Following the call: Women set the mood for Duluth band Superior Siren
In Greek mythology, a siren is a vocalist of the sea. Sailors, drawn to the sound, ruin entire ships by ramming into rocky shores. As Laura Sellner, Duluthian, was developing her musical lean, she favored eerie tones, deep and mythological. Superior Siren seemed like a fitting name.
"It stems from a connection to place and Lake Superior," she said. "And I'm a Pisces."
In the past five years, Sellner has built on the aesthetic: the one-time solo act has added a cello, upright bass and drums for a dark sound that swells and rolls. And when it all comes together — and she digs deep into her own intestines and sings, with great strength, "I am after your heart" alongside a low intense beat and the slice of strings — well, you believe her.
Superior Siren plays a CD release show for its self-titled album at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Music Center. The 10-song collection includes new songs in addition to reworked takes on songs released on her solo EP "Lotus in the Muck."
This album has been a long time coming. The music has been written, the aesthetic achieved. It's time to get it out into the universe, Sellner said: "It's in its truest form."
'IF I DID IT, I WOULD BE HEARD'
Sellner grew up around music, she said, and when it came time to express herself creatively, songwriting felt like the most natural way to do it. She learned to play guitar in her late teen years and found herself writing about love, life, human interactions.
And she found an audience.
"It was the response from listeners, close friends, people I was studying in school with," she said. "That helped my confidence. If I did it, I would be heard."
Sellner studied geology at the University of Minnesota Duluth and said that as graduation neared, she realized this was not what she wanted to do with her life.
"How did I get here?" she recalled wondering.
Instead of following the graduation-desk job route, she opted out. Her focus, since then, is managing Superior Siren, which requires self confidence "and being able to survive off little," she said.
In the past two years she has built a band of musicians who help to fill out the deep, dark sea sounds. Step one: Rachel Gobin, cellist, worked with her at Zeitgeist.
Gobin, who is classically-trained, started playing cello when she was about 10. But after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Superior, she didn't have opportunities to play. She and Sellner got together and started working with sounds, she said. The result:
"It's not quite folk; it's not classical," Gobin said. "It's darker instrumental folk. Eerie. A little bit seductive and sultry."
Then: Drummer Emma Deaner had approached Sellner about playing drums. Nyssa Krause, bass player, came on the recommendation of mutual music friends.
"And that completed my dream of having an all-female band," Sellner said.
THE ALL-FEMALE BAND
Superior Siren is a cohesive unit. Four women dressed in black. Sellner at the forefront with her guitar, Krause sliding a bow across her bass, Deaner playing drums with mallets and Gobin with a cello against her shoulder.
At this time and in this place, this is still noteworthy.
When Superior Siren did an in-studio performance at KUMD-FM in 2016, music director Christine Dean had a moment of emotion.
"I looked around the room and got choked up," Dean said. "Everyone was female. The host, I was engineering, and all the women (in the band). That shouldn't be a big deal, but it is because it doesn't happen that often.
"I look forward to a time when it's not a big deal when you have really strong all-female group."
Sellner said she wanted to do something different.
"I think I really like being around groups of strong women," said Sellner, who also has three older sisters. "The communication is easier. It was also a cool thing that there aren't that many (all-female bands) in existence locally."
At this point, Sellner describes the band as a project. Superior Siren might play solo; Superior Siren might be the foursome. She said she manages the band and takes lead, but everyone is invested and has a voice in the decisions that are made.
"We are a team," she said.
Superior Siren is looking to expand its reach with the album, which is being sent to radio stations in the Midwest. The band is planning a tour in Minnesota and Wisconsin, Sellner said.
Gobin, who never saw herself in a band like this, said she is excited about the album and the feedback.
"I hope that people really feel things," she said. "I want them to really listen to the lyrics. Listen to everything that is going on and just try to feel the music. If they feel something, then my job is done."
The first single from the album, "Tomorrow," opens with an appeal: "Sit with me, just a little while." It's a soft and sweet song, patiently sung. The band released it at the start of the year alongside a black-and-white video by Kyle Hanson. In it, Emily Neale of the Minnesota Ballet performs modern dance in the wide-open, mirrored ballet studio at the Grain Exchange — imagery mixed with the band playing in the same space. With the second release, "Nightmare," audiences will get a trickier, more aggressive tune. "I will eat you up for breakfast; I will swallow you for lunch," Sellner promises in the song.
The album's opening track is "Leone," which Sellner wrote about her grandmother's grief over the loss of her husband; "For Mother" was born of a phone argument. The album closes with "Lost," which is usually the song the band plays at the end of a show.
"It really gets to the darker side of Superior Siren," Sellner said.
If you go
- What: Superior Siren self-titled album release
- When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. Fourth St.
- Tickets: $10 in advance at eventbrite.com, $15 at the door
- Also: Superior Siren will do an in-studio performance at 2 p.m. Friday on KUMD-FM 103.3