Name: Sydney Loren Bennett
DOB: 23 April 1992
Place of birth: Los Angeles, California, United States
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer
Syd, can you remember the first time you were moved by a song’s lyrics?
Oh, definitely. Kenny Lattimore, he has a song called “Heaven and Earth.” In it, he says, “I’ll move heaven and earth, the moon in the sky, cross mountains and rivers to be with you. Risk everything I possess for your happiness. The only thing that comes first on heaven and earth…” I mean, all his songs are such well written songs. But that’s just the first one that comes to mind. It’s so poetic. For me, what made me want to start making music was hearing songs like that on the radio and thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I made that, I wish I could take credit for that!” (Laughs)
Does that also inspire you as a songwriter?
Absolutely. The best push for me is competition. And I'm not outwardly competitive, but I love hearing something from someone else that makes me want to write. Most of the writing that I have done has been a result of me hearing somebody else write something that I'm like, “Oh, hell yeah, I need to write an hour, I need to write some songs.” So for me, the catalyst is usually another good song, not even a life experience or anything, but another good song from another artist.
“With writing, it’s about creating something that did not exist before, making something out of thin air... That’s what I love about it.”
Pusha T says that the best rap lyrics inspire, motivate, teach, and give insight. Is that also what the best lyrics do for you?
Lyrics, I think, are meant to be interpreted individually. So I don't know, I think it depends because rap has the ability to be a lot more direct sometimes. With singing, you have to figure out how to encompass this diaphragmatic control with the emotion, with the lyrics, with making sure the emotions don't overpower. And at the end of the day, you have to also leave it up to interpretation! Writing lyrics that are going to be sung versus lyrics that are going to be said or rapped, there's a lot more nuance. I can write a song about a red balloon, and you can think it's about a loved one who passed away, but it could have just been about a red balloon, you know? When I write songs, I don't like to tell people what they're about because I like to see what people think they're about.
Although you’re a singer and a producer, you apparently consider yourself above all a songwriter. How come? What does songwriting give you that other parts of your job don’t?
With writing, it's about creating something that did not exist before, making something out of thin air and having the time to sit with it and perfect it and get it right… That's what I love about it. Especially because… I mean, I've always thought I have a cool voice, a pretty voice. But singing was the last thing that I started doing. And I'm still not completely comfortable doing it. I’m still learning and it's crazy because it's been over 10 years now that I've been professionally doing it. I'm just now starting to feel like, “Okay, yeah, I do this.”
Does it ever get confusing to be doing something professionally that you don’t consider yourself an expert in? I can imagine there’s a bit of imposter syndrome at play there.
It's really weird! For my whole career, I've kind of had one foot in and one foot out. I've always been looking for an escape because I don't feel confident and there's a lot of anxiety that I experienced as a result of that. That's really what it comes down to. Like for me, before I get on stage, I feel terrible. And I can't help but to question like, “Is this what I'm supposed to be doing?” So it’s been 10 years of that: “I feel terrible. Why am I doing this to myself?”
Would you give up singing and performing if you had that option?
Well, the thing is that I do have that option. We all have a choice, so I can't complain because I keep booking shows. That said, I do kind of want to quit performing. At this point, any every tour could be my last. But it's hard because every everyone in my life has said, “No, you can't quit, you can't stop. People love coming to see you live!” So yeah, it’s just going to be one of those struggles until I stop, I guess. The other thing is... Although I do consider myself primarily a songwriter, I wouldn't want to do that all the time. The balance keeps me loving it. When I get tired of writing, or when I feel like I've just run out of juice, maybe it's time to go on the road, or maybe it's time to make some beats, or maybe it's time to shoot a video.
At least that balance allows you to take the breaks you need.
That balance is everything these days! I count my blessings because, you know, I do feel lucky to have so many outlets and so many possible streams of income. Like, on the real world side of things if I ever need money, I can go on tour, you know? Before the pandemic, I was ready to give up touring all together because I was burnt out and it wasn't balanced. So I’m trying to narrow it down at this point, do a few things but do them better and bigger. I think that's definitely what keeps it from getting boring and what keeps me from hating it.
Your solo tours these days must be pretty different from your shows with the Odd Future collective, given how much more mellow your sound is comparatively.
(Laughs) Yeah, I missed that energy! I did try to kind of bring some some high energy into but it just didn't fit with where I am right now. There was a long period where I just felt like if the crowd’s not jumping up and down and going crazy, then the show isn't good. I had to unlearn a lot. The Odd future era, I used it as a stepping stone, you know, we all did. I learned a lot about how to perform, because I was at the back of the stage watching six different performers with their own style. But now with my new album Broken Hearts Club, though, I feel like this is what I’m meant to make right now. I wrote a lot of the songs when I was in a relationship, and then we broke up, and it was really tough. When it all happened, I didn't want to listen to the songs I’d written anymore. But it also showed me that I needed to take a seat and take a second to heal. And now I'm ready to move forward.
It’s almost a rite of passage in the R&B world to make a record about the end of a relationship! It’s a very classic theme, isn’t it?
Right? Yeah! Initially, I was like, “Okay, I'm gonna make my 808s and Heartbreaks. I’m going to make something really crazy and it's gonna be dark but it’s gonna be beautiful.” It definitely feels like one of those albums you have to make at some point, whether it the relationship ended well or not. I think Broken Hearts Club is definitely aligned in the nineties and 2000s vibe. It’s kind of natural for me because I love the sound from that era; it was really animated, which I liked. When I listened to songs from that time, I'm seeing the videos and that’s so exciting.
You grew up loving artists like Usher, Brandy, The Neptunes. Has that had an influence on your sound?
For sure, Usher and Brandy, those were my first two albums! I think we're meant to take all those experiences and all those influences that we've seen and heard, and just encapsulate them. I think music is tied to memory in a really deep, rooted way, so I can't help but to reminisce! I love it, and I am inspired by those memories of when I grew up.