Syd and Damson Idris on the Art of Breaking Up
She keeps a low profile, but Syd is a driving force in the hip-hop landscape. From her origins as a founding member of the rap collective Odd Future (the group recorded most of their original songs at Syd’s parents house), to her turn as the front woman of the jazz-funk-R&B group The Internet, the Los Angeles native has established herself as a visionary collaborator and producer. But it wasn’t until 2017 that Syd struck out on her own with Fin, a pop- and trap-inflected record that secured her status as a standalone artist in her own right. Last Friday, the 29-year-old singer released her highly-anticipated sophomore record, Broken Hearts Club. Syd began writing the album—a blend of neo-soul ballads,‘80s-inspired synth pop, and bass-heavy bops with features from the likes of Lucky Daye, Kehlani, and Syd’s Internet bandmate Steve Lacy—in the honeymoon phase of her last relationship, and finished it in the wake of the heartbreak that followed. One person who’s here for Syd’s newfound vulnerability is the British actor and longtime Internet listener Damson Idris. The pair, mutual fans who first met when Tyler, the Creator invited the Snowfall star to a picnic at Syd’s house in 2020, did their best to play it cool—with little success. Below, the pair reconnected on Zoom for a conversation about their first encounter, learning from heartbreak, and puppy love.
DAMSON IDRIS: What up!
SYD: Hey! What’s good? That’s a nice painting, man.
IDRIS: Thank you! It’s by a Nigerian artist.
SYD: I need some of that, I just have this white board behind me with dog training ideas. [Both laugh]
IDRIS: What’s all that smoke! Do you have a hookah going?
SYD: We’ll call it incense, but it’s not really incense…
IDRIS: I live in L.A. now, by the way. The last time I saw you I don’t think I’d moved yet.
SYD: For everybody who doesn’t know, one time Damson showed up to my house and I was like, “What is he doing here?!” Tyler [the Creator] invited him over to a picnic we were having. It happened to be the day of the NBA finals.
IDRIS: It was so random! I walked in and everyone was watching basketball. I was like, “Uh, hello, everyone!”
SYD: It was so sick. Me and Kendall [Jenner] were fanning out quietly.
IDRIS: Well you did a great job hiding it. I’d known Tyler for a while, and when he invited me over, I was like, “Yeah! I wanna watch basketball.” I was literally at your house the whole day, and just as I was leaving, you and your family were like, “Yo, by the way we’re huge fans!” I’d been sitting there for nine whole hours! [Both laugh]
SYD: I just didn’t know what to say! The whole time I was like, “What is going on here…?” Jasper [Dolphin]’s mom was freaking out, too. That’s how I am though, I don’t approach people often. If I do, I’m like, [whispering] “mad respect!”
IDRIS: That’s how I am, too. But listen, this album…wow. Before you knew me or knew I existed, I was a fan of yours. I was in London listening to you guys heavy. My favorite song was “Girl,” obviously. I threw a party in London and I got very lit. I didn’t realize that “Girl” was playing on a loop—I’m not even exaggerating—15 times that night. And no one complained! But the vibe on this album, it’s just exquisite. I’ve heard this album in so many settings now: in the shower, in the car, through the Sonos in my house, and everytime it’s like a different experience. “BMHWDY” is a masterpiece.
SYD: Thank you! Steve Lacy produced that one. I invited him to the studio in Malibu and asked him for some beats, and he played me that one.
IDRIS: [Starts singing]
SYD: Yes! I wrote that one after I’d healed from the breakup. That session was very lighthearted, believe it or not. Me and the new homegirl were here in the apartment, and I wrote it smiling.
SYD: Yeah, dude. When I was actually in it—in the heartbreak—I couldn’t write anything. It was tough. Matter of fact, when you came by the house, I had been dumped a month prior, so I was still in it. I was all quiet, trying to get my mind together. So I was on a break, a hiatus.
IDRIS: I’m so envious of how you’re able to express yourself. I don’t get to do that with acting, because I’m playing a character, unless I choose a role that is similar to my life. I was in a nine-year relationship, so I relate to this album in a very real way. But I have to ask you, what are the best things about going solo after being a part of a band? And what are the worst things?
SYD: The best thing about doing solo stuff is getting my ideas out there without compromising the integrity of our group. The songs on this album would never make sense on an Internet album, because they just don’t sound like The Internet. It’s weird how it could be the same person singing and the same person on the beat, but it’s something entirely different. That’s why we all decided to do solo projects, because we got to a point where we were trying to make stuff together, and it just didn’t mesh. We were making shit and it sounded trash. So I was like, “You know what? Let’s take a break. Steve’s gonna do his solo album, I’m gonna do a solo album.” We all just went for it, man. But to be honest, I have way more fun working with them. We’re real friends.
