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Too Close To The Sun
album review and artist reflections
Review, Interview and HTML © 2001,
Russell W Elliot and Sylvia Tosun
Formatted for 800 x 600 or larger windows
Last updated: 07 April 2001
Set aside the harder-edged progressive material currently making a major comeback for a little while. And recall the lush and melodic progressive sounds of October Project whose music took much of the Northeast by storm in the mid-1990s in a wave that crossed the Atlantic many times over. Enthusiasts of the band remain keen on their music to this very day and, despite a six-track EP from a follow-up effort under the moniker of November Project a year ago, await the next recording from Emil Adler and Julie Flanders. The threads from the October Project have been closely followed by Musical Discoveries editors who recently reviewed the debut by the band's former lead singer Mary Fahl and another by their backing vocalist and keyboard player Marina Belica.
We were naturally delighted when people close to the band referred Sylvia Tosun to Musical Discoveries earlier this year. Her stunning debut release, Too Close To The Sun, is a collaboration with Emil Adler and Julie Flanders. Our review of the six-track EP is accompanied by a warm, indepth and exclusive interview we completed with Sylvia. Although we had hoped to include additional photographs of her in the first edition of this article, Sylvia informs us that a new shoot is currently being scheduled and we'll all have to wait for the pictures from that before doing so. In the meantime you can find additional information and further images at Sylvia's official website.
We asked Sylvia to tell us about her background and influences--a biography in her own words--and she revealed, "Growing up on a farm, in Wolcott, CT--home of Louisa May Alcott, someone I quite admire--I have always been in awe of nature and all it's beauty and the ability to 'live off the fat of the land,' so to speak, with fresh vegetables and fruits and milk and eggs, right in the back yard, never needing to hit a store--until I learned how to drive, of course."
She continued, "I love New York and it's multitude of cultures and expressions. I knew it would be my home the moment I had stolen my mother's car and drove here, by myself, with just a map, a bottle of water and a hope that I wouldn't get in trouble by seeking my dreams."
"Although I am not a huge fan of organized religion, I am devout, however, in what 'it' represents as far as spirituality. I feel that we are all connected through God and no matter what our path, we are led to a deeper understanding of life and God with the simple word, 'love.' My background consists of Catholic, Muslim and Judaic influences, so instead of ever making a choice between them, I choose to absorb what is right for me about all of them, plus what I develop on my own. I believe that people should make 'working on oneself' a part of everyday life--there is always room for betterment and always room for "buttermint" candies!"
"I have seen a great deal and done many things in my short life span. Most of what I do is based on my obsessive nature. I get very excited about a new project or idea and I want to take it as far as it can go and as a result, I am diverse, and what society would deem to be, "well rounded". I am an artist; it's what I do--can't help it--I see potential in everything; sometimes I even annoy my friends by nagging them about their potential."
"My family is very artsy, so, from a very young age of three, I was encouraged in that way. My maternal great-grandfather, Salvatore Morra, originally from Italy, was a professor of music and raised by his uncle, who was a Bishop, while he attended, and graduated from, the Cesi Conservatory. My great-grandmother, Anna, met him while she was an accomplished painter and mandolin player and was adding to her studies by taking piano lessons from him. They ended up getting married and moving to America--how romantic! When I was eight years old, I studied the piano with a man who actually was a student of my great-grandfather's. Although I never knew my great-grandfather, it was heartwarming to hear the wonderful stories others would tell about him."
On my father's side, however not as musical in the same sense, there was a great deal of music used within the expression of spirituality, as my grandfather was a Dervish and Spiritual Healer, who traveled all over the Middle East and people from all over that part of the world, traveled to be healed by him and to watch him "twirl". But, alas, my grandfather, Mehmet Tosun was America-bound as well--via Australia. He came here with his wife, Barije, my Dad and his two brothers; started a dairy farm in Wolcott, CT called Willowbrook Dairy and put his kids to work. My Dad was actually a milkman and delivered milk to Marilyn Monroe during her marriage with Aurthur Miller. So, technically, I am the 'milkman's daughter.'"
