Follow TV Tropes


Music / David Sylvian

Go To

David Sylvian (born David Alan Batt, 23 February 1958) is an English musician who may be best known for appearing in the New Romantic / Glam Rock band Japan in the late '70s to the early '80s. After inner tensions between band members led to a falling out, Sylvian pursued a solo career, crafting music that was more mature and artsier than his previous work. He has since gained a respectable cult following. Sylvian has also dabbled in poetry, visual art and photography. He has been photographed by Anton Corbijn (who also produced some of his music videos), and has collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto (more closely in his solo material) and with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp (their efforts combined produced two albums in the early to mid '90s). Sylvian was married to Prince protégé Ingrid Chavez from 1992 until 2003. Throughout his career, both in Japan and solo, he has relied on his brother Steve Jansen (né Stephen Batt) as a percussionist.


His solo works represent an artistic evolution, as Sylvian proceeded to dispose of the flamboyancy, get a hair cut, and adopt more Baroque, Chamber and Jazz influences that slowly began to resemble the latter-day, sophisticated Art Pop works of artists like Peter Gabriel or Talk Talk (with a little bit of Avalon-era Roxy Music thrown in for good measure.) This is particularly present in 1984's Brilliant Trees; but he took an even more stripped-down approach in 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, which extracted the electronics from that album and the soundscapey Alchemy and Gone to Earth and replaced them with lush string, violin and piano arrangements. After some experimental collaborations and a twelve year (!) wait, he made a solo comeback in 1999 in the form of Dead Bees on a Cake, which took a slightly darker, more Ambient and adult contemporary approach to his classic pop leanings. His sound palette would mutate again with 2003's Blemish, which removed everything but his harmonized voice, avant garde guitar playing and glitching electronic drones; this new style would be mined and expanded on Sylvian's subsequent albums.


David takes a very serious crafting approach to music, but it's always all-around artsy. He's also known for being a bit of... a hermit. Don't expect him to come out of hiding unless it's for something important.


  • Brilliant Trees (1984)
  • Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities (1985; EP expanded to full album in 1989)
  • Gone to Earth (1986)
  • Secrets of the Beehive (1987)
  • Plight & Premonition (with Holger Czukay, 1988)
  • Flux & Mutability (with Holger Czukay, 1989)
  • The First Day (with Robert Fripp, 1993)
  • Dead Bees on a Cake (1999)
  • Approaching Silence (1999; compilation of previously issued soundscapes for art shows)
  • Blemish (2003)
  • Snow Borne Sorrow (as member of band Nine Horses, 2005)
  • When Loud Weather Buffeted Naoshima (2007)
  • Manafon (2009)
  • Wandermüde (with Stephan Mathieu, 2012)
  • There's a Light That Enters Houses with No Other House in Sight (with poet Franz Wright, 2014)


  • Break Up Song: Blemish is a break-up album, with Sylvian meditating on his feelings over his divorce from Ingrid Chavez. "The only daughter" is probably the most break-upy song on the album, with a chorus of "This, your one and only warning / Please be gone by morning"
  • Cover Version: With Japan, he covered "Don't Rain on My Parade" by Barbra Streisand, "All Tomorrow's Parties" by Velvet Underground, "I Second That Emotion" by The Miracles and "Ain't That Peculiar" by Marvin Gaye. Early on, the band often performed a cover of The Rolling Stones' "Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)" live and recorded an unreleased studio demo of it, as well as recorded unreleased cover versions of Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs," Bob Marley and the Wailers' "I Shot the Sheriff," The Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine," and an unreleased Chic cover believed to be "Le Freak."
  • Distinct Double Album: The first disc of Gone to Earth is comprised of vocal pieces and the second is entirely made up of ambient instrumental pieces.
  • Domestic Abuse: "When Poets Dreamed of Angels":
    She rises early from bed
    Runs to the mirror
    The bruises inflicted in moments of fury
    He kneels beside her once more
    Whispers a promise
    "Next time I'll break every bone in your body"
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first two Japan albums, and to an extent Quiet Life, feature David using a rather different vocal style to his later smoother work. Also, the first album Adolescent Sex is very guitar and synth heavy, with lyrics predominantly about dancing and comparing relationships to political events (something that was very popular in glam rock). Sylvian's appearance was rather different then, with long dyed blond hair and makeup (the other members of Japan had similar styles, because Sylvian wanted to make the group stand out.)
  • Face on the Cover: Surprisingly, for such an attractive rocker, Sylvian kept himself off of the majority of his album covers. His debut Brilliant Trees features a wide shot with him from the torso up in profile, while Blemish features an illustration of his headshot. Played straight with the remastered reissues of his pre-2000 albums in the 2010s, as the original artwork for the albums were lost and therefore press photos had to be used.
  • Follow the Leader: Sylvian himself was heavily inspired by the New York Dolls, David Bowie and Roxy Music. Asian and jazz influences influenced him more and more as he went on. His detractors constantly mention the Roxy Music influence. Duran Duran were heavily inspired by Japan and are often considered to be their spiritual successors. The band were recording their self titled debut near where Japan were recording Gentlemen Take Polaroids, and rumour has it that the Duran boys chose that studio just so they could meet Japan.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: He went in for Japanese culture in a big way, appropriately enough for someone in a band named Japan. He frequently collaborated with Ryuichi Sakamoto, sang with Akiko Yano, and was in a relationship with a Japanese photographer named Yuka Fujii, who shot many of his cover photos.
  • Greatest Hits Album: After releasing three collections showcasing unreleased songs, instrumentals and collaborations, Sylvian finally released a greatest hits, A Victim of Stars, in 2012. Tellingly, it begins with "Ghosts" from the final Japan album, Tin Drum.
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: The premier example of the New Romantic genre during his time in Japan.
  • New Sound Album: All of them, but the two that are particularly worth mentioning are the Japan album Quiet Life, in which he shows off his deeper voice, ballad and Asian influences for the first time; his solo debut Brilliant Trees, where he expressed his full sonic vision for the first time; and the solo album Blemish, which began his current experimental career.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Sylvian spent a lot of time in the 1980s scoring art shows, films and dance pieces that he was also involved in.
  • Surreal Music Video: His work with Anton Corbijn.
  • Take That!: When a then-career-spanning box set called Weatherbox was put out, Virgin Records demanded for a new hit single to go with it. He came up with "Pop Song," which consists of a unconventional mallet-on-piano-strings bass part, no drums, and a synthesizer set on flute that is flying across the keyboard with two open palms.
  • Variant Cover: Reissues of his early albums have had completely new covers due to the original artwork being lost.