IDRIS: So the worst part is that you miss them.
SYD: Touring solo, it’s cool, it’s comfortable because the whole tour is catering to just me, but I have way more fun on the road with them.
IDRIS: You can bring me on the road, I’m always telling Tyler, “Bring me!” I just wanna jump around with you and sing backup. You know when Chris Tucker sings Michael Jackson songs in Rush Hour? That’s how I’d sing your music.
SYD: [Laughs] That makes me so happy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you and Tyler end up working on some film shit together. He’s a great director.
IDRIS: He is. Would you ever work in film?
SYD: I’m actually working on a film right now. We just got the first draft of a script and we’re gonna start tweaking it. It’s been a long process, we’ve been working on it for like a year now.
IDRIS: And does it tie into the concept of this album, too?
SYD: No, but the whole film is about art—the role of the artist, the role of the consumer, the role of the work itself. Once you create something, who does it belong to?
IDRIS: I’ve been having this conversation a lot. Here’s my take on it, and people are gonna hate me, I don’t care. I think the art belongs to the artist. What I put out there belongs to me. Cool, you can talk about it, you can say it’s whack or whatever, but my job is done.
SYD: Exactly! That’s what this story is about. It’s about an artist who creates something, and the demand is so great that the consumers turn against her when she stops creating for them. They track her down and they’re like, “Bitch! Where’s our shit!”
IDRIS: I was planning to do that to Kendrick Lamar.
SYD: She’s like, “This is my shit. It comes through me, and if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come. I don’t know what to tell you!”
IDRIS: They’re interesting, consumers today. For instance, we just announced that Snowfall is only doing one more season, and I started getting hate messages on Instagram like, “Yo bro, if you cancel this show I’m gonna come find you.” [Both laugh]
SYD: I can relate to caring that much, but it’s tricky to be on our side of it. On one hand, you’re flattered that people care so much. On the other hand, it’s a little too much pressure.
IDRIS: So the NBA finals picnic was like two years ago. Were you already writing this album then?
SYD: I had started it, and at the beginning, the album was about this perfect relationship. It was the best one I’d been in up to that point. I didn’t think it was gonna end, and I didn’t see it coming at all. Then the pandemic started, I got dumped, and I was like, “What the fuck?! What’s wrong with me?” I spent those first few months looking inward.
IDRIS: What’s the first line of “Control”?
SYD: Oh, it’s [Singing] “Say you need some love baby.” [Both laugh]
IDRIS: That reminds me of a different time! It reminds me of the ‘80s or something.
SYD: The producer on that one was Rodney Jerkins, he did “Say My Name,” “The Boy Is Mine.” He’s actually one of my top three favorite producers on earth, and getting to do that song with him was hella epic. I’d never worked with one of my idols before.
IDRIS: What have you learned from this album that you’re going to bring into the future? After leaving a nine-year relationship, I learned it was time to sit down and really find out who I am. Do you feel like you’ve had this epiphany now that this art is out there in the universe?
SYD: The epiphany came even earlier. Finishing the project was triumphant in itself, but even before it came out, the biggest thing I got from that experience was that I learned a lot about myself. It’s a process to learn who you are. I already knew who I was, but I questioned it all the time. That’s healthy, you learn more that way. I’m almost 30, I’m gonna be 30 at the end of the month—
IDRIS: I turned 30 in September, so I’m there. When you turn 30, you really stop caring.
SYD: That’s where I’m at! I’m trying not to care about validation, and then I’ll be gucci. What I came to realize is that I’d been holding on to old goals that no longer mattered to me. Like, when I was 16, I wanted to be a millionaire by the time I was 25. I didn’t hit that goal on time, per sé, but here I am now, I kind of hit that goal—and there’s nothing I want to buy! [Both laughing]
IDRIS: At the end of the day, that’s true.
SYD: I feel so content.
IDRIS: I’m at that place now, too. Family and friendship is all I care about. I have the need to express myself as an actor, but when my work is done, I don’t care about it anymore. I don’t think it’s my job to be like, “So, tell me how you feel about the thing I made.”
SYD: It’s the consumer’s job to interpret. Leave that to them and go about your business. It’s a great way to be.
IDRIS: So, what’re you going to do now?
SYD: Well I’m going on tour at the end of the month, so I gotta do that first, and hopefully not get too overwhelmed. It’s a fast turn around, low-key.
IDRIS: I’ll be in the front row dancing! Are you gonna play Crypto stadium? We still call it the Staples Center.
SYD: Hopefully one day! Tyler just did it, but I wasn’t able to go to the show, because I’m fostering puppies right now. It’s so fulfilling, and it’s crazy ‘cause I was talking to my dad this morning and he was like, “When you were a kid, you used to say that you wanted seven dogs!”!
IDRIS: They’re cute and all, but I just really care about my floor boards. Are you gonna come to London? Because your fanbase in London is insane. They love you out there.
SYD: Oh I know, I have to do it. London’s one of my favorite places to perform, by far.
IDRIS: I’m gonna have to get you in Snowfall for our last season. I know you can do the accent. [Both laugh]
SYD: Honestly, I have so much respect for your craft. I actually took a couple of acting classes back in the day, and it was so deep, it was really cool.
IDRIS: What you do is deep—I know we’re throwing compliments at each other, but it’s true. I really am a fan of your art, and I love watching you grow into this fantastic pillar. Hopefully I can do that one day through my art.
SYD: If you haven’t already!
IDRIS: Some people don’t fuck with me… [Laughs]
SYD: What! Well, you don’t want everyone to fuck with you…
IDRIS: That’s a good question actually. Do you feel any pressure to cater to listeners, or do you just feel like, “I’ll give you what I give you”?
SYD: The latter, but I can see both sides. As a music fan, I hate being left behind—when an artist I really fuck with does something different, I’m like, “What the hell, bro! That’s not what I signed up for!” But you have to respect it, you gotta give people space to evolve. I’m definitely the type that’s like, “This is what I’ve got right now! Sorry if it’s not for you!” As I was making this album, some people I showed it to were like, “You talked so much shit on Fin and I miss that. Talk yo shit!”
IDRIS: Go back and listen to that, then!
SYD: Exactly! That’s not me right now. Run those streams up though, please!
IDRIS: Forget those people, we’re cutting them off, delete their numbers. [Both laugh] But what was it like working with Lucky [Daye]? Because Luck’s my guy, he’s been over to the house, and anyone who’s been over to the house is my guy.
SYD: He’s dope. We had never met, but my mom had been telling me to work with him for like a year. My best friend heard “CYBAH,” and she was listening to him heavy at the time, so she was like, “Throw Lucky Daye on this!” So I shot him a DM real quick—why not? He responded, “Let me know when to pull up.” He came through and we had such a good session.
IDRIS: When I saw that you were getting the album ready—I never comment on social media.
SYD: Bro! When you commented on that post, I was like, “What the hell? He knows who I am?” [Both laugh].
IDRIS: I was excited! I’m a fan of your music, and I’m gonna be banging this album for a very long time.
SYD: I appreciate it. It shouldn’t be too long of a wait in between projects this time around, I hope.
IDRIS: And hopefully no more heartbreaks.
SYD: I know! I have a new outlook on it anyway, I’m way more present. I’m in a new relationship now, we’ve been together for a year and a half.
IDRIS: Oh, beautiful.
SYD: I’m doing so much better this time, just enjoying our time together. I just came to terms with the fact that things change and end, so let me just enjoy this while it lasts. My last relationship was so great, but because I was living in the future, when it ended, it spoiled all my good memories.
IDRIS: I’m tweeting that right now.
SYD: It was so great, but I wasn’t super present and I wasn’t open minded. I thought, “Ain’t no way this girl would leave, the fuck?!” And she sure did!
IDRIS: It’s a tricky thing to juggle this journey as performers with the things that really matter. It was beautiful going to your house and seeing you around your family and stuff, because I don’t have that. I have to spend a lot of money to bring my family over, so seeing them even now and then is always special to me. This album is really a revelation, in the sense of really cherishing the present, and the people that really matter. That’s what I take from this album.
SYD: I really like that.
IDRIS: So what do you have planned for the rest of your day? You talking Denzel Washington next?
SYD: [Laughs] Ugh! One day! One day the three of us will get dinner together or something, shit. But no I’m just chilling, waiting for my girl to get back with my foster puppy. She took him to her hair appointment, because I had a facial and I couldn’t bring him.
IDRIS: Hey Interview mag, I need to see a picture of these puppies in the article!
SYD: Definitely. How ‘bout you, man?
IDRIS: The season just wrapped, and I’m about to go to Coachella, which is going to be fun.
SYD: Have you been to Coachella before?
IDRIS: The first time I went I did it so wrong. I stayed in a shabby hotel and we were fighting over the bed. I waited in that long line for the Ubers. Thankfully things are a lot different now, I’m flying the chopper in.
IDRIS: I’m just joking.
SYD: I totally believed it.
IDRIS: That’s crazy. I be flexing too much. But please hit me up for the next album. I’ll put my British accent on there.
SYD: What! Don’t play!
IDRIS: “Introducing the newest member of the DSS, the Dark Skin Society— Damson in the building.”
SYD: [Laughs] I’m gonna shoot you a DM one of these days and you’re gonna be like, “I was waiting for this!” I’ll let you know next time we’re having a little neighborhood picnic, I’ll shoot you the invite.
IDRIS: I’ll be waiting.