Everything is Broken

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

Hi! Sylvie here. The words of that Bob Dylan song have been running through my head nonstop since I last posted on this page in March. I had gone to Tucson, Arizona, with twelve new songs to record with Howe Gelb, but on the night of  my first day in the studio I had a nasty accident, breaking a whole lot of bones. Since those bones included my arm and wrist – as well as some nerves in my hand – I haven’t been able to play ever since.  Slowly but surely I’m getting better and champing at the bit to get back into action. I did a speaking engagement in Pennsylvania last week and managed to sing two songs, and  I sang backup at my friend Colin Gilmore and Adam Traum’s show in San Francisco. On Monday  7th August I’ll be singing at Cafe du Nord in San Francisco, with the great Bart Davenport backing me. Hopefully I’ll be ready to  go back and finish that album by the end of the year. And talking of bones. here’s a very fine dog to snuggle up to.

Dog love

Back to the desert

Sunday, March 5th, 2017

Sylvie is heading back to Tucson, Arizona soon to record a new album. Howe Gelb of Giant Sand will once again be producing and adding his musical magic along with Thoger Lund. The new songs Sylvie is recording include several that she has played at recent shows – including “Keep Dancing,” “Nothing,” “Creation Day,” “Waiting For The Shadows,” “Imaginary Boy” and more.

Sylvie will also be doing a few shows in the Tucson area. Please see the tour page for details.

Here’s a pic of Sylvie performing with Howe and Thogerat the Henry Miller library in Big Sur.

SS HG TL Big Sur2 copy

Desert rocks

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

sylvie_simmons_jpgTucson, Arizona legend Howe Gelb celebrated his 60th birthday on 22nd October with a giant hometown concert, four hours long, featuring special guest musicians from across his 50-album career.

First up was Sylvie, who sang “Midnight Cowboy” with a cast of luminaries as her backing band, including Howe on guitar and Maggie Bjorklund on pedal steel. The lineup included Thoger Lund (bass), Brian Lopez (guitar), Gabriel Sullivan (guitar), Tommy Larkins (drums), Neil Harry (pedal steel), Winston Watson (drums), Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Tom Walbank (harmonica), John Convertino (Calexico, drums), Lana Kelly (vocals), John Diaz (trumpet), Annie “Sister Town” Dolan (guitar), Scott Garber (bass) and  Patsy Gelb (vocals), plus two members of the Sno’ Angel gospel choir, UK-via-Portland singer Scout Niblett,  and John Doe and Exene Cervenka from X.

Here’s a report from Tucson Weekly.


Re-United States!

Saturday, February 6th, 2016

Howe SS billboard copySylvie reunited with Howe Gelb –  the legendary founder and front-man of Giant Sand who produced Sylvie – and bass player  Thoger Lund, who played alongside Howe on Sylvie’s album – for two shows in California. The first was in Big Sur at the Henry Miller Library, where Sylvie performed a Leonard Cohen show soon after the release of  her book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen in 2012. The second show was at  San Francisco venue The Chapel – here’s a brief review of the show in Bay Bridged.


In-between shows, Sylvie played Howe ten of her new songs, which he now has on his iPhone. They’re hoping to record her second album together later this year.

And the winner is …

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

Well, we don’t know who the winner is yet –  but we do know that Sylvie’s debut album Sylvie,  produced by Howe Gelb and released on Light In The Attic Records, has made it onto the ballot for Best Folk Album for the 58th Grammy Awards!!  Voting in the first round begins this week, so we’re crossing our fingers and lighting candles that she’ll make it to the next round!

Here’s some photos from a show Sylvie played with Howe and Giant Sand at the Aarhus festival last month. There was an amazine line-up  onstage in the grand finale – including M Ward, Grant Lee Phillips,  Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth,  Bob Dylan bassist Tony Garnier, Maggie Bjorklund,  Giant Sand, Howe and Sylvie and more.

