By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It's only natural to envy those who seem to excel at anything they attempt. Whether it's in work, in sports, an ollie axel stall 270 flip out, whatever—these people win at life with little to no effort. They seem to live outside the limits of normal folk. Malcolm Gladwell even wrote a book about them called Outliers.
The reality, however, is that their greatest gift is the ability to make success look easy. What we don't see is the sweat and tears and the proverbial 10,000 hours of repetition needed to achieve that expertise.
Of course, there's also the dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time to seize an opportunity when it's presented.
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When Seryn first started playing shows around Denton over a year ago, they appeared to be outliers. For a band so young—both in the age of its members and as a band in general—they seemed too polished and possessed an almost too complete idea of who they were as a band. Their offerings were confident, moving and inspiring.
Take, for example, the band's performance from a year ago at Saint David's Church in Denton. They opened for Robert Gomez and Sarah Jaffe, but almost stole the show in front of a crowd far beyond capacity. Their set showcased a perfect marriage of material and atmosphere—especially when they provided background vocals for Jaffe's rendition of the traditional hymn "Come Thou Fount."
Now, as Seryn release their debut album, This Is Where We Are, they're putting that realized sound on plastic and seeking to capitalize on months of these regular performances.
Like other outliers before them, if one judged this band solely on appearances, one might conclude that it's been smooth sailing the entire time—that perhaps the album fluttered down from the heavens on beams of shimmering light and nestled gently onto their cherubic hands.
But, um, no.
"It's a relief, really," says Nathan James Allen, one of Seryn's vocalists and guitarists, of the record's release. "There were elements of battles just to get it done and find that place where we're comfortable with."
A relief? Battles? Not exactly what you would expect from a group seemingly so blessed with talent and direction. But a recording environment is a completely different beast from performing in almost every way, and growing pains are part of the process for a band that's never been in a studio before.
"It's just our first record," says Chelsea Bohrer, vocalist and violinist. "We learned a lot of things—like how the recording process goes and how learning that is crucial to a band."
While This Is Where We Are is Seryn's first full-length album, it's not their first recording. Seryn recorded a four-song EP early on almost as an afterthought. As impressive as that EP was, This Is Where We Are improves upon that self-produced release in every way. Of course, that's to be expected with the upgrade of a professional recording studio over a band member's bedroom, but the material itself seems to have improved, having had time to season and settle. Now, the songs seem more lived-in, more comfortable. This Is Where We Are is also more focused—of the four songs on the band's debut EP, three were edited into slightly shorter renditions on the full-length album.
The additional material fits in well with their more well-known songs, like "On My Knees" or "We Will All Be Changed," and only serves to expand the mood. Tracks like "Towering" and "Bete Noire" highlight the band's trademark powerful harmonies and swelling dynamics, creating a deeply contemplative tone. Seryn's version of folk is not a quiet one, in spite of their instrumentation; the band doesn't mind making a lot of noise or singing at the top of their lungs. It's a far cry from a lot of other modern folk, which prefers to place its power in quiet preciousness.
But, despite the band's relief, Austin-based producer Britton Beisenherz says that Seryn's transition from live performing to a sometimes sterile recording studio was a pretty easy one. It helped, he says, that the band lives together and rehearses tirelessly. To switch things up a bit, Beisenherz would at times set up the band in the studio so they couldn't see one another, forcing them to listen more intently as opposed to reacting to visual cues that might have become habit.
"The way I try to operate is to make the recording process as transparent as possible so we're not really paying attention to what goes into recording music, but just the music itself," Beisenherz says. "They have limited experience, but it was pretty seamless bringing those guys in and integrating what they do with a recording studio."
Still, while getting the needed takes on tape wasn't an issue, the peripheral issues involved in recording took Seryn by surprise. The magnifying nature of an album's permanence heightened every single one of the band's decisions during the process—a mindset that found the band re-recording a few tracks from scratch in order to work in new and improved arrangements for the album. You can blame that much for the disc's long-delayed release.