Musical Discoveries: After Too Close To The Sun what led to the Anthem album?
Sylvia Tosun: I actually began the Anthem project out of my love for language and culture. One of my dreams has always been to record in many languages. During my operatic study, I was able to learn to sing in several languages and during my reign as Miss USO, I sang for foreign dignitaries that would come into the city for special events. This always prompted me to learn national anthems in order to welcome them to New York. Before I knew it, I was actually able to sing in over ten languages.
So did that get you thinking about something different?
But, during the time I would research these anthems, I discovered that I hadn't discovered a single recording that was sung and produced in a manner that which this generation would relate to. I thought to myself that for such a sacred song that should mean so much, someone should take an interest in re-interpreting or re-imagining them. Then, I thought, gosh, I'd love to do it myself! So, that was the inspiration to take the idea even further. I had always been an advocate of promoting cultural respect and was becoming internationally patriotic.
I was also involved with several ecumenical organizations that would stand to benefit from such a project if it were to be developed on a global level. Alas, the Anthem Project was formed – Now I’ve committed to produce and record all 195 national anthems in their native tongues to promote global and cultural respect and patriotism. Volume One is completed and I am working closely with African Action on AIDS to record African Anthems for Volume Two.
Please tell us about the production of the Anthem album.
I started the production of Anthem with Harold Stephan, who also produced Too Close to the Sun. We did a great deal of pre-production work in developing what was to be the vibe of the album. I wanted to be authentic to each country as well as musically diverse. I wanted the sound to be a blend of history and tradition leading us into the future. So I decided to combine acoustic instruments with computer generated sounds. We used what I call "harmonic metaphor" where vibrations of live instruments are taken to new realms of sound through computer manipulation--much like life in general when you think about progress.
Who did you work with on the project?
I worked with Producer/DJ, Lance Jordan on a couple of tracks and I then, included Producer, Miklos Malek, who is well versed in all kinds of music from classical to pop to dance to electronica. He and I, along with arrangers, Istvan Csont and Levy Egry, continued the blend of sounds and came up with arrangements for each anthem that would be in harmony with the other. I feel strongly that if we all can reside in harmony on this album, then, we could live in harmony within the world. My idealistic views still remain despite recent developments. This album was started before 9/11 and I still have faith in "progress."
Who else was involved?
The musicans on Anthem are all people within my immediate circle of friends that also come from different backgrounds… Allison Cornell played all the strings. She is like a one woman string section--simply put, an amazing talent. Gilad is a world class percussionist who played all kinds of drums from all over the world on the album. Steve Hass played drums and percussion also. Harold Stephan played guitar and keyboards and Karen Jacobsen played piano and sang backing vocals on a track. Emil Adler played piano on the UK Anthem and Miklos Malek played everything from piano to guitar, to keyboards, to bass to sitar--not to mention, ended up Producing the record with me! And, of course, Julie Flanders did a haunting and healing spoken word performance on the US Anthem. Even Bob Kinkel from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was around for some pre-production piano parts.
What can you tell us about your work on the Trans-Siberian Orchestra Beethoven's Last Night album?
I began working with TSO, Paul O'Neil and Bob Kinkel on a couple of rock operas they had written. The first one was Romanov, the story about the Russian Princess, Anastacia. It was particularly interesting for me because part of my family came from Russia (mother's side) and I enjoyed very much, being a part of something that was similar to my heritage. Paul O’ Neil and Bob Kinkel are incredible to work with. Paul, who produced my vocal, is an absolute perfectionist in the studio and definitely has the leadership to bring out the best in any performer. Bob is a wonderfully talented composer who makes singing a joy with the harmonics he chooses as accompaniment.
Beethoven's Last Night was a really wonderful opportunity for me. They asked me to sing a solo that closes the album. I play the part of Fate; Beethoven is in my arms as I sing him to sleep--very powerful lyric and melody. Truly an experience I’ll not soon forget. I appreciate very much all of the support I’ve gotten from TSO. In fact, I sing with them quite often as a chorus member and whatever else they have going on. These people are always creating. I don’t event think they sleep!
What kind of music do you find yourself listening to and who are some of your favorite artists these days?
These days I've actually been listening to artists like Maroon 5, Coldplay, whatever is on the radio. But, I've always had eclectic taste when it comes to music. I mean, I enjoy everyone from Chakka Khan to Barbara Streisand to Karen Carpenter to Ella Fitzgerald to Ofra Haza to Paul Robeson to Led Zepplin to Sting to Peter Gabriel to Freddy Mercury back to Kiri Te Kanawa and Beverly Sills! The list goes on and on. I think when you grow up around music, you tend to be a lot more open minded when it comes to your listening pleasure.
Have you been influenced, or has your music been influenced, in any way by some of these artists?
I think whether or not we realize it, all of our lives have been influenced by whatever we hear as well as whatever we see. Our senses are tuned to our surroundings so I'd have to say "Yes," absolutely, I am influenced by all of these people and I am grateful they have opened my eyes and ears in some way.
Have you done any other vocal work that our interested readers should or might just want to know about?
I am working on a project right now I find to be very interesting. There is a wonderful singer by the name of Frederick Doci, for whom I am singing background vocals on his upcoming album. He comes from Albania and is a huge star in Europe. He is about to crossover to the American market and I am blessed to be included in his worldwide success.
