- 15 May 19
SYML takes us through the inspirations and identities behind his debut album.
SYML, a.k.a. Seattle musician Brian Fennell, sat down with Hot Press in The Octagon Bar at the tail end of his media blitz of Europe during which he pinballed from city to city talking about his self-titled debut album. Yesterday Fennell was in Berlin and Milan before finally ending up in Dublin, and following our discussion he made his way to The Late Late Show to perform the original version of ‘Where’s My Love’, the song that exposed many listeners to SYML and has since raked in tens of millions streams.
It’s no wonder why Fennell’s SYML project has struck a chord with so many people. The artist, who was formerly the lead singer of indie band Barcelona, seems to have a knack for making music that’s both intimate for himself while still being applicable to his fans’ own lives and circumstances, which he says is part of the beauty of releasing music.
“I can talk about my daughter, I can talk about my wife, and all these very personal things to me, but as soon as you hear it or somebody else hears it, they immediately own it for themselves and apply it to their own experience or relationships or internal sort of things they might struggle with or whatever,” explained Fennell. “I just like knowing that I brought this song to a certain point where I'm really proud of it and now somebody else is going to take it the rest of the way on their own.”
One of the most personal and outstanding songs on the 12-track album is ‘Girl’. Fennell wrote the song as he and his family went through a difficult time – his two-year-old daughter Josephine recently underwent surgery on her skull to remedy a condition that would have otherwise harmed her brain development. Its lyrics are yearning, yet hopeful: “Shake off the night and don’t hide your face / The sun lights the world with a single flame / I want you to see this.”
“The reason I think it's my favourite song is not because it's so personal, but because I wouldn't change a thing about it… I said exactly what I want to say about it to her and to anybody who would listen to it,” said Fennell, clearly proud of what he accomplished through the song. “It's about becoming stronger and better going through fire and trial, and how that makes you a badass and makes the people around you admire you more.”
Fennell was inspired to name his solo project SYML, meaning ‘simple’ in Welsh, after finding out about his Welsh heritage. Identity is on Fennell’s mind, and he delves into a diversity of identities and their relationships to different emotions and situations throughout much of the album.
“I'm fascinated by love – it's different forms and manipulations of how we might enjoy or use love and the people involved in that and now that I'm a dad there's a whole different dynamic of love as well.
“I think it's always identity applied to something else. There’s a song [‘Break Free’] about misogyny and what does that mean to me in terms of my own history and what does that mean to me in the general sort of my community and experiencing culture today.”
While Fennell excels at crafting both emotional ballads and dance-y pop songs, they are not empty and he is not afraid to touch on the darker parts of life. Songs like ‘Break Free’, which treat misogyny as a self-perpetuated illness, are what set him apart from other pop artists. He wrote the song after someone in the industry made misogynistic comments to him.
“It caught me off guard with like the speed it happened and then also the massive assumption that was made that I'd be okay going there,” said Fennell, before continuing to say these attitudes are “under the surface all the time, just like bubbling, disgusting illness that people still do. But it's like you choose it, it's not given to you.”
Fennell has a lot more to say through SYML and has already been recording new material at his home studio outside of Seattle. This summer he’ll be embarking on a lengthy European tour, accompanied by his wife and two children for some parts, and will be playing a gig at The Button Factory in Dublin on October 12.