David Sylvian

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David Sylvian

David Sylvian (born David Batt in February 23, 1958) is a British singer and songwriter who first rose to fame as the lead vocalist of the band Japan, and whose subsequent solo career has been influenced by a variety of musical styles, including jazz and electronic music (primarily ambient and electronica).



(1958-1982) Early life and Japan

David Sylvian was born in 1958 in Catford, London. Japan, whose other members included Mick Karn, Rob Dean, Richard Barbieri and Sylvian's brother Steve Jansen, began as a group of friends who grew up together. As children they played music together as a means of escape, playing David's two-chord numbers – sometimes with Mick as the frontman, sometimes with David as the frontman. On Christmas of 1973 David's parents gave drums to Steve and a guitar to David.

Eventually, they became a glam rock outfit in the mold of David Bowie and The New York Dolls. Their music became more sophisticated – drawing initially on the art rock stylings of Roxy Music. Due in large part to their visual image, the band was tagged with the New Romantic label. Their later albums were, however, more sophisticated musically and lyrically than new romantic bands such Duran Duran and generally lacked the obvious pop hooks.

After a successful tour, they broke up in 1982, and Sylvian embarked upon a solo career. Japan's final show was on December 16, 1982 in Nagoya, Japan. The live album from this tour, Oil On Canvas, charted well in the UK.

Sylvian's singing met with a great deal of early criticism for sounding affected, and too much in imitation of Roxy Music's frontman Bryan Ferry. But by the end of Japan's run, his voice had begun to mature into its own distinctive baritone.

The usual recounting of the ending of Japan has to do with various interpersonal relationships, tensions therein including Sylvian linking with Yuka Fujii, a photographer, artist and designer who also happened to be Mick Karn's former girlfriend. According to Sylvian, however, the real reason for the break-up was Karn creating songs for his first solo album and thus betraying an unspoken rule within the band about how all their musical energies should be poured into the band. In an interview with Mojo Magazine (April, 1999), Sylvian states: "I gave Mick the ultimatum: if you want a solo career, let's break the band up. He said, 'I'd like to keep the group going as well' – a safety net, and that didn't feel right."

By the early 1980s neither Sylvian nor Japan had achieved the same level of awareness in the United States as they had in Britain. But the chosen name of Japan had seen their career taking off in that country.

(1983-2002) Solo career

The importance of Yuka in David's life can't be underestimated. She was an established artist when she met David. Her reasons for coming to England from her native Japan, included the wish to photograph British jazz musicians. Through Yuka, Sylvian was introduced to the world of jazz music, which gave him the inspiration to continue the direction that began with the later Japan tracks. Yuka also influenced Sylvian to incorporate spiritual discipline into his daily life. Throughout David's solo career, Yuka has had a role in the design of David's album artwork, often handling the cover art entirely herself. David and Yuka formed Opium (Arts) to manage David's interests.

Around the time of Sylvian's first solo album he also collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto on the soundtrack music for the Nagisa Oshima film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983), which produced a hit single, "Forbidden Colours", credited to Sylvian/Sakamoto. A year or so later Sakamoto produced an album for Virginia Astley and Sylvian was brought in as a guest for the song "Some Small Hope".

Sylvian's debut solo album, Brilliant Trees (1984), met with critical acclaim and yielded the single "Red Guitar". His follow-up was an ambitious two-record set, Gone to Earth (1986), which flouted convention (and perhaps commercial wisdom) by featuring one record of vocal pop songs and one consisting entirely of atmospheric instrumentals. Guest artists included Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson.

His third album, Secrets of the Beehive (1987), was more acoustic and oriented towards somber, emotive ballads. It yielded one of Sylvian's most well-received songs, "Orpheus," and was supported by his first solo tour, 1988's "In Praise of Shamans." Sylvian's touring band was effectively an expanded version of Japan, without Karn, but including Jansen and Barbieri along with Mark Isham and guitarist David Torn.

Never one to conform to commercial expectations, Sylvian then collaborated on several ambient projects with artists like Holger Czukay and Russell Mills.

