Q1: When did you start writing and who influenced you the most?
Sylvie: . I had two obsessions, from the moment I came out of the egg it seems, and they were writing and music. When I was little I sang and tapdanced onstage and offstage I played a recorder, I started writing stories pretty much as soon as I started school. I can’t think of one particular person or book that influenced me as a writer because I read so much, all sorts of stuff, starting with fairy tales. My inner-goth preferred Grimm to Hans Christian Anderson. I can be more specific about the first music I heard that really meant something to me: Bessie Smith singing St Louis Blues, my dad’s favourite record. And then while I was still a little kid there came the Beatles. Between Bessie Smith and John Lennon, it’s all I needed.
Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Sylvie: Again nothing specific. I can’t remember thinking “I want to be a writer”, because I had never met anyone who was a writer by profession, and because I was always writing, all sorts of stuff, for no reason other than that I liked to write. There was a time in my teens when I wanted to be a singer-songwriter because I loved singing and I had a guitar and I guess I looked the part. Most of the songs I wrote were minor-key dirges – about lost love before I’d had any love to lose – and none of the songs were worth remembering without embarrassment. Anyway, stage-fright put paid to that idea. So I became a music journalist. My influences as a music journalist? Hard to say. Probably a mishmash of the largely-male (they were mostly men back then) rock writers in Sounds, N.M.E, and Melody Maker, the three UK music magazines I’d devour every week. When I moved to L.A in 1977 I became Sounds’ correspondent. Left to my own devices out there I suppose I started to find a style and approach of my own. I hope so. Also, I got over my stage fright and became a singer-songwriter, but that was several decades later.
Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?
Sylvie: In the beginning it was Sounds magazine in the UK, for making me their correspondent in 1977 and giving me all sorts of brilliant assignments, like going on the road with Black Sabbath, or The Clash, and a weekly column. This led to assignments from other magazines in the US and Europe, which meant I was writing nonstop, and picking things up as I went.
Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?
Sylvie: I was born and raised in inner-city London and I entered my teens when London was the best place in the world to be for someone who loved music. I lived in France for a while, which certainly influenced my writing the Serge Gainsbourg biography: A Fistful of Gitanes.
But work-wise, the USA is where things really took off for me as a writer and also later as a musician.
Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?
Two things tie for first place: I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen – the biography that I wrote with Cohen’s co-operation – was my first big best-seller, with almost 30 translations at last count. The other is my debut album of original songs Sylvie (Light In The Attic Records). When the turquoise vinyl turned up in the post, I admit I cried when I saw it.
Q6: What are your favorite activities to relax?
Sylvie: Playing old LPs on an equally old portable record player. Playing my ukulele, or piano, or my new love, a tenor guitar. Or walking for miles and miles going nowhere in particular, thinking thoughts, maybe stopping for a latte or a beer. Or going to the movies. I still love movies, and it’s just not the same on TV. It’s like watching a concert on Zoom.
Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?
Sylvie: I’ll leave that for someone else to decide.
Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?
Sylvie: I love to rock out – for years I was the correspondent for Kerrang! – but ever since my dad and St Louis Blues I’ve always been drawn to slow, melancholy music. I can go on endless jags of listening to everything by Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Scott Walker, or Joni Mitchell’s Blue. The songs that keep bringing me back again and again are those in which you can hear the humanness of the singer and the honesty of the delivery. For that reason I love listening to music like old Blues or early Beatles, anything where the little mistakes are left in. I truly dislike auto tune and those polished productions that iron out all the human-ness.
Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?
Sylvie: I recently got back from playing at the Calgary Folk Festival in Canada, and now I have a few things coming up in San Francisco. I’ll be doing a speaking event at Litquake with fellow veteran rock critics including Ben Fong-Torres and Greil Marcus on October 21st ’22. Also a music event at the Lost Church on November 6th ’22 as part of the S.F Leonard Cohen festival. There’s info on my website. You can find my first two albums on my Bandcamp page. I’ve also added some new music and outtakes. I’m hoping to record a new album next year.
On the writing side, I still write regularly for the UK magazine MOJO. My last book was Face It, a collaboration with Debbie Harry. But I’m happy to say that there’s now an updated US edition of my Leonard Cohen biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.
If anyone would like to purchase a signed copy – of the book or my albums,vinyl or cd – they can contact me directly through my website at the link(s) below.
Bonus: Any funny or strange stories you’d like let us know during your creative journey?
Sylvie: Too many to mention. It’s been 45 years of strange and wonderful occurences, and I hope it never stops.
I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen on Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/2p98h7vf