Photograph by Kevin A. Roberts
Like many musicians before her, Syrhea Conaway took it hard when her first really serious band broke up. In December 2009, shoegaze act Stella Mora called it a day, after three promising years together. The move, she says, “just broke my heart. I was done with bands. I couldn’t do that anymore. With a solo act, you can only get mad at yourself. But there’s all this stuff that comes with being in a band with up to five other people. When we broke up, we were a five-piece. We were all getting along, had creative things flowing. There were relationships. I thought that I couldn’t be in bands again.”
For the briefest time, that idea stuck, with Conaway starting a one-woman act called Syna So Pro. But she joined The Jovian Chorus, too, which would also come to an end. In time, she got the opportunity to join The Pat Sajak Assassins and Humdrum, each of which she took on. At press time, friends of hers were putting together an Americana act, and they, too, snagged Conaway’s talents.
All of that makes for a busy life. At the core of her artistic spirit, though, is the Syna So Pro project, in which she accompanies herself through the use of loops and prerecorded voice samples. While playing live, Conaway can trigger effects that allow her to build a set through the use of riffs, melodies, and beats created on the spot. And because there’s about a 45-second gap between songs, during which she switches or resets gear, she records an internal monologue prior to the show, which she responds to as the night progresses.
That portion of the show can be a bit disarming if you’re catching her act for the first time.
“I prerecord the banter,” she says. “Maybe, if I’m being lazy, I’ll do that the moment before I pack up for the show. If I’m responsible, it’ll be no more than two weeks before the show, so that I can practice with them. I try to think of scripts, ones that are fun but also true. Every artist is somewhat self-deprecating. And the recorded parts are what I think is happening at the show. At one point, at a show at Cranky Yellow, I was being negative but funny, poking fun at myself. But people weren’t understanding my humor. One guy said, ‘You’re being mean to yourself.’ So noted!”
She’s also educating listeners on the technique of looping, which has been moving into vogue in the live setting over the past few years.
“I think musicians get it,” she says. “I think I’m well-respected among musicians in St. Louis. But to a layperson, they may not know what’s going on. With my banter, I say, ‘Everything you’re hearing is live and not prerecorded.’ I hope that would engage them to watch. It’s not just playing music; it’s an art form. I’m building it right in front of you. I think that musicians who know pedals and music and have tried to loop understand how difficult it is, while other people don’t know.”
A further form of collaboration has come in the form of studio time in the past year, logging hours at R&R Music Labs, primarily with producer Ryan Lewis. Together, they’ve been crafting not one but two new albums, her first released work in about three years.
“I’m shooting for September,” she says of the recordings. “I want to get these records done, get them out there and touring on them. I learned a lot from my mistakes on the first records. With this one, I hate to use the term, but they’re more radio-friendly, less chaotic. They’re being performed live in the studio and are all loop-based. While each has a different feel, they’re related in a sense. My goal’s to get them out and not have to have people listen to songs from three years ago. My goal would be to have both released at the same time. The worst-case scenario is having one released two months later than the first.”
In the meantime, one of her biggest challenges is to keep focused on the already-heavy batch of commitments that she’s undertaken. That might mean saying no to friends and fellow musicians who want to join forces, even for single tracks.
“I’ve been having people want me to do remixes,” she says. “I’ve been trying to get collaborations going with Scripts ’N Screwz, DJ Nune, Thelonius Kryptonite… But I just don’t have time.”
Yet she sticks with it. Maybe because being in bands is fun?
“Clearly, I’ve gotten to the point where if I play a bad show, I’m not going to beat myself up,” she says. “And if I play a good show, it’s awesome. If the audience is into it, having a great-ass time, that’s ultimately what you want. Everyone’s having a great time, you’re sharing your stuff, and everyone feels good.”
Syna So Pro plays Schlafly Tap Room, 7260 Southwest, on June 15 with Zagk Gibbons and Acorns to Oaks. For more info, go to synasoloproject.com.
Now Hear This
Max Load, Max Load: Born in the Belleville, Ill., of the late ’70s, Max Load enjoyed a brief period of local and regional success. National fame, though, eluded the band, despite some major label interest. The musical archivists of BDR Records have rescued these crunchy post-punk power-pop songs from further obscurity, with a triple release of an LP, a CD, and a DVD, essentially covering every track the group committed to tape in a good-looking, well-rounded tribute package. rerunrecordsstl.com.
Grace Basement, Wheel within a Wheel: In many respects, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Buckley is Grace Basement, an act given over to folk-pop music tinged by many other sounds. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Buckley is a notoriously in-demand player, perhaps best-known for his Irish fiddle-playing. He has the ability to mesh with countless other acts, always blending his own strong skills into any set or circumstance. These, though, are his songs and his voice, with lyrics and production being central to this strong third release on Avonmore Records. gracebasement.com.
Million Hits, Get Outta Mah Face: Now available as a digital download and on a video-sharing behemoth near you, this first single from the Festus-based tweens of Million Hits was written and produced by Matt “Bug” Meyer, featuring a fivesome that loves heavy metal, but plays age-appropriate, bright, colorful, sunny pop-punk. A catchy intro to both the songwriter and the band he works with, the song has an amusing, sneering pop sensibility that’ll only grow as the group ages into its mid-teens. cdbaby.com/artist/millionhits.