Keyboardist Brian Fennell admits he lived a charmed Peter Pan existence with his last indie outfit Barcelona. For years after he graduated Whitworth University in Washington with a music education degree, he tinkered with the group, which seemed to take two steps back for very step forward.
Or, in his words, he had “a series of successes, but mostly grinds” until the band was going to sign with Island/Def Jam. He adds, “But on the night of our big showcase, L.A. Reid laid off half the label, including our future A&R guy.”
His wife was the person who helped him hit his career-reset button, leading to his brainy Modern English-y solo project SYML; he appears in San Francisco this week, premiering tracks from his upcoming debut full-length album, “SYML.”
“I didn’t have the patriarchal construct of ‘Oh, I’m the dad, I need to provide.’ But one conversation with my wife was like, ‘Why are you doing this? What are you hoping to gain? She was basically saying, ‘What are you going to do to contribute to this household?’ And something inside me changed. It had to,” says the Issaquah, Wash. native.
Barcelona is still technically together. But Fennell, 36, got busy writing his own material, like the somber, whisper-y 2017 “Where’s My Love,” which quietly found placement on TV’s “Teen Wolf,” then became a hit on Shazam almost overnight. “That song was totally unplanned. It was a typically rainy day in Seattle, and it was one of those two- to three-hour songs that just tumbled out,” says Fennell.
With his home studio, he also branched out into production, working with everyone from Third Eye Blind to a slew of new reggae artists: “I just knew that I had to diversify, as well,” he says.
His act’s unusual also name also comes from his wife, who looked up the Welsh word for simple to summarize his conflicted experience at 18, when, knowing he was adopted, he momentarily considered tracking down his birth parents, who were Welsh.
He contented himself with a dusty packet from his birth mom. “It had a baby rattle and weird random facts, like my great aunt really enjoyed knitting, or that I had a 7-foot uncle,” he adds.
He has a reason for not pursuing a meeting: “Now that I have two little kids of my own, that gap — or void — inside of me that was left from not knowing? It’s been filled,” he says, with a sigh of satisfaction..