Updated: May 18, 2021
1 part American and 3 parts Kosovan, SYTË have a thing or two to say about what "home" means. After releasing their debut album, "Divine Computer" at the beginning of 2020, the Prishtina-based indie-pop band is now back with their new single, "Up in the Air", a song that is aptly about what it means to be "from" somewhere.
"Up in the Air" is a great distillation of all that SYTË has to offer: funky yet smooth, easy-going yet introspective. Most "goodbye" songs are about rotten relationships, and certainly "Up in the Air" - which features the Kosovan-British artist, Qendresa - might register as a break-up song at first. However, once you know the real story, the song takes on a deeper meaning, deconstructing the idea of "home" and its ever-shifting definition.
As they gear up to make and release more music, the members SYTË were nice enough to answer some questions we had about their homeland, their new single, and what makes them the unique band they are.
I’d love to learn more about the people who make up SYTË! Could you guys introduce yourselves individually?
Nita: Hi! I’m Nita Kaja, and I am SYTË’s frontwoman (I sing and write vocal melodies/lyrics).
Drin: Hi, I’m Drin, and I am the band’s producer & synth/guitar player.
Granit: I’m Granit and I am SYTË’s drummer.
Fatlind: Hello, I’m Fatlind and SYTË’s bassist.
(Via Indie Happy Hour)
Nita, you’re originally from New Jersey but are now the lead singer of a Kosovan band. Talk to me about that journey and how SYTË got started.
Nita: Well, I was born in New York after my parents escaped the Kosovo War in 1999. I grew up in NY/NJ, but I visited my motherland pretty much every summer of my life. As a tween, I fell deeply in love with Kosovo because I was exposed to a very free-spirited and alternative lifestyle - being surrounded by a thriving and youthful music scene and loads of local bands that inspired me to create my own one day - that I did not experience living in New Jerseyan suburbia. I begged my parents to let me stay and try the life out for a year, but they refused; as the classic immigrant story goes, they came to the States to give me a better life and I wasn't going to throw that away on their watch.
It wasn't until the summer of 2016, before my senior year of high school, that my wish to take off and embark on a totally different life began to slowly solidify. I met my boyfriend and insanely talented bandmate, Drin Tashi that summer; we were inseparable until I had to fly back home to New Jersey to finish my last year of high school. After an entire year of long-distance, I decided it was the perfect time to finally grant my own wish and move to Prishtina, Kosovo after graduation. Drin and I quickly learned that we not only have romantic chemistry, but creative and musical chemistry, too. Thus, in 2018, SYTË (meaning "eyes" in Albanian) was born. Right before we released our debut EP, bassist Fatlind Ferati and drummer Granit Havolli joined the team and we all became besties and the rest is history!
When the four of you first started working together, were there artists that you all bonded over as being influences?
Drin: SYTË is a mish-mash of different musical backgrounds. Nita has a pop/r&b background, I come from a more indie/alternative scene, Granit is a metalhead, and Fatlind grew up on jazz. We all come from different places musically, but I guess we do have some similarities among us. For example, Granit and Fatlind are bonded by their Red Hot Chilli Peppers influence, which plays a big part in how they manifest their funk. I think we came to appreciate the same music over time by learning more about each other and sending each other our favorite music. Now we bond over the likes of Thundercat, Anderson .Paak, and Beyonce.
I’m super curious about the Kosovan music scene and how being a band from both there and The States has influenced your music.
Nita: Drin, Granit, and Fatlind were all a part of the music scene that I looked forward to experiencing every summer I visited Kosovo. Drin was part of the alternative/indie scene, Granit was part of the rock/metal scene and dabbled in indie, and Fatlind was part of the jazz scene. Actually, the music scene is what really brought us all together. I had a huge crush on Drin for the longest time because he was the cool drummer in another one of his bands; we actually met and started dating after one of his performances. Granit and Fatlind joined SYTË after being contacted by Drin, who obviously knew them through the scene and hanging out at the same places. But yeah, I mean Kosovo’s music scene was a huge part of why I insisted on visiting every summer. It was a whole lifestyle that I wanted so badly. And now I have it! I’ve come a long way from obsessively checking for the next concert/event I could dress up for. I was such a little groupie hahaha. Now I front my own band! Life is crazy.
