I was working at Ozone Records, disgustedly selling kids Tori Amos CDs for change they'd hustled on the street. A boy approached the counter with immaculately combed hair, neatly pressed suit, and a briefcase in hand. He wanted to order the import of the then-new Beautiful South disc, and he was told I was the Britpop guy to talk to. It stayed with me because I was shocked by the choice in tunes, and also by the attire.
But then, one is always a bit shocked by Sylous. I wouldn't remember the meeting until he recounted it later. He was dressed for his job as a sometime model, sometime office-type. His briefcase had a cell phone and a pager. When he left those jobs, he tossed said briefcase--electronic communication devices still inside--into the Willamette. Sylous was surrendering to rock 'n' roll. It's the moment that will haunt him the length of his career, the second he became committed to melody.
"Music is the place for me where I'm whole within myself," Sylous says, by way of explanation of his mission. "Essentially, it's my ultimate prayer."
One wouldn't expect such passion from the svelte singer, who came to Portland in 1995 from Vancouver, B.C. Then again, we wouldn't likely expect a new David Bowie from Puddletown, home of things more brooding and sludgy. But as I said, Sylous can be shocking. He was shocking as a squirming sex god, doing his best mockney in Swayed, a loving tribute band to UK glamsters Suede. And he's even more shocking on his own, onstage alone with an acoustic guitar and a notebook full of lyrics. The strumming is almost incidental, his voice the real instrument. Equal parts Jeff Buckley, Thom Yorke, and Morrissey, this skinny boy sings from a diaphragm much larger than his own, low when the despair demands and high as the angels when something more divine is necessary.
Sylous' originals, bearing titles like "Pomegranate" and "Frankincense," are long laments for loneliness, sensual strands of verse that drip like warm honey (pop is sex, after all). Behind his oh-you-pretty-thing image is the soul of a troubadour, so it makes sense that his sets also contain a host of covers from sources as disparate as Van Morrison and Depeche Mode. "As a singer, there is nothing more revealing than performing the songs I love," he says. "I am drawn to music that enables experiments of the senses, that challenges you to listen to every note."
Spoken with true pop star swagger (truthfully, the kind that needs no last name). "Popstardom?" Sylous laughs. "That's undeniably fun, but nothing is more important than the artistic elements. Good elements, like Oscar Wilde, not bad like Alexander Pope. I want to sing at the top of my voice for anyone who will listenI am a music junkie."
Shocking for a guy who played his last gig in red leather pants, but not so far out of the realm that firmly houses Sylous' music. After all, it was a rainy-day town that gave us those unlikely figures of burdensome emotion and musical preciousness Morrissey and Ian Curtis. Perhaps it's time Portland had its own sadsack messiah, though one who's not afraid to smear some glitter across his cheeks.
So, really, nothing's so shocking as how good Sylous' sad songs really are, how much he will come to mean to you, and how far away from here he will eventually go. Prepare to fall for your new #1 crush.