Exclusives | John Fisher | PNW Artist of the Month

April PNW Artist of the Month: SYML

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By John Fisher

Our PNW Artist of the Month for April is SYML.

With over a billion lifetime streams, SYML—Welsh for “simple”—makes music that taps into the instincts that drive us to places of sanctuary, whether that be a place or a person. Born Brian Fennell and raised in Seattle, now a longtime resident of Issaquah, Brian studied music at Seattle Pacific University and became a producer, programmer, pianist and guitarist. He was the front man of the beloved local band Barcelona (even though he’d never been to Barcelona, Spain.)

He released his self-titled debut album in 2019, which included the platinum-selling song “Where’s My Love,” followed by the grief-stricken EP DIM, released in 2021. After supporting Dermot Kennedy on his most recent U.S. tour in late 2021, SYML embarked on an extensive headline tour of his live album Sacred Spaces, performing in beautiful churches around the world. The tour saw him perform across North America and Europe, including sold out nights in London, Paris, and Amsterdam as well as three dates at L.A.’s Masonic Lodge and Montreal’s Corona Theater. The tour ended with a very special hometown show at Seattle’s St. Mark’s Cathedral, bringing SYML back to where the project began. His music has been featured in countless movies, TV series and ad campaigns, and he’ll be touring this spring and summer, including a European leg which will finally give him the chance to visit Barcelona. When he returns from Europe, SYML will play the Thing Festival at historic Fort Worden in Port Townsend.

On a sunny Seattle spring day in Kerry Park on Queen Anne, with the city skyline and the Space Needle for a backdrop, SYML talked to 98.9 KPNW’s midday host John Fisher about his new full-length album, The Day My Father Died.

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John Fisher and SYML sit down for an interview at Kerry Park.

John: The new record is about love and loss and grief and hope, and that sounds kind of heavy, but it’s such a beautiful and heartbreaking and uplifting record, and it’s called The Day My Father Died because . . .

SYML: It was a pandemic record, and during the pandemic my dad fought cancer, bravely, for two years, and passed away, but this record isn’t mournful. It’s quite celebratory at times. I wanted to be intentional about recording my life at that moment – the paradigm shifted when we lost him, but it brought out some really beautiful things in my family, and in my life, and these songs are about that.

Yeah, you’re definitely not wallowing in grief. There’s a thing that happens when you lose somebody where you’re obviously shocked and you’re mourning, but then you get this feeling – at least it’s happened with me – where you realize that wherever that person’s spirit is, if they’re looking down on you, they’re probably going, “Hey, you’re the one that’s still alive, so go live your life!”

Absolutely. He had that actually in the last year of his life, where he was like, “I’m still alive, and I’m going to choose to live it as much as I can.”

Well, the title track is really kind of a rollicking little song.

Yeah. I didn’t mean to call it anything sad and then surprise you with this happy song, but I think there’s a ton of celebration that happens when we lose somebody  . . .

Right, people have wakes, and celebrations of life, and bust out all the old stories, and …

 . . . get drunk and party!

I want to ask you about some of the songs on the album. We’ve been playing “Believer” on 98.9 KPNW, and the video is two . . . contortionists? A

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SYML and Producer, Phil Ek, at SYML’s Easy Street Records Performance (Photo by Dan Newman)


When we did the video, I asked them what I should call them, and they are very firmly “circus performers.” They went to school for it, and they choreographed it, and they did this stuff with incredible control.

It’s kind of sensual, and weird and ethereal in this empty room, and then you pop up just sitting on the windowsill like some kind of perv in the corner . . .

It is a little voyeur-y. That’s very much what it feels like. My friends sent me freeze-frames of me just sitting there watching while they’re in this sort of passionate embrace.

And then there’s the song” Where Is My Love,” which is a beautiful song which I took to be about a guy who, uh, wonders where his love is.

Yeah, you basically summed it up; that’s what it is. That was early days for SYML as a project and I was writing about things that hadn’t happened, that were really tragic and sad. That’s a place where I find inspiration.

You talked about capturing a moment in your life, and a song that really stopped me in my tracks was “Sweet Home.” The harmonies are so beautiful – it’s like Crosby Stills & Nash meets Sufjan Stevens. Is that all you?

Yeah, it is. It’s the music I grew up listening to – Simon & Garfunkel and all that stuff, great harmonies. On this record there’s a ton of harmony, which for a solo artist can be a bit of a risk if you try to replicate it live because it can sound a little bit raw or naked.

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SYML performing his original song, “Believer,” at Kerry Park.

The video for that song is a little trip through SYML’s life story – your childhood home, your best friend Brian’s childhood bedroom, and you’re in your old school – Seattle Pacific University – and on the screen it says “I failed here. I also learned that failing is part of music.” What does that mean?

 The short story is that I graduated, but I was a percussion Music Ed major. I was going to be a teacher instead of starting a band, and you have to pass this jury performance with the heads of the music department. I thought I would just breeze through it with talent, but I got stopped really hard and I failed that. People were walking out and I was floundering. The teacher who was my mentor went to bat for me, and I learned how to work hard and I learned that failure is going to happen, and as cheesy as it sounds, It’s sort of what you do with that moment that defines what you’ll do the next time you fail.

You have a collaboration with Lana Del Rey on her new album – she basically put lyrics to “I Wanted To Leave” – an instrumental song that your fans will recognize, and called it “Paris, Texas.” How did you get on her radar?

I don’t know how she initially heard it, but she’d heard that song, which is part of a wordless EP that I did. By the time I heard her song, it was pretty much done, but she reached out to me because she wanted to make sure that I knew how much she respected the song as it is, and sort of asking for my blessing, and I was like . . . . YES!!! Because I love her. I think how she creates songs and I create songs – not comparing myself in terms of how amazing she is and how . . . . average I am, but for both of us there’s no pretense or defenses up. It felt very natural, like an old-friend vibe.

What’s she did with it is amazing, and what’s crazy is I wrote it in Paris, France in 2019, just about being homesick and wanting to leave, and she writes this song “Paris, Texas” about going home also. It was like this wild serendipity.

And have you had the chance to perform it together?

Not yet. I’m hoping that it comes in the near future. We met in L.A.; she came to my show and it was like we’ve known each other, and I would be so elated to play that song together.

It seems like it should be one of those magical Grammy moments.

 If you’re putting that out into the universe right now, I will support you!



Kerry Park Setlist:

Where is My Love
New Album: The Day My Father Died
For tour dates and to get your own copy of his new album  click HERE

Performance: SYML: Host: John Fisher: Videographer: Dylan Hubber