In 2015, Nad Sylan impressed everyone with his fine conceptual solo album 'Courting The Widow'. A vampiric tale wrapped in a 17th century atmosphere, this definitively marked out the talented Swede as a surging star in the progressive rock world.
Now, Sylvan is back with 'The Bride Said No', an album that continues the fascinating plot, albeit with a far more extravagant musical palette.
“I didn't originally have the idea of going on with this story on the new album. But what happened was that I revisited a song called 'The Bride Said No', which I began to write in 1989. I kept a few of the early ideas I had for the verses and also that title, but the rest of the song is brand new. However, the title itself got me thinking that it made sense if this were used in relation to the vampirate character from 'Courting The Widow'. And the whole thing developed from there.”
On the creative side, what the new album does is to expand Sylvan's horizons, as he explains.
“Musically, the previous record was very much located in the 1970s, and you can still hear a little of that here. But this one is a lot more modern sounding and diverse. In fact, I would say it's closer to musical theatre than anything else.”
Sylvan plays the keyboards and much of the guitar on the album. He recorded in his home studio from September 2016 to January this year, having spent the previous few months collating the material. But the album does have some special guests appearing throughout. Sylvan is especially proud of collaborating with female vocalists Jade Ell, Tania Doko and Sheona Urquhart. You can hear how this works on both the title track and also 'What Have You Done'.
“Tania had a very big international hit with 'Buses & Trains' (this was a single put out by Bachelor Girl in 1998; Doko was half of that Aussie duo). She moved to Sweden to get married and that's how I got to know her. For me, she was the obvious choice to sing with me on 'The Bride Said No' itself.
“Jade is someone I worked with in the 1990s. She's Swedish, is based in Stockholm and has a superb voice. Not only can you also hear Jade on this song, but I duet with her on 'What Have You Done'.”
A third female is also on the album, namely Sheona Urquhart – like Tania, also from Australia, who does backing vocals across the record, and also plays the saxophone on a track titled 'A French Kiss In An Italian Café'. She has an operatic quality to her voice, a young very versatile musician with a fantastic personality to match!
“This is a very melancholic, sweet and mysterious tune. And I suppose in some ways, that is the best summary of the atmosphere throughout the album.”
The aforementioned 'What Have You Done' features two guitarists performing magnificent solos in tandem, namely Steve Hackett and Guthrie Govan. But, admits Sylvan, this was definitely the result of serendipity.
“I wrote the song in two days with Jade Ell. She already had two verses of lyrics that we then worked up into the finished track. Now, I had previously been to Japan as a member of Steve Hackett's band, and while I was there I had gotten to know Andrew Latimer of Camel. I love the way he plays guitar, it's so warm and inviting. And I really wanted him to do a solo on this composition, but although he agreed Andrew then fell ill and was unable to do it. I then turned to Guthrie Govan, who is also a brilliant guitarist. He was happy to do the job, but as deadline was drawing near and Steve Hackett was going into the studio to record for me, I suggested he too could have a go, like a plan B if Guthrie for some reason would not have made it in time - as I knew he was just so very busy. Of course my worries were a little too premature and both Steve and Guthrie delivered on the same day! As they were both amazing, I decided to incorporate the pair into the song. This works superbly. When you hear the way the two solos complement one another, it will amaze you. The combination of Steve and Guthrie kicks the song to a new level; it just takes off and goes places.”
Sylvan has co-written some of the songs here, rather than fully composing on his own, as was previously the case. For two tracks, 'When The Music Dies' and 'Crime Of Passion (The Vampirate's Anthem)', he collaborated with noted Swedish writer and producer Anders Wollbeck.
“Anders contacted me originally through my website, and said he had some ideas which could appeal to me. I wasn't sure initially, but we got together and things went very well, so we worked up these two songs. Anders also co-produced these with me; I solely produced the remainder of the album.”
Sylvan is especially proud of 'When The Music Dies'.
“This is a tribute to all the greats we lost in the last year. It has very heavy drums, while bassist Tony Levin delivers some superb distorted Chapman Stick. I listen to what we did, and I know it has genuine crossover potential. Not only should this appeal to the diehard prog fans, but also to a younger crowd. This could easily be a big hit single!”
He also enthuses about the epic 'The White Crown'.
“This is the part of the story where the vampirate goes crazy, and musically it has so much going on throughout the arrangement. There's even a hint of a Broadway style musical in there. That's what I've tried to do this time around, namely to incorporate more of my soulful side into the music. I haven't abandoned my progressive roots, and there's still a quirkiness to it all, but I have certainly introduced funky heavy rock and symphonic musical theatre element.”
The list of quality guests emphasises Sylvan's growing stature. The aforementioned Hackett appears on four tracks, while Levin provides bass for three. Plus, there are also invaluable contributions from Jonas Reingold (bass) and Nick D'Virgilio (drums).
The entire album opens with the scene setting 'Bridesmaids', which is 75 seconds long and acts as an overture for what is to follow.
“Part of the theme you hear in this track is repeated occasionally elsewhere. It provides not just an introduction to everything, but also acts as a basis for the overarching concept.”
'The Bride Said No' takes what Sylvan has done before and elevates it with a new creative sensibility. He has plans for a final chronicle of this 'vampirate' trilogy. But that's for the future. Right now, we can all revel in the delights of this eight track masterpiece.
“I set out to take things even further than before. I believe I have succeeded.”
London, March 2017