All eyes on SYTË: an intro to the alt R&B band
by - Geralda Cela

Blending sugary vocals with dreamy, whimsical synths and buoyant drums that are tied together through sharp, electronic bass strings SYTË are the Prishtina-based band making sense of the “cloudy metaphysical swamp” that are our feelings.

Their first EP, Crying in the Club which immerses us on an intense and natural romantic journey of highs and lows, is an insight into the band-members diverse musical interests and background that leaves us introspective of past or present romances.

Here we meet the band members and get to know them a little better as we talk romance, astrology and performances. But first for some background on each band members, Nita is the vocalist, Grant is on drums, Fatlind is on bass and Drin is on the keyboard.

Where did you guys meet and how did the band come together?

Nita: I met Drin the summer of 2016 at a club in Prishtina. I had just finished my junior year of high school and came to Prishtina for summer break—basking in my newfound happiness, confidence, and personal power after a rather emotionally turbulent year. I was dealing with a lot of self esteem and identity issues at that time, but summers are always rejuvenating. Drin was drumming for this cover band that was performing in the club’s garden for Belgium’s independence day (random, I know…. but free Belgian beer is probably what gave me the confidence to get to know him). Anyway one thing led to another and we met, instantly clicked, and started dating then. We learned about each other’s musical talents, so naturally, we kept talking about making music together. I had to go back home to the States after a month or so of fluttering around like we were living in a Wes Anderson movie or something, but we definitely continued working on material that we could release together someday. A year of long distance entailed, then I moved to Kosovë after high school and that’s when we really started to seriously work on the EP. We had been a duo up until May of 2018 (I’m the singer and Drin is the keyboard player) but we decided to have our music performed rather than playback-ed, so Drin sought out musicians who could play the instruments our songs are comprised for live performances. Drin knew a lot of musicians because he had been part of Prishtina’s music scene since he was little, so he dealt with that. 

Fatlind joined us first. He is a renowned bass player and jazz man ’round these parts so it is quite the honor to have him be a part of this band. He always says how he’ll only do things if his heart is really in it, which, again, is a huge honor. SYTË was a five-piece with a different drummer at one point, but the two former members decided to branch out and go their own ways. That led us to Granit, our current drummer. He came to one of our band practices and pleasantly surprised us with finessed drumming skills you wouldn’t expect from a former metalhead. He was hilarious, too, which really made us want to work with him. These guys’ personalities kind of fueled our willingness to transition from a duo to a close-knit, family-like band.

Your band name means ‘eyes’ in Albanian, what’s the reason behind this name choice? 

Nita: We actually didn’t even come up with SYTË until we were about to release the EP. Initially, Drin and I were “Playmates”, but we trashed that idea because we realized we wouldn’t exactly be the first result to come up if you were to search that name on the Internet. You might’ve even forgotten what you were looking for if all those other results were to come up hahaha.

We had to go back to the drawing board—what would be something unique? Catchy? Because our lyrics are all in English, we thought it would be nice to at least have an Albanian name to signify where we come from. “Shkurt e shqip” was what we were going for, and I think it was Drin who suggested “sytë”. It felt like the planets aligned in that very moment because it was so… Perfect. Our lyrics are all about stuff like the cosmos and love. Eyes just seemed to be the perfect, all encompassing symbol that ties together the humbling mysticism of the universe and the tangibility of love together. It’s like… our irises look like nebulas. And then you have all these sayings and quotes about how the eyes are the windows to our souls or whatever. It just made sense.

Plus, I just really like the letter “Ë”.

Where are you all from and where are you currently based?  

Nita: We’re all Albanian Kosovars. Fatlind was born in Switzerland and lived there until he was about 12 or 13. I was born and raised in the United States and I moved to Prishtina the summer I graduated high school, which was in 2017, and we’ve been based in Prishtina since the birth of the project. 

Do you have similar music tastes?

Nita: I’m the worst when it comes to labeling my interests or just knowing the technical terms for things. I actually had to look up some of the songs I regularly listen to to put a name to the genres they fall under. I definitely have confinement issues. For me, it’ll just be an individual song that’ll slap. I get anxious when people ask me what my favorite album is because of this.

Anyway that wasn’t the question so I’ll get back to that: some of the kinds of music I’m into (that I learned today) are alternative R&B, dream pop, art pop, neo-psychedelia. Not limited to that but probably what I listen to most often.

Drin: Our music tastes aren’t so far off from each others’ and our musical backgrounds overlap, though they do differ. For example, I come from an experimental/alternative rock background, Fatlind comes from jazz/funk, Granit is into metal/rock, and Nita’s more pop and R&B. I mainly listen to art rock, neo-soul, electronica, and jazz.

Granit: Some genres I listen to are metal and old school rock n’ roll. 