Obviously the pandemic has affected the world of music in a profound way. You released your debut album, “Divine Computer” right as the world began quarantining. I’d imagine that was a frustrating experience. I’m curious what challenges the past year has presented to you as a band and how you’ve been able to overcome them and continue making music.
Granit: Thankfully we didn’t have it so bad. We had our first ever European tour cancelled, but we still performed a bunch for online versions of festivals. The pandemic just forced us to become more disciplined; while it seemed like the whole world was on hold, we fought to keep active and continued pushing to rehearse (with masks on) as soon as we could, worked on a lot of music, found more creative ways to make content and market ourselves, etc.
Your songs always strike a balance between introspective and exuberant, but your new single “Up in the Air” seems to be especially personal. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration of the song and what it means to you?
Nita: “Up in the Air” is about my struggles with having an obscured concept of “home” and a divided identity as a diaspora kid who, culturally speaking, feels neither “here nor there”, unsettled, or “up in the air”, which is a common theme among the Albanian diaspora community—including London-born Qendresa. For some backstory, my parents were refugees in the Kosovo war in 1999 and they luckily escaped to the US, where I was born. Though my life was primarily led in New York/New Jersey, I spent every summer in Prishtina, Kosovo until I finally decided to move here altogether right after high school (a decision that was partly fueled by meeting and falling in love with Drin, my partner & fellow band member). I was only supposed to be here for a year, but life kept happening and my return to the States kept getting postponed. The positive side of this excruciating pandemic is that it has served as a call to action for me to make a big future-defining decision that I’ve been putting off the past four years. Without context, “Up in the Air” can be understood as a breakup song, but it’s essentially my goodbye to the most intense, beautiful, challenging, and growth-inducing four years of my life.
(Nita and Qendresa)
You haven't had a lot of collaborations in the past. What was it like working with Qendresa on a song like this?
Nita: We’ve never collaborated with any other artist before Qendresa actually! We never really planned to either, but this meeting just felt so fated. The pandemic swooped in and forcefully shut a lot of doors for us, but the silver lining was that it also forced us to look within and sort out all of the internal and existential issues we’d put on hold. As a result, I started thinking more and more about “home” and my struggles as a diaspora kid living in her motherland, all while contemplating what the next step with SYTË would be. As soon as I came to some conclusions, Qendresa magically showed up as the missing puzzle piece—a perfect match for collaboration as someone with a similar story to mine but also a complementary musical vibe. It was so easy to work with her and we have amazing chemistry. I still can’t believe how easy the whole process of writing, recording, shooting, and releasing flowed.
“Up in the Air” is in part about settling into and coming to terms with your own sense of self, which obviously is something that can take a lot of work. How, if at all, has the past year helped answer questions about your identity, both as individuals and as a band?
Nita: The past year and a half, or the entirety of the pandemic, has inspired us to broaden our horizons and take the necessary steps to level up as a band. More than ever we have realized how important SYTË is to us and how badly we want to live off of this. When a bunch of doors shut and you’re only left with one open, down the corridor, you do everything you can to slingshot yourself through it.
What should fans of SYTË look forward to seeing/hearing from you guys?
Fatlind: Living life and making music is all about experimentation and trial and error; with that being said, I think our fans would be pleased to know that as we learn more about ourselves and grow more confident in our sound, the new music that we’re gonna be putting out has evolved in production quality, lyrical content, and just has more concentrated intentions embedded in it. We’ve experimented with different genres and production styles but I think with age, experience, and lots of introspection, we’ve settled into a unique pocket of sound and understanding of self that can only really be defined as SYTË, and we’re extremely excited to show everyone.
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