Questioning, yearning and dreaming. That’s what the music by Brian Fennel, or SYML, is all about. Not only with his dream-pop, synth-rock and folktronica sound, but definitely also in his captivating lyrics.

In our interview, the singer-songwriter behind Where’s My Love and Clean Eyes, told me all about the inspiration for his self-titled debut album. We spoke about how the fact that he was adopted raised questions when he became a parent himself. He also told me what it was like to witness his 1 year old daughter undergo an intense medical procedure. Finally, he told me about how his wife taught him to perceive the world in a different way.

This is the personal debut album SYML, track by track.

What role does music play in your life?

“From a young age, I was always surrounded by and drawn to music. As I grew older it became more of an outlet to deal with life and to talk about feelings and experiences, but through a protected lens.”

What is your debut album SYML about?

“Thematically and lyrically what inspired me for this album, was the journey we’re all on to find an identity and to find out why the f*ck we’re here.

I don’t ever try to answer this question, but I like to talk about the discovery of new parts of me. Also about parts that conflict with each other. I love being in love with people, my family and my friends. But also, I am this awful person sometimes and I have selfish things that I do. Why is that? I’m always intrigued by that.”

Let’s discuss the songs track by track.

1. Clean Eyes – SYML

“Clean Eyes was inspired by my wife. She’s somebody who always sees the good in people and things first.

If she has had a shitty day, the next day she’ll wake up fresh and clean. Whereas if I have a shitty day I’ll wake up just like, ‘It’s going to be shitty again’. I’m critical and I’m cynical. Those are just awful qualities to have, but they’re real. You can’t have good days every day. 

Picture yourself in a room full of broken glass
Blood on the pieces the pieces you can’t put back
A little white light in a sea gone black
My head is the room and the room’s full of broken glass
You can’t change me, can you save me?

Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart in all the right ways and
No I don’t mind, clean eyes
Oh clean eyes
Breaking my heart and breaking my chains and
I don’t know why, clean eyes
Clean Eyes – SYML

I say in the lyrics that she is breaking my heart in all the right ways, because she’s changing my world view in my heart.”

2. Wildfire – SYML

“I wrote Wildfire during the wildfire season that we have in Seattle, where I’m from. A month every year, just everything is on fire. It’s crazy, so much landscape burns. It rains ash and it’s smoky. You can’t see across your street.

There’s a dark side of it that is almost beautiful to me. It made me think about how there are people that wake up every day and deal with things like depression, anxiety, sadness or suicidal thoughts.

They might not actually have literal fire happening but it feels like the world is crumbling down around them.

This song is for those people who need to hear that it matters that they are still here, that they are fighting. And that we together can find rebirth in destruction.”

Darling please take my hand
Please get up, rise to stand

I can’t be the one to sing your song
Cuz I believe it’s not your fault
Don’t be scared you are my rock
Nothing’s gonna hold you down for long

Sometimes we break so beautiful
And you know you’re not the only one
I breathe you in so sweet and powerful
Like a wildfire burning up inside my lungs

I’m burning up
Wildfire – SYML

3. Bed – SYML

“Bed is a really intimate song. My wife was, again, the inspiration for it. The song is on how sharing a bed with somebody is just about as intimate as it gets. You are falling asleep and waking up trusting that that person is with you. At your worst you, I will still be here. You’re safe. You can count on that. Just like I could trust that you got me.

In the still of the night
You need to believe
I will be here
Yes I will be waiting to receive

We could fly
I will never let you fall

I’ll never let you fall
We can fly
I will never let you fall
I’ll never let you fall
In the still of the night
Bed – SYML

Lyrically, I find it a sweet song. It’s just you and me and nothing else matters.”

4. Where’s My Love – SYML

“Where’s My Love was the first song I ever wrote for SYML. I wrote it on a stereotypical Seattle day. It was very rainy and I didn’t necessarily feel lonely, but I realised I have this full life. I started wondering: what if I didn’t have anything? What if it was all taken from me?

A lot of people have experienced loss and if that happens to you, I think it should be your goal to find peace in letting go of things you can’t control. And eventually try to find the beauty in it.”