"I have always imagined what those long ago days would be like; the desert, the hot sun and the gusty winds blowing around in the openness, as people all over the land, would journey any distance just to feel at one with the Universe. I guess not much has changed."
"I have always loved music as my expression. Sometimes I would just dance for hours and "Charleston" with my Nana, or wiggle my little hips with my Dad or just be by myself, listening to whatever was on the radio. In any case, music is the vehicle with which I communicate, whether it means me standing on a stage and singing a meaningful love song that has lush string arrangements and a lilting melody, or just closing my door while the hard rock guitar and drum riffs make the walls shake--and my mother yell."
"From the age of eight, I was taking all sorts of lessons, like: ballet, tap and piano; I was always in the school plays and had yearly recitals on stage. I listened to everything. I loved Ella Fitzgerald and Mozart; Gershwin and Queen; Barbara Streisand and Ozzy; Elvis Presely and Freddy Mercury; Mariah Carey and Korn. Now, do those couplings make you a little queasy? Just imagine what is going on inside of my head! Alright: Sarah and Seal, is that better?"
"My Dad would always take me to the Middle Eastern picnics in Massachusetts, where I could sing, belly dance, eat great food and fly around a great big outdoor tent like a bird. I loved to experience the culture and the freedom."
"I was always separated from the pack somehow; being tagged an 'aggressive learner.' Big deal. So I graduated high school when I was barely fifteen and I entered and won just about every scholarship competition--and several pageants--available just to be able to afford college--so I could get away from what was then an outmoded small town--that now seems precious--filled with morality and value."
Too Close To The Sun. One can not help but notice the distinct resemblence of the opening track of Sylvia's debut, entitled "Runaway," to the music of October Project and November Project. Arrangements are lush while vocals ring through in a style not dissimilar to that of Marianne Marino, November Project's current vocalist. Layers of backing vocals and strings add further texture to this highly accessible and upbeat adult alternative track. The second track--"Blue Sky"-- is equally lush, but substantially softer and slower. Again layers of vocals thicken the sound in the choruses whilst the clarity of Sylvia's voice is brought to the front in the verses illustrating the stunning production quality of the recording.
Upbeat and lushly arranged with strings and vocal layers, Sylvia's vocals are again crystalline in the title track. Verses are evocative and emotively sung, making listeners long to see Sylvia and the instrumentalists perform live, especially as they slide into the warmth of the harmonious choruses. Emil Adler and Julie Flander's influences seem to perfectly compliment Sylvia's style.
Sylvia told us about how she met Emil and Julie, "I had managed to come in contact with many wonderful people during my last few years in New York; wonderful friends, in and out of the music business. But, when I came across like-minded souls such as Julie Flanders and Emil Adler, the creators of the transcending and beautiful October Project, yet a new energy was released from my heart."
"We were introduced by Ari Martin, OP's Product Manager when they were signed with Epic Records. There was a chemistry between us from the first meeting." She continued, "Our conversation, in the tenses of past and future, while existing in a present moment, seemed weightless and unlimited. Life in all its forms; heartbreak, love and longing; dreams fulfilled and of those to come were soon realized within the realm of our collaboration."
"I love collaboration on all levels; I love when people break barriers together and individually, they become stronger within themselves and safer in the world. I loved the movie "Gladiator" for this reason. I love it when quality matters, when a brand new path leads the way to fulfillment. I love it when people make a difference by being true to themselves. I respect people like: Ghandi, Mother Theresa and Princess Diana. I regard highly the musical artists who did what they loved until it killed them like: Buddy Holly, John Lennon and Selena."
"It seemed as though that little girl with a bag on her head, standing along side a faded and blurry road; that girl that had drawn me in to take a closer look, was, in fact, looking right back at me. For those of you who are in a musical cave somewhere, I am referring to the cover photo of their first, self-titled OP album, which, by the way, was decided upon by, Ari Martin, the very man that introduced us."
Sylvia told us about her musical influences, "I can comfortably say that I am influenced by everything music has to offer; the hard, the soft, the lush, the bare, the sung, the spoken and unsung."
