If it weren't for Ray LaMontagne, Sherilyn Segrest might have walked away from music entirely.
After leaving seminal Dallas alt-country outfit Deadman (and divorcing its frontman, Steven Collins), Segrest underwent a self-imposed musical exile.
"I wasn't sure after I left Deadman what role music was going to play in my life, if at all," Segrest says. "When I left that band, I just stopped listening to music for six months; I didn't turn on the radio, I didn't listen to a CD, and I just took some space."
Her isolation came to an end thanks to an acquaintance, who suggested she purchase LaMontagne's 2006 album Till the Sun Turns Black. Segrest soon found herself lost, for hours, lying on her apartment floor, listening to the record over and over, soaking up its earthy melodies and evocative lyrics.
"I think it was just the simplicity of it," Segrest says now, describing what kept her coming back to the album. "It just felt very comforting to me."
Segrest calls that difficult period "a healing process." Not long afterward, she spent about a year writing songs and fine-tuning them on a grand piano stationed in the lobby of her Dallas apartment building. (During that same stretch of months, she was also briefly a member of Fort Worth's Telegraph Canyon).
Now, she's aiming for a slightly larger audience than indifferent tenants shuffling past her on their way to walk the dog. Her debut solo EP, Through the Night, will be available Saturday during a performance, with Kristy Kruger and Camille Cortinas, at Dallas' Kessler Theater. The compelling five-song collection weds Americana to soul, applying a slight country-blues finish.
Raised in Waco, in what Segrest describes as a "very conservative, Southern Baptist household," the singer-songwriter grew up absorbing a lot of Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. It was during her high school years when she began widening her musical perspective, stealing away to Dallas to see classic rock acts such as Traffic perform.
"I had to discover rock 'n' roll on my own," she says.
That sense of discovery, in a unique way, plays into Segrest's preferred mode of composition. Rather than employ conventional chord structures, she allows the song to unfold as it is being written.
"I'll have some sort of theme popping around in my head," she says, "may just be a word or a phrase or something. I'll sit down and set the mood for the evening -- glass of wine, dim the lights, et cetera -- and start playing chords."
Segrest's emotional sensitivity makes for a peculiar juxtaposition with the backing band she has enlisted: Denton's RTB2 (Ryan Thomas Becker and Grady Don Sandlin) and bassist Andy Odom. RTB2 is best known for full-throttle, sweat-soaked live shows (and equally propulsive studio recordings). But that's exactly what Segrest was looking for.
"I was just so floored by what they were doing. I wanted somebody that really brought something to it and this sense of edge that maybe the songs don't necessarily lend themselves to."