How Rachel Sermanni went off-road to make new LP

Singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni. Picture: Contributed
Singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni. Picture: Contributed
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SPLENDID isolation gave Rachel Sermanni a welcome break from life on the road and led to her new album

YOU may not have heard of Chris Luedecke, but it’s possible that Rachel Sermanni’s new album wouldn’t exist without him – or rather his house. Luedecke, a Canadian singer-songwriter who records as Old Man Luedecke, is one of many friends Sermanni has made on tour. This one happened to have a house in a forest in Nova Scotia with an empty apartment above his wife’s pottery studio. After bonding over Cajun music, he told Sermanni she was welcome to come and stay whenever she wanted.

Rachel Sermanni. Picture: Contributed

Rachel Sermanni. Picture: Contributed

Worn out after five years mostly spent on the road, Sermanni took up the offer in March last year. “I was so tired and I hadn’t even realised,” she says. “I didn’t go there intending to write, I went there just because I loved the notion of being in this little place all on my own.”

At that time Sermanni wasn’t sure she even wanted to record a follow-up to her 2012 debut, Under Mountains. “I didn’t think anything was coming that was worthwhile being an album, and my ideas were changing,” she says, over afternoon tea in a Glasgow café. “I was visualising studying, drawing. I like all sorts of different things so there were lots of other options.”

Over four days alone in the wilds of Nova Scotia, with no internet – “The internet is my monster, I really can’t avoid it if it’s there” – Sermanni read books, ate porridge and went running, with the occasional visit to the Luedecke home, where she would read stories to his children. It was all “very meditative”, she says. Unexpectedly, she started writing again, on whatever instruments she happened to find, recording demos in Luedecke’s studio in a nearby log cabin. “I was a bit wild by the end,” she says, “a feral animal. Someone came to pick me up and I was blushing because of this first human contact in such a long time. I couldn’t interact at all.”

Revived, she recorded what would become Tied To The Moon in two weeks on the Isle of Lewis. “A lot of the songs were always there,” she says. “I’d just not explored them.”

I’d love to have a regular place to see friends and stay friends with them. It’s hard to retain relationships

Rachel Sermanni

That Nova Scotia trip, it seems, gave Sermanni time and space to reflect on a turbulent time in her life. Last year she parted company with Robert Hicks, the manager who has guided her career since she was 17. This was an amicable split too, she says, and Tied To The Moon will still be released on Hicks’ label, but all this change has clearly impacted on Sermanni in ways she is still processing. “I’ve never spoken about this album before, this is interesting,” she says. “There’s nothing that’s in my head as an entire knowledge, but a lot of the songs are about letting go.”

There is, she says, “a certain outlet of anger which I wouldn’t entirely have expected. I’m not an angry person but I guess we need to find a way to exhale what feelings we have. I’ve been very passive in the past few years in lots of ways. I’ve let things go as anyone wants them to go, in the music business and in relationships, and I think that’s a really nice way to flow in the world, when you just accept whatever’s coming, but I do think there’s a real element where you have to set boundaries. It must have been so hard for Robert with me not leading, with no vision of where it was going. I realised it was really important to have a vision and a strong sense of yourself.”

Being her own manager, she says, has been “extremely stressful, but I really have enjoyed having autonomy, knowing I have to be the director, and the leader”.

It’s been a learning process. Midway through recording the album she “got ahead of myself” and began telling people it would be out in February this year, until it was pointed out that this wouldn’t provide enough time to plan a PR campaign. When we meet, though, she’s already mapped out most of her year. Next month she’s in Canada; in the autumn she’s off to Holland, Germany, Italy, Austria, Ireland and across the UK.

“There’s a really interesting thing about the connectivity when I book the gigs. I feel people are invested more. So far it’s been a really positive experience in terms of the outcome.” She arranged the Italian tour by asking fans on Facebook to recommend good places to play in Italy. “I had 17 responses – all these beautiful wee venues from the bottom of Italy to the top. I literally have taken all those things and routed it and logistically planned it.”

Sermanni may describe herself as passive, but she