Mass Appeal Issue #54: Syd Tha Kyd, Cut & Scratch
Kyds grow up so fast these days.
Words by Lauren Schwartzberg Photos by Aviva Klein
The first time Syd Bennett AKA Syd Tha Kyd performed a full set of songs from her band The Internet’s second album, she couldn’t hear herself singing. It was a CMJ showcase in Brooklyn and the sound engineer had turned the compression microphone all the way up. When Syd wasn’t singing, all she could hear were loud drum cymbals. “I didn’t realize it was compression until halfway through the show, but by then I didn’t want to be the bitch asshole who was talking shit to the engineer just because I’m an engineer too,” she says. “I decided to wing it, but it made ‘Dontchya’ sound terrible. The crowd support was amazing, though.”
Syd isn’t just a useless Odd Future affiliate or “bitch asshole” performer. At 21, she’s the cocreator of The Internet (now working on their third album) and runs her own Los Angeles Studio, Chateau Marie (starting at $35/hour if you’re interested). But Syd wasn’t always the effortlessly cool and collected lead singer she is now. In high school, she realized she had to cut off her ponytail and trash the skinny jeans to shed her quiet, self-conscious shell and gain confidence. As a musician, she moved from recording others behind the boards to embracing her unconventional lead singer voice, tweaking her performance until she found what makes for the best show— things like a full backing band and a (working) ear monitor. Syd, no longer a kid, is embracing the changes, and in the process, strives to perfect herself and her works of art. One thing remains aggressively the same though: Syd does what Syd wants.
Mass Appeal: How did you craft the look that is Syd Tha Kyd?
Syd Tha Kyd: My first semester of 10th grade I realized that, on the outside, I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I don’t know why it had to click like that, but I realized the reason I was so shy and quiet and not confident was because I didn’t like how I appeared. I was still dressing like a girl and eventually I realized that I was wearing tight pants and uncomfortable clothes for no reason. Eventually I wasn’t really attracted to boys anyway and I was like, “These pants are really uncomfortable and if I’m not wearing them to attract someone then why am I wearing them?” I didn’t think I looked nice in tight pants so I started wearing Taco, my brother’s, jeans. I just started wearing what was comfortable to me and then I cut my hair. That was a complete disaster until I cut it into a Mohawk, which was what I wanted to do the whole time. I was just scared to go from having a ponytail to a Mohawk. When I finally did it, I felt like now this is me.
How’d you learn to engineer?
I taught myself for the most part. In high school my dad bought me a laptop with Garage Band and I started making beats just for fun. They all sucked. I was really into music and wanted to have a studio someday, so I started buying equipment on Craigslist and I just kept upgrading. I started a few companies flipping musical equipment on Craigslist to make money, buy more equipment and test out equipment. By then my studio was in my guest house and Odd Future started coming through. I recorded and mixed most of the Odd Future albums, including Goblin, BlackenedWhite and everything before that, in there.
How’d they find you?
I was advertising my studio on MySpace and I booked a session with this kid who rapped with Hodgy. He brought Hodgy to the session and we clicked automatically. He liked the vibes and I think he told Tyler because about a week later Tyler came over. I was on my way out of the house to get In-N-Out and when I walked outside it was Tyler and about twelve people. I was like, “What are you doing here?” I knew who he was. Everybody in LA knew who Tyler was even if they had never met him. He was hanging out with Travis, my brother, and wanted to know if they could use my studio. I said if you’re down to wait till I get back from lunch then I’ll record you. They came back the next day and the next weekend and the next weekend and then when it was summertime they came every day.
And from there you developed The Internet?
When Matt [Martians] moved to LA we became best friends automatically. We started hanging out everyday, listening to music. After a few months of hanging out our manager Christian Clancy suggested that we start making beats together. That ended up being Purple Naked Ladies. It was a sound that we knew no one had ever heard before and we thought people would dig it. I decided to stop touring with Odd Future and start focusing on mixing and mastering and The Internet. I didn’t feel comfortable singing, so it took a while for me to decide to make that switch, but that’s why I have a full band. It takes some of the pressure off me.
Have you been practicing your singing voice?
One fun fact about me is that I hate practicing anything. I’ve taken piano lessons, guitar lessons, drum lessons and the only thing that ever held me back was the fact that I never practiced. I’m trying to get better on discipline.
The Mac Miller tour was a breaking point where I evolved somehow. Performing the same songs every night for 40 nights — it’s a lot of practice and you learn a lot. That was the first tour I ever did with an in-ear monitor and it changed my life. To be able to hear myself clearly while singing on stage is so necessary and I didn’t realize.
Do you ever feel like an outcast among people making similar music?
If anything, I feel like an outcast because I’m not a good singer. I just got lucky. I signed a record deal before I was even an artist and when I decided I wanted to put out an album I already had a deal to do it. I have a nice voice, but there’s a difference between having a nice voice and being a good singer. I’m constantly being compared with people who can actually sing and it’s scary.
So how did you find a place for yourself?
Pharrell made N*E*R*D and he can’t sing either. What makes me confident is knowing that all of the words I sing are words that I wrote and mean something special to me. I wrote most of my songs to myself to help me get over difficult stuff. I’m trying to share that with people who might feel the same way right now or who’ve been there before or who can just appreciate cool music. I’m sure things that I can relate to everyone else can too. Whether it’s being a young black female in America, being a young gay female in America, being someone who just got out of a relationship or someone who just got into one. That’s what makes me confident enough to sing in front of people: knowing that my band is awesome and at least I wrote what I’m singing.
How is pursuing and perfecting a craft related to staying true to yourself?
Ultimately everyone in life has to end up doing what they want to do. The best way to stay true is to do what you know you want to do. I know what it’s like to be sitting behind the counter at a sandwich shop making sandwiches for people and knowing that you can offer way much more.
Finally, how did you manage to get the band to pop up first when you type The Internet on Google?
Honestly I have no idea. Mac Miller tweeted us saying The Internet is the best band name ever. I said “Yeah, except when you Google it all you’re going to get is the real Internet, so if we make it you know we deserve it.” You’ll know we made it when you type in The Internet and we’re the first ones to pop up.
To read more about music’s up-and-comers, cop the next issue of Mass Appeal coming soon.