Brian Fennell always found the search for a good band name hilariously difficult.
That is until the Seattle native discovered the word ‘syml’, which in Welsh means ‘simple.’
“SYML just really hit me,” said Fennell, whose recent solo project has attracted millions of views and listens on YouTube and Spotify. SYML will bring his raw and elegant artistry to WGBH for an intimate set at Fraser Performance Studio on Sunday, Oct. 29, to kick off the new Front Row Boston live music series.
“When I was writing these songs, and as I continue to write more and look into the future, ‘simple’ serves as a reminder both in production and in life. It wasn’t just music that I wanted that reminder to be. It’s everything around me. This is my total mantra right now, and communicating best when things are simple.”
His Welsh influence runs beyond that simple translation. Fennell, a founding member of indie-pop band Barcelona, was adopted and didn’t discover his roots until his early 20s.
Now 34, he draws inspiration from investigating and embracing his heritage. But it was the birth of his first child that brought a clearer perspective to these complex feelings of identity and unknown lineage.
“All of this identity stuff came into hyper-focus when I had my son. He was the first person I ever met that was related to me,” said Fennell. “It took a lot of the focus off of my own identity, in terms of where I came from, in terms of it being a concern or a desire to find out, when I became a dad. It was really relaxed. It became less of a scary thing, and more of a beautiful thing.”
Fennell tackles the subject of heartache and lost love in his song “Where’s My Love,” which has earned more than 60 million streams. This was the first single off of his debut EP, Hurt For Me that released in January 2016. The song premiered on the MTV series Teen Wolf, and he recently offered some background to the track’s song writing on Genius.com.
"I know this song is seen through many different lenses. But for me, it lives as a beautifully dark love song. Initially, I set out to write a pretty piano song. When I started adding lyrics to it, I found that I was singing and placing words differently than I ever have. The melody, especially in the verse, is unlike anything else I’ve written. It really opened me up to what SYML could become."
Fennell now records from his basement studio in the small town of Issaquah, Washington, outside of Seattle. And for the classically trained pianist, at this point in his musical and personal journey, it’s an environment that allows him the comfort to explore the music in its purist form.
“I spent a good year traveling to Los Angeles and Nashville and writing with a ton of people, just sight unseen, just getting in a room and trying to write a song,” he said. “Which some people are really good at. The more I did it, I was like, I think I just need to be alone.”
“Not that I’d write a better song necessarily, but for me at least, I’d be more comfortable and more capable of being honest.”