The Internet’s Syd: ‘I’m the only person like me that I know’

The Internet’s Syd: ‘I’m the only person like me that I know’

Syd Bennett is the new darling of escapist, sensual soul. Here she explains why singing doesn’t make her a ‘singer’ – and why being gay doesn’t make her part of a ‘community’,
Tara Joshi,

Sat 13 Apr 2019 10.00 EDT

, The past 10 years of pop have been shaped by Los Angeles-based rap group Odd Future, whose alumni include game-changing artists Earl Sweatshirt, Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator. Here was a collective with DIY aesthetics and production, incendiary lyrics and an overriding sense that they really didn’t care. They brought an air of vitality to the scene, though now their status remains unclear: some members have distanced themselves from the group, but there has been no official break-up., I’m sitting with Syd Bennett, the lone Odd Future woman, who used to DJ for the crew, in a west London hotel. It’s the day before her current band, the Internet, play a sold-out show at Brixton Academy. Formerly known as Syd tha Kyd, she is now called, simply, Syd, the silky-toned singer for the soothing, Grammy-nominated soul act (whose lineup includes fellow ex-Odd Future member Matt Martians), and also an acclaimed solo artist. Her debut album, 2017’s Fin, was lauded as one of the best R&B sets of that year (the Guardian described it as “astonishingly accomplished”)., Back in her Odd Future days, Bennett was simultaneously anonymous and highly scrutinised. On the one hand, as the shy DJ she was relatively unknown. But as the group’s only woman and only member who was openly gay (Frank Ocean has since come out, and Tyler also appears to have done so), she was wheeled out to address the homophobic and misogynistic attitude of some of the Odd Future artists (there were lyrics about raping women, for example)., “In the beginning it was tough, especially being part of a group that everybody thought was homophobic,” she says, sipping a decaf black coffee as she waits for the vegan burger she ordered (to alleviate the anxiety of touring, she has recently given up caffeine, meat, alcohol and smoking). “Then, years later, everybody’s gay! People wanted to talk to me about it the most. Like, you have an issue with Tyler’s lyrics, but you want to talk to me about it? Talk to him about it! I started to resent it.”, Though they looked a picture of reckless joy, with their bright and summery aesthetic, the Odd Future days were not an especially happy time for Bennett, who suffered depression while on tour with the group until announcing her official departure in 2016. “I was just very unhappy, and not necessarily with them – but they didn’t help,” she says, although they all remain on good terms., Today, there’s a lightness to the 26-year-old; her voice is languid but enthused, peppered with warm laughter and thoughtful pauses. With her signature cropped hair and a tie-dye grey hoodie, she gives off an air of serenity., Sydney Loren Bennett’s childhood in LA’s South Central was shaped by music: her mum would play endless soul at the weekends, along with a sprinkling of reggae (Syd’s father is from Jamaica, where her uncle, Mikey Bennett, is a record producer). Syd started learning piano aged four, spending her youth in and out of lessons (“I never practised,” she laughs). She also learned drums and taught herself guitar on her mum’s old nylon-string, ending up at the local Hamilton music academy for her high school years., It was during her time at Hamilton that she became interested in sound engineering. “I was in love with music but I couldn’t find an instrument that I fell in love with. I fell in love with the studio.” Around the age of 14, she built a little home studio. “I was advertising my studio on MySpace,” she grins, “telling everybody, ‘Yeah, I got a studio, I’m a girl, come through’ – and it was dope. That’s how I met Odd Future: I was doing a session with this dude who was friends with one of them, and he told Tyler about the studio. Next thing you know Tyler showed up with, like, eight people.”, In 2011, while still a member of Odd Future, Syd co-formed the Internet with Martians. Their debut album, Purple Naked Ladies, released in the same year, was full of pared-down, cosmic soul, receiving lukewarm reviews from critics. It was their third set, 2015’s Ego Death, that took the Internet to another level. Fuller, rich and breezy, it earned them a Grammy nomination. Last year’s Hive Mind was another step up: a phenomenally fluid neo-soul record, perfect for balmy summer afternoons., Today, we’re in the restaurant by the hotel lobby, where our conversation is interrupted by Syd’s bandmates traipsing in and out: guitarist Steve Lacy is on his way to get a tattoo, while keyboardist Martians