When I first call the band members of Seryn for an interview, no one answers. It’s not that they’re not happy for press attention; it’s just that they’re busy jamming. The Denton, Texas, house where singer/banjoist/accordionist Trenton Wheeler, guitarist/banjoist Nathan Allen and bassist/cellist/trumpeter Aaron Stoner live also serves as Seryn’s studio, writing and rehearsal space.
As highlighted by all those slashes, everyone in the band plays multiple instruments and sings along, which has come in handy in Denton’s thriving music community, where friends often jump up on stage with one another. Though the city only has a population of 120,000, the University of North Texas dominates the town with 36,000 students and boats music-school alumni Norah Jones, Midlake, Roy Orbison, Don Henley, Meat Loaf and Brave Combo.
“It’s still like a small town, but everyone plays music,” Allen says. “There’s so much going on, and it’s not commercialized. There’s a pizza place in town where you can just go up to the counter, grab the calendar and write your name down on a date, and you’re playing a show there that day. So, you can play in front of people, and invite your friends, and kind of have a chance to make god-awful music in front of people enough times that you start figuring out what’s not god-awful.”
The other secret to Denton’s close-knit music scene are house shows, like the ones Seryn where began playing. “I think that’s how pretty much every single band in Denton starts out,” Allen says. “It’s not in venues. It’s like, ‘Yeah my friend is having a party, and we got a couple of bands to play.’ That’s just what we do for entertainment. I’m sure that there are people playing beer pong at parties too. I just haven’t been to one in a long time.”
Allen and Wheeler were living together in 2009, and occasionally playing music together, but Allen said he didn’t want to be in a band unless they could find a girl who could both sing and play. But when violinist/percusionist Chelsea Bohrer first saw them play a show together, she called them up and met with Allen. But Wheeler didn’t meet her until they randomly bumped into each other in a crowd of 10,000 at an Explosions in the Sky concert.
The next day, the trio had its first rehearsal and played its first show two weeks later. In the crowd were Stoner and drummer/banjoist/accordionist/guitarist/organist Chris Semmelbeck. “Aaron actually leaned over to Chris and said, ‘I’m gonna be in that band,’” recalls Wheeler. “And within a few weeks, he actually was. Nathan was driving by Aaron’s house one day. Aaron was on this wrap-around patio in this old rinky-dink house that he lived in at the time playing upright bass, and Nathan drove by and couldn’t help himself – parked his car, got his guitar out, walked up and said, ‘Can I jam with you?’ So, they jammed. And then we met Chris. I was playing with some other musicians at the time in another band, and Chris was at one of those shows. He came up and talked. So, we had been hanging out. We were hanging out in the garage one day, and Nathan was talking about different types of drumming and percussion, and tested Chris’s skills. We just said, ‘You wanna be in the band?’ And Chris was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Actually, at Chris’s very first practice, Aaron showed up and didn’t even know Chris was in the band. He was like, ‘When were you guys gonna tell me?’ So, all this kind of crazy happenstances that just kind of led to us starting a band.”
Seryn’s live presence—with each member swapping instruments and all five singing choruses at the top of their lung—can best be described as “joyful,” causing Paste to name their performance the best of this year’s SXSW and their song “We Will All Be Changed” one of the Best of 2011 (So Far).
“It’s so much fun, especially in the writing process when we’re picking up everything from some piano, kalimbas to clarinets and trombones and harmonicas,” says Wheeler. “Our studio and where we rehearse, it’s kind of like a middle school band hall. It’s just got a little bit of everything from the kiddie shakers and tambourines to what you would hear in concert bands and then random things like pump organs. In our living room, we actually have a marimba, a piano, a vibraphone, and I think five organs, half of which are working.”
“When we played at B.D. Riley’s for South by Southwest,” Bohrer says, “the sound guy goes, ‘Looks like an instrument shop threw up on stage.’ That’s pretty much how our recording space is.”
Music still isn’t a full-time job for any of the band members yet, except for Allen who teaches guitar lessons out of the house. Wheeler edits video, Bohrer works at Starbucks, Semmelbeck works at American Apparel and Stoner has a couple odd jobs.
“We’re waiting for our Paste feature to come out so we can blow up,” Allen jokes. “Actually the record is doing well, and it’s shifting more and more to where we don’t have to do those things. As soon as we all can quit and focus on this entirely, that’s the goal.”
Watch Seryn perform live at Paste’s party in Austin: