Navigating the loss of a loved one isn’t easy. Whether it be in death or the end of the road for a relationship, the brutal process of finding yourself again can come with an abundance of messy and dark emotions. While many deal with their grief in different ways, multi-instrumentalist SYML found solace in exploring the emotions with music, and the result is breathtaking. Detailing his most personal tragedies and intimate moments on his latest EP “DIM”, the singer pulls us into various atmospheric soundscapes filled with poignant piano cords and indie-pop sensibilities. Venturing into a new R&B groove on “True”, SYML ruminates on a failing relationship over a slow-moving production, before wrapping his vocals in a cosy blanket of warming hums and melodic guitars.
“For some reason, the word dim perfectly describes mourning, in my opinion.” SYML candidly revealed when discussing his EP meaning. “When your surroundings are dim, you can still fully see everything, but it’s obscured. The things we know absolutely and the things we rely on start to feel uncertain. We start to feel our sadness sink in as if it’s here to stay. There is also a warmth, or cosiness even, when we experience dim. It can be both foreign and familiar, and I think that is a great description for what it is too mourn the loss of someone.”
Bravely going to more detail on his personal life in the project, the singer revealed that it was inspired by his late father’s diagnoses with cancer two years ago, and while he never was able to hear the project, SYML muses that everything said on the project he had been able to say in real life. With the project seeing collaborations with various trailblazing producers and writers, we sat down with the rising star talking building the project, being so honest in his music and his reaction to his single “Mr Sandman” blowing up from Behind Her Eyes.
Check out the interview below…
Hi Brian – how have you been during this uncertain time? How has it impacted your music and creativity?
I’ve been ok! The most major change has been the abundance of family time since touring isn’t possible. Like many of us, this time has felt both incredibly slow AND fast. Mostly, it has been an inspirational time since I’ve been able to be around those who I love most, with plenty of time to write and record music.
Where are you from and how has it influenced your music?
I was born and raised in Seattle, in Washington state in the US. Most people know Seattle as the birthplace of grunge, and even though I was a bit too young to be immersed in that scene, it has shaped how I appreciate music. Bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains taught me a lot about melody, harmony, and sonic texture. Living in the US northwest is inspirational by nature, especially around Seattle. We have ocean, mountains, forests, rain, sun, and the occasional snow. I like to think of all these things making me feel small. Like the wind and rain will do what it wants and I’m just lucky to be here to watch it happen. I pour this sentiment into my writing process and apply it to my life and relationships.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
Jeff Buckley is my favourite artist. The combination of his voice, guitar playing, and overall mystery is both beautiful and tragic. In addition to grunge, I also grew up with a lot of Tom Petty, Simon and Garfunkel, and of course, The Beatles. I discovered U2 at some point, which changed how I understand my voice, and eventually helped me to write songs. I had a huge inspirational season with bands like Radiohead, Elbow, Travis, Doves, and Keane. My inspiration lives in phases, though. Most genres have something for everyone, I’ve found.
How would you describe your genre?
I would describe my genre as a mix of cinematic singer-songwriter, with a tinge of alternative and a dash of electronic. My music doesn’t sound as obnoxious as that sounds though. Honestly, I think I belong to a genre that has been developing over the past few years that borrows from established genres. I think some might see that as sacrilegious, but that’s how all categories of art are formed and understood.
Congratulations on your EP “DIM” – which you’ve explained is a “loss exploration” – how did you come up with the name?
Thank you. The EP is named after one of the songs, also called Dim. For some reason, the word dim perfectly describes mourning, in my opinion. When your surroundings are dim, you can still fully see everything, but it’s obscured. The things we know absolutely and the things we rely on start to feel uncertain. We start to feel our sadness sink in as if it’s here to stay. There is also a warmth, or coziness even, when we experience dim. It can be both foreign and familiar, and I think that is a great description for what it is too mourn the loss of someone.
What was it inspired by?
The day my first SYML album released, about two years ago, my father was diagnosed with cancer. In those two years, he fought it, but he also knew it would eventually kill him. Thankfully, he spent much of the first year travelling with friends, and when the pandemic hit, he was able to send that time with us. I’m sorry to say that he passed away a few months ago, but he did so peacefully, surrounded by his family.
How cathartic was it for you putting together the EP especially when taking into consideration the tragedy it was inspired by?
It was both cathartic and surreal to work on this EP while my dad was dying. Interestingly, I didn’t play these songs for him before he passed. He was one of my biggest fans, of course, but I didn’t feel the need to share because I didn’t want to project my perspective onto what was already an overwhelming season of life for him. Thankfully, everything I say in these songs, I had already said to him in some way or another. So I feel peace in that.
Do you have a favourite song or lyrics that you hope will resonate with listeners?
I love all of these songs, but I think Dim and Yes and Know have some great lyrical moments. In Dim, I like the imagery of reliving a traumatic even, like a car crash, in reverse, and realizing that you couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. That moment of letting go is powerful. In Yes and Know, which was inspired by all of the racial unrest that has existed in the US since its inception, I like the idea that we can’t “un-know” something once we’ve been told or experienced it. For example, once you learn that someone was barred from drinking water from the same fountain as you based on their skin color, you can’t un-learn that. You can ignore it and shove it down in your brain, but it’s still in your soul. Of course, everyone’s journey is unique, and how we learn and grow as humans depends on what we do with what we know to be true. For me, acting on what I know will be a continuous journey.
Your cover of “Mr. Sandman” exploded after featuring on the trailer for and in one of the episodes of the new Netflix show Behind Her Eyes – did you think it would become so big overnight?
I am amazed whenever my songs get picked for a TV series or movie. It’s always a surprise and because no one knows how it will react, the reaction is also a surprise! I loved that series, so to hear my music in it was an honor.
How does it feel releasing music at such an uncertain time? What do you hope it brings you listeners?
I think many of us have felt isolated during this time, literally and metaphorically. I hope this music sits with people wherever they are and brings a bit of comfort. Loss is always happening, but it has felt highlighted recently. My loss is certainly not your loss, but we can grieve together, even if we are apart. I am also excited for the time when I can perform these songs live, in a room, with people.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to in 2021?
I hope there will be an opportunity to perform live this year! But I am also happy to play my part in making sure that can happen safely. So if we need to wait a bit longer, that’s ok. I am also excited to be working on new music with new friends. Collaboration during this time has been a bit odd, but sometimes that’s a recipe for great work! Right now, I am looking forward to more warm weather and being outside with my family and our friends. Be well, and thanks!