Since their 2011 debut, This Is Where We Are, Seryn has undergone changes ranging from their sound and lineup to the place they call home. In late 2014, the band’s home became Nashville when members Trenton Wheeler (lead vocals/ukulele), Nathan Allen (guitar), Jenny Moscoso (guitar/vocals), Aaron Stoner (bass), Jordan Rochefort (drums), and Scarlett Deering (violin) relocated from Denton, Texas. Seryn released their sophomore album, Shadow Shows, on February 17, 2015. The album retains Seryn’s signature vocal harmonies and folk roots while expanding the musical groundwork laid in their debut.
The band graciously allowed me to sit in on their soundcheck during a stop on the Shadow Shows tour. As they played through “The Fire,” sound swept through the venue and filled it to capacity before any attendees had arrived. I had no doubt that I was in for a gorgeous performance later that evening. But before that performance, I sat down with Trenton Wheeler to discuss Seryn’s latest album, the band’s spiritual dynamic, and the evolving meaning of “We Will All Be Changed.”
Tori: You guys recently relocated from Denton, Texas to Nashville. What’s the biggest difference you’ve noticed between the two music scenes?
Trenton Wheeler: The Nashville scene is much more professional-focused, as you would suspect. Denton is more free-formed. There’s a jazz school there. The ideology behind the music is more about the art and there’s a lot of business involved with the music scene in Nashville. I find for myself – the one thing that I’m wrestling with now – is not getting too swept up within the business of music, but still remembering that it’s a form of art, and remembering that it’s the way I express myself and not just a way to make money.
Tori: That makes sense. With the four-year gap between This Is Where We Are and Shadow Shows along with a new sound, were you nervous about how fans would respond to the newer sound?
TW: Honestly, not really. Not that we were worried that some people would dislike it, but more so we just knew that’s where our music had taken us and [that’s] where we were supposed to be, and if people didn’t like it, then that was their own prerogative. The thing we don’t want to do is only write music to please what people expect out of you. Part of the whole thing is making something that’s honest to yourself, and if we’re no longer in a place where we make that same exact sound that we did on the first record, then I would be lying to you [if the music did not reflect that].
Tori: What I’ve taken from your music over the years is it’s like a sonic tapestry with the way everything weaves together. Since there are multi-instrumentalists in the band, how do you decide which instruments to use for which songs, or do you just go with whatever sounds good to you?
TW: I think it’s a very organic process of just figuring out. This song, maybe we’re looking for this timbre to communicate this emotion, so sometimes that banjo is appropriate to get that brittle high end. For us, it’s more about timbre than it is genre. We don’t pick a banjo to be anything folk or otherwise. It’s just we love the way it sounded. Same with me picking to play ukulele. When I first picked it up, it gave me an alternative, and I tune it all funky, too. So I made it sound the way I wanted it to sound before I played it. It had nothing to do with any association with the kind of music that it’s made before people started picking it up all the time.
Tori: You worked with producer McKenzie Smith on Shadow Shows. What was that like?
TW: It was very fun. He has a brilliant mind when it comes to drums. He’s been doing that for a lot of his career, so it was really fun to see how he could influence and give his input as far as the drums and bass sounds.
Tori: What I’ve taken from Shadow Shows over repeated listens are themes of embracing life, wanting more out of life, and re-evaluating your place in the world. For you, what is the album about?
TW: For me, personally, the record is very much so a stamp of what that time looked like for me [while] we were writing and recording it. It was a lot about personal struggle within this world and reconciling our relationship with death, and also reconciling relationships in this life, and how even in this life, sometimes life comes through death, like giving yourself for a relationship. By giving a piece of yourself to someone and laying down a piece of your own heart, sometimes the reward that you get back is far more rewarding than if you were to keep it to yourself.
Tori: That’s really interesting. One song that resonated with me on the album is “Paths.” Can you talk about how that song came to be?
