Analogue Music | SYML


By Matt Conner

Making music means something different for a family man.

As the frontman for Barcelona, Brian Fennell logged several years in a van touring all over North America. Confined travel quarters and club stages defined a solid decade or so for Fennell and company, as Barcelona earned a passionate nationwide fan base with their earnest and emotional rock and roll. It was the dream as pictured by most teenagers slinging an electric guitar.

Time has changed such an outlook considerably, however, for Fennell. These days, SYML (rhymes with "Kimmel") is the new solo outlet, capable of building the same connective tissue on such strong emotional songwriting. The goals were initially modest, as Fennell chose a more grounded lifestyle centered on family and an emphasis on the studio over the stage.

So what's a man to do when he has an international hit on his hands? SYML's single "Where's My Love" has attracted global attention, leading to his first-ever Scandinavian dates and a new label home with Nettwerk. The cycle looks like it's starting all over again, and it's here we found Fennell willing to talk about the vision for it all.

Analogue: The first time I saw you was in an abandoned school gymnasium during the earliest days of Barcelona. Now I'll see you again soon under a new moniker and you're a family man.

Brian Fennell: It's funny because I was talking to my wife a couple nights ago about this. In my previous band, we would tour for what felt like years. It all felt so continuous, and that's not uncommon. That's a typical band guy's story. But now that I have a family, being gone is a totally different thing now in terms of a career and family.

I think I'm being fulfilled in a much different way now, musically and personally.

Analogue: The larger category of making music is still the same. Is it just as fulfilling at this stage? Even more so?

Brian: I think I'm being fulfilled in a much different way now, musically and personally. I enjoyed touring and was fulfilled by touring as a younger musician. But now the music I make now, I have 10 years of relationships and experience under my belt. That's true in the music world and also how I apply the rest of my life to the way I make music. Writing these songs that I've written for SYML and sharing them—which I should say that I didn't plan to write and then tour the world—from a place of low expectations has been disarming for me and, I think, for the audience, too, for me to share these raw and simple songs compared to the music I'd written for Barcelona.

Then again, it's hard to have perspective. I was quite younger and I was with my best friend. We were sacrificing the same. We brought the same things to the table when we were touring and stuff. Now it's just me and I have to be more careful about where I go and how I go. I still get the same kick, I guess, out of performing and meeting new people, especially now that SYML is pretty international with the most recent exposure. That's different because Barcelona was only nationally exposed. So I think the biggest difference is my time in life.

Analogue: You said SYML started with low expectations, so what were those? Was it just to have a reason to make music? Was it for licensing?

Brian: Coming out of Barcelona, one of the things that provided us with consistent income was the licensing side of things. It was a pretty natural step for me to work with people for their own licensing projects while working on my own varied projects in that field as well. SYML was one of them. Then my first song "Where's My Love?" got picked up by a couple Spotify playlists. Through that, I met Nettwerk who is my label now. They were the ones to help expand SYML into what it's becoming today.

Analogue: When "Where's My Love" starts to get a semblance of the traction, what was happening for you then?

Brian: I don't know if there was a defining moment. I think it's more of a conglomerate of experiences from the last year-and-a-half or so. I just went to Scandinavia, where I've never been before, and there are people singing along to not only that song but the other songs as well. That's mind-blowing. It is because of that one song. I only had 1 or 2 songs to start with but the initial interest in those songs gave me a bigger lane to deliver more songs.

When it was first used in a TV show, there was a distinct moment that happened overnight. There's a pretty substantial fan page that features the music used in the show. This woman who runs it reached out asking if it was available anywhere. I don't know how they found my personal email through internet metadata, but a few people reached out about the song. I had no plans to put it on Spotify or anywhere else. So that initial first interest was really cool to me.

Analogue: When you wrote or recorded that song, did you have any idea in the moment that it would connect like it has?

Brian: I didn't have any sort of magical out-of-body experience while I was doing it. To me it was a bit of another rainy Seattle sad guy son. Not to poke fun at it, but it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary for me. It was only after I went to the label and said, "Hey, what do you think about doing an acoustic version?" It wasn't until then that I went to look for the original recording session and it was lost between me and my friend. We'd both lost the session.

So I had to rebuild it and re-sing it. It was happenstance that this other version was born. I think then, because there was a bit of time between finishing and releasing it to the world and then redoing it, that I realized how significant the song was to me and I could see how people were relating to it. It wasn't until the second round that it really kind of hit me.

Back in the day, we were saying yes to anything to get things off the ground. You live and learn.

Analogue: I'm hearing you talk about Barcelona not being healthy or what you wanted and that SYML is taking off in a way that you didn't expect. Are you guarded in some ways as this new outlet finds success?

Brian: Anything I'm more guarded of now comes from a different paradigm, first for my family and then for me and not for anybody else. Back in the day, we were saying yes to anything to get things off the ground. You live and learn. I learned that I don't need to please everybody. Even though I work with brilliant people now and I couldn't be happier with the people working with me on SYML, it's not for those people that I'm writing music. This is a very different thing. There will always be things that I, based on my experience in the industry before SYML, will be aware of or wary of, but that's more a reality of the industry.

Now I have to say that I cannot imagine being a young artist today. In the 10 or more years that I've been in the industry, it seems like the competition is crazy. I'm a competitive person, but I can't imagine being a young artist right now. The ease with which people put music out and create is something I'm using to my own advantage by having my own small studio at my house and being able share music, but I think I'm glad that those years are behind me, in terms of being a young artist.