Syd Bennett is speechless. Literally. The frontwoman for hip-hip and soul outfit The Internet is not allowed to use her voice. When I arrive at her house in mid-city Los Angeles -- her childhood home, where she currently lives with her mother -- she wordlessly shakes my hand and then points to a notebook and pen lying on the coffee table.
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She's getting over an illness and her vocal coach has instructed her not to use her voice, so she's just been scribbling her thoughts down on paper. When the notepad method proves inefficient, she grabs a laptop. Syd has to take these precautions because she is flying to Atlanta the next day to perform a show at Spelman College, a historically black women's university.
"Exciting," she types, smirking. "I love women. If only this were a few years ago, 'cause now I'm too old for them."
The 26-year-old musician, also known as Syd tha Kyd, is responsible for many of the smooth, velvety vocals that will appear on the group's fourth studio album, Hive Mind, out in July. Syd helped found The Internet with her former Odd Future mate Matt Martians, as well as producer-guitarist Steve Lacy, bassist Patrick Paige II, and drummer Christopher Smith. They've been together since 2011, but the band's members have occasionally wandered off to pursue other, unrelated projects.
Syd, for example, released her own highly celebrated solo debut, Fin, last year. A sexy, sophisticated R&B album, it casts her sultry voice into a sea of honeyed melodies, though many of the songs on the album were written for other singers. "I realized that a lot of the reason for that is my self-doubt," she says, "feeling like the song could be bigger if it were sung by someone else, or feeling like I'm not a good enough singer to execute it the way I want."
These anxieties originate from some rather uncomfortable experiences in the early stages of her career. "I started singing when we released our first album, not in high school or elementary school," she says. "We did a lot of bad shows. I can laugh at it now, but it stays in the back of my head."
As she's grown more confident in her singing, she's also retained all of the audacity and single-minded dedication that have allowed her to refine her skills as a multidisciplinary artist -- she plays the piano and the guitar and produces music. It seems she's always had this fearless streak; at 14, she briefly ran a business doing guerilla marketing for local merchants, and she once ran for student council office at a new school where she didn't know anybody. "I wanted better-smelling soap in the restrooms," she explains.
But these days, her only ambitions involve making great music, and the architecture of her life is designed to support that objective. There's a studio above the guest house of the place she shares with her mother. It's where members of Odd Future and The Internet used to record before they could afford better accommodations (for their new album, The Internet rented out Airbnbs all around the world). The walls of the recording booth -- a small closet they made soundproof with thick blankets -- are covered in the Sharpie signatures and graffiti of artists who have passed through, like Tyler the Creator and Frank Ocean.
Many of us leave home to escape our childhoods and awkward adolescences, but Syd wants to preserve memories of hers. "Staying here in L.A. and in this house keeps me grounded," she says. "I can never forget where I came from 'cause I've never left for that long."