SYML is the solo venture of musician and producer Brian Fennell. His sophomore album, The Day My Father Died, was released in Feb 2023 to critical acclaim, with NPR calling it, “euphoric.” Recorded and produced in Fennell’s hometown with fellow Seattle-native Phil Ek (Band of Horses, Father John Misty, Fleet Foxes), the new LP is his first album to feature a full band. It finds Fennell telling a story of interpersonal connection and chosen kinship following the death of his adoptive father in 2021. More a document of growth and healing than of loss, the album charts Fennell’s journey to figure out how to move forward after a fundamental and intractable shift in his life.

SYML spent the majority of the year on the road, headlining a mostly sold-out world tour and playing festivals, including BST Hyde Park in London. Following the album release, SYML has collaborated this year with Lana Del Rey, UK-based DJ George Fitzgerald, and Latin Grammy-nominated, Columbian alt-pop artist Elsa Y Elmar.

With over one and a half billion 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. Raised in Seattle, Fennell studied piano and became a self-taught producer, programmer, and guitarist. He released his self-titled debut album in 2019, which includes the platinum-selling song “Where’s My Love” and gold-selling fan favourite, “Girl,” followed by the grief-stricken EP DIM released in 2021, and the live recording Sacred Spaces, and an EP of piano compositions You Knew It Was Me.

“It’s about worshipping your partner, wanting to be saved by their beauty,” he says of the track. “That idea of being insatiable… we’re often told that’s a sinful thought, something hedonistic. But you’re this hurricane of sexuality and fulfilment –being fulfilled by someone else. I lovethat storm.”Throughout the album, SYML weaves in familiar iconography as a means of examining his feelings towards others, and about himself. Raised in Seattle, he attended church “more as a social club than anything else”, and as a means of playing guitar to an audience. While he’d known he was adopted for as long as he could remember –“it was as much a part of my identity as my name” –he began to struggle with feelings of abandonment when he turned 18. “I had all the confidence in the world, but at the same time I felt very exposed,” he says. “It was around that time that music became a bigger part of my life, when I started using it as a tool to express feeling.” That same year, he was given a six-page letter written to him from his birth mother, and he discovered she and his birth father were Welsh (SYML is the Welsh word for “simple”). The letter had left places blank where his name should have been: “That’s what got me. I was this placeless, nameless thing, and thankfully someone took me in.”Inthe tender “Sweet Home”, SYMLpays tribute to his adoptive father through nostalgic nods to the songs –by Simon and Garfunkel; Crosby, Stills and Nash –he would play in the family home. Delicate guitar picking unfurls like sweet-scented blooms, harmonies drift as easily as clouds on a summer breeze. “It came very quickly,” Briansays. “People’s sense of home is as varied as we are as individuals. The sense of welcoming somebody home is in itself a place of peace, literal or metaphorical. It’s like a wishfor people, especially now when there are those living in parts of the world where those homes are destroyed or under threat.”Listeners will note the accomplished guitar work on the album, something Fennellsays “took forever” to get right. “I have a standard of excellence I hold myself to,” he admits. For The Day My Father Died, he enlisted the skills of renowned indie producer Phil Ek (Fleet Foxes, Built to Spill, Band of Horses), whom SYML had admired since recording with his first band, Barcelona. “To me, this album feels very cohesive,” he says, crediting Ek with helping him achieve that effect, recording in studios –including a former church –around Seattle. It took a lot of work: “I was like an athlete for a few days,” he recalls with a laugh. “My fingers became stubs, my arms locked up… It took real grit and commitment between me and Phil to get the album to this point.”What is immediately apparent is how SMYL has known when to lean into his more ornate, richly textured compositions and when to pare things back. The latter transpires in “You and I”, an Americana-indebted patchwork of simple guitar-picking and unadorned lyrics. “I love that style because there’s no distraction,” he says. “It’s a vessel of a sweet message that, ‘My life started its current season when I met you –when you found me.’ Endearing yourself to someone through being honest.” On “Better Part of Me”, he pokes gentle fun at our preconceived notions of what marriage will be, and the revelations each day that the reality is so much better. The romanticism of “Marion”, a rousing alternative rock number, is a “distilled version” of how he met his wife, encapsulating the coup de foudre, the “shot to the heart” that hits us right when we’re least expecting it. Here, Fennellbrings into play the Adam and Eve imagery he feels is “beautifully human”, written to depict our intrinsically fallible natures.Perhaps one of the most intriguing songs on the record is “Corduroy”, a sun-dappled recollection of childhood. “It has a very maternal feel, for me,” he says. “Putting yourself back into that position gives you this kind of moral reset, like you almost need a mother’s filter. I have that mentality as a parent, this idea of, through all things: choose to love.” Far from gloomy listening, the title track soars, propelled by buoyant guitar-picking and SYML’s defiant, life-embracing call, remembering his father’s words: “I want to show you that life comes in circles / I want to show you life / Drink all your whisky and spend all your money / And let no one steal your shine.”“It’s really more of a celebration than mourning,” Briansays. “It’s like a kid being born. When someone significant to you leaves, it’s like, well, my life will now be changed because of this.” He observes that thisis less of a “new me” experience and more, “How does my lens shift, how do I live beyond this?” The ones closest to us, he says, act as “a kind of lens for you –so when that’s removed, it’s very immediate because you see and hear things differently”.In a different way, “Tragic Magic” tackles the moments our eyes are opened to a more brutal reality. “It’s about being marketed Christianity in the Nineties,” heexplains. “I was never really on fire for it, but I was a part of it –I fell right in! And looking back, the amount of money and effort that went into this industry that was cranking through these young souls… Maybe it did protect me from another path, but really it’s a magic show, and you’re a willing participant.” Armed with a new perspective, Fennellwanders amid soft guitar strums, crooning iterations of what he was told to believe as a teenager, being “high all summer long”.“I think at the core of why I make music is to try and be as honest as possible, in terms of what I’ve experienced,” he says. “This record comes from a place of wanting to bring down defences between us and our experiences.”