, I love that. In a way, that taps into the life coaching that you do. How did that start?
I never dreamed I would do anything but music. But in the late 90s I put out my first independent record called The Real Story, and it was almost impossible to promote yourself as an independent artist. I thought, if life is asking me to do something else, what would it be? Life coaching resonated with me — it was a way of helping others and serving others without telling them the answers. You’re asking them intuitive questions where you’re bringing your presence, curiosity, and listening to their story, which was a connection to my singing. When I’m coaching, I’m in a state of curiosity, which is exactly how I am when I’m writing a song. Amazingly, there are so many correlations between the two, but coaching I feel has broadened me. It has allowed me to connect with others in a very deep and meaningful way.
Is there one song on Nature Child that really resonates with you?
That’s a tough one to answer, but right now it’s “Nature Child.” That song was totally stream of consciousness. I had no idea where it was going. I took my phone out onto the back porch. It was a clear day, but there was this one wispy little cloud right above me, and I wrote it down: “The clouds are drifting across a purple sky.” I went into this reverie, and I kept writing what I was seeing. I didn’t plan on it taking me to this place where I’m talking to the animals and I know them all. It was an awakening to my connection with the earth and nature itself. It was like making a proclamation that I will never again forget who I am on this deep level.