Interview: A Moment In Time With Sylvia Tosun

Sylvia Tosun is a Jill of all trades.  Musician, songwriter, interior decorator and entrepreneur, Tosun is a talented force of nature dividing her energy into a dizzying array of endeavors.  Our first run in with Sylvia was late last year on our first visit to the Edison Ballroom. Decked out in a stunning print cocktail dress she was a delightful dinner companion. A few short weeks later at The Kimberly Hotel‘s upscale lounge “Upstairs” we met a very different Sylvia, relaxed in a white blouse and blue jeans, we spent an evening chatting and sharing stories. It was here that we discovered her many talents. Not only was she working on an album, and running a record label she had actually found time to decorate the entire venue in which we were having cocktails. I’m not sure how she finds the time to breathe! Luckily we were able to catch up with her once more and get the latest on her many endeavors:

Where do you think your creativity stems from?

There’s definitely a creative gene that’s been passed down from my family ancestry… My grandparents and great-grandparents both maternally and paternally were a constellation of Musicians, Sculptors, Painters, Spiritual Healers, etc…
Whether it’s design or music, I’m naturally compelled to visualize and conceptualize things. I remember when my great-grandmother was alive, she was a very talented sculptor, painter and mandolin player. She would teach me from a very early age, about 3 or 4 years old, how to mold with clay and paint colors that blend with one another. This early training proved to come in handy when I started to develop as a Designer. With my music, it is an outlet to express my emotions and connect personally meaningful lyrics with a melody that further communicates a visceral experience, which is such a gratifying accomplishment when it clicks. Interior designing differs in that my vision is geared to consider how a room’s aesthetic will affect other people’s moods, much like if I were to write a song for the masses, it would have to be able to connect with a vast array of individuals. In the realm of ‘design’, however, it is truly rewarding when all the individual pieces come together to create something truly artistic, yet functional. Either career provides me with a deep sense of artistic creativity.

Who are your influences/muses?

For design I’m influenced by everyone from David Rockwell to Marcel Wanders to Antoine Debouviere.
Musically, I’m moved by artists such as Peter Gabriel, Annie Lennox and Kiri Te Kanawa.

As an Interior Designer:  Where did the inspiration come from for “Upstairs at the Kimberly”?

Actually, it was a collaborative effort to begin with.  he Owner and the General Manager had the idea of making it an all year around destination, with a retractable glass enclosure. Our Lighting Designer put dramatic theatrical lighting above the glass from the upper deck to shine through the ceiling when it was closed and created a beautiful atmospherical pattern in blue, which twinkles and resembles starlight.

It turned out, that during the middle of installing a heavy duty HVAC system to provide heating or air-conditioning all year round, I was at the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE) and came across the flagship store of Moooi, Marcel Wanders’ masterpiece collection of fine modern furnishings.  It was then, that I chose to use his famous ‘Smoke Chair” among other pieces sprinkled in by both Piet Boon and B&B Italia in order to create an “Alice in Wonderland” magical type sensation…

What is the first thing you consider before taking on a project?
Whether or not I will be able to contribute something that will enhance the project significantly and if it will also allow me to grow in some creative way.

In addition to interior design you are also a musician. Which aspect of the artistry do you prefer singing or writing? Why
That’s a tough one to answer because they both provide a different and meaningful fulfillment. Singing to an audience can give an adrenaline rush that is unrivaled. There’s a vulnerability and nervous energy that turns into euphoria when the performance is received well by the audience.  I love feeling a connection with those listening to me sing.  Songwriting on the other hand can be an internally torturous journey searching for the right lyric and melody. However, when an idea blossoms it is such a rewarding feeling of accomplishment.  I love collaborating because then those moments of inspiration are a shared experience. It’s like that old saying, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, did it make a sound?”  Well with collaboration there is another witness to that beautiful moment of creativity. I wholeheartedly believe in the art of collaboration; a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Do you think all artists should write their own material? Why/Why not?

It’s not an easy task to write a quality song. It’s a craft that requires skills that are developed through a lot of hard work and effort, not to mention life experience…like any specialty craft. I don’t think every artist is necessarily cut out for it and that’s ok. There are some amazing vocalists who don’t write and some equally amazing writers who can’t sing well. It’s all good… but, certainly, writing is a truly gratifying and healing expression so I highly recommend getting our thoughts down on paper in any case, whether it be for a song or just to vent an emotion.

How would you describe today’s music?
There is something out there for everyone.  Music is so vast these days.  As far as pop music goes, there’s definitely a huge shift toward Electronic Dance Music.  All the big pop stars are basically doing dance tracks.  As someone who comes from Opera, then Jazz, then Theater, then Singer Songwriter / Rock / World music, and over the past several years Dance music, I definitely “get” and think it’s a cool thing that the genre is becoming so mainstream because Dance/Electronica music is a wonderful forum for all types of genres to flourish. However, I like to keep my ear influenced by the coolness of the international underground dance scene too, because I believe that is a place for Electronica to develop in its purest form.

How important is Music education in school age children?
OMG, so important!  It is a proven fact that children who study music score higher on tests and are more balanced in their lives.   I attended the VH1 Save the Music Foundation Gala  a couple of months ago and it was really wonderful to see so many artists and music industry professionals give back to their community and raise awareness for this issue.

What prompted you to start your own label?

I had a couple of major label offers earlier in my career and the contracts just didn’t sit right for me. The overall ability to release, promote, and present my artistry exactly how I imagine via my own label is extremely gratifying.  Sink or swim, at least I don’t have to compromise my artistic vision.

What do you look for when considering an artist?

First, there has to be a compelling song. Without that, there’s nothing to promote. I really love rich and interesting textures in a voice. If it’s a DJ/Producer we’re considering for the label, it’s all about bringing some hot and sexy beats!

I notice 2 familiar faces on your roster, Traci Lords and Freedom Williams, how did that come about and what can we expect from these artists?

We met Freedom as a result of my label partner, Anton Bass, having worked with Crystal Waters on a project. A couple of years ago down in Miami for WMC, Crystal introduced us to Freedom and the 4 of us had a great time together. After that, Anton got in the studio with Freedom and started working on some music.  Freedom is a fascinating individual with very interesting insights as well as an arresting vocal presence. We’ve had two cool releases with Freedom that hit the Billboard Club charts so far. Traci was introduced to us by celebrity photographer and good friend Mike Ruiz.  Anton is in the studio right now actually putting together the track production for her first single on Sea to Sun. It’s a real catchy song with a clever and fun lyric. Picture Goldfrapp meets Soft Cell, but with Traci’s sexy cool voice. Very excited about this one…

What advice would you give to auditioning talent? What do you think of Shows like American Idol that magnify the audition process?

I think shows like American Idol are fun. Although, they do give false hope to a lot of people that think it’s easy to get a fast track to success. The reality is, the vast majority of artists have to really earn it. To make it in this business it takes a lot of patience and internal fortitude. Thick skin is a must. However, you have to be open minded and willing to look for and accept constructive criticism.

We may never know exactly how Sylvia finds the time to work on her various projects. We never figure out just where her boundless energy comes from, but one thing is certain, if we are fortunate enough to dine with her again we’ll have what she”s having.