Interview: SYPS

Interview: SYPS

Out of all the great musicians and acts in Bangkok, Alex Sypsomos, also know as SYPS, is one of the ones I’m most excited about. I’ve known Alex for a long time, but this isn’t the sort of excitement I would give out in a supportive way to a long time friend. No, I’m excited about what he’s doing for some very specific reasons.

SYPS is a project that is aimed at a global audience. Alex has a big vision and big dreams and it shows in his work. He released his debut single “Four Walls” in 2017, followed by a collaborative effort with California-based AKA Block, releasing tracks “Romeo” and “Still” this year. If you listen to these songs, you’ll see that they speak for themselves. With rich, textured musical layers influenced by a wide variety of genres, backed by Alex’s strong vocal capabilities, he’s already been gaining fans and plaudits both locally and abroad.

Above all though, I’m excited by the way that Alex approaches SYPS as a project. He’s not just trying to get the music right, he’s trying to get the strategy right, and he has a lot of exciting ideas of how to create, produce, release, promote and perform music as an indie artist. Thailand has it’s first major indie success in Phum Viphurit, others will follow, and the ones who do will be bold, measured and experimental like Alex Sypsomos.

Read on for our full interview with Alex about his music, life and vision.

Tell us a bit about yourself, who you are and the different things you’re doing.

I remember starting to play violin, which was my first instrument, if we want to go way back! This is like 3rd grade, did it because there was a girl in my class that I liked.

Haha, okay.

Fast-forward a few years, all my friends started playing guitar and I was like “I think I can learn this”. So I just started jamming, this is freshman year of high school, and at the same time I was in a few choir groups so I started singing and realized “okay, I can sing, this is actually something I can do”. But it was never a priority because soccer always was at that time in my life. That’s what I had always trained to be and that was the plan, you know, going to college to be a soccer player.

But then the year before I graduated high-school I broke my leg playing soccer and it changed my perspective and I had to reconsider a lot of things. It was quite devastating but I was still gun ho on fulfilling a soccer career so I still went to school in Texas to fulfill that. They were number 3 in the country at that time but it ended up that when I got there the coach that had unofficially recruited us had left and a new coach had been brought in so I was forced to not play soccer there. I played for the club team – he dropped a bunch of players on the varsity team to play on the club team and that was us. It was really heartbreaking but that’s what really started getting me into actually playing music.

I remember about 6 months after that happened I was on the phone with my parents and my mom especially was like “do you really want to be there?” and I was replied that no, it wasn’t the place for me, and she suggested music school. I felt like why am I going to business school when, while I love business, it wasn’t my end all be all. I really wanted to do something I was passionate about and it’s always been between soccer and music. But I never took music seriously enough to actually fulfill it and commit to it. So that moment really switched it and I asked my mom “would you entertain that?” and my parents told me “absolutely, as long as I was happy, we know you’re good at it”.

So I came back to Thailand, played soccer for a Thai team in division 3 for a bit while I was getting better at music and learning a little bit of theory.

This is when we met!

Yeah, this is when I started playing gigs at places like The Alchemist and stuff like that.

Right, getting some real world experience.

Exactly, exactly, haha. But yeah, at that time I had no clue what I wanted to do musically. I just knew it was something I would like to try.

So I got into music school, which was really great. I stayed there for 4 years, got to play soccer via a partner team, another college and ended up captaining for 2 years, which was so funny as it was another school.

 

when I realized that I actually had the talent for it my confidence grew and instead of looking at it like a competition, which is how I had viewed life a lot, I found that I could collaborate and do stuff with anyone there, which was amazing

 

So you were still able to play football while you were still focusing on music.

Yeah, absolutely.

That was going to be my next question. So you were at Berklee and you had a lot of people around you, some with a traditional approach like teachers with structure and curriculum that they have to teach, and you also have forward-thinking classmates who are experimenting and building their own careers, how did that influence you?

I think I heard about Berklee for the first time through John Mayer, who is obviously one of my idols, but I knew that if I went to music school and switched from doing something that I had done my whole life to this, I wanted to go to the best school or at least try. But the first couple of years, the first year especially, was very intimidating because I was an athlete, I didn’t consider myself a musician yet and own it yet. But when I realized that I actually had the talent for it my confidence grew and instead of looking at it like a competition, which is how I had viewed life a lot, I found that I could collaborate and do stuff with anyone there, which was amazing!

So that mentality switch from being an athlete and being competitive to being more collaborative.

Yeah, and it was amazing because you’d be in class with some girl who was YouTube famous because she posts amazing acoustic videos and then some guy who is the only steel drum player at Berklee from the Dominican Republic. You know what I mean? You’re constantly gaining inspiration from random people.

I also wasn’t a songwriter until my last couple of years, because I took some amazing classes and one of my teachers Melissa Ferrick, who was like the coolest teacher I’ve ever had, she totally opened my eyes up to what songwriting is and how you can do it yourself and become your own songwriter. She also challenged us to do it once a week but not only write the song, but also produce it, and you would have to present it at the class every week. Sometimes you could do half of a song, but it had to at least be something. It was intense and obviously throughout the class you’d see who you want to take from and who you’d like to collaborate with and that’s what got me into production and songwriting.

