Palmer, Mass. singer-songwriter Sean Serra has always been about chasing his dreams. The 20-year-old first started making music on his computer as a kid. Around the same time, he became entranced with different musical genres. Now, with his high school best friend Nathan Murphy, Serra is planning to release a collaboration album — titled A Dream in the Making, 20 Years — under the tentative moniker of SNMS (Serra’s initials wrapped around Murphy’s).
“I got interested in rap music very early, but my musical tastes have changed a lot,” said Serra, “I’ve always liked music production and the idea of it. That was always interesting to me, just putting sounds together.”
Serra’s experimentation was a direct reflection of his eclectic tastes. EDM and alternative music were big influences on some of his early adventures in production (which mostly entailed different Garageband loops onto one track).
From there, Serra developed an interest in playing an actual instrument. After learning the ukulele, he found his love for the acoustic guitar at the age of 16. His father and brother, who also play the acoustic, never found the time to teach him. Thankfully, there were other places to learn.
“I always tried to learn guitar as a kid, but no one wanted to help me,” said Serra. “Luckily there’s this great thing that we have in the modern age called Youtube, and honestly if I didn’t have Youtube, I don’t think I’d be where I am playing guitar.”
Video tutorials and covers from other artists became Serra’s outlet for learning the basic chords with his first guitar (which happened to be a three-quarter-size traveler’s acoustic guitar), which allowed him to strengthen his fingers, and understand the nuances involved with playing.
Muscle memory became the key to mastering the acoustic, especially without formal lessons from other people.
“I had this drive to really succeed at playing guitar because I loved it, and loved to make music, so I’d constantly be pressing chords, and even if I’m not strumming, I would just go over those chords again and again,” said Serra.
His drive to succeed independently lead to an appreciation for other guitarists who have inspired his own music. Artists like Ed Sheeran, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmore, Jerry Garcia work with the Grateful Dead, and John Mayer furthered his passion for guitar playing. He also praises J Cole and Kendrick Lamar for their lyrical abilities, something he tries to emulate in his own songwriting.
“You have people like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar who can string words together and have lines, literally like they’re rapping poetry, and in that, I find myself trying to look for depth in their music, and try to apply to what I’ve written.”
Serra finds it hard to work the guitar into rap, and despite the challenge, he still appreciates the production side of the trap sub-genre, and listens to it occasionally.
In the meantime, Serra is dealing with other obstacles involving the upcoming release of his new album with Murphy. Both artists have to find the time to record, which can be difficult, especially since both attend different colleges. Serra is currently studying at Salem State University for business management, so juggling school work with recording has been a challenge.
“Finding the time between college and making the album, and then potentially going out to play some shows has been a challenge that we’ve faced,” said Serra. “It’s something that you really have to be dedicated too, if you want it, you really got to go out and do it.”
So far, his dedication and patience has paid off, mainly because of patience — refreshing for today’s fast-paced streaming era. Both Murphy and Serra are always finding ways to improvise, even with something as simple as their name (SNMS), which might get changed in the future.
“It’s kind of a tentative name. We haven’t really come up with a name yet, which is something we really wanted to kind of be reserved on, just because we want to find something that means something to us,” said Serra.
With minimal equipment to record separately, the duo tries to take advantage of as many school breaks as possible to finish off the album. According to Serra, most of the project is done, lyrically speaking. It’s mostly just recording and post-production that needs to be accomplished.
Serra normally heads over to Murphy’s house for a couple of days to record from eight in the morning to midnight. For this project, both artists have contributed in a multitude of ways.
Serra has written a majority of the songs (and recorded most of the guitar playing), mainly because
this was originally supposed to be it began as a solo project. Murphy’s “will to be in a band” led to his involvement, specifically on the mixing and production side of things.
They compliment each other well, with Serra doing most of the lead vocals and guitar playing, while Murphy plays guitar and trumpet, which will be featured on the album.
“It’s funny to see how much inspiration you’ll find in the actual moment,” said Serra. “We’ll get there planning to do one thing and maybe record a song that we already have done, and we’ll end up creating a completely new song that day.”
The process of the writing and recording of this album started two years ago, and the hard work is finally showing. The duo released their first single on March 22 through all streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, Amazon etc.). The album itself will be released sometime in the summer, and will feature alternative sounds, singer/songwriter influences, and a whole lot of acoustic -the only thing that will be minimal is drums, mainly because they don’t have a drummer; although there is a synthesized drum here and there.
The idea of doing something you love is the concept behind, A Dream in the Making, 20 Years. It’s about having the drive to be a successful musician, and facing the challenges that come with it.
In the meantime, Serra is staying motivated through rock music, and his own experimentation. He hopes to learn a new instrument when the time is right, probably after the album’s release. For now though, having a project to call his own is his main focus.
“We want to push this out so bad, in case it’s the last thing we do,” said Serra. “If I don’t put out anything ever again, as long as I have something like this to look back on, it’s really worth it.”
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