Music can be a saving grace, the thing that pulls you back from the edge when your world is crumbling. That’s what it’s like listening to singer/songwriter Synae’s most recent project, Wild World. I’ve had some low, low moments this past year, but Synae’s airy melodic vibe reassured me that I’m not alone; we’re all dealing with something (or is it the same thing?). Initially released last year during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the four-track EP tackles the darkness while packaged in a fun, sunny aesthetic of Animal Crossing inspiration. This allows listeners to use childhood comforts to make it through present-day pain. Synae’s artistry is like a warm, generous hug on a late-night that assures everything will be alright.
A 25-year-old podcast producer by day and recording artist by night, Synae is dedicated to her craft. Using their middle name as a stage name, their music is influenced by the emotional rollercoaster of their life: getting laid off (from NPR), Black Lives Matter protests, the ongoing impact of the pandemic, and her grandmother being diagnosed with cancer in 2020 and dying earlier this year, among other things. “When I’m writing songs, the first thing I do is start with the beat or the instrumental,” Synae says over Zoom from their home in Washington, D.C. “Usually, I get on this piano and I start with the melody, and as I’m making the melody, the music itself speaks for me before I even get the words.”
Wild World is the result, a beautiful blending of melodies that blur the lines of pop, R&B and acoustic. Some might call it peak sad girl music, and it is that. But it’s also super relatable with a melancholy aura throughout. Its title track stands out the most for its infectious uptempo and motivational lyrics that paint a picture of survival. “Rainy,” on the other hand, is a somber song about a hard-to-leave codependent relationship, tracking one’s journey to that realization. The EP’s tracklist sequencing smoothly ebbs and flows, solidifying the EP’s replay value as listeners dive into Synae’s mindscape.
Then there are her earlier singles, “Drowning,” and “Pull Up.” About using alcohol as a coping mechanism after a breakup, “Drowning,” is a heartfelt ballad while “Pull Up,” a track about rendezvousing with a crush or lover, is sultry and flirtatious. Overall, Synae’s music reminds you to allow yourself to feel the pain, but to not let it consume you.
Xtra caught up with Synae recently, in advance of their first live show in two years which will happen Dec. 7 in D.C., to discuss how the video game Animal Crossing helped them break free of writer’s block and the artists that inspired their start in music.
How did you first get into music?
Around third grade, I started singing and playing piano and continued through high school. I was inspired by artists like Christina Grimmie, Tori Kelly and Ariana Grande, and began a YouTube channel to sing covers in my room. I spent two summers saving up the funds working at my dad’s ice cream chain to afford home studio equipment that I still use today.
What inspired your EP Wild World?
In March 2020, I started trying to brainstorm music ideas because I had not been making music for the past six years, from college until then. I had writer’s block. I didn’t know what to write, and I was in a place where I felt like I wasn’t going to continue music because I kept trying and nothing was coming to me. I was depressed. There was just so much going on in my personal life. My grandmother, who has now passed away, was diagnosed with cancer. I just needed something to revitalize me, and that was Animal Crossing. I recorded in three months, from March to May. It was the quickest I had ever written songs because I just got to get really nerdy and delved into my imagination. That’s how I made Wild World.
Talk to me about the single “Wild World.”
The first line is, “I been winning like I found a perfect cheat code.” I was not winning. I was not winning at anything. But I just took myself there as if I was just on top of the world. One day it will be true. That’s why I placed it last on the tracklist; it’s the most important song because that’s what you’re going to end off with, that’s what you’re going to leave with.
I love the music video for it, too, because it was right in my backyard. I bought some green screen paper, and David Le directed the visual on a $1,000 budget. I played the game and just recorded the gameplay, and I got some extra filler green screen backgrounds, and we put it together quite quickly.
Why is it so important to you to write your own music?
When we grow up listening to songs, we expect life to happen that way—and it doesn’t. I didn’t hear any songs about how college can make you broke [or about] trying to realize that you’re queer but you just can’t quite accept that about yourself yet or having no friends or being depressed. I didn’t hear those stories in songs… and so that’s why I think it’s important for me to make my own songs because I know that my story is unique… but it’s also not uncommon. There are tons of Black weird kids going through the same thing trying to get their degree and make their lives happen for themselves. By telling my story, I tell many other people’s stories.
And as an independent artist, the only thing that will set me apart from anyone else is that I’m broadcasting who I am.
What’s one thing you want people to take from your music?
That we are all in the same boat. I talk about such heavy topics on purpose because I feel like I want my listeners to know I’m right there with you. Just know that your feelings, they’re super valid. It’s okay to feel, really process and revel in those emotions, but don’t let them consume you.