 

The thing about us artists, as you know, is that we are our own worst critics and when we create something and we want something to be perfect, we overthink things

 

Is that where you met AKA Block?

No, we met at a songwriting camp at Karma  a couple years ago.

Oh okay, I’ll get into that in a bit, but the first single you released under the moniker SYPS was “Four Walls”, what was that experience like, releasing your very first track?

It was so nerve wracking. The thing about us artists, as you know, is that we are our own worst critics and when we create something and we want something to be perfect, we overthink things. I have never overthought something more than I did during that single. I was finding my sound, it was my first official release, a re-brand. I had always been doing folk-rock stuff before so to do pop was different and I almost felt like I was being insincere to myself in a way but once I released it and people loved it and it opened some doors it totally changed my perspective on everything. I felt “why do I need to overthink this”.

Were you scared of other people’s opinions?

Yeah man, I’m definitely afraid of what other people think, like that’s definitely a big thing that I’ve had to suffer with throughout my career. But the older I get the less tolerant I get and now I just don’t care. But at the same time I wasn’t producing at that time, I was strictly songwriting. I wrote that with some incredible producers and songwriters, incredible. But there was something inside of me that was like “I don’t know, is this me?” I’ve always been more into the soul and R&B aspects of things but at the end of the day it totally opened some great doors. I got to speak with some publishing companies and got label interest.

So it was a really good start, right?

It was a perfect kick-start, yeah. That’s the best way to look at it too. Since having released that it’s been easier to accept that I have a pop ear, which is actually a really good thing because it’s helped me make money in this industry too. That’s how I’ve gotten hired for a lot of jobs that I work for, for other people.

 

the more I collaborate with people, the less I want to in a way because there is a sense of pride like “I can do this” but I just have to allow myself to, that’s the most difficult thing

 

So after you released “Four Walls” you pretty recently released 2 songs with AKA Block. Tell us a little about that and tell us the difference between releasing your own material and doing collaborative stuff.

So Tim and I met a couple of years ago at a songwriting camp, as I mentioned. We didn’t write together at the camp but we knew that we liked each other’s music. The day after the songwriting camp ended we decided to get into the studio with a couple of friends and I laid down some vocals and immediately we both felt “okay, this is some hot stuff”. I was very Justin Timberlakey in a way.

So he was someone you could go back to your R&B roots with.

Exactly. I’d been trying to find someone who was a little bit more R&B and more beat driven and I had found it. He came back a couple months later just to write a little EP. We wrote 4 songs together that we play live a lot. We’ll release the next songs soon actually. Then we went to London and wrote “Romeo”. I kind of lost myself during the first few days, being in a place where I haven’t been in a long time, with a bunch of friends, going out … there was no focus. I felt like I kind of lost myself and that’s where “Romeo” came from. We wrote “Still” at another songwriting camp together and we’ve written about 12 songs now.

As much as I love writing with Tim and my other collaborators for me there’s always something that’s missing slightly, it doesn’t fulfill me like I know it could, like when I write a song by myself. It has nothing to do with him or anything like that and it might be an ego thing, to be honest.

Is it a feeling of ownership, feeling proud about your work? Like you can only feel 50% proud because it’s only 50% yours?

Yeah, I agree, but the coolest thing about with writing with Tim especially is that we complement each other very well. I’m more of a songwriting basic and I come from more of a songwriting perspective, and he comes more from being a producer and that’s where we really linked. But I sort of realized “I can actually do what you do, at home, but make it my own”, which is exactly what he’s been doing with his music as well, he’s releasing his own project.

We’re going to continue to collaborate, but the more I collaborate with people, the less I want to in a way because there is a sense of pride like “I can do this” but I just have to allow myself to, that’s the most difficult thing.

So it pushes you to do it yourself and take on more because you’re chasing that feeling of pride, feeling good about your work, right?

Yes, so true.

 

(On playing live) It’s my favorite thing to do, other than being in the studio. It’s literally the most invigorating thing. It reminds me of being back on the pitch. And once I got over that initial stage fright, which everyone gets for like the first 5 minutes, then it’s just gold!

 

We’ve seen you play at Sofar Sounds and you did a showcase gig at Loyshy, and I know you’ve done some other gigs as well. What’s it like working with a really fantastic band? I would almost call it a super group where you’ve taken really talented musicians from different bands and put them on the same stage.

That’s so cool, yeah! It is a super group.

Yeah! You’re also doing a lot of songs, it’s quite a set list. What’s it like to be playing live and doing shows with friends and fans and new faces in the audience?

It’s my favorite thing to do, other than being in the studio. It’s literally the most invigorating thing. It reminds me of being back on the pitch. And once I got over that initial stage fright, which everyone gets for like the first 5 minutes, then it’s just gold!

