interview by JANA LETONJA

In the realm of musical secrecy, the Los Angeles-based duo known as sym fera remains veiled in mystique, with their identities still concealed. Their mysterious nature and captivating melodies have intrigued listeners, with their single ’11/8′ amassing over 400.000 streams. 

Listen to the single here.

Guys, tell us more about how was the idea of this duo born?
My partner and I have been playing in clubs around Los Angeles together for as long as we’ve known each other, over 10 years. One of us had a solo project and the other would jump on and help out occasionally. But we always just jammed together for fun, never for a commercial purpose. Then, this one idea came along that we were playing with, that we both just thought was really good and sounded like something that we would both listen to ourselves if we had found it. So, we decided to give it a real shot and finally put it out there. 

Up until that point, us playing together had never been an attempt to create a project that we were going to try to make a career out of or anything like that. Putting it out with a label and having people actually consume it didn’t really occur to us until recently. We did it because it was what we loved doing. But of course, there’s a self-consciousness there too that motivated us. If you never show anybody your stuff, then it can’t ever become real. You can’t ever be embarrassed in public if you don’t go outside. Part of us growing up was growing out of that fear. And really, everyone cringes at night about something, so there’s really nothing to fear. 

You are hiding your identities as a social experiment. Why did you decide on this approach and to create this social experiment?
The identity thing is more selfish than calculated, honestly. It wasn’t an attempt to create some manufactured mystique or to be deliberately provocative. Quite the opposite. We felt kind of burnt out on the overexposure of daily life in the digital age, especially in a town like LA. This is the one area of our lives where we could actually control our exposure because we’ve given up the rest of our privacy already everywhere else. With this thing, we can just create an entity that looks and sounds exactly like we want it to, separate from us. 

It is admittedly a little ironic to hold people at a distance because some of the lyrics and emotions we’re playing with are intimate and personal, so it’s a little topsy-turvy. We’re revealing things that one would usually keep in their diary or their therapy sessions and withholding the stuff everybody usually gets to see, like our names or what we look like. I like to say we’re turning ourselves inside out, like feeding starfish, showing everyone our guts rather than our faces. 

This shyness comes partly from the fact that my partner and I both have strong connections to the music industry and we grew up around it in various ways. Being a musician is sometimes something people do as a vanity project after doing other things, because they’re physically attractive or they have lots of followers on social media or something like that.We’ve met people in those positions and we realized that whenever anyone talked about those people, the music they made was the last thing mentioned. Sometimes it was an afterthought. It was more about gossip and personalities and how hot they are. 

Hearing about music projects like that never really made me want to listen to them. Discovering a song that just hit me in the gut, without knowing anything about who made it, is always the way I seem to find things I like. Finding out who made the thing was just a piece of trivia, less important. When I would listen to a project by someone I already had a preconceived idea about, it warped my perception of the material, and the personality or scene or whatever they were already associated with came along for the ride. It’s why I don’t read gossip magazines or pay attention to actor’s dating lives. I don’t really want that to influence whether I like a movie or not. It doesn’t add anything I value to the experience. 

We realized that if we did it the normal way, we would never really be sure what people actually thought of the songs themselves, positively or negatively, in a vacuum. Our associations within the industry would come first, for better or for worse. Whether our associations influenced people to like our stuff more or whether it had the opposite effect and made people hate it, we didn’t really care. Both outcomes would be equally tainted. We just wanted to know, frankly, if we were onto something here, if we actually had something to offer or not. So, we tested it out from behind a curtain with not a lot of expectations other than the enjoyment of making something of which we were proud, with its own space to exist without us. 

How would you sum up the results of it so far?
Obviously, we’re thrilled that the people that have heard the stuff seem to like it. We’ve gotten a few pretty amazing opportunities and all of those things were achieved without making our identities known. Nod to our record label, who signed a deal with us before ever meeting us in person, purely based on the demos they liked, nod to the various TV music supervisors, who so kindly placed our songs in their shows, and finally nod to the listeners who showed up to streaming services. It’s been incredibly gratifying to know that the only reason things have happened for us, happened because of the songs themselves, nothing else. But even if nothing had happened or people hadn’t liked it, I think we were prepared for that. We just wanted to know the truth and I think when you’re making something, it’s hard to know what’s real or what’s your ego, or your emotional attachment to the thing. 

Selfishly, we wanted that variable controlled before we considered doing this thing out in the open. And we feel like we’re satisfied with how it turned out so far. Even though it doesn’t matter what other people think, it felt nice that it turned out well. 

At your live performance at the Lodge room in LA, you collected all cell phones at the entrance. How challenging was for the audience to accept this bold move?
Honestly, I think people are kind of used to this now. They do it at stand-up comedy shows all the time. I don’t think there was much of a question as to why. It’s funny what becomes ‘normal’ when I think even a few years ago, it would have felt paranoid and strange. But I think everybody feels paranoid and strange all the time now.