Midway through the encore – a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep”, with Howe, M Ward and Sylvie on vocals, Howe led Sylvie in an impromptu tango during an accordion solo, while managing not to knock over the violin players!

Grand finale


Sylvie at Howe etc show

Sylvie and Howe Town CalledDance finale copy


‘Adios’, Chile… ‘Hej’, Denmark!

Thursday, August 27th, 2015


Sylvie spent the last two weeks back in San Francisco after a short but super-sweet trip to Chile where she performed to 500 people, made a TV appearance and did three radio shows (with Chilean’s best-known DJs Alfredo Lewin and Hernán Rojas) and, on the morning of her long flight home, went into a studio to record a bootleg album with her two Santiago accompanists, Matías Cena and Diego Alorda, with Alejandro ‘Perrosky’ Gomez at the mixing board.

Now she’s off to Scandinavia again – Denmark this time – for the amazing Aarhus Festival. Sylvie has three events, each of them different: she’ll start with a Leonard Cohen-related appearance at Kristian F Møller book shop on August 31st; then on Sept 1st she’ll be onstage interviewing the festival’s keynote speaker, the legendary Jac Holzman. And last but by no means least, she’s playing a concert with Howe Gelb (who produced and played on her album ‘Sylvie’) and Giant Sand, Grant-Lee Phillips Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and more in what will be a very, very special evening!
Full details of tickets, times and dates are on her tour page.

What a summer!

Monday, July 20th, 2015

Whew! Is it sweltering where you are too? It’s turning out to be quite a summer, in so many ways. First, the touring. After her performances in Bogota,  S.America Sylvie did a handful of shows in California then flew to Scandinavia  where she played three concerts in Norway – way up in the north of the country, and also in Oslo (pictured below, where the musicians included American singer-songwriter Luke Elliott and Norwegian poet Havard Rem, who translated Sylvie’s book I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen) – with a few days off to climb a mountain and take a fishing boat out into the Norwegian sea and catch an enormous cod!

Now she’s headed back to S.America again – Chile this time, to play a concert with Chilean musician Matías Cena and be interviewed onstage by Santiago journalist Alfredo Lewin. And after that it’s back to Scandinavia! Three shows in Denmark as part of the Aarhus festival, one of them sharing the stage with Howe Gelb and Giant Sand,  Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and M.Ward. Check the Tour page  for details of these and also some local shows.

Despite all the traveling, Sylvie has kept to her resolution to Tweet her book Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes every day, a dozen or so tweets at a time, with the occasional commentary and picture! At last glance she was four chapters and around 700 tweets into it. Join her on Twitter or if you want the whole book, which  has been updated and is available as an e-book/kindle  after a long time out of print, it’s here:


Sylvie has also been compiling an album, The Rough Guide to Americana: Vol 2.’ The first volume, coincidentally, came out the same year as her Serge Gainsbourg book, in 2001, and featured then-unknown artists, now highly-acclaimed, like The Handsome Family, best-known these days for their theme song to True Detective Season 1. Season 2’s theme tune is a Leonard Cohen song!!

And of course she’s still writing about music. Here’s an essay she wrote on Iggy Pop for Radio Silence magazine and book – part personal story, part critique and the second in her series of heartbreak albums , ‘The Best Part Of Breaking Up’.  Read it here: http://ht.ly/P3Cr6

Encore 2 Oslo

Life in a motel without a car

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Life in a motel without a car

Part1: People in motels with cars get up early.

Woke before dawn when two people walked past my window talking. People in motels with cars get up early so they can get in their cars and go. My sleepy brain, thinking we were home where there’s nothing outside the window but a long drop, frenziedly tried to figure out what was happening. I couldn’t find the light switch so I turned the TV on. The news said that while I slept a man in McDonalds was shot to death. The thought of a fluorescent-lit MacMeal being the last thing you eat, or even see, before you die was a mournful one to start the day on. The weatherman said 93 degrees and gusty winds; a good day for an early run.


Part 2: Going for a run beside a freeway.

