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Seryn takes chamber folk in new directions

Seryn's a band with much to recommend it: Rich male/female harmonies, varied instrumentation, powerful dynamics and expansive arrangements — all of which coalesce into a sound that's tender, sweet, cinematic and wonderfully evocative.

The band's distinctive approach emerged after guitarist/banjo player Nathan Allen co-founded the quintet two years ago with his roommate, lead singer/accordionist Trenton Wheeler. Early influences included Steve Reich, Fleet Foxes, Sigur Ros and classically inflected instrumental act Balmorhea.

In January Seryn released its full-length debut, This Is Where We Are. It ranges from the relatively brief "Of Ded Moroz," whose understated chamber folk recalls fellow Denton, Texas band Midlake, to the epic, gently drifting beauty of "Towering," its soaring vocals offering a counterpoint to the haunting combination of cello and banjo.

"There's one condition to doing this whole thing," Allen recalls telling Wheeler when they began recruiting bandmates. "We have to have a girl who can play a stringed instrument and sing harmonies."

The next day, he got a call from violinist/percussionist Chelsea Bohrer, who'd been impressed by a set of experimental math rock he'd played a week earlier.

The rest of the band came together in a similarly offbeat manner. Allen spotted bassist/cellist/trumpeter Aaron Stoner playing upright bass on his porch, pulled over, grabbed his guitar, and offered to jam. It turns out Stoner had seen one of the trio's first shows and was anxious to join. It wasn't long before they'd also recruited drummer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Semmelbeck, who had been at the same show.

Their plentiful cache of live instruments — marimba, glockenspiel, ukulele, mandolin, melodica, euphonium, pump organ, the list goes on — prompted one soundman to suggest "it looks like a music store threw up on stage."

"I think it comes from being in bands in high school and middle school," suggests Allen. "Everyone was in band or orchestra, so you're exposed to a lot more instruments. "Sometimes we'll just sit there. We aren't playing anything and one person will go, 'What else do you hear in your head,' and someone is like, 'Let's try this.'"

Despite their short history together, the group has already evolved from their early beginnings when Allen sought to make them wholly acoustic. They quickly discovered what works in the practice space doesn't always come across live. "Now we do shows that are acoustic and shows that are electric. The album is kind of a compromise between those two different approaches."

Though Allen spent a lot of time playing with instrumental bands, he grew to love harmonies.

"I did a stint where I was going to the Church of Christ for a while — it was an interesting period in my life. I was just enamored with all the a cappella singing and harmonies. I thought even though these people can't sing very well, there is something special about all these voices joining together and singing the same thing."

Seryn will also be debuting some new songs that hark back to its founders' minimalist interests.

"We've got a hefty amount of ideas and some of them are more Philip Glass than they are O Brother, Where Art Thou," says Allen, who compares the music-making process to sculpting. "They always talk about how a sculptor is just trying to take away," he says. "You're just trying to remove the stuff that's preventing you from seeing it, the stuff that's in the way."

scene@csindy.com

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