Wayne Flask Interviews The Sylvan Aaron Massacre (Manic, May 2011). Read the printed version here.
“Oy, look at that moon!”
Hardly a romantic annotation, and not really the time and place for it either. I’ve somehow just nestled in Sylvan Borg’s passenger seat, the one with the dysfunctional seat belt, and we are driving round town looking for a suitable place to tape the interview.
The absence of quiet pubs where distant coughing and the odd jukebox tune are the only things to bother your ears is rather obvious in this area of the island; our first try was in a noisy cafeteria where patrons are served coffee and overly sugary pastries amid the din of Bon Jovi’s Crossroads. Looking around with the disgusted expression of a tourist wandering in Moldova’s sewer system, he suggests we should relocate. Which we do.
A few minutes later we are in a cafeteria. Fellow drummer Aaron Sammut joins us, beaming from an unusually advantageous purchase of an amp. “Let’s go try it afterwards,” he enthuses, unaware of the cold shower that awaits him.
From the outset of our brief meet, it’s clear that the duo forming The Sylvan Aaron Massacre have hit it out instantly on a personal level too. Formerly with Best Unkept Promise contenders Sputnik Sweetheart and later Stilair, Sylvan is a tall, curly haired wiry guitarist you’d easily mistake for the librarian or lab assistant. His fondness of real music (don’t you love that term) sees him cite bands from different spectra as a source of inspiration: from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s to Paolo Conte there’s more than an ocean, and not just literally.
Aaron, also drummer with indie hotshots Dolls for Idols, is not new to the scene either. Unlike his bandmate he is a little hellraiser, oozing the mischief (and haircut) of Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner in the 2006-2008 asshole phase. He is, drunken pranks aside, an exquisite drummer with a keen ear, complementing the more urbane Sylvan.
“I was watching him play with Dolls for Idols, at the time I had side project with another drummer,” says Sylvan. “I liked his drumming instantly and told him one day we should meet. He was like, yeah. To me it sounded like, yeah ok, no. When we bumped into each other the second time I noticed I’d gotten it wrong the first time.”
Eventually the two met up for an initial rehearsal with the premise of not committing to anything.
“It was pretty experimental, no real targets or ambitions. If it works it works, if not, no worries. I wasn’t even sure we would keep playing together,” says Aaron.
“I had many experiences with other bands and other people and you don’t always click with them. Some start to fantasise before things have even started happening. We decided to meet and keep it as relaxed as possible. The first time we played together… we played really well,” Sylvan says, emphasising the last phrase and contorts his eyebrows together for effect.
Within a few months of their inception, The Sylvan Aaron Massacre have already recorded their debut single, Come On (Come On), a raucous indie-infused tune that centres itself around Sylvan’s mean machine riff with Aaron delivering an assured, potent drumming behind him. The single was accompanied with a videoclip produced by SickofAnts which features, among others, copulating animals and low lights.
Their affinity is down to their love for each other’s instrument. “I go to a gig to listen to the guitarist,” says Aaron. “Sylvan is like that with drums. I think we tend to be more alert to each other while we’re playing.” The drummer cites Queens of the Stone Age, The Vines, The Strokes and the Arctic Monkeys as influences (his stance in Come On’s video reminds me of the Monkeys’ Matt Helders’ late night drumming stunt in View from the Afternoon).
Ask them if working as a duo is tougher and none of them finds a suitable reason to draft a third buddy. “I think we’re more productive like this. To agree on a rehearsal time is the first difficulty. Also we have much more control over the music we’re producing and there are less opinions to reckon with. If we were a five man band we’d have to find a common ground between all of us and then, you know, get the occasional situation where someone wants to do things his own way.”
“When you’re in a band with many people it doesn’t necessarily mean that the best musician wins the argument. It’s down to who has the widest vocabulary or the best semantics. You can be the biggest idiot in music but your politics get you through,” says Sylvan. “This way we do it the way we want.”
It does, however, make their gigs a bit more demanding – Aaron in particular has to keep up with a scratch track – but it’s fun to watch the duo churn out all that without additional members.
“Some people cannot still gather how we do all that by ourselves. I don’t think there’s a disadvantage, maybe sometimes you feel the need for that extra kick. If we had a second guitar the sound would be different because the rhythm would remain intact.
“We use bass syncs and just very few synths and they’re part of the song not on top of it. We play live instead of letting the synths take over, they are as minimalistic as possible, fillers to make the song more interesting. The single recording of Come On… is very different than the way we do it live, there are other sounds that come into it.
Aaron knows there’s a lot of hard work and discipline required to keep up with a scratch track, although Sylvan trusts him completely to do it. Both, however, end up in situations where they’d rather switch all their artificial hands off and add their own spice to the live set.
Radio reception – and now I’ve written this for what must be the thousandth time – has been limited. “We gave the singles to the radio. Did you hear it? We didn’t either,” laughs Sylvan.
“I don’t have a radio aerial on my car anymore. I won’t tell you what I did with it,” says Aaron looking alarmingly impish. “Some of them complained about the recording quality. I wanted the drums to be as raw and unpolished as possible to give it that garage sound. I didn’t want it to sound like pop.”
We’re about to bid farewell, or at least, I am. A late night and a couple of beers beckon for these two, knowing they have all the time in the world, and not an ounce of pressure. Record an album? Nah, says Aaron, we’d prefer to release a single every three months and maybe an EP.
“I’m buzzing to try that amp,” says Aaron as we walk out of the cafeteria. Little does he know, however, that Sylvan doesn’t have the garage keys. Time for a beer?