Cold bones, yeah that’s my love
She hides away like a ghost
Does she know that we bleed the same?
Don’t wanna cry but I break that way

Cold sheets, oh where’s my love?
I am searching high, I’m searching low in the night

Does she know that we bleed the same?
Don’t wanna cry but I break that way

Did she run away, did she run away, I don’t know
If she ran away, if she ran away, come back home
Just come home

Where’s My Love – SYML

5. Break Free – SYML

“Break Free is a song about misogyny. It’s very much in the news in the last few years, but it’s been something that has been around since social constructs existed. I find it toxic and consider it a sickness.

It is something I participated in. Growing up as a young man you try to fit into certain roles with your sexuality, relationships and gender roles. Every generation tries to either push that or bring it back. But I think it’s great that people nowadays can talk about it honestly and say: This is really messed up.

Break Free came from one specific conversation I had with somebody in the industry. It went to this really misogynistic tone and rather than saying to the guest ‘Dude, stop. You should be embarrassed. How are we even talking?’ I didn’t say anything and just sat there. I didn’t participate but I didn’t say anything either.

Afterwards I wrote this song. It’s a bit tongue in cheek. It describes this pompous, over confident attitude; ‘I’ll make you want me’. But then I go home and feel very insecure, sad and lonely.

Body perfection like a punch in the face
Why don’t you sit down closer to me
I’m talking sex religion politics and stereotypes
You know I could make you weak in the knees
But when I come home late at night and I’m all alone I can’t sleep

I can’t break free
I can’t break free
I can’t break
Even if it’s killing me

Break Free – SYML

People just want companionship and if they feel they are in control because of their gender, then it is never going to work out for them. It’s completely the opposite.”

6. Animal – SYML

“Animal is all music first. It’s a non-standard format as it has a few verses but no chorus. Also, the bridge is a French poem. The lyrics of the verses are quite abstract, but they are about embracing the weirdness of life. 

Let it go tonight
Keep it moving keep it tight
Don’t crystalize

Are we different now?
Am I everything you didn’t want to figure out?

If you won’t be mine, I’m through baby

 My wife and I are from the same small town outside of Seattle. It has one field where we both played as kids.

The poem is talking about the fact that we’re all animals, basic beings. Let’s go back to when things were much simpler and we weren’t over concerned with money or growing a career. Let’s approach love like that too.”

[Poem – translated from French]
We forget what it was like to be eight years old in summer
To watch the clouds covering the sky
We forget the sensation we feel
By touching the water at the same temperature as the air
We forget what it was like to be eight years old
We are stuck between the carefree happiness of a child
And the reality of the adult experience
What we need is a beautiful meeting between the shadow and the night
Pain and contempt, the fear of not being there and knowing how to stay satisfied
Animal – SYML

7. The Bird – SYML

“The bird is lyrically the most poetic song of the album. It describes this fragile bird as a holy, magical thing. Frozen perfection is a metaphor for a person or for love itself.

We love it so much, want to take care of it and not break it. But we don’t want it to get away so we squeeze it and choke it. But by doing this, we don’t let it be its beautiful self.

Covered in dust
The wings of my porcelain dove
They don’t trouble the waters my love
Frozen in time

Fragile to touch
She melts like the words on my tongue
The goddess of heavenly love
Fades outta sight

The chorus is about the universe being bigger than us. It says: to me this person is that. They are made of the universe and I can’t fully wrap my mind around who you are and how I get to be with you.

All your stars are in view
I get lost loving you
The Bird – SYML

But, that’s okay. That’s how I should leave it. I just always want to understand it.”

8. Girl – SYML

“Girl is lyrically probably the most special song to me. It’s about my daughter and the intense medical procedure she had to go through last year. As a parent it’s so hard, you can’t imagine it. But luckily for as good as it could have gotten, it went well. And she’s going to be totally fine.

I wrote Girl before she had the surgery, when she was going to have a scan of her brain. She was 1 at the time and I hold her hand while she went under anaesthesia. It was the saddest moment because she was so scared, confused and probably angry. She was like, ‘What are you doing to me?’

She won’t remember this and therefore I wrote it as a letter to her. It turned more into a life song though.

Girl, perfectly her, broken and hurt
Soft and asleep in the morning grey
Shake off the night and don’t hide your face
The sun lights the world with a single flame
I want you to see this

Today and all of your days, I’ll wear your pain
Heal what I can in your troubled mind
Sometimes our bodies will hurt for some time
And the beauty in that can be hard to find
I want you to find it
I want you to see this

I thought it would just be about that there’s things I can’t control for you, but it turned out to be this journey in a song.

I imagined being in the hospital with her and then also breaking out of it because there’s so much more than the hard things in life.

