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curtains: in conversation with sylas dean

Queer songwriter Sylas Dean arrived in Los Angeles with a car full of stuff and a hundred songs which he’s boiled down to an epic five-song EP. It brings rock, it brings anthem, it brings campy, glamourous hyperpop you can dance to in the club even before they bring out the tequila.

Born in a small town in Connecticut, Dean began writing songs as a teenager and would perform as the opening act at local gigs. As a teenager, he studied voice and classical music under opera scholarships whilst entering in music festival competitions before training in acting and touring the USA as part of a theatre. Eventually, he headed out west with what he could fit in his car and landed in LA where he waited tables and hustled for gigs until he released the EP American Dreeming just last year.

With his newest single Real out now, Dean continues to explore and expand his sound. In this interview, Sylas Dean talks honestly about grief, work ethic, and spirituality after religion.

Push Up Daisies: What has your relationship with death always been like, and how do you view it now?

Sylas: Death terrified me and still does till this day, but the more I experienced different forms of loss and grief throughout my life, the more acclimated I became to finding peace within death. My debut EP American Dreeming was sort of birthed out of this need to find something vibrant and joyful to create to escape grief during the pandemic. I'm only in my twenties and my perspective could radically shift at any point, and I'm not even sure anyone my age can fully grasp the severity of death. One experience that sort of shifted my mindset around death and grief was a lecture I sat in on in college about inter family relationships and coping mechanisms. The professor framed grief in a way of something we can't truly "get over ''; we just adapt to and find happiness within it. It's hard to explain but the relief that gave me and the pressure it alleviated completely shifted my understanding of death and was a turning point for me.

Push Up Daisies: Are you spiritual or religious? How do you think your culture affect your perception of death?

Sylas: I come from somewhat of a traditional Italian family on my Mom's side, so I was raised Catholic. I went through all of the growing pains of Catholicism when I was a kid. I received communion and I was confirmed at fifteen, but the older I got, the less I subscribed to any form of organized religion. That said, I can't quite say I'm not a spiritual person either, which I think has created an odd understanding of death from grappling with leaving a religious practice but retaining beliefs about a version of an afterlife.

Push Up Daisies: As a creative, how does the thought or fear of death inspire you? Does it ever drive you to create more?

Sylas: It completely drives me! Part of the reason I wrote this music and put out the American Dreeming was this wider understanding of life and how short things can feel. We're only here for a minute and that minute can be shorter for some, so I think what I truly fear is the idea of waking up one day very late in life and asking myself why I didn't go further, why I didn't push harder to create or promote my art. I think that's what we all fear in some way, why did I give my life to the service of anyone other than myself and those I love? It's too short to waste your time in a state of "What if?"

Push Up Daisies: How would you like to be remembered?

Sylas: I think this goes hand in hand with my previous understanding about how short I see life. I don't want to be remembered as someone who had potential, I want to be remembered as someone who went after what they wanted and looked every single person in the eye and asked for what they deserved along the way.

Push Up Daisies: What are you most proud of in your life?

Sylas: I'm proud of my work ethic because I know it makes my family feel a sense of ease about me. I feel good about being that person in their lives that they hopefully don't have to worry about because they know how hard I work and that I always land on my feet. We all just really want to make the people we love proud and feel secure about us, so for me that's my personal source of pride.

Push Up Daisies: How does the thought of death affect your everyday life?

Sylas: I think it's unhealthy to live your life with intrusive thoughts about death. For me, I utilize the shortness of life as a fuel source over spending my time contemplating death or what might come after. I choose to make the most of every minute I have here by reminding myself that those minutes are sacred.

Push Up Daisies: In what ways can it be healthy to contemplate death?

Sylas: I often wonder if incorporating humor within the context of death is healing or masking, right? Both are in service to make us feel better but as for how "healthy" they can be? I'm unsure. I think it can be healthy to incorporate more of the legacy of someone's life when talking about death, in the sense of asking yourself how they'd want you to feel or remember them if they were still here. To me, that's a very specific form of honoring someone that protects the integrity of how they felt about you or about life in general.

Push Up Daisies: Have you ever seen an art piece revolving around death, that left its mark on you?

Sylas: Of course I have, we're inundated with content surrounding death and grief because it's the driving force behind everything we do and every decision we make. It's the ultimate fear because there is this "great unknown" to all of it. But I don't see the mass of art revolving around death as particularly impactful any more so than experiencing death in your circle firsthand.

Push Up Daisies: What are your ideal and worst ways to die?

Sylas: Having witnessed death, I think the most you could ask for is to be with those you love and for your final moments to be painless and peaceful. The darkest version of death in my mind is to die alone and without someone by your side in that final moment.


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