When your grandmother was a famous burlesque dancer named Gay Dawn and your dad built Robosaurus, do you have any chance of a normal life?
According to local artist Serina Dawn Hays, the answer is: yes and no.
“When I was growing up my mother called me her little songbird,” says the multi-talented artist, who was raised in Los Angeles area before moving to Truckee after college.
Hays’ mother was a Los Angeles Police Department officer for 22 years.
“She grew up watching grandma on stage and now she comes to all my shows, ” she says. “My mom always says I remind her of my grandmother. I guess the singing thing skipped a generation.”
“It was 65,000 pounds and 42 feet tall, ripped cars apart and set them on fire,” says Hays with a twinkle — or is that a tear? — in her eye. “I used to sing the national anthem from the claw of a robot 30 feet in the air.”
Serina Dawn’s debut EP, “Silver Lining,” kicks off with the Paula Abdul feel of “Think Twice.” A deep, funky bass beat by Steve Kershisnik, producer Mark Sexton’s 1937 Gibson Archtop L7 Wah Wah pedal and Aaron Chiazza’s pocket drumming get things going on a confident footing.
“We’ll share this mutual respect. If you treat me right, hold me tight. You know I won’t think twice,” sings Hays over the supergroup’s P-Funk-esque backing vocals.
And in case you were wondering, there was a handle inside the claw that Hays held onto when she sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at monster-truck rallies.
Track 2, “I’m on the High Road,” tells a story of Hays looking back at her younger self with some advice à la Rod Stewart’s “ooh la la.”
The opening chords of piano, bass and drums hit crystal clear as Hays sings like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye’s lovechild. This funky mountain mama reveals some true range while laying down stacked harmonies over a smooth track by Sexton that sounds straight from a Motown Studio, rather than a cabin located behind Zander’s Spirits in Truckee.
“For me, when I listen to Motown, it’s what I regard as the best music ever as far as pop songwriting goes,” Sexton says. “It’s music that both musicians and music listeners can love cause there is something special about it that’s simple, yet interesting.”
Hays wrote the third track, “Weather the Storm,” while walking alone by the Truckee River on a squally winter day.
“As each song started coming into my head. I would record it on my voice memo and send it to Mark,” says Hays.
Here, she brings the fierce Carrie Underwood vibes to a funky minor jam created by Sexton.
“Serina was using thunder as a metaphor for herself so I tried to listen to what chords she was implying beneath that,” says her cowriter.
The duo would then schedule power-writing sessions at the cabin where they’d meet up for an hour or two to arrange parts and rehearse.
“It was an exercise in commitment and decision in songwriting,” says Sexton.
Title track “Silver Lining” is a testament to the long and winding road Hays has walked to get to this moment. In the past two years, this 1980s baby has also appeared in local television commercials for Mattress King, Canon Cameras and Dodge Ram.
“I sort of recently realized I’m almost more marketable now than I was in my 20s,” she says. “In your 20s, they’re looking more of that blond bombshell. Now, I get a lot of shoots for the all-American mom.”
Hays lives in Glenshire with her husband and children. The album ends with a touch of No Doubts meets Bush on “It Won’t Be Me,” as the mother of two delivers a heartfelt warning to her younger self with edgy vocals that call to mind the raw power of Demi Lovato, Grace Potter and Nikki Bluhm.
“This is my heart and soul all poured into an album,” she says. “It’s the culmination of every past experience I can share with the world. Mark was the magic piece that helped me bring it into being. He was able to show me the steps and take down the barriers that let the full force and confidence of my writing ability shine through.” | serinadawn.com