Having grown up in Central Pennsylvania, Kirby Sybert found himself in New York City for a short stint before settling in Philadelphia, where he discovered a scene filled with musicians and creatives who fully embraced him.
“This city has really opened me up to being an artist and has allowed me to continue that artistic journey,” he said. “It’s got such a vibrant music scene in all parts of the city, and I’m thankful to be a part of the little sliver myself and my friends have carved out. After moving, I really started integrating myself in the scene and playing a lot of shows with a lot of people.”
Recently, he released his solo LP debut, “Happy People Make Happy Things.” He sings, plays guitar, keys and drums in addition to recording and producing a large portion of the album in his Philadelphia bedroom. It is a return to the simplicity and joy of creating something on one’s own and making it sound fantastic despite a fancy, expensive studio.
In addition to fronting his own band, Sybert often pops up in other bands around Philadelphia primarily playing guitar, keys and sometimes finding himself behind the drum kit. He has spent the last several years touring with Mo Lowda and The Humble – at first as a photographer and videographer and currently as a guitar player.
PW recently caught up with Sybert to talk about his debut album and the Philly music scene.
You grew up in Central Pennsylvania, left for New York, and then moved to Philly. How has the move to the city impacted your career? Why is Philly the place you chose to settle in?
Growing up in a small town in rural PA gave me the roots and work ethic to do what I do today. I wouldn’t have changed my upbringing ‘cause it was necessary to create who I am now, and I love looking back on my childhood and early adult life and the town that made me who I am.
The move to Philly has totally changed my ability to continue my pursuit as an artist. Coming from New York City, I was longing to be a part of a community, which probably stems from my upbringing and being in a town where everybody knows everybody. NYC is so transient that it’s hard to establish or be a part of a real music scene unless you’ve been doing it for a while or you’re already established. I saw in Philly these pockets of amazing talent and people that were cultivating something real and tangible. So I started coming to visit and play shows around 2014 and found a bunch of people in the scene that were playing shows, making records and being a part of a community. That’s what really drove the move down here, and I love being here so much.
“I wanted to write about my experiences with the industry and with my experience of love, not in the sense of lust or partnership, but more in the familial sense. A lot of this album revolves around those themes and themes of change and growth. I know we can definitely feel that in our world right now.”– Musician Kirby Sybert
Philly has a small-town vibe in a big city. You have this ability to create your art without having to break your back for it, which in my experience isn’t as readily available in cities like NYC or LA or even these days Nashville. Having that freedom really allows me to create as much as I do. This year has been a weird one, but I’m still finding pockets where I’m able to create and be a part of something, despite not being able to tour and travel as much as I normally do.
Your solo LP debut, “Happy People Make Happy Things,” was released on Aug. 7. Talk a little about how the album came together.
I had been creating music with a few different projects and was in the studio a lot of the time not creating something that fully felt me. I decided to start just making songs in my room and recording them to get back into the recording process, alone, which I really enjoy. These songs stemmed from that process of just getting back to the basics of recording.
I wanted to write about my experiences with the industry and with my experience of love, not in the sense of lust or partnership, but more in the familial sense. A lot of this album revolves around those themes and themes of change and growth. I know we can definitely feel that in our world right now.
I then took most of the tracks to my good buddy Joshua Aaron Friedman to beef up the sounds a bit. He’s done work with a bunch of Philly bands like Low Cut Connie, Cosmic Guilt and, formerly, The Lawsuits. He also mixed a record of a band I used to be in, The Vibe Tribe. So we sat down and mixed and added a bunch to the tracks. We also started stuff from the ground up. Tracks like “My Maker” and “Without You” we tracked together at the studio he works out of, Hi5 Studios, from beginning to end. I had written and recorded “Ease Fulfilment” all in one night, which doesn’t happen often in my process but when it does those tracks always seem to resonate. With that one, I sent it to Carl Bahner, who does a lot of mixing and remixing work out of Lancaster. I wanted to work on something with him for the longest time and I felt like that track would be the perfect project. So I sent it to him and he added a bunch of atmosphere and mixed the stuff I recorded and it elevated the track so much. I think it really sets the stage for the album so I had to put it as track No. 1.
I had finished writing “Winds of Change” with Jordan Caiola of Mo Lowda and the Humble, who I play guitar for when we’re touring, in Austin, Texas, while we were on the road in 2019. When we got back to Philly, we recorded it with Jeff Lucci, who also plays in Mo Lowda, at his studio Bangford. We set out to make it feel classic but have some modern twists to it, like the synth solo in the short bridge section. So there are different recording vibes throughout the record but I feel like it all feels cohesive in its themes and sounds.
You’ve said the road has always been a big influence on who you are, but touring now is pretty much shut down for every band and musician. How have you been spending your down time? Are you eager to get back on the road once all of this passes?
We normally spend five to six months on the road, so it takes up most the year traveling to markets that we play. It’s been kind of surreal not doing that ‘cause we’ve been on that schedule for years now.
Since the shutdown, I’ve been doing a lot of reconnecting with nature, camping, hiking, etc. It’s been really nice to be outside and slow down a bit. I’ve been writing more songs to hopefully be the follow up to “Happy People.” I’ve started the recording process with those tunes, similar to the process on this record, but definitely in a different direction. I’m trying to make people dance with this next one.
Other than that, I’ve been hanging with my lady, writing and chilling. Trying to be in the present moment and not think too far ahead ‘cause no one really knows what’s happening with everything. I think “eager” would be an understatement to wanting to be back on the road.
Social media, streaming, the internet as a whole have changed the way artists not only get their music to fans, but also interact with them. How has technology affected your career? Do you enjoy social media and interacting with fans, or can it be a bit of a chore at times?
I’m very fortunate to be able to create a lot of my content for social media after being in the film/video world for most of my career. It helps me really put my stamp on what I put out on the socials.
Social media has definitely helped spread the word of what I do and create and has connected me with really great people all over the world. I’ll find myself having conversations with people in Argentina or Norway about my music, and that’s a really surreal thing to me. It’s wild that you can digitally meet someone because of something you created that resonated with them.
As for it being a chore, I think anything you do for long enough can feel like that, but you have to keep it interesting for yourself. I’ve definitely tried to keep it interesting and evolve my style over the years. I just hope what I put out there affects people in a positive way and helps them to pursue what makes them feel whole and purpose filled. Just like the people I look up to have done for me.
What’s ahead for you? New music? New appearances after the pandemic passes? What’s the best way for your fans to keep up with what you’re doing?
I’m not really sure what’s ahead. I know that I’m going to continue to create. I know I’m going to be putting out a follow up record to “Happy People Make Happy Things.” I’ve been doing a live stream where I have people call in and I’ll sample something they say, or we’ll chat about life and then I’ll make a song out of it.
That’s Tuesday’s at 9:30 p.m. EST on Facebook/YouTube/Twitch/Instagram. It’s been nice to have something regular where I can connect with people who follow what I do. Hopefully, when this whole thing ends, we’ll resume the road-dogging and play the places we love to play around the country and the world. But until then, I’m just gonna keep creating and making stuff that resonates with me, hopefully, the people out there will feel it too. We are all in this together.
Follow Kirby Sybert on Instagram or Facebook at @KirbySybert.