Fatlind: I listen to funk, jazz, Afro-Cuban music, hiphop, R&B, pop, and rock.

How would you describe your sound? 

Nita: Neo-soul and alternative R&B with elements of pop, electronica and trip hop. That’s what Drin says, anyway. I agree, though.

What’s the hardest thing about being in a band?

Nita: Like I said, I’m terrible with technicalities—but I do have a musical ear. With that being said, it’s difficult to express what I might think sounds off during practice or when a song is being produced. It’s really frustrating when people don’t know what you’re talking about but you still know you’re right. Being afraid of hurting my friends’ feelings doesn’t help either, so I catch myself bottling things up and then displacing or even straight up exploding on everyone later on. I’m working on being more healthily assertive and precise with my criticism.

Drin: Making a band schedule and dealing with booking/management as an independent and manager-less band.

Granit: Dealing with business through a group chat.

Fatlind: The scheduling is probably the biggest issue. We’re all busy people. 

Where has been your favourite place to perform so far? 

Nita: Sunny Hill Festival. It’s still so insane to me how our third performance EVER took place on the same stage that artists like Dua Lipa, Action Bronson, and Martin Garrix headlined. I felt really special. 

Drin: Sunny Hill for me, too. It gave us a taste of what being a big name and performing on a world class stage is like.

Granit: My favorite gig was Kino Armata. It was our very own concert, one that we were the headliners of. It was a full house, all for us. It was one of our better performances as well; our sound was much more defined and overall a professional experience. 

Fatlind: Every gig is my favorite gig. As Jaco Pastorius once said, “Gimme a gig,” and that’ll be my favorite.

Now your debut project EP had a lot of astrology references on tracks like Pink Roses and then one of the tracks is called Cancer, are you guys big astrology fans?

Nita: I love astrology. One of the first questions I ask people, even the band members when we all first met, is what their signs are. I know that’s a very shallow party question but it’s just so fun to talk about and hear other people’s views on it. Fatlind might be the one most interested in astrology after me; we’ve talked about that among other spiritual themes quite a few times. Anyway, I actually study astrology much deeper than just sun signs for the purpose of growing as an individual and understanding myself and the world around me. Learning about my birth chart gave the darkest and most obscure times in my life SO much clarity. I feel like astrology put me in control of my own life and I couldn’t be more thankful.

Where did the inspiration from that debut EP come from… it feels very romantic in parts? 

Nita: When I write, I’m basically trudging through this cloudy metaphysical swamp, recording all my feelings and trying to make sense of them. Life is confusing, especially when you’re 17 and hormonal and completely mindfucked by existentialism. I was learning about Romanticism in school at the time and it made life so much more dreamy and beautiful, so naturally I implemented romantic themes in my writing style. Pretty much all of the lyrics from the EP are inspired by my relationship with Drin. The lyrics tell these different stories of our developing romance, but are also introspective and delve into emotional issues that mark the progression of my personal growth throughout this time. For example, “Crying in the Club” is about my (initially physical) relationship with Drin blooming into something emotional—although I didn’t expect that to happen because I didn’t think I deserved to experience a relationship that was more than just physical or emotionally one-sided on my end since I had never had something like that before. Another example is how “Pink Roses” talks about me being a possessive and obsessively investigative partner—trying to piece together Drin’s past and immerse myself in his most personal possessions, his memories—because that’s how I experienced love at the time. I was so in love that I wanted to get as close to him as possible, and the closest you can get to someone is basically psychologically downloading their entire life so you could experience it too. It’s a good thing I’ve done a lot of growing since then, but I don’t regret that version of myself. As I previously said, all I pretty much do is record my feelings as what they are and try to make sense out of them. I’m not perfect and I don’t have all the answers, but I’m gonna be honest about it and document my journey through romantic little poems I might turn into a tune. 

Are you all involved in the writing processes? 

Nita: For the first EP, Drin produced all the music and I wrote all the lyrics. It’s pretty organic in the sense that we don’t really have a set writing process. Drin might cook up a song that I’d write lyrics to, or I’d tailor a poem I once wrote to fit what he just created. Or maybe I’ll just write lyrics and Drin will produce a beat and we’ll just put them together. The music and the lyrics aren’t necessarily dependent on each other; there’s been plenty of times where they’ve been created separately. It just goes to show that every song is an individual.

For the second album, Fatlind has written up the basslines and Granit is involved in the percussion arrangements. Drin produces the rest of the music and I still have a monopoly on lyric writing. We run everything by each other as a band first, though. 

Now you’re working on the second album, can you tell me a bit about it, – what is the kind of themes that run through it?

Nita: We’ve been working on the second album song by song, but we are also trying to mold it into something conceptual. Not totally forcing anything, though. We’re still going about our processes organically.

 I guess I can say that the production is much richer, and we’ve broadened our thematic horizons. Not everything will be about romantic love this time around.