is grabbing a drink. There’s a sense of relaxed, familial friendship, reminding me of an old interview in which Syd touched on the concept of black camaraderie. Is this something that feels important to exhibit, given the state of US race relations?, “It’s something we just represent without trying, thankfully,” she says. “I think the best thing we can do as young black adults with a following is just lead by example. I guess I tend to turn my head away from a lot of political talk – my mom’s watching CNN every day, all the time, and I just stay out of the kitchen.” She laughs. “We try not to talk about it too much publicly, because it’s such a sensitive subject. We’ve noticed that a lot of people who aren’t politicians feel the need to comment on the state of race relations and we just, you know…” She trails off., The reality is that Syd’s music – both with the Internet and as a solo artist – often serves as an escape from the bad stuff. On Fin she luxuriates in sex and sensuality, while Hive Mind glimmers with soft sunshine and euphoria. There’s a refrain on that record in which she intones, in her gorgeously wispy voice: “I just hope you know that it gets better with time.”, Indeed, being the voice for a cause – beyond providing a space for healing – has never been of particular interest to Bennett. She is often asked about being an openly gay black woman and how radical it is that she sings romantic songs to other women. Her response is one of bemusement., “I’m not going to sing about men when I don’t date men – and I’m also not not gonna sing about love. It was never like, ‘Oh damn, maybe I shouldn’t say girl’ – it never crossed my mind.”, She does not, though, consider herself an activist: “I don’t feel like a part of the gay community. Like, I don’t consider myself a lesbian. I consider myself a girl, a woman, a businesswoman. I don’t really go to gay clubs. I just don’t go out really. And I don’t have any gay female friends – none that I hang out with on a regular basis. I’m the only person like me that I know.”, She’s not all that comfortable with another label that’s ascribed to her – singer. It’s producing and writing songs that really excites Syd. “Most people just think I have a pretty voice, but I’m not really a singer. Singing was never my dream. I’ve always just wanted to be Pharrell [Williams]. Like early days, Justified-era Pharrell.”, “The only reason I started singing was that Matt and I had written and produced this album, and we didn’t know any singers who didn’t already have their own shit going on. I ended up recording some demos. They were just meant to be rough references that we could give to other people to sing, but we couldn’t find anybody, so we just left it. I just… I’m a songwriter.”, There are plenty of people who would disagree – her honeyed tones can be heard on tracks by Canadian crooner Daniel Caesar, New York indie band Dirty Projectors, and UK MC Little Simz. After their current tour, it seems likely that the Internet will take another pause for solo releases (Steve Lacy’s debut solo album is announced at the live show; he has just released a song with Vampire Weekend). For Syd, this means working on her next album, which she plans to produce. While on Fin there were barely any guests, this time she wants to enlist a lot of collaborators., As such, she will get the chance to live out her dream of producing other artists, something that has thus far proved elusive (“I did a song for Kelly Rowland and I don’t know what’s happening with that”). But the collaborative aspect of the album is also a nod to her late friend, rapper Mac Miller, who died last year from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. In a markedly quieter voice, she says: “I haven’t been known to get features or collaborate with other artists, because it can be hard, especially when there’s business and labels involved. But he never let that get in the way of working with somebody. I just had a lot of respect for that and it wasn’t until after he passed I thought about the person that he was. I’m trying to be more like him – he smiled a lot and he opened his home to a lot of people. Too many people, honestly.”, She laughs as she reminisces about Miller, fondly recalling the last time she saw him (he was hosting a house party), and says she’s been spending time with his mother lately. She also mentions that his father has offered to help her building her studio. , “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that I haven’t given beats to anybody [yet]. They might not know what to do with them,” Syd says, laughing and finishing her coffee. “I’ve always been real humble about my talent, and maybe to a fault. Maybe I’m the artist that I’ve been waiting for.”, The Internet play London’s Somerset House on 11 July