When speaking with ’80s pop star Sylvia, you’re almost taken aback by the wise words and thoughtful wisdom she harbors.
This maturity is evidenced on her new album, her first in 14 years, “It’s All in the Family,” a reflective project that brings the singer back to her roots while incorporating elements of her current life. After going through a painful divorce, she began to wonder what the next chapter in life was and felt “nudge” to make another record – but not just any record, one that would incorporate the “voices” of her grandfather’s antique fiddle and banjo. “That gave me some energy,” Sylvia said.
And the presence of these instruments can be heard on the first part of the track “Grandpa Kirby Runnin’ the Hounds,” that incorporates the scratchy sound of her grandpa’s fiddle and banjo, which are more than 100 years old, adding a unique element to the song. “You really are hearing the voices of those instruments,” Sylvia says.
Describing the title track as the “core song on record,” Sylvia says “All in the Family” had her reminiscing of her humble beginnings in poverty, watching her mom put clothes on the clothing line, and even the fence line when times were really tough. “It’s personal, but I think it’s kind of universal,” she says of the song. For the first time in their longtime partnership, producer John Mock had written the melodies for six of the album’s songs. But Sylvia believes he got a little help from above on “All in the Family.” “I definitely knew my grandpa gifted us with that,” she said of Mock’s melody for the song.
Upon hearing the song “Hope’s Too Hard” from friend Kate Campbell, the singer states she “cried like a baby” and felt strongly compelled to record song. “It really captured the hell I had been through. It just touched me,” Sylvia said of the first song she recorded for the album. “To me, ‘Hope’s Too Hard’ is a very hopeful song in that it’s about surrender and when you surrender, then life gets easier, because you’re not trying to make it better.”
While “It’s All in the Family” is sure to impact fans, “Nobody,” the No. 1 hit that launched her into fame, is still resonating with audiences today. “It was like a choir, everybody knew all the [words], it’s just kind of mind-blowing,” she says of a recent performance of the song. While she also experienced success with “Tumbleweed,” her first top 10 record and the follow up album, 1981’s “Drifter” that climbed to the top of the charts, the singer hit a bit of a roadblock after leaving her major label deal at RCA.
This experience is reflected in a song on the new album titled “I Didn’t Know What I Was Missing,” that’s also influenced by other major transitions in her life such as her divorce and the struggles of beginning a career as an independent artist. But this hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams, stating that she’s “broadened her path” over her career.
“At first it felt like I came to an impass,” she says about her days following the split from RCA. “What else am I passionate about because I can’t do something in my life that I’m not passionate about. I love music and I’d never thought about doing anything else.” With a transition in motion, she decided to turn her attention to something else that fuels her passion: coaching.
Speaking honestly about her success as a young star, Sylvia reveals that loneliness was a part of her life at the time. As she looks back now, she says one element that contributed to that loneliness is that she didn’t have a mentor, prompting her to fill that void for artists today.
A coach now for 16 years, the singer works with a variety of people ranging from up and coming artists to corporate executives. “The coaching skill set, you can work with pretty much anyone,” she says of the experience, adding that she loves it just as much as singing. ” It’s helping people move through transition, through change.”
While she enjoys working with all walks of life, she really enjoys those in the creative arts. “You’re in a constant state of being curious and asking questions..It’s a deep piece of work, I feel like it’s actually very sacred,” she said about the craft that requires skills like deep listening and working to move forward in life.
Everything seems to come full circle with the first song on album, “Every Time a Train Goes By,” which chronicles the true story of a three-year-old Sylvia, terrified by a train that would come roaring past her trailer and send her hiding in fright. But one day she decided to embrace her fear and face it head on. “As train went by, the engineer leaned out and waved and smiled at me,” she reminisces. “And it changed my life. That’s why it opens the record because that theme of facing your fears is what changed my life.”
And it’s clearly what helps her change others’ lives as well.