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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: MUSICAL DUO SYM FERA ON THEIR ENIGMATIC MUSIC, THE MYSTERY, AND THEIR FORTHCOMING REVEAL

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

In the sprawling expanse of Los Angeles, a musical enigma thrives, shrouded in mystery and pulsating with the ethereal melodies of atmospheric electronic rock. This enigma is sym fera, a duo whose identities remain as enigmatic as the depths of their soundscapes. Reminiscent of the raw energy of early Nine Inch Nails, sym fera brings a distinctive twist to the table, not only with their music but with their clandestine personas, hidden from the prying eyes of the public.

Their journey into the realm of music began with a single question: Could they carve a path to success without relying on industry connections or the crutch of social media fame? With a resounding “yes,” sym fera embarked on a mission to prove that genuine talent and artistry could transcend the trappings of the modern music industry. Their debut single, “11/8,” served as a manifesto, garnering over 400,000 streams and finding its way into the cultural zeitgeist through its inclusion in the hit television series, Ozark.

But it wasn’t just their music that captured attention; it was the aura of intrigue surrounding them. No one knew who sym fera truly were, not even the industry insiders who signed them. State of The Art Records, led by Ian McEvily, Marc Jordan, and Mike Clemenza, took a leap of faith, signing the duo without ever glimpsing their true faces. This decision was a testament to sym fera’s commitment to their craft, a declaration that their art spoke louder than any name or social following ever could.

With their latest track “Beg” due to be released this Spring, the duo has relayed they may finally reveal their identities to the public. With that in mind we felt it was time to get the inside story on what makes sym fera tick, and what we can look forward to from them next. Read on for our exclusive interview by Indira Cesarine. 

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

Indira Cesarine: Can you share the inspiration behind your decision to keep your identities hidden and how it has influenced your music? 

sym fera: My partner and I noticed that whenever we showed our stuff to someone, there was a digital version of us that was already sitting there before we ever walked through the door. That is to say, it felt like everyone already had an idea about who we were before we ever got a chance to speak; everyone has a digital footprint, whether big or small, whether they’re an artist or in some other industry. We started to see how that impacted meetings and friendships and everything in between, and we both started fantasizing about how nice it would feel if someone had no choice but to listen to the stuff we worked on with no context — no preconceived notions about what they expected of us. We likened it to watching a movie without ever seeing the trailer or reading a review, or knowing anything about the actors’ personal lives going into the theater. Whenever I’ve done that, it’s just a much better experience — probably much more akin to what the filmmakers would want. We wanted that, too.

How has the mystery surrounding sym fera impacted your creative process and interactions with your audience?

It’s been mostly positive. The only caveat is that it seems like most people think we’re being deliberately mysterious, which we’ve said multiple times is not really the point, and in fact we weren’t really trying to make a point. We’re just selfishly trying to control the context in which our work is received and digested. We’ve gotten the artistic fix we wanted out of it — it’s been incredibly gratifying that the only thing people had to comment on was the music itself. I’d encourage more people to do it this way, honestly! Concepts of ‘mystery’ aside, it feels nice to know that your personal life is off limits, even for a moment. If people want something to chew on, let them chew on the dish you prepared just for them, without rifling through your cupboards and critiquing your kitchen decor or your ingredients before they are arranged.

Could you elaborate on the concept behind your single “11/8” and its exploration of social media’s influence on the human mind?

“11/8” was inspired by X, formerly Twitter. The lines, “sharp beaks, empty veins / carrion at the feast / see how the price me” were meant as a cheeky nod at Twitter’s old logo being a bird, but in our song it’s more like a vulture, feasting on the user and bidding on them like they are pieces of meat.

The chorus is meant to answer that last line, with a play on a few separate platitudes that have been warped for our purpose; ‘penny for your thoughts’ is a well known one, but then there’s ‘in for a penny, in for a pound,’ and the latter is meant to have a double meaning and also reference the infamous ‘pound of flesh’ from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. So scramble all those together and you get “penny for your thoughts and a pound for your flesh”, which is how we perceived people are valued and divided up once they put themselves out there. Twitter was meant to be a marketplace of ideas, but a real exchange of ideas in the end is not very valuable in that space the way it is used. They don’t really want your ideas; they want you, your flesh, your guts, something personal about yourself, your ad spending habits, and that will be dissected and feasted upon and regurgitated endlessly. In the end, in this “marketplace of ideas,” the actual product is you. It’s a meat market for people, and the vultures are getting fat on your paranoia, your insecurity, your spending habits, and the ever increasing data on how best to manipulate your behavior.