Speaking of the world, is there anything you want to tell us about your trip to China where you performed atop the Great Wall?
Yeah, among the performers were Alicia Keys, Cyndi Lauper, Nelly McKay, Boys II Men and Doyle Bramhill. It was an incredible experience and was so surreal. Just to be standing on the Wall was overwhelming at times. Not to mention the fact that I sang a traditional Chinese song called "Jasmine Flower," in Mandarin.
When I was asked to do it, I thought, "Wow, Chinese, that is supposed to be the hardest language to learn." I wondered if I could do it, but, I got a few books and had some coaching from my friend, Jui who was born in China and viola! It happened. But, I was quite nervous.
I mean, the Prime Minister was there and neither he nor any of the 10,000 audience members knew that an American girl would be singing this song. The Producers had me stand way up on top of the tallest tower by myself in a traditional Chinese dress. I was accompanied by the Beijing Children's Choir who were lined up down the bottom of the wall on the lower steps holding lanterns that began to light as they sang the background harmonies. The camera panned in on my second verse and the monitors revealed that it was an American girl singing. The crowd gasped because until that moment, they actually thought it was a Chinese girl! For me, it was like attempting to swan dive in front of a bunch of Olympic divers--very scary indeed. But, it was truly an experience of a lifetime.
What kind of lasting impression did it leave you with?
All I could notice from where I was standing was the full moon right in front of my face and the shadows of the mountainous region ahead. The Chinese people are extraordinarily kind, generous, polite and gracious. They made me feel so welcome and comfortable. I hated to leave because I had made so many friends there and by the end of the trip it became very emotional for all of us to say goodbye. All the other performers were wonderful, too. Cyndi Lauper is just incredibly talented and gorgeous and Alicia Keys is a force to be reckoned with… Nelly McKay is funny as heck and I just had a great time with everyone. I was so proud to be there among these musical icons. I feel absolutely blessed.
How long have you been working on Jump In?
Jump In is a collection of songs I have mostly written with Julie Flanders and Emil Adler (of October Project) and wrote two songs with producer Miklos Malek and one song with Stephanie Lewis. Since there are a few re-makes of songs I had on my Too Close to the Sun EP, I would have to say that this album has been in the making for about four years just based on that.
But, if you take into consideration Julie’s life experience that she puts into her words, Emil’s life experience he puts into his compositions and of course my life’s experience doing God knows what--based on everyone’s life experience who is on this album, and to be fair--I’d have to say that this album has been in the making for many years! I feel that the collaboration of everyone involved has made this album what it is.
I produced it with Miklos Malek. We had our favorite musician, Allison Cornell do all the strings. Miklos played just about every other instrument on the album, except for Gilad, who played percussion, and did a world class job, I might add. The arranging was made by Istvan Csont, Miklos and I. Tom Lord-Alge mixed it for us. What more can I say? I hope that whoever listens to this album will get from it what we’ve put in: a sense of humanity, empowerment and a sign of progress.
What would you say about the collaboration?
I tried to combine acoustic instruments with modern technology as always in order to demonstrate a flow from past to present to future. Julie’s words are always metaphorical and large so I hope people who listen can get a sense of the romance here, too… For me, each song is a thread that connects the tapestry of music, harmony, rhythm, melody and the expression of a human voice. Large and archetypal art is certainly an inspiration. Love is an inspiration and connecting to one's self and the Universe is an inspiration, and mostly, our collaboration is an inspiration. I believe the world is a collaboration at large so, in art forms, I appreciate, very much, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
What can people expect to hear on the album?
I've always said it's "world pop." I'm just waiting for Billboard to wedge me in a slot on the charts for that. My favorite song would have to be "Moving Away." I really like the way it came together, not to mention, when Julie, Emil and I wrote it, we were away on vacation upstate NY during a blizzard. It was so gorgeous and absolutely a stunning environment for writing.
Do you find that people who follow your music have common interests?
Actually, my fans are of course, October Project fans, but, I have gotten people who write to me saying they also listen to Peter Gabriel, Anne Lennox, Amy Grant, Sting, Dido and Sarah McLaughlin. And they have all of us together in the CD player so we may get along in some regard.
What's it like performing your live shows?
I love live. Does that make sense? I just like the nervous energy. I like to render a song differently each time and I like to feel the audience in the room. It is exciting.
How do the audiences react to your on-stage persona?
I am pretty much the same person on and off stage. I may be a bit more polite on stage or I may not say EVERYTHING that comes to mind like I would if I were sitting at the dinner table among close friends. But all in all, they all react the same: they think I'm a bit zany.
What are some of your favorite venues?
The Cutting Room, NYC; Great Wall, China [smiles] and there is a new venue called Rockwood Music Hall that just opened up. I like it there, too.
How do you think the internet has influenced your career to date?
It has helped me sell CD’s and connect to my fans directly.
What are your hopes, plans and dreams for the rest of 2005 and beyond?
I hope to make several more albums. In fact, I have a foreign language album coming out--working on a Holiday album--Anthem Volume Two--and a new album of originals. Put this statement in a time capsule. This will all be done in 2005!