Too Close To The Sun (review continued). Sylvia's vocals are mixed even higher against a more reaching set of instrumental textures that emerges in "All This Time," yet the purity and power of her voice is evident in the evocative and sensual delivery. Sylvia's middle eastern influences emerge in the arrangements to "Sleepless Dark Water" with percussion and instrumentation piquing the imagination of listeners that know of the belly dancing routines frequently embedded in her live performances. Full of vocal energy, the concluding track, "Nothing More Than This," features lovely instrumental and layered backing vocal arrangements and, as a compliment to Sylvia and the co-writers, is very October Project in its construction. We were left longing for another five or six tracks as it came to a conclusion.
About the development of her style, Sylvia told us, "By being true to myself--although opera, rock, middle eastern and pop music helped." And about working with her writing partners, "It happens in many many ways, but, here is the one I am sure you will enjoy:"
"I present Emil with a song and he takes it into his room and shuts the door. After some silence, there are a few grunts and groans, then a smash, then there's a little more silence and then the door opens. There stands Emil, sweating profusely from his brow, telling me that he wants to play me the song. He plays it through and I sing the melody. It's exactly the same song, but, somehow, eerily, it is totally different!"
"Then there's Julie. She and I talk about everything in our lives, so if anyone knows how to articulate what is in my head, she does. She'll have the music on a tape for a while and then I'll get a phone call, "I hate this song! I cannot come up with anything for it! It's awful! This song is going to be the death of me!". A few hours go by and I get another phone call, "Sylvia, this song is the most beautiful song I have ever heard. Wait till you hear this line. I love it. It represents everything in both of our lives."
"Then, there's a voice from the background through the phone. It's Emil, "But, you have to fix that one word that really bugs me, Julie. We can't leave it like that." Then Julie says, "Syl, I gotta go." Now, a day or so goes by and I get another phone call, "Sylv, c'mon over. The song is ready for you to hear it." Someday you'll have to ask them their side of the story." [Ed. Note: Musical Discoveries is still awaiting responses from November Project to our interview questions of last September--time to chase them down!]
We asked Sylvia if she works outside the music business. "Yes and no," she told us, "I involve music in everything I do. I listen to music until I need total silence, in which case, I am reading or sleeping. I am an Acoustic Specialist and Interior Designer. When I am building a recording studio or decorating an apartment, I use all kinds of music as my guide for the vibe of each room. Check out the rooms at Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan!"
Sylvia told us about the recording process. "First of all, I love to arrange and produce. One of my favorite things is to be in a room with someone like Harold Stephan, producer of my debut CD. He is a master at the keyboards and has a host of sounds that we can sit and listen to for hours. Then we get a bunch of masterful musicians in to record the parts. Mind you, no elaborate set up is needed. After all, my entire album was recorded in Harold's New York bathroom."
"Then, after all was said and done, and the musicians--Julie Flanders, Emil Adler, Harold Stephan, Allison Cornell, Doug Yowell, Mike Visceglia, Ben Butler, and yours truly--had made their contributions, Harold and I went to Electric Lady to mix it. It was a pleasure to be in a big studio with all amazing equipment; and I might add, spectacular acoustics. Rick Kerr mixed the album and I was really grateful to him for doing it in a record time of four sessions."
Sylvia got pretty excited when we asked about her live performances. "They are filled with several amazingly talented musicians, a packed house, a little belly dancing and a crowded after party. We always have an after party!" Find out more about Sylvia Tosun's live shows at her website.
And when we asked how the internet had influenced her career, she responded, "Well you found me, didn't you?" Well, actually it was the other way around! But since we've mentioned her work at Musical Discoveries and linked to her site, many of our regular readers have found their way to it and to ordering her CD. In closing Sylvia told us, "I hope that I answered all your questions. It sure brought me way down inside of myself in a resurrecting sort of way and I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to be on your fabulous site."We're certain that Sylvia Tosun's debut will appeal to a broad cross section of Musical Discoveries visitors, and most certainly the October/November Project fans that come here frequently. You can hear audio samples from the recording and obtain it directly from Sylvia's website. It is likely also available at well-known New York City retail outlets and her live performances. Ask around for it, Too Close To The Sun should be explored further and is certainly worth a cross country journey--it is a must listen!
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