Prepare yourself mentally as I take you along a wonderfully anecdotal story of how I first came across the musical styling of one Mr. Nick Sanborn, aka one half of Sylvan Esso, aka Made of Oak. Most people who frequently attend live shows are likely to have at least one “transcendent discovery” show where an undercard act takes them completely by surprise. As you might of guessed, my “transcendent discovery” was Sylvan Esso, an electro pop duo of which Nick Sanborn is the musical mastermind.
The date was September 2013, and my friend Zachary and I had made a pilgrimage from Nashville to Metro in Chicago via MegaBus to see one of Justin Vernon’s many non-Bon Iver groups, Volcano Choir. We had spent the better part of the day meandering around downtown Chicago in a desperate attempt to kill time before heading to Wrigleyville for the show. Following our time killing traipse up and down Lake Michigan, we hadn’t realized it, but we were considerably dehydrated as we walked into Metro for the opening act, which I now know to be Sylvan Esso.
In short, the set was truly incomparable, as neither of us had heard a single Sylvan Esso song, but good god, those beats. Sanborn’s samples and instrumentation had produced 808s that had made my heart break. I was lovelorn with the vivid musicality of Sanborn’s hypnotic beats, I assume my friend Zachary felt the same way, as I saw him record the majority of the show on his voice memo app.
Fast forward to the present day, as I’ve enjoyed Sanborn’s success with Sylvan Esso just as much as the next dehydrated concertgoer, but its his solo work as Made of Oak that has truly, wholly, violently moved me to my musical core. Sanborn released his first official Made of Oak EP, Penumbra, in November of 2015.
Now you might be thinking, “What the hell is a ‘Penumbra?’” and “What does it mean?” Both are entirely valid questions, and I am happy to provide a brief refresher in solar etymology – for the uninitiated, “Penumbra” means ‘the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object.’
I talked to Sanborn about the significance a title such as Penumbra and its subsequent track titles would have in his audiences’ listening experience, to which he explained, “its kind of the nice thing being an instrumental artist, I’m not using lyrics, but I still feel like I wrote something that’s from a very specific time in my life. So [I] kind of leave these breadcrumbs that make sense for [me]. I just love it when you can imbue that kind of material with intent. Like when you look at something and think, ‘oh this is an intentional choice, this person chose these things.’”
Sanborn’s tour in support of the lyric-less Penumbra EP has been going exceptionally well, as he considers the small club circuit to be more intimate than the large rooms he’s traveled through over past two years in support of Sylvan Esso’s debut. Sanborn says the Made of Oak shows are “free and open, and can kind of go anywhere,” an environment that he’s grown most accustomed to over his near decade and a half of touring.
Made of Oak will be rolling through Nashville’s premier small room venue, The High Watt on Thursday, April 14th with support from Nashville’s own self-proclaimed “Fantasy Arpeggios” group, Makeup and Vanity Set. Come on out to witness the sonic wellspring that is Made of Oak’s Penumbra set in the ideal environment for its digestion, and though I’m not a betting man, I’d be pretty confident to say that some of Sanborn’s signature dance moves and grooves will be on full display too. Why would you want to miss out on that?