So run, wake up and run my little one
I wanna tear down these walls that can’t hold you inside
And rip out the cords and uncover your eyes
We’ll make our escape in the dark of night
I need you to see this

But the hard things shape you and make you stronger. It’s part of your identity that you got through it.”

You’ll see the world and you’ll come to learn
That falling in love is a strange work of art
All of your battles will shape who you are
And know that your scars are my favorite part
I want you to know this
Girl – SYML

9. Connor – SYML

“I wrote Connor when we had our second kid. It’s about becoming a parent and about how nobody is ready for it. It instantly makes you think about your parents, how you were raised and then how their parents were raised. About every generation.

Parents don’t do everything perfectly. You’re just human. You have a life outside of your child. To realize that about your parents is a crazy thing.

So Connor is about becoming a parent and not being ready but being changed beautifully by it.”

She broke today
A perfect little heart in my hand, she came undone
I hesitate
I’m waiting on my father to say, I love you son

It’s coming in phases
And I’m ready for none 

I knew it would change me
But I’m overcome
My father’s son

Connor – SYML

I heard Connor is also inspired by the fact that you’re adopted, is that right?

“Yes, Connor is really about that. It’s not directly about my birth mother, but when I became a parent it made me think of her. Again, because we’re just these animals we make decisions based on survival and she couldn’t keep me. That’s a very hard thing to deal with at some level, but it’s also beautiful because she gave me a better chance at a happy and healthy life. I don’t think that adoption is a selfish choice, it’s a positive thing for me.

I got a very privileged life. I grew up in a great area with great family and friends, but there was always a piece of me that I felt was not there. Luckily, I could always fill that with music, friends and family. But when my son was born, he was the first person I ever met that was blood-related to me. Being 32 years in life and not ever seeing a face that is related to you is really crazy. Now that I actually have a family that I helped create, it feels totally different.”

10. WDWGILY (Where Did We Go? I Love You) – SYML

“Where Did We Go? I Love You is, again, about being overly confident but insecure at the same time. You’re longing for this person or for what you had, but you also think ‘It’s not my fault. I didn’t do anything wrong’.”

Where did we go? I love you 
I’ve made a grave mistake
True love miscalculated
My nightmare turns to day
I can still feel you in my space

Why did you
How could you
I want to
Where did we go

Keep it all locked tight
In the middle of the night
Think I’m doing this right
It wasn’t my fault


11. Everything All At Once – SYML

“This was supposed to be the last song, but in the end we added one more. In this song, I’m feeling like I take everything that has happened in my life up and put it inside a little pill. I take it and let it hit me.

In the first verse, I talk about me meeting my wife and feeling that this is different. I’m thinking ‘I need to.. not be drunk’, haha! That’s really an early memory I have. We were having so much fun and I didn’t want to forget it.

This is my hello
This is my clumsy goodbye
I’m putting my glass down
I wanna remember tonight
The silence felt justified

Learning your colors
The different shades of your eye
Give me your worst thought

You turn away with a sigh
You said you felt patronized

The song also talks about that time when I was dealing with what I believe in, faith-wise. I came from a world of religion and that didn’t end very well. I don’t talk about it a ton, but what I wanted to say here is: through you, I’ve been able to see that it’s just about me. I have myself and I don’t need to rely on any sort of magic to explain things.

I should be responsible for my actions and I am. But I can also rely on you. We can trust that, again, you have me and I have you. So, we can be honest with each other.”

These are my burdens
This is that dark I embrace
Tell me I’m heavy
As you trace the lines on my face
They came with my fall from grace

Look at my two hands
Look at these cracks and the holes
I am my savior
I found my truth letting go
And I’ve never felt so alone

Everything All At Once – SYML

12. Before You Knew It Was Me – SYML

“The final song is instrumental and the title Before You Knew It Was Me alludes to that point in love where you stop just having fun and realize: This is it. I think that you’re my person. There’s something that switches and everything from then on would be different. It doesn’t make it better or worse, it’s a change. You see it through a lens.

For me, Before You Knew It Was Me feels like moving forward. Musically I wanted it to be like Who knows what is coming next? Let’s go together though’.”

SYML’s debut album is available everywhere and check out the American + European tour dates here.

Want to read more?

Interested in more stories behind music of other singer-songwriters? Check the personal interviews with Lewis Capaldi, Gavin James and Jacob Banks.

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