By Nicholas Jason Lopez
Lee Fenstamaker was awestruck once he found out that he’d get to play the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas alongside other acts like Rae Sremmurd and Mike WiLL Made-It.
The catch – he only had a week and a half to prepare for the crowd of 5,000 people.
“At that point, I only had two tracks recorded,” said Fenstamaker, the Pennsylvanian hip-hop artist better known as Sry. “I had literally never played a live show with the hip-hop thing before, so I got my closest friends around and made a band work. We sort of locked up in a house for four or five days straight and just practiced. Wrote around the clock and then once we had a full set together, just ran it. Almost 12 hours a day probably, just straight through. We barely slept and then we hopped in a little shitty van and drove straight to Austin, Texas and it was amazing. It was really sick. It was tiring, but it was incredible.”
In retrospect, no sleep was certainly worth the sacrifice.
“I think we all caught up on our week we got back,” joked Fenstamaker. “I think we slept for the first three days straight.”
With help from producer Austin Hall, Sry has dropped numerous singles this year, the most notable being “Poison,” which featured Lil Yung Pharaoh.
“[Hall] had been experimenting super heavily with trying to incorporate some distorted guitars and some live drum sounds into hip-hop tracks and so I was super interested in the whole process,” Fenstamaker said. “Just kind of wanted to hop on. I think we’ve got a banger. I really dig it. It kind of has the vibe that I was hoping to create with it.”
With experience as a touring member of different metal and rock bands, he works to blend sounds from his rock and roll past into the hip-hop world. This genre, deemed by fans as “trap-pop,” is synonymous with knocking drums, wavy bass-lines, soaring vocals and dark soundscapes.
“I think the biggest challenge that I face thus far is that I’m a creator in the sense that I like to kind of not shelf myself to one particular sound, which was why I was so intrigued with blending the hip-hop and rock kind of sound together,” said Fenstamaker. “So, with the [upcoming songs], I kind of sat here and was like, ‘Yo, I want to push it really far out of the box, but then I still have to kind of keep the Sry sound.’ I think between Austin and myself, we really were able to capture crazy polar opposite sounds and still have a unison. You can listen to the beats themselves. They sound super different. The lyrical content, the composition of the music, I just feel like it all worked really well.”
For him, one of his biggest downfalls is his personal criticisms upon himself because of how long he has been involved with music.
“I think the hardest choice that I’ve made was just taking that step and being like, ‘Okay, this is gonna be my day-to-day life. I’m gonna work as hard as I can from the second I wake up to the second I go to bed,’ so just going full-time with it was a very scary thing, but so far I’m not regretting it at all. There hasn’t been a day that I have, I haven’t second guessed anything, so it was tough at first, but here we are,” Fenstamaker said.
With all the negativity out there, Fenstamaker’s main goal with music is to just provide a safe space and look at topics like mental health more optimistically. He credits artists like Chase Atlantic, Lil Peep and XXXTENTACION as his biggest influences in that regard.
“They were hitting topics like anxiety and depression and their music caught me at like a super, super important time,” Fenstamaker said.
Personal experiences tend to dictate his lyrical content, but he also utilizes social media as a viable tool to connect with fans.
“Honestly, I get hundreds of DMs of kids who tell me about things that they’re going through and just want to get advice and a lot of the time I use that as inspiration when I write,” said Fenstamaker. “Probably half of the new songs are just based off of stories that I’ve heard or just things that people have told me and gave me some solid inspiration.”
On Nov. 15, 2019, Sry released a video for the song with Paris Shadows called “Hurt Before,” which as of press time, hit 250,000 Spotify streams.
He christened himself Sry because of his tendency to “overly apologize for everything.” While he acknowledged that some people mispronounce his name and he signed up for that when he chose it, one can look to his music for a clear idea of what “being Sry” is all about.
“This Sry endeavor was my first time being like, ‘Alright I’m gonna do this by myself,'” said Fenstamaker. “‘I’m gonna write all this music, I’m gonna be the one singing it, I’m gonna be the one executing it’ and in that, I realized how absolutely terrifying that shit is and it takes a lot for me to release things. It takes a whole lot of time for me to be like, ‘Alright, this is going out into the world and people are gonna hear it,’ but now, I’m starting to loosen up on it and I’m a lot more confident in the art that I’m creating and I’ve kind of found a groove that I feel is my own.”