And I’m very fortunate to have the band that I have. Obviously I’ve got Jake, who plays drums for Stamp and the Lowdowns. Then you’ve got Luke who plays bass for The Toys, we met in Berklee, so we go way back. We actually met playing soccer. Kid and Gam, they both play for Nam, who is a Grammy artist, and they also have a really amazing jazz band and they play all the jazz festivals.

It’s taken me a really long time to find the right people to play in the band, but I always knew that I needed people who had this type of feel. Jake hits the drums hard, you know, he’s got really good soul and bass. Luke has great R&B mentality and musicality and the other too guys are really jazz influenced and I’ve been all about the jazz lately, like hip-hop jazz and stuff like that. So it’s a very smart band and we are help each other arrange and things like that. It’s great to be around people who you can trust musically.

 

(On what advice he has for budding songwriters) Collaborate actually is a funny thing I would say to them, straight up just collaborate and learn from everybody else’s different songwriting styles, because then you’ll finally figure out what you want. Or if you know what you want, just do it every day. You know what I mean? If you know what kind of songwriter you are, just keep going, keep doing it. Find inspiration from everything you can.

 

As I was saying before, you’re playing a lot of songs that aren’t released yet, so what’s the time-frame like, when are the next few songs coming out and when is the album coming out.

I don’t think I’m gonna release any albums any time soon but I’ve been taking from a lot of artists who have been doing unconventional releasing. Like one of my favorite artists, his name is Russ, he does pretty aggressive hip-hop but the model of what he did is brilliant. He essentially, for 2 and half years, released a song a week and gained a massive organic following. Now he has over 2 million followers on Instagram and he’s playing stadiums every night, it ridiculous, and he’s not even really mainstream yet. It showed me that you don’t have to be on the radio to rip stadiums, you know?

So where I am now is I’m sitting on a lot of really great music that I’ve written over the last couple of years. There’s a lot of clarity now on the ownership, as of the last few weeks, so now we’re really feeling good to just put them out. So what I’m gonna do for the songs I think are more the b-sides, I’m just gonna put them out for free in the next few weeks and keep putting them out while pushing the bigger ones that we think are gonna do really well. But then again, who actually knows! But I think this is a really good idea to gain a following and we’re setting up everything for 4 months from now when Wonderfruit happens, we’re playing main stage, so we want a few songs to be out and the following to be far more advanced than it is now.

I’m gonna do some collaborative stuff with some Thai artists, I’ve already done it. We have some stuff being released soon. I won’t tell you who it is yet, but it’s really cool. It’s really interesting, like it’s a first, that hasn’t been done in Thailand.

So we’ve talked about songwriting a lot and I know that you’ve been working at Karma Sound Studios for a long time now and doing songwriting for a lot of exciting projects and also exciting artists. What would be your advice for budding songwriters? I know that there are a lot of musicians who are scared to take that first step. What would you advice be for them?

Collaborate actually is a funny thing I would say to them, straight up just collaborate and learn from everybody else’s different songwriting styles, because then you’ll finally figure out what you want. Or if you know what you want, just do it every day. You know what I mean? If you know what kind of songwriter you are, just keep going, keep doing it. Find inspiration from everything you can. For me, I’m a concept guy and I think that the concept is everything in a song, so that would be my advice … and I’m not saying that I’m someone who should be giving great amounts of advice, but I think finding a strong concept is everything. Everything! And once there’s a sense of conflict in the song, maybe in the bridge or something, that’s when you know you’ve got a good song. Or just perspective and playing with that kind of vibe. Take from your favorite songwriters, really analyze their lyrics and then find yourself through you own songwriting, that’s what I’ve been doing.

That’s good advice.

 

If I can get to a point where I can write, produce, mix and master a song a week and just put it out for free or on Spotify or whatever it is, that’s the dream!

 

Oh now I’m like rapping more! It’s more like sing-rap …

Like kind of R&B rap …

Yeah, yeah, like R&B rap, but it’s still very me, it’s very unique. I think it’s good to experiment with something that may make you feel uncomfortable, do it by yourself. If you feel comfortable with it and confident, show the world!

So last question, where would you like to see yourself in 1 or 2 years? What’s the dream?

That is a fantastic question. I mean really the dream is stadiums, right? I think that the dream right now, for the next couple of years, is to gain a solid fanbase, a loyal fanbase, to connect with as many people as I can worldwide. Not just in Thailand, but while I’m in Thailand to really set myself up as the go to guy here as well for other artists.

Ideally though, I want to get to releasing a song a week. Straight up! If I can get to a point where I can write, produce, mix and master a song a week and just put it out for free or on Spotify or whatever it is, that’s the dream! If you can get label backing, sure, that’s fine, but that’s not my goal.

So basically doing that would check so many boxes for you. You could help other people, you could do it for yourself, that skillset is key.

Yeah exactly, and once you have a lot of music out and people are listening, then you can tour and that’s how you make money and you can sync it into film, but you just got to get it out, and that’s what I’m learning. It’s exciting, I’m excited for the next couple of years.

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