My bandmate had the point of view where he wanted to recreate the feeling of concerts from our childhood. It’s a cliche to even rail against now, but it’s depressing to go to an incredible concert and half the audience is glued to their phone or distracted, only tuning in long enough to get footage of a cool moment. Every experience seems to always have an asterisk, that it only matters if you get to show someone who wasn’t there. But if you film your whole life, you don’t get to watch it later.  

We wanted to prevent people from recording our faces, but we also wanted people to actually watch the show, to have no choice but to be in the moment with us. I guess we’re control freaks because we really do want to control the context in which people see and hear our stuff. I know we won’t be able to do that all the time, especially when we stop hiding, but every once in a while, we get to create the universe for a second and with that show it really felt like we brought people into something beyond their usual experience. Call it pretentious, but in the moment it felt amazing. 

We used audio-reactive lighting to hide our faces in silhouette and we wanted there to be chairs all the way up to the stage, so everyone was sitting instead of standing in a pit, more like a classical music recital than a rock concert. And it was beautiful. We had a professional camera shooting video and stills and that’s the only footage from the night. You can see that everyone’s eyes are up, their posture is alert, they’re locked in. No one’s neck is bent, no one’s face getting sucked into the black mirror. Just for a moment, we were all in the 90s again. It was awesome.  

In the digital era we live in, how has social media and all gadgets changed the music industry?
I’m sure it’s changed the music industry in a lot of ways. A lot of our lyrics are about how it’s changed people, not any particular industry. I think when the digital age began, we all assumed trying to connect every human mind together was an intrinsically positive thing to do, and yet we’ve all never been more lonely, more scared, less understanding. We’ve offloaded our central nervous systems into a worldwide hive mind without stopping to consider that a mind is not a pleasant place to be. Individual minds are horror shows, why would a planet-sized hive mind be any better?

How would you describe your sound and melodies?
What we’re aiming for hopefully is some kind of post-apocalyptic dystopian sex playlist. That’s at least how I describe most of the stuff that I like to listen to. 

What inspires you the most when creating new music?
For one of us, it’s a lot of sci-fi films like ‘Ex Machina’, ‘interstellar’ and ‘The Road’. I don’t know when I became obsessed with apocalyptic imagery, but it doesn’t really depress me, it just strikes me as interesting. The end of the world is a romantic concept in my mind, there’s something compelling about it and it actually makes me feel better to think about it. Kind of like a memento mori, people thinking about death as a way to remind themselves to savor life. 

For the other, relationships, love, human connection, that sort of things always play a part. Not an original premise, but a universal one that I imagine will continue. The first poetry or song ever written was probably about love in some way. 

And of course, more obviously, there are a lot of amazing artists doing amazing things right now and we’re heavily influenced by the records we listen to, past and contemporary. We devour vinyl and our Spotify algorithms definitely work overtime. We always want to discover new people doing new weird stuff. Artists are having a hard time getting paid right now in streaming, but the level of inspiration out there doesn’t seem to be dwindling. I’m pretty optimistic at the level of cool stuff that’s being made in spite of all that. 

Later this Spring, you’ll be dropping your new single ‘Beg’. Tell us more about it and what can the fans expect when they’ll be able to hear it?
We’re excited about this one because we worked with an astonishingly talented young animator for the music video, Josh Shaffner, who has an incredible resume and is kind of a one-man studio. We can’t wait for people to see what he made with this song. It’s one of our favorite things that has come out of this. 

For the song itself, you can expect something sexy and depressing and ominous all at once. So, just a wholesome, old fashioned good time. 

Simultaneously, you will also reveal your identities. What prompted your decision to do so? How excited or nervous are you about this moment?
We don’t really think about it as a ‘reveal’, we’re just satisfied with how it went before this point and we want to continue now using whatever resources we can to keep it going. We’re proud of what happened with it in a vacuum. Now we want to see how far it can go. 

Whether people react to a reveal or not doesn’t really matter to us. We hope we’ll just get a slightly wider reach to show more people the stuff and we hope they will continue to like or dislike the songs on their own merits, not based on anything else.

What is coming up next for you? Tell us more about your upcoming projects.
We’ve got a ton of songs in the bank that are done or nearly done, probably a couple albums worth. So after a single or two, we’re probably going to put out a full length album. We’ve been a little too precious with what we decided to release and how long it took, so we’re just going to try to throw it all out there and do the damn thing. And I’m hoping after we do that, we can start doing a lot more live shows.

In addition, we’re working with an awesome director right now to create another pretty ambitious music video for the second single that we’re hoping to have done soon. But that’s still in the early stage, so I shouldn’t say too much just yet. 

Even if one person hears our stuff and it makes them feel something, that’s a success to me, and we’ve had quite a few people reach out and say they did. Everything after that just feels like a bonus.