Pierson Student Sings Her Way Into Film Soundtrack

Sirena-Lee Carey. Bryan Downey photo

Sirena-Lee Carey’s parents, Jason and Viviane, named her after the sirens, mythical sea creatures with enchanting singing voices that often meant a grisly end for nearby sailors.

Real-life Sirena-Lee has a lovely singing voice, but it’s not so deadly, and instead of mesmerizing doomed sailors, it caught the attention of Ginew Benton, a film director and member of the Native American Ojebwe tribe who has included a song Sirena-Lee wrote in his independent science-fiction film, “Looking Glass,” set to debut at the Sundance Film Festival and Cannes Film Festival in the coming months.

“It’s incredible. It’s one of those things I never really thought would happen to me in a high school career,” Sirena-Lee, a senior at Pierson High School and the eldest of six children in her family, said in an interview.

Adept at playing guitar and piano, Sirena-Lee said she likes to start writing songs “from a phrase or a word that catches my interest.” She starts by playing chords and improvising, often toying with lyrics she’s scribbled on paper during study halls at school or on napkins during quiet moments at the local coffee shop, SagTown — where she works — or at home. That’s how she came up with the concept for the song that landed her in the spotlight, “Looks Could Kill.” The first line of the song goes like this: “If looks could kill, babe, I’d be dead at your feet.”

“Sometimes when melodies come to me late at night I’ll wake up at 2 a.m. and record something into my phone,” Sirena-Lee said.

The 17-year-old singer-songwriter also loves drawing, taking a cue from her mother, Viviane, who is a painter and illustrator. This year, she loaded up on art classes plus chorus, hoping to improve her ability to read music.

“I’m really excited for chorus,” Sirena-Lee said. “I was never really formally trained to read music, and I feel like it’s a very valuable skill.”

As a musician, she has written more than 30 songs and spent the last week of the summer polishing several of them in the studio of Paul Mahos, of the band New Life Crisis, who is one of her mentors. In fact, it was an appearance on stage with Mr. Mahos during the recent Southampton Music Festival where Bryan Downey, a local photographer, cinematographer and music producer, first heard Sirena-Lee sing. While acting as cinematographer on Mr. Benton’s film, Mr. Downey reached out to the young singer’s mother, first offering to shoot some portraits for her, then making the connection that one of Sirena-Lee’s songs would be a perfect fit for Mr. Benton’s film.

“There’s singers, and there are people who can sing. You tell them to write a song and they can’t,” Mr. Downey said. “But there are people who love what they do and it exudes, it spills out.” Sirena-Lee is one of those people, he said.

She lists as her influences a wide range of musicians — from Taylor Swift to Billy Joel to U2 to the Rolling Stones. Indeed, “Looks Could Kill” is a moody indie pop tune with moments that remind one of Norah Jones, Adele and T-Swift.

“I’d really like to continue with music because it really makes me happy,” Sirena-Lee said. “I enjoy being able to get my feelings down somewhere and being able to make other people happy, which is a really big component of it. If I could somehow become successful as a musician, it would be a dream come true.”