With a little help from a friend, singer Serina Dawn has recorded her first album, “Silver Lining,” which was celebrated with a performance on Sunday at Tahoe City’s Commons Beach.
Serina hails from Southern California, went to high school and college in Washington and spent more than a year honing her voice in Nashville. Now a Truckee resident, she’s been part of the North Tahoe music community for more than a decade.
Serina co-wrote the songs with Mark Sexton, who she first contacted last November.
“It was an emergency gig,” Sexton said. “She needed a guitar player that night. I didn’t have anything going on and I am always looking for a challenge. The more situations I throw myself into the better it makes me as a musician. So I took on the challenge of learning as many songs as I could in just a few hours before even meeting her.”
Also a Truckee resident, Sexton is a Reno native best known for his band The Sextones, which is about to have its first European tour. He has several bands – musicians call them projects – and he teaches guitar, keyboards and voice. Sexton also is skilled in the studio. He mixed, mastered and produced “Silver Lining.” He and Dawn co-wrote the EP’s five songs.
“Silver Lining” will be released online Aug. 12. The title track and “Weather The Storm” are played in the morning rotation on Truckee Tahoe Radio KTKE 101.5 FM.
The two played as a duo for a few restaurant shows, arduous four-hour performances of mostly cover tunes. Both recognized they had a nice rapport, and Sexton encouraged Dawn to add originals. Inspired by nature, she already had a two in progress. She sings into a voice recorder during walks in the forest.
“The songs would haunt me,” she said. “The melody and the words flow together in my head and keep on knocking on the door. It might just be a piece of a song.”
Sexton opened the door to the songs and eventually to his 600-quare-foot cabin.
“My wife was pulling her hair out when I’d rearrange the furniture to fit a band in there to record,” he said. “The songs were off to a good start, they were just a little incomplete. I helped to rearrange them and then to produce them.”
Serina has the voice of a blues rocker. She has been compared to Grace Potter and Susan Tedeschi. She said Sexton helped her to a neo soul realm.
“She sings in a style you do not hear too much of anymore,” Sexton said. “We’re in an era of trendy, overly breathy female and male voices. Her voice reminded me of Bonnie Raitt and some of the real good honest music from my favorite female singers and songwriters. I really like that Bonnie Raitt timbre in her voice and her flexibility.”
Serina said she has been “singing since the womb.”
‘It’s definitely something I was born with.”
Her middle name Dawn was given to her for her grandmother, Gay Dawn, a nationally acclaimed burlesque dancer. “She called me her little songbird.”
Serina has been in a couple of commercials and has modeled for magazines. She was destined to be on a stage or a screen.
“I knew pretty early on, and growing up in LA, I think every kid had an agent,” she said.
Serina Dawn Hays was in musical theater until her 20s, when she began playing in bands.
Upon tiring of the SoCal scene, she moved to the mountains. She quickly made friends with musicians. Her first band included some of the area’s top players: Ian Ethan Case, who is now a CandyRat Records artist, Todd Holway and Ray Ernst. The group was named Serina Dawn.
For all her talent, experience and beauty, Serina didn’t allow ego to hamper the tutelage from Sexton.
“I really pushed her to do new things with her voice and it was easy to work with her in that regard,” Sexton said. “It was awesome because she has the ability and it was cool. She was discovering where her voice could go while we were recording.”
“Mark is such a professional,” she said. “He took that fear away and broke it down into more of a method. He took me through the steps. He held my hand the whole thing but did it in a way that was inspiring me and felt like we were a team. Mark is able to bring that freedom into it but instead of haphazard, like it’s been with other bands, it’s an organized freedom.”
— Tim Parsons