In 1991, a highly-anticipated Japan reunion fizzled. Sylvian insisted on calling the project and the album Rain Tree Crow, to the dismay of both his label Virgin Records (who were hoping for a hit "comeback" album) and his former bandmates. Sylvian reportedly assumed a controlling temperament over the entire recording, turning the record, in effect, into his newest solo project. This badly alienated Karn, who has not associated with Sylvian personally or professionally to this day. Like Tin Drum, the Rain Tree Crow recordings were a breakthrough in performance and recording.

Yuka and David separated shortly after Rain Tree Crow and Ingrid Chavez, one of Prince's associates and signed to his Paisley Park Records, sent Sylvian a copy of her first album. David liked what he heard and found her voice fit in perfectly with what he'd been working on with Ryuichi Sakamoto. The "Heartbeat" single was what appeared from this. After a tumultuous beginning, David and Ingrid decided to travel together throughout the UK and the USA, eventually settling there.

In 1993, Sylvian startled many of his long-term fans by teaming with Robert Fripp on the album The First Day, which married Sylvian's philosophical lyrics to hard-driving progressive rock songs very much in the mold of Fripp's band King Crimson. The album's centerpiece was a dance track, "Darshan," over 17 minutes in length. This was released as its own EP with a remix by Future Sound of London.

Following a tour for the album, Fripp reportedly asked Sylvian to join his newest incarnation of King Crimson. Sylvian declined on the grounds that he did not want to join a band with an established history, and then he and Fripp had an acrimonious split. A live album from their tour, Damage, was released in 1994, which Sylvian remixed and re-released to his liking in 2001.

In an art space, called P3 (P3 Art and Environment), located in the basement of a modern Zen temple, called Tochoji, in Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Fripp and Sylvian collaborated on an exhibition called "David Sylvian and Robert Fripp: Redemption – Approaching Silence". The sound installation featured projected images and text in a dimly room, illuminated only by candles. The music was available as a cassette-only version. The exhibition ran from August 30 to September 18 in 1994, P3, Tokyo, Japan. Music was composed by David Sylvian, with words by Robert Fripp.

A period of musical inactivity followed, during which time Sylvian married Ingrid Chavez and settled in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prior, they lived for sometime in Sonoma, California to be close to their guru. They have two daughters, each with Sanskrit names. Chavez pursues her interest in photography and music. In 1999, Sylvian released Dead Bees on a Cake, his first solo album since Beehive. It showed the most eclectic influence of all his recordings, ranging from soul to jazz fusion to Eastern spiritual chants, and most of the songs' lyrics reflected the now over-40 Sylvian's inner peace from his marriage, family and beliefs. Guest artists included longtime friend Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Talvin Singh and Bill Frisell.

In 2001, Sylvian lent his voice to the song "Linoleum" on Tweaker's album; The Atrraction To All Things Uncertain.

Following Dead Bees, Sylvian released a few compilations through Virgin, the retrospective Everything & Nothing and Camphor, which collected several of his ambient collaborations.

(2003- . . . .) Samadhi Sound

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David Sylvian in performance with his brother Steve Jansen.

Sylvian then parted ways with Virgin (for whom he had never exactly been a chart-topper) and launched his own independent label, Samadhi Sound. In 2003 he released the album Blemish and supported it with the Fire in the Forest tour.

Fujii and Sylvian collaborated again in 2004, participating in a group exhibition called Minus One, curated by Atsuhide Ito and Noriko Tanaka and in the atmospheric Aldwych Underground Tube Station, Strand, London. In empty phone boxes Fujii provided digital photographs and Sylvian the accompanying texts. This was 28 & 29 January 2004, 14:00–20:00, 30 January 2004, 14:00–18:00.

Sylvian once again collaborated with Tweaker on his 2004 release, 2am Wakeup Call, peforming lead vocals for the song "Pure Genius".

The Good Son vs. The Only Daughter, an album of remixes, came out in 2005.




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