Without a doubt, one of my favorite discoveries of 2014 was the North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso. So you can imagine my excitement when I got word that SE’s producer, Nick Sanborn, was due to release an EP under the new moniker of Made Of Oak.
Made Of Oak’s Penumbura EP drops tomorrow (Friday, Nov 6). Nick also put together a mixtape (tracklist at the bottom) I played during my show on KCRW and KCRW.com. I met up with Nick ahead of his show at The Bootleg Theater tonight to talk about this new project. I began by asking about the significance of the name Made Of Oak…
Nick Sanborn: It was originally just a joke. Some of my friends and I got on this abstract bragging tip for a summer for some reason, just trying to one-up each other and make each other laugh, and I started using that name for the beats I made then — [like] “How hard are these beats?? They’re made of OAK, dude,” et cetera. And then I kept using it for too long to change it, and it’s adopted a number of meanings as I’ve gotten older, most of which are quite unhip and zen-related.
KCRW: Penumbra EP sounds exploratory and quite unrestrictive. Can you describe your approach to creating the Made of Oak sound and how it differs from Sylvan Esso?
Nick: Just like with the Sylvan stuff (and most other projects I have a hand in), I don’t like to go into writing with a genre or rigid structure in mind. At this point I don’t even go into writing with a specific project in mind, I just write until whatever it is reveals itself. I’ll be working on a beat that I’m sure is for Amelia, and then all of a sudden both of us will realize it’s totally a Made of Oak track — or vice versa. I used to worry all the time about mixing different styles but then one day I noticed that everything I wrote always sounded like I wrote it, no matter what I did. It was really liberating.
For Penumbra it was a little different. I was working on a bunch of these tracks and it slowly dawned on me what they were all trying to say together, and what it said about me. Once I could see that, the entire rest of the EP kind of laid itself out for me. That’s the only real thing I always hope to accomplish with my solo stuff: to make instrumental music that tells just as much of a story as lyrical music.
KCRW: Though the EP is experimental and even ethereal at times, there’s something natural and organic about it. I find myself transported to a cabin in the woods or somewhere in the mountains when I listen to it… Are you aware of this duality? Was it a conscious decision to create this combination?
Nick: Absolutely, I’m really glad that translated for you! I’m always drawn to music that’s electronic but feels undeniably human and natural, where that duality is emphasized rather than erased. Especially in instrumental music, I think it conveys a certain honesty.
KCRW: Will there be a full-length to follow? If so, when should we expect that?
Nick: Yes! I’m working on it now, but we’re also about to start working in earnest on the next Sylvan Esso record, so it’ll be off and on.
Here is the tracklist to Nick Sanborn’s mixtape for Aaron Byrd’s Nov. 6 KCRW radio show: