syd b doesn’t want you to feel alone
The singer/songwriter is making great R&B, by way of Andrea Bocelli and Joni Mitchell.
Photographer Brigette Crisp
Welcome to i-D’s New Music column, where we tell you all about our favourite new artists so that when they get famous, we can be smug and say that we told you so ;)
When Syd B was about two years old, her nan would pick her up from daycare. Every day, Syd would ask her to play an old Andrea Bocelli CD, and when she finally mastered all the Italian lyrics she’d roll down the windows -- “with my eyes closed, because I knew he was blind” -- and belt The Prayer out the window through the rush of hot LA air. “Wish we had instastories back then,” she adds.
Growing up, this innate ability to feel music translated into dance. Syd initially thought of pursuing it as a career, but the tough slog professional dancers face didn’t hold much appeal. And besides, the main reason she loved to dance in the first place was because of the music.
So she started songwriting. And while we’d contend that life as a musician isn’t exactly that much easier, it stuck. “This path can be really discouraging at times, but I remember the exact moment when my mindset flipped”, she says. Her guitarist and mentor Scott called her with some sage advice: “People are really open to new music now. I just needed to bring confidence, style, and originality to the table and release music that I love, and someone else is bound to love it, too.”
"It’s about buying your own drinks and tying your own shoes and finessing the awkward arm contortions involved in unzipping your own dress. It’s about not needing to be loved to feel love."
We do. Her latest release, Feel Love, is a slow, warm jam carried by effortlessly strong vocals. The two-year-old singing training clearly worked. It leans towards modern R&B, but still has notes of her singer-songwriter upbringing: “You can tell I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell, and now listen to Dilla.” It’s about not losing yourself in the kind of relationships where you can’t figure out where they end and you start. It’s about buying your own drinks and tying your own shoes and finessing the awkward arm contortions involved in unzipping your own dress. It’s about not needing to be loved to feel love.
“At the time of writing it, I felt like I had just come into my own, found my priorities, and realised that I have a lot to offer in a relationship”, she explains. “I saw a lot of powerful women around me go through similar breakthroughs simultaneously. So I dedicated a piece of music to those women who hadn't had this realisation yet.”
Once she got the idea, she wrote the song in an hour, tracked some demo vocals, and ended up using everything made in that initial 60 minutes of peak productivity in the track you hear today. It aligns with her general songwriting process, which she says starts with a ‘kernel’ -- a beat, a story, a lyric, a riff, a bassline. “I either pop that kernel into a full song with chords and bring it to one of my favorite producers, or we finish it as a team”, she says. “The story always comes first.”
Last to unfurl was the video. Though with feel love’s, you can see the influence of Syd’s beginnings in dance. It’s a string of low-fi footage of high quality moves by a dancer called Chantal Herrera, directed by Marielle Boland in a warehouse in downtown LA. It’s mesmerisingly simple. How does she want it to make people feel? “Understood”, she says. “Feeling alone can be the most painful thing, and if I can provide companionship through creativity, my job is done.”