It’s not often you see the lead singer of a band playing the ukulele as their primary instrument, and so when we met up with Denton, TX-based band Seryn, we had to pick the brain of lead singer Trenton Wheeler. He offers his perspective on everything from alternate tunings to his songwriting process. The most important part of his message? Don’t limit yourself, and don’t be afraid to try something new with your uke!
CG: How did you get into the ukulele?
TW: The ukulele as a song writing tool arose from a band I was in before Seryn. I played guitar for years, but I was inspired by my good friend Judson who used it in unique ways in the songs he wrote. Strangely enough, my parents bought me my first ukulele, a Cordoba 25CK concert, for Christmas that year without any prior knowledge of me wanting one. From there I just started writing and writing and my poor guitar got neglected for a quite a while.
CG: How does playing the ukulele influence your songwriting process?
TW: The ukulele offered something the guitar wasn’t. I found that the combination of the nylon strings and the difference in voicing let me hear melodies and chord structures that (mostly through a lack of proficiency) I couldn’t yet achieve on guitar the way I wanted to. I always played steel string guitars as well, so the ukulele’s more tender plucking and less metallic strum pushed me to explore dynamics more intently in my songwriting.
CG: What strings do you use on your ukulele and why? What tuning do you prefer (and why)?
TW: I play now on a Cordoba 20TM-CE tenor, and I’ve found that D’Addario J54 Traditional Hawaiian strings with the 3rd string aluminum wound provides the tone I most prefer. I have rarely played a ukulele in standard tuning, and since I felt it was a bit too bright, I tune all 4 strings down from GCEA to EAC#F# for a deeper tone. The traditional style with the 3rd wound help restore some of the warmth that I feel is lost with the Nylgut strings that come stock on most ukuleles today.
CG: What size(s) ukulele do you play? Have you experimented with other sizes?
TW: I play a tenor primarily, but have played around on baritone ukuleles many times and loved the feel. I have several ideas for songs that would go well with the tone and voicing of a baritone, so I know owning one is only a matter of time! I’ve also had a lot of fun trying out some different types of ukuleles like 6-string and 8-string ukuleles that offer their own unique sounds.
CG: Have any artists influenced your playing style? If so, who?
TW: It’s hard to say any few artists have influenced me most. I find inspiration from most music; even what I might personally call “bad” music inspires me to do it differently. My influences come more in the form of songwriting than technical style, and I’ve found good songwriting in everything from folk to metal.
CG: What voice does the ukulele have in your band?
TW: No one instrument or voice leads in Seryn. It’s more about how the elements work together to create atmosphere, environment, groove, and mood. The ukulele in the band is sometimes a more rhythmic element; other times it becomes a single voice that gives the song air and delicacy; and then sometimes it’s textural, using delays and reverbs to create soundscapes; I even sing into the ukulele.
CG: What’s the one accessory for a ukulele that you can’t live without?
TW: My String Swing mic stand hanger! When playing live I can just hang my ukulele up right there on the mic stand when I’m not using it.
CG: Do you have any advice for budding ukulele players?
TW: Never limit yourself on the ukulele, and don’t be afraid to do something different with it. Don’t let the ukulele become last year’s music trend, so use it make lasting music; it deserves the same respect any instrument does.