SYML (which is the Welsh word for “simple”) is the solo venture of Seattle-native Brian Fennell, a proficient singer/songwriter who spent the majority of his music career with indie rock band Barcelona. SYML entered the spotlight after the then-unreleased song “Where Is My Love?” featured on Teen Wolf in 2016—it proceeded to chart for 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot Rock Songs chart. It has since received gold certification in Canada and Belgium.
SYML’s music is known for being more textural and sensory with moodier vibes, introspective lyrics, and emotional themes. Under SYML, Fennell has released two EPs, Hurt for Me in 2016 and In My Body in January 2018. His most recent singles include “WDWGILY” (Where Did We Go, I Love You) released in August and “Clean Eyes,” which was released last Friday. SMYL’s first full-length album will be released on Jan. 12, 2019, but you can catch SYML and special guest Flora Cash at 7th St Entry on Sept. 27. Before heading to the concert, learn a bit more about Fennell’s solo project below.
Let’s talk about how was SYML born—what was the transition from Barcelona to SYML like?
There was nothing sort of intentional about it like, “Oh, I’m going to end Barcelona and start a new project.” I think that all of us in the band were kind of feeling like it was naturally coming to an end. Coming off a lot of touring and creating music as a member of a band, I wanted a change, so I sort of holed up at home in my studio and started compiling songs, unintentionally forming what SYML would become. As soon as I heard one song, it opened my eyes to like, “Oh my gosh, this could be a real outlet for writing more songs.” I don’t want to call it some kind of accident because I really think I meant to write these songs. They’re very intentional and personal to me. But I didn’t know that people would respond so quickly and give me an opportunity to write more and tour again.
How is your creative process different now, whether it’s how you approach music in the studio or in the way you write lyrics?
I think one of the biggest differences is that in SYML, I’m constantly doing things outside of my comfort zone. I embraced other roles like producing and mixing and even mastering in some cases on my earlier SYML stuff. And by doing that—which was pretty intimidating and scary at first—I think all other facets of yourself change and grow in ways that you weren’t expecting because of putting yourself out there in that way. So wearing various hats has really helped and took down any presumptions I had about the genre I was writing in or what I could or couldn’t do, whether it was my own expectations or any external expectations about how a song is made or how a band should act. I think there were way more standards that we tried to operate under in Barcelona. Not in a bad way necessarily. I’m really proud of that time. But taking hands off and limits off of the process has been really fun for me.
You have a new song “Clean Eyes”: Is it similar to your last single “WDWGILY” (Where Did We Go, I Love You) or should listeners expect something completely different?
I think if you read the lyrics to “Clean Eyes” you would sort of assume that it was a little bit more on the heavy side, but musically it’s quite a change from what I’ve done previously. It’s pretty upbeat. It’s not like it clashes with what the melodies and what the sounds are, but I think there’s a cool juxtaposition. It presents the classic SYML song approach (which usually talks about real stuff and what makes us human and why it’s a constant internal battle) but in a way that is upbeat and fun. I don’t want to say it’s danceable because that seems absurd that people would dance at a SYML concert but I’m telling you, it’s very much happening on this tour and I’m not mad about it.
Who do you have on your playlist right now?
I’m a sucker for that newish song called “Nevermind” by Dennis Lloyd. That’s a crazy song. The song “Cold War” by Cautious Clay, I’m also obsessed with. Let’s see what else … oh, Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Big fan. If you aren’t familiar you should be! Shallou, too, I’m a big fan of that as well. I will mention one label name that I’m really in love with: Mallrat. She’s awesome.
If you could choose three words that encompass the essence of SYML, what would they be?
I’d like to approach it from a light-hearted standpoint because my music tends to be pretty heavy. I’ll say honest because that’s something that, when I sit down to write a song, I try to have it at the forefront of my mind when I think about what I want to say and how I want to say it. I think simple is a good word, too. I mean, my name (SYML) literally means “simple” [in Welsh], but that’s also something that I try to have as a reminder every time I create something.
It’s a little cheesy, but I guess I’ll say beauty because it’s an endless pursuit of trying to find the aesthetic that I find beautiful. And I think that there is this standard [of beauty] between all of us that artists try to go after in this really admirable but really hard pursuit. We want to find something what we can all agree is good and touches us in a way that is beyond words.
This interview is edited for length, style, and clarity.