It was a freeway motel and since I don’t have a car, the only place to run is the freeway. Running beside a freeway isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s far less boring than a treadmill – for one thing there’s that tinge of anxiety that the driver of one of those enormous trucks going by at 75mph might get distracted by the sight of you trying to race them, veer over and squash you like a bug. Though still safer than McDonalds probably. Also, the knowledge that however fast you run you’re still going to get there last and that there really isn’t any ‘there’ to get to, gives it a Zen element that running  – running by choice, I mean, as opposed to necessity, like if you’ve a bus to catch or an armed maniac to evade – ought to have.

Part 3: Breakfast.

I’ve never much enjoyed going out for breakfast; I’m not much of a morning person and like to ease into a day. The motel offers a free continental breakfast – although America is the only continent I know that breakfasts from a big plastic bin of fruit loops. I’d forgotten all about fruit loops – can you get them outside of motels? But I appreciated the subtlety of their colours, the pastel lime and dusty pink. Breakfasts in America and the places you eat them tend to be far too colourful for the food they serve and for the time of morning. The motel also had a waffle machine, which looked scary, and good coffee with those little pots of half and half that make you feel guilty that your desire to open a third one and only to use a drop of it has put yet another knife into the environment. And, on my run, I noticed there was a Dennys. I think I’ll start going out for breakfast.

Part 4: Buying shit.

Really there are too many shops, period. You can get almost anything you need to get by from a freeway gas station. And the staff is friendly. The gas station was empty; when the guy working there noticed that there was no car accompanying me, he seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being and my ability to return whence I came without the help of wheels. Had I been a several decades younger or a few decades older I’m pretty sure he would have given me an icecream and called the authorities. I came back with fresh milk for the fridge, a bag of trail mix and a hand-drawn map to a dry river bed where I could go for a run tomorrow.

Part 5: Motel pools.

Motels invariably have pools. They tend to be small and square and fenced into their own little gated compound, as if to protect them from someone making off with them in their truck. There’s a slew of  trucks parked around the back of the motel, but strangely only the fronts. All of the trucks are missing their back ends, which makes them look funny, like semi-pantomime horses. The pool in this motel here is sparkly clean, with loungers all around and an umbrella that no-one’s put up, because no-one but me is here. In motels, most people tend to get in their cars and leave by seven in the morning, so the car-less guest gets the pool to herself. And the sound of the traffic going by on the freeway is soothing. Like Tom Petty wrote in American Girl, the cars roll by like waves crashing on a beach. And yes, for one desperate moment there, he crept back in my memory.

Return of the Phlog

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

I met someone in Liverpool and I think it’s love. 
Actually I’ve had a thing for him since I was a little girl – there he was on TV, the bad boy, who all the good boys in the playground would imitate, running around with toilet plungers yelling, “Exterminate!” I ran into him by chance at the BBC Merseyside studios, where I’d gone to do a show with esteemed Liverpool DJ Spencer Leigh, and grabbed it just as it was being wheeled off into a cupboard. Now here I am back in San Francisco on a foggy morning, listening to some krautrock records I picked up at Amoeba, daydreaming about my dalek bumping up the 40 stairs to my flat and singing along.

I was in England for most of June and early July. Since I’d been in Canada, promoting the Canadian ‘I’m Your Man’ when the UK edition came out, when I heard the UK was releasing the paperback edition in June I grabbed my uke and got on a plane.

What a trip. It started in Chiswick, London – wisteria, church bells, evening sun gilding the river as a crew of rowers glide by, an old pub with summer ale, a fox daring behind a tombstone at dusk – then made a swift diversion to Berlin and back again, taking in London’s East End and West End, Bloomsbury, Liverpool, Kentish Town, Pimlico, Chalk Farm, Marylebone, Wembley, plus Hertfordshire, Brighton, Leigh on Sea and Liverpool. Too busy living it to stop and take notes, but I do have some photos, enough for a phlog, so here they are, along with the memories they prompt.