TW: You could say it’s a mantra to the new sound and saying, “We are the same band, but we’re making slightly different music.” We are not necessarily going to listen to what people say we’re supposed to be, but you have to figure that out for yourself. It’s just a proclamation of individuality and saying, “I am who I am and I have to figure that out.” We have to figure that out together. We can’t just always be told what we’re supposed to be.
Tori: That’s something I took from the song, too – just being who I am and not letting an outside force say, “This is what you can or can’t do,” so I wanted to ask you about that! So, with your lyrics, does faith or any type of spiritual belief factor in?
TW: There’s a unique spiritual dynamic in the band. There’s a few of us who are Christians. I, personally, am a Christian, and so that does play into the lens that I’m looking through when I’m writing lyrics. But we aren’t a Christian band, and there are people in the band who don’t proclaim that same faith and believe in other things, whether that be no God, or believe in Mother Earth. They have different perspectives. It’s important for us, when we write songs together, that what we communicate as a band – as Seryn – is something we can all agree to, and it isn’t conflicting. Like I said, we’re trying to create an honest representation of who we are as a group, so if I want to write something that doesn’t reflect someone else in the band, then it might be best for me to take that to another form of re-creation, like a solo project or something.
Tori: Do you possibly have any solo projects on the horizon at some point?
TW: I think all of us have a goal in mind to one day, do our own thing. We just don’t necessarily know the timeline. Maybe I’ll write that record in six months or maybe it won’t be for another six years. I think we’re just taking it one day at a time, figuring it out.
Tori: Recently, you guys released a music video for “The Fire,” which I loved, by the way. I thought the cinematography was gorgeous. Can you talk about the conceptualization and the making of that video?
TW: Yeah, what it’s ultimately communicating is that each one of us has a unique shape, a unique form, and unique color. I’m not talking about, like, skin, but every person has a different thing that they bring. [It’s] the idea that one person can make a fire with the wood that he brings, but how much bigger can that fire be when everyone brings and gives themselves into that ultimate thing? It’s everyone taking that one unique piece of themselves and giving it to [the fire]. It’s the representation of what we try to do musically; give our unique selves into this project to make something… Some sounds. To make some sounds. (laughs)
Tori: One of your more popular songs is “We Will All Be Changed.” Since the first record, and with the lineup and location changes that you guys have gone through, for you, has that song taken on a new meaning over the last few years?
TW: Well, I feel like that song could apply in most seasons of life because I think anyone is going to hit times where you’re trying to figure out where you are. The first verse is, “Somehow, we’ve gone and lost our way,” to trying to figure it out. And especially having moved away from home, the bridge sings that, “Distance will grow, but we’ll always know.” So, yes, in a way, it does have a new meaning, and I think it’ll continue having new meaning until I die.
That’s one thing that’s really beautiful about art on a wall or music in your ears; it’s really about the relationship between the person observing and the piece itself. For me, maybe in ten years, I can’t stand that song. But if it’s still something special to someone, that’s all that matters. It’s the same as, like, some people look at a piece of abstract art and go, “That’s just paint thrown on a canvas,” but to someone else, it may evoke something deep inside of them that reminds them of… anything, and that’s what makes that art so special.
Tori: Just leaving it open to interpretation and remembering that part of music is communicating a message to someone else and allowing them to perceive it in their own way.
Tori: Now for a fun question. What’s something you couldn’t go on tour without?
TW: Well, without being too obvious… aw man, that’s tough. ‘Cause, you know, shoes, socks, underwear, pants, shirt, glasses… I try to break it down to most of the necessities. I’m trying to think if there’s something weird that I bring, but of course it’s not weird to me! (pauses) We would never leave on tour without our coffee kit. We bring a hand burr grinder. We bring our own coffee beans from nice shops. We bring a V60 and our little mugs, and we grind it up and go in the gas station and get hot water, and we make our own V60 with a kettle. We’re, like, addicted to coffee, so that’s our little thing.
TW: Nope, just excited to play the show tonight! It’s going to be fun.
Since this interview was conducted, it has been announced that Scarlett Deering and Jenny Moscoso are leaving the band. It was a pleasure to see them perform as part of Seryn and I wish them both the best in their future endeavors.