The second verse then goes into how one tries to be whatever they can be to make themselves valuable to the meat market. I’ll be a god, I’ll be a slave, I’ll be whatever you need me to be, until I become unrecognizable to myself.

So, you know. It’s a super fun, lighthearted song that would be great at parties.

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

What significance does the upcoming release of “Beg” hold for sym fera, especially with the planned revelation of your identities?

“Beg” is a much more simple song, it’s kind of a musing on hookup culture, about a specific romantic encounter where the power dynamics are constantly shifting. It compares inviting a stranger into your home to the relationship between a carnivore and a prey animal, and how sometimes it seems that those roles suddenly reverse. The lyrics are specifically talking about a consensual interaction here, so we’re not referencing predator and prey in any unethical or literal sense, but much more about dominant and submissive roles in a consensual hookup scenario, and the strange thrill and danger of being physically nude with someone one doesn’t actually know all that well. So there’s superficial nudity, but no deep nakedness; the true people both remain shrouded and opaque, only the bodies are exposed. A bit sexy, a bit thrilling, we hope.

How do you envision the unveiling of your identities will impact the perception of sym fera’s music and message?

We hope it’s not taken as some big “unveiling,” really, we’re just satisfied with how it’s gone so far and now we want to see how that will compare to the normal way of doing things.

We feel the project has earned its own identity which will compete with ours, and so it won’t be so colored by our personal lives regardless of how much we reveal in the end. We both feel incredibly fortunate that we got to release music this way, it was like creating a third person that was a combination of both of our musical interests and influences, and now this third person strides alongside us as we go forward.

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

Can you discuss the collaboration process behind the remix package of “11/8” and what listeners can expect from these new versions?

“11/8” was our most popular song so far, so we wanted to put together this little package of interpretations as a ‘thank you’ to the people that liked it. We work with the Beehive collective, an incredible management, touring, and creative team in LA with so many awesome members, and this project has really started to become one of the creative arms of the Beehive and an outlet for so many of the members to flex their creative muscles. Two of those members, Peter Sullivan and Pete Jonas, who have also worked with us on various aspects of other songs, wanted to take a crack at interpreting the song so we just let them have free reign, and what they came up with is pretty awesome. Funky and danceable, even.

Then there’s Jesse Haugen, who works on a lot of string arrangements for the Beehive’s artists and is probably a genius, in the most literal sense of the word. He took the total opposite approach and turned the song into what can only be described as a major motion picture score.

The third is stripped of everything and is just Pete Jonas adding some atmospheric synth, and my partner and I performing the song live in one take in the Beehive studio.

So all the versions are very different from one another, but it showcases the breadth of talent we’re so lucky to be able to work with under the Beehive umbrella.

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

In what ways do you believe sym fera can stand out in a music industry saturated with artists seeking fame through industry connections and social media presence?

We try not to think about it honestly. If anything, we’ve been rather silly about it, actively avoiding our industry connections and actively sabotaging our ability to generate a social media presence. But it was so satisfying that I’d do it this way again if I could turn back the clock. Working on this project while ignoring everyone’s advice on ‘networking’ and ‘fame’ has been incredibly liberating. We’ll give it our best shot as we go forward without the masks on, of course. We’ll reach out and do interviews like this one, and do our best to get our stuff in front of people. But honestly, I think we’re going to keep our eyes on that same ball: trying to make stuff that we would like to listen to, and to watch. Beyond that, everything else matters very little, at least to us. If this machine continues to make enough to justify its own existence, and people seem to feel something when they listen to it, I’ll call that above and beyond success.

Plus, begging people to follow us on socials as we write songs criticizing what computer addiction has done to the human brain would be kind of hypocritical. Then again, we live in the world we live in, and that is how artists get their stuff out there today, so we are forced to use it. We’re not better than anyone else, we’re cogs in the machine too. So, may as well use these malevolent tools to some productive end.

How did you navigate building a following without relying on traditional industry support or established connections?

We haven’t navigated it well at all, really. We’re terrible at it. I’d say we’ve gotten very lucky a few different times, and that luck has allowed our stuff to get in front of people that liked it. And really, that was more satisfying than anything.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re not “too good” for any of this. We’re definitely going to amp up our efforts to network, and all of that. But the selfish artists in us get such a kick out of the fact that we threw all of that traditionally good advice in the garbage and just let our songs do every bit of talking up until this point. We’ve had two artists we admire reach out and say they liked our stuff just recently – that alone shocked the hell out of us. If what’s happened so far is all that ever happens, I think we’ll both be very satisfied.

