New Talent: Interview with Australia's Seryna Jane
"I want people to see themselves as amazing, as worthy, as strong, as capable, as valued, as important"
Image courtesy Dream30 Agency
After gigging around Sydney for 12 years, Australian singer-songwriter Seryna Jane released her debut single ‘Haunt Me’ at the end of 2017. Her follow up single ‘Daniel’, a gorgeous stripped back acoustic track, was released earlier this year and she is on the verge of releasing her debut EP. We recently caught up with Seryna to find out all about her music and her plans for the future.
Hi Seryna! You’ve been gigging around Sydney for over a decade – where did your love of music come from?
Music has always been a part of my life. I grew up in a very musical house - not that either of my parents were particularly good at playing music! We had guitars, a keyboard, drums and bongos that I'd always play around with. And when I was around 3 or 4 years old, I loved to sit in front of our video camera and make up songs. I would sing about people in love who would hug and kiss, and used my fingers as if they were people to act out the lyrics. I can't say the lyrical content was high quality (laughs), but it started in me a passion for writing music and using it as a tool to express myself.
What musicians did you listen to growing up?
My dad loved to listen to jazz and blues records at home, so as a little kid I was surrounded by the sounds of George Benson, Al Jarreau, Diana Krall and Donny Hathaway. They definitely had a strong influence on me as a musician, but it wasn't really until I was in high school that I became aware of the kind of music I liked. John Mayer and Hanson were such strong influences on me as a teenager because I was absolutely obsessed with them when I started writing music. I also listened a lot to the female singer-songwriters of the early 2000s - Tristan Prettyman, Colbie Caillat, KT Tunstall and Sara Bareilles.
When did you first start performing?
My first experience of singing on stage was when I was 10 years old; I was the singer of my primary school's rock band Fab. I remember our very first performance in front of the school. Some kids may be so nervous that they cry before they sing, or it might have been such a frightening experience that they cry after their performance. I did neither of these - I cried during the performance. I literally stood there on stage and cried. But I didn't stop singing! I sang the whole song with tears running down my face. Thankfully that experience didn't scar me too much, but it wasn't until I was 16 that I started gigging, firstly just at youth centres and then cafes. Since then I've been gigging on and off, but a lot more consistently in the last 5 years.
Was there a point when you realised music was wanted you wanted to do as a career?
At the age of 16 I knew this was what I wanted to do. I was playing in an all girl band in high school and had started playing some small gigs, but I knew it was something I had to work on and learn. I decided I wanted to study a Bachelor of Music majoring in Vocal Performance at university. I went to a very academic high school and had parents who were business owners, so there was quite a bit of debate around me studying music after school. I remember my school's career advisor said to me, “Seryna, why on earth would you want to study music? With the marks you could get you could study whatever you want.” To which my response was, “I know I can study whatever I want. And that's why I'm going to study music.” I think it's such a shame how many kids don't follow the path of what they want to do, but go down the road of what they think they should do or what they are told do you. And it's funny, I don't even see this as my “career". It's what I'm passionate about, it's what I love, it's what I find fulfilment in, it's what scares me and excites me at the same time, it's what drives me, it's what I do.
Congratulations on your latest single ‘Daniel’, it is such a beautiful track! What was the inspiration behind it?
‘Daniel’ is about that inner journey you go on when you realise someone meant more to you than you did to them. First there's that moment when you realise their love wasn't genuine or their intention wasn't the same as yours. Then there's the reminiscing, when you think about all the amazing, fun times you had together, and when you start to miss them. From there anger, or even resentment, usually creeps in. Thankfully, in the case of ‘Daniel’ this process ends in an empowered sense of self worth and an ability to let go. I wrote the song a few years ago, living in a granny flat with my partner and our 2 cats. I picked up the guitar and started strumming some chords and humming a melody. I then pulled out my lyric writing book and started singing some lyrics I had written maybe a year earlier. It was one of the fastest songs I have written, with the majority of it being completed in that one night. My music, and my life, was put on hold for a couple years after my partner was in an accident that left him as an amputee, so it took a little while before I was able to head into the studio and record 'Daniel'. Once I did get into the studio I was lucky enough to work with the amazing guitarist Bryan Christian and producer Jarrod Bain. We kept the song raw and stripped back, which over time is how I've discovered my music sounds most authentic and true to me.
What inspires you when you write music?
I used to be consumed with the idea of 'how' to write music. When I first started writing music I would Google 'How to write a song' or would read books on how to write memorable lyrics and catchy chord progressions, and I do think there is value in that knowledge, but what I have found is there is no right or wrong in writing music. For me, writing music is very much an emotional release and a way to process different experiences in life, so I am constantly writing lyrics, or even just thoughts, down. When I sit at the piano or pick up a guitar, I usually just start playing something random and go from there. I start humming a tune or looking at lyrics I have previously written, and things slowly start to piece together. I also am a fan of working and reworking my lyrics and melodies, and not necessarily sticking with the first idea I had. One of my old singing teachers once said to me, “You can't be too precious with your music.” That has been such an impactful statement. It has meant that I've been able to scrap a line if it wasn't serving the whole song, or rework a melody to see if I could create a better vocal line, or even merge two songs together even though that wasn't my original intention. I absolutely love the process of writing music and creating something from nothing.
Is there a particular message you like to convey in your music?
I think the messages I want to convey differ from song to song, but the messages I want to put out there as an artist are based around the philosophies and characteristics I value most highly as a person - self worth being the highest. I want people to see themselves as amazing, as worthy, as strong, as capable, as valued, as important, and if I can in some way communicate that in my music, that's reason enough to write and put my music out there.
What are you thoughts on the current debate about gender equality in the music industry?
I think there is an issue of gender equality in every industry. However the very public nature of performance means female musicians are often objectified by their audience. I couldn't even count the number of inappropriate or just plain disgusting messages I receive [on social media]. When I was younger I even had an ultimatum of a sexual nature made in order to book a gig. It was something I immediately walked away from, but it wasn't until much later that I realised the weight of that situation. For a young artist and someone new in the industry there is so much danger in the fact that a situation like that can be seen as something that's “just part of the industry”, and that absolutely needs to change. And for that change to occur I believe women in the music industry need to stand as a united front. I also believe that even though there is gender inequality in our industry, as a musician and someone living in Australia, I am still in a very privileged position. There are women all over the world who experience inequality much more severely every single day of their lives. And yes, we should address inequality on our doorstep, but I also think we need to speak for those who aren't able to speak for themselves.
What is next for Seryna Jane?
I'm in the process of finalising my EP, August Calling. Once that is released I'll be playing a few gigs and small festivals around Sydney. I'm also super excited for a new side project I'm working on with my dear friend Rudy Bilani. We have a lot of big goals and dreams and I can't wait to work towards them.