My Obsession is a regular column in which our favorite musicians show off their nonmusical passions. Watch a video version of this piece above.
Syd grins as she revs the engine of her beige 1975 Ford Bronco, the truck growling and sputtering loud enough to wake the neighbors in her quiet Central L.A. neighborhood. Over the past three years, Syd has amassed a small fleet of vintage trucks that she keeps parked at her childhood home; more recently, she decided it was time to start fixing them up herself, the Bronco included. “The biggest thing for me about these cars is the empowerment of knowing what the fuck is wrong,” she says. “It’s empowering to notice something is wrong and try and diagnose it. Getting under the hood and doing little shit like that kind of reminds me of how I felt when I started engineering with music. It makes me want to get behind the desk and plug things in and unscrew something.”
Syd had never restored cars before buying the old trucks, and she learned the basics from her father, who went to school to build airplanes and knows his way around engines. Now he checks Craigslist every day for her, looking for car parts or the occasional new truck to add to the collection.
Syd’s been busy readying new music; in February, she released her first solo single in four years, a woozily beautiful R&B track called “Missing Out,” and she’s got a new album of similarly vibe-y songs on the way this year. In the meantime, Syd needed a new hobby to separate herself from work during the pandemic. Restoring her four old trucks by herself seemed as much a decision of practicality as for entertainment; to date, she’s spent nearly $150,000 on the cars and parts, and mechanic work would have run up even higher. Each time she gets a paycheck, a chunk is now going toward improving the fleet. “Project cars are a very expensive hobby,” she says. “Most people have one, I have four. I do these projects mostly when I’m in the mood to get my hands dirty. I wait until I get another check, send a truck to the shop, and they’ll tell me it’s seven racks for AC. ‘OK, I’ll do it myself.’”
Syd’s trucks lack the glamour one might expect when a major-label artist says they collect cars. They’re road-worn, paint chipped and a bit junked up — a perfect canvas as Syd finds more modifications she wants to teach herself. The latest addition to Syd’s collection is the Bronco, named Shea, after its shea-butter coat — the car’s full name is Shea Buttercup. She also owns a 1997 white Land Rover Defender that the previous owner called Piper, after the large black pipe on the car’s left side. She’s still yet to name her two forest-green International Harvester Scouts while she considers trading them both for another Scout in better condition.
Phylicia J. L. Munn for Rolling Stone
In the Bronco, the most complete restoration so far, Syd has replaced the steering box and added a brake booster to compensate for its quick engine and make the two-ton truck safer to drive. She added dynamat and foam to the interior to quiet down the tire sounds from the inside of the car, and she’s putting in vinyl flooring right now. She’s learning to install air conditioning, and still needs to learn how to hook up her own speakers to outfit the decades-old truck with a booming sound system befitting a musician.
Syd will casually spout facts about the subtle differences between her ‘75 Bronco and a ‘68 model (they’re virtually the same, she says, minus a few minor changes in the chassis), then chime about how Piper won’t rust since Defenders are made from aluminum due to a postwar steel shortage in the U.K. She aspires to start a car club for herself and a few of her friends who have classic cars, which would help her share her passion with a group other than just the “random old white men I meet at the car shows.”
Syd’s always loved Broncos — if there’s a car in any of her solo music videos or videos with her band the Internet, it’ll always be a Bronco, she points out. Shea is Syd’s favorite of the bunch, perhaps for the simplest reason: It’s really, really big. “Maybe it’s because I’m a small person that I like big vehicles,” she says. “I’m up really high, big wheels, big rims, big tires. The engine just sounds beautiful. When I was younger I always liked the idea of owning a monster truck, but I never actually liked real monster trucks. I feel like this is close.”