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A Juxtaposition of Grit and Nature: SYML Unpacks Seattle’s Influence on his Music

Brian Fennell, who performs under the name SYML, has a clear sense of gratitude when he recalls growing up in Seattle with access to the nature, culture, and music that helped shape him as an artist. In a new episode of Visit Seattle’s Music Genesis series, Fennell discusses his now Platinum-certified single “Where’s My Love” and sheds some light on the Seattle native who performs as SYML. 

Growing up, Brian’s parents appreciated music in many forms. They played everything from classical to folk and the oldies that would later become Brian’s favorite music. They were his greatest supporters in his pursuit of music, setting up a pots and pans drum set in the backyard and constantly encouraging him to practice on the family piano (which his mom still has in her home today). This love for music, sparked by his parents, was kept alive by the Seattle music scene that Fennell grew up in. His music scene at the the time was defined by the Seattle local radio station, 107.7 The End, which inundated Brian with new music from the boom of alternative music, as well as mid-grunge and post-grunge. Fennell reminisces on the essential role that local stations like this played in breaking artists and providing platforms for local bands, which he feels very thankful to have learned and benefited from. 

Although Brian went on to play in various bands, record in studios and even become a producer, he eventually started his solo project SYML in his bedroom in Seattle with elementary tools. This parallels his music education in the Seattle scene. Though Brian has fond memories of attending bigger shows at venues like KeyArena and the Kingdome, most of his learning was self-taught, learning how to sing harmonies in local record stores and practicing song writing on keyboards and music notation software in the back of high school classrooms. Fennell specifically credits the independent Seattle record store, Easy Street Records, as quintessential in his music education. Fennell describes Easy Street as a staple in the Seattle music scene, especially from a consumer standpoint. He maintains they are a record shop that has successfully played a role in the Seattle music scene for years and the network that Easy Street Records has for local musicians and people behind the scenes was done so out of love. To him, they have created a space where “younger generations can enjoy Seattle as a music scene and feel like they can be part of it,” the same way Fennell did growing up. 

The humble bedroom beginnings of Fennell’s solo-project make even more sense when you understand the origin of the moniker, SYML. “Syml” is the Welsh word for “simple” and pays tribute to Fennell’s Welsh heritage. Fennell was adopted at a young age and did not uncover his heritage until he was older. This “later in life identity crisis” brought up a lot of questions about the importance of heritage and what it means to be from somewhere. Fennell found the answers to those questions and the name of his project in a word: SYML. In this, he acknowledges his background and reminds himself to keep things simple in life, love, and creativity because “everything is better when it’s simple.” 

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SYML’s hit song “Where’s My Love” has an equally modest start. It was initially written on an (unsurprisingly) rainy day in Seattle in Fennell’s home studio room that would later become his daughter’s bedroom. The song was born on a muted piano and inspired by the instrument’s sound, specifically the “hollow natural reverb sounds” the piano makes when being played. Fennell attributes the song’s commercial success to a recording mishap, involving a lost hard drive, that forced him to re-record the song’s studio version. He had to “break it down and rebuild it.” This process of breaking the music down to its simplest parts and rebuilding it created the hit song fans know and love today. “Where’s My Love” has been streamed over 400 million times, featured in multiple movies and television shows, and held top spots on various  global record charts. Fennell has played this song around the world, usually on guitar. Now, whenever Fennell sits down to play it on the piano it takes him back to that room where it was first written; it takes him home to Seattle. Even as he has continued to tour and perform music worldwide Seattle is the only place that has ever felt like home to him. 

When asked how he describes Seattle to people not from there, Fennell’s answer is simple; nature and diversity. Nature draws Seattle’s visitors and residents outside, allowing them to feel small within it. They all live “around it and in it” and at its mercy. Diversity makes Seattle beautiful and reveals the city “trying to be the best version of itself”. Fennell has seen the city’s music scene change in the twenty years he has been a part of it, and like the music scene, its diverse and ever-changing communities keep Brian Fennell coming home to Seattle. 

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