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

What challenges have you faced as an anonymous duo in terms of promoting your music and engaging with fans?

We got very lucky that a few music supervisors liked our stuff enough to sync them on major television shows like Ozark and The Resident, and very lucky that the SOTA record label liked our demos enough to sign us without having met us in person beforehand. Once we did finally meet them, turns out we had some points of connection that probably would have helped us get a deal. But that was even more satisfying – that the only reason they signed us had nothing to do with networking.

Could you share any insights into how sym fera’s live performances differ from your recorded music, especially in maintaining your mysterious persona on stage?

We’ve done exactly one live performance, and we really didn’t feel like wearing masks or hoods or anything because that felt like leaning into the ‘mysterious’ thing a little too hard. So we used audio-reactive lighting and shadow to just silhouette us behind our instruments, and that seemed to work pretty well. All that is a credit to the Beehive’s infrastructure, they’ve got the best lighting guys and the best equipment, so we’re very fortunate we had access to that, and enough people there were willing to help us out and cut us a deal. And we collected everyone’s phones in sealed bags that were unsealed at the end of the show. It was fun to watch people squirm, not knowing what to do with their hands, forced to live in the present with us.

What role does symbolism play in sym fera’s visual aesthetic and how does it complement your musical identity?

Every band we both love has pretty strong visual and lyrical identities. The type of music we’re pursuing I think allows for more symbolism-play than maybe more pop-centric stuff, with some notable exceptions. I love it when the artists I listen to leave me riddles and easter eggs, I think that’s the fun of it all. So we definitely want to do the same.

Can you provide some details about the creative process behind your latest release, “no/bodies,” and how it fits into the narrative of sym fera’s evolution?

“no/bodies” follows the sort of nuclear fallout of a bad breakup. I kind of pictured that aimless, hollow, wandering feeling one gets after a bad breakup as being akin to some kind of romantic refugee, or a character in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, or something like that. The world seems an unfriendly place, one seems to not belong anywhere and nowhere seems familiar, no one quite speaks your language. It’s about being spiritually lost.

It started as a solo song from one of our old projects, and the other one of us loved it so much, he begged to re-write the lyrics and sing on it. So the instrumental part was fully arranged and recorded long before we decided it was a sym fera song.

How do you see sym fera’s music evolving in the future, considering the unique journey you have taken so far as a hidden duo? Especially after you reveal your identities? 

Mostly, we want to do more collabs with other artists we admire, some of which have already begun taking shape. We don’t want to get so caught up in naval-gazing that the music becomes totally inaccessible or pretentious, so a fresh set of ears or a fresh voice will probably shake something good out of the tree.

sym fera. Photo courtesy the artist.

What message or emotions do you hope listeners take away from sym fera’s music?

I don’t think we’re in any position to lecture anybody about anything. We’re describing how we feel about the world, about our personal experiences, about things that cause us fear or paranoia or hope or joy. That’s all it is. We’re showing our guts, and we hope it makes you feel something, and that the feeling is valuable or enjoyable. Beyond that, I think the message is that everything is absurd and sometimes making things and sharing them is the best way to cope with that absurdity.

As sym fera continues to grow its fanbase, what are some key values or principles that guide your artistic journey and define the essence of the duo?

I don’t know anything about our journey — I still feel like we’re just getting started. If I had to say something we believe, then I think Hendrix is the one that said it better than we could. When people started telling him he was the greatest guitarist, he always replied with something along the lines of “good or bad doesn’t matter to me, what does matter is feeling and not feeling.” So we hope our stuff makes someone feel something, that’s really it. The rest is bullshit and numbers on a screen and other people’s opinions. But if something we made caused someone to feel something, that’s a fact; and when they tell us that, it makes us feel amazing.

Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that sym fera fans can look forward to in the near future?

We finished a collaboration with an artist that we’re excited to tell people about, but we can’t yet. We still have to get their blessing on the mixing and mastering side before we start advertising it. But it’s done and recorded, so very soon hopefully we’ll be able to show it off! We’re very proud of it.

And if anyone reading considers themself a fan of ours, we have to say thank you, we never really thought we’d have ‘fans’ and we’re grateful.

For more on sym fera follow on Instagram

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