Writer and translator at the Literaturhaus, Berlin

Here I am on the left, trading stories with Kirsten Borchardt, translator of the German edition of my book – the first time we met but it felt like old friends.

The first night of the UK tour was at Rough Trade East on Brick Lane. That’s Mat Snow, my good friend and former MOJO editor, in the dapper black and pink, asking the questions, and what looked like a roomful of rock writer luminaries and friends in the audience, including Neil Spencer, Charles Shaar Murray, Peter Silverton, Mark Ellen, Will Birch, Daryl Easlea Gavin Martin, Lloyd Bradley. I had to take a deep breath before I had the nerve to pick up my uke and sing. Afterwards it was off to the pub – at least for those of us who managed to get past the bouncers and friskers at the door. Blimey, Brick Lane – the shabby East End neighbourhood where I used to go to the market with my dad as a kid – has changed.

The Horse Hospital, London.

Ah, the Horse Hospital. My favourite arts venue back when I lived in London – the entrance a cobblestoned slope designed for rolling down the carcasses of the poor horses who met their end – this was one of my favourite nights of the tour. My super UK publisher, Dan Franklin, introduced the show, which began with rare Leonard Cohen film footage. Followed by some great performances by my special musical guests Pete Molinari and Katy Carr.

Pete Molinari

Katy Carr

Early the next morning, bleary-eyed and on a train to Liverpool. I arrived at the bookshop to see a board outside advertising the day’s event. It wasn’t mine. Er, okay, onto plan B – which turned out to be an intimate, guerilla gig upstairs in the religious section, sitting, chatting and playing to a small but very sweet group of people. And the day kept getting better – Spencer Leigh took me to a different bookshop where I found a copy of ‘Death of a Lady’s Man’. And then I met that Dalek…

Yet another bookshop, this one in London at Waterstones in Covent Garden. It felt good to arrive and see a huge pile of my books awaiting my signature and – even better – an open bottle of wine!

Next up: Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, a place I admit I’d never heard of, but which a pal, John Etherington, told me was where Julie Felix lived. Julie, an American folk singer who moved to London in the early 60s, met Leonard Cohen in Greece and invited him on her UK TV show. A few days before my event, Julie had celebrated her 75th birthday onstage with special guests including John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. I asked her if she would be my special guest and graciously she agreed. We played some of Leonard’s songs, alone and together, and then she surprised me with a song I’d never heard before, which she’d written about Marianne Ihlen, Leonard’s former lover, and their break-up.

A night off at last, and what a night: Leonard Cohen at the 02 – “the other side of intimacy”, as he once described it; my description of the place wouldn’t be anywhere near so kind but there’s nothing wrong with positive thinking – plus it is the place where he recorded a rather brilliant CD/DVD.  At this show he warned the people in the top rows about leaning too far forward (and warned the rest of us about looking at ourselves in magnifying mirrors, a piece of wisdom I should have followed this morning; not the best way to start a day to learn that just because you have wrinkles doesn’t mean you still can’t get a pimple on your nose.). Anyway, back to Leonard’s show. Despite the ugliness and vastness of the space, there were times during the concert (his recitation of ‘Alexandra Leaving’ was one of them) when the silence and stillness in the room and the focus and attention of all the people in it was unearthly, like time really did stop.

As for me, my next show was in a cool, music-themed boutique hotel on a square of Regency houses in Brighton.

It was a cold afternoon, one of those grey-on-dirty grey English skies just made for depressives and a brutal wind blowing in off the sea. But I love Brighton, the pebble beach, the once-beautiful old pier decaying in the water. So like a good Brit I bought some fish and chips,  doused them in salt and vinegar and took them down to the waterfront to eat. As I opened the polystyrene box, the wind reached in and tried to scoop up the battered fish. I held it down in the middle with the little wooden fork and both ends curled up, like one of those little plastic fortune-telling fish you used to lay on your palm and see which way they folded. As I was trying to remember the meaning of this particular configuration, half the fish flew up in the air and into the mouths of a gang of brawling seagulls. I did what any self-respecting Brit would do: gave them the rest and headed for a nearby pub.
The Hotel Pelirocco was a perfect venue – cool decor, cooler crowd. The author Lee Hill interviewed me (and gave me a copy of his fine book on Terry Southern, which I devoured on my transatlantic flight) and for the music I was accompanied by Andy Small on guitar and Jules Lawrence on flute, harmonica and (love it!) a musical saw.

This picture below was a few days later in London, at the Harrow & Wembley Progressive Synagogue. My good friend Victoria Zackheim had told me about rabbi Frank Dabba Smith, who was as delightful as she’d described him. We met for a quick supper – an M&S takeaway eaten on a bench outside the British Library, where he’d been studying away all afternoon – then  took the train to one of the far reaches of N.W London  where we met up with what seemed to b e the love of the rabbi’s life: an old, red and white Citroen 2CV. Installing me in the backseat and his mechanic (very sensibly) in the front, the little French tin can on wheels hurtled over speed bumps and squealed around corners before coming to an abrupt halt outside the synagogue. Which provided a welcome dose of adrenalin for answer ing all the great questions from the audience, and to play a song or three.

The last of my London gig was at the 12 Bar, a cool little club at the end of Denmark St in Soho – Tin Pan Alley – which was also one of my regular haunts back in the day. My old friend Chris Carr corralled a huge cast of musicians and put the gig together with Andy at the 12 Bar when I protested that my organisational and artist-herding skills had been worn out. Some of the musicians I’d heard of and even written about -Jason McNiff for example – and others I was hearing for the first time.

Here’s as many of them as we could round up at the end for a picture.

Everyone on the bill performed a Leonard Cohen song and a song of their own. Since it was my show I could break the rules and I ended up doing three Cohen songs – two at the start, one at the end (the hefty ‘Master Song’) accompanied by a great singer-guitar player I’d met for the first time that night: Brian Lopez. He’d just come from rehearsing with K.T Tunstall and, back home in Tucson, AZ, it turns out he plays with my good friend Howe Gelb in Giant Giant Sand – as did John Paul Jones! Small world. I’ll post a video of us on my Sounds page soon.
I didn’t do any of my own songs at the 12 Bar, but I did on this radio show with Bonanza & Son just before the gig.


A much-needed couple of days off were  spent visiting some favourite museums and art galleries but mostly just wandering around. I’d forgotten, since leaving London, how many unexpected things you just happen upon: in one afternoon a choir singing in the echoey corridors of the National Portrait Gallery; a stage full of disco dancers in Trafalgar Square; an orchestra rehearsing Mozart in a church; a man on the bus describing in loud detail, to his girlfriend, what he vomited up that morning. Though I was trapped beside him, it being rush hour, joy filled my heart at the realisation that he was not my boyfriend. The evenings were spent with friends. One night I went to Kasabian, who were playing the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – an enormous, soulless, new open-air venue in Stratford, the ground covered with a crumpled astroturf carpet which itself was covered with pint-sized paper cups, bottles and regurgitated food. You couldn’t find a place to hear music in that was more different than the small, lovely and full of character as the lovely old 12 Bar. Fine band, ugly place.

But, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, it was beauty I’d come so far for. I got it at my last show of the tour, in a small Methodist church in Essex. Thanks to my writer friends Daryl Easlea and Will Birch, a spot was found for me and my uke at the Leigh-on-Sea folk festival.

The weather had been grim for almost my whole stay in England, but all at once the grey gave way to blue skies and baking sun. The little seaside town exploded in colour and smiles. There were long, long lines at the pub, wilting Morris dancers,  little kids mud-wrestling in the swamp- beach left behind when the tide went out. It was full inside the church, a great little gathering, and local guitar player Steven Hastings accompanied me as I sang some Leonard Cohen songs.

And from there it was on the train, back to London, to catch Van der Graaf Generator’s show at the Barbican.  What a day. And what a way to end the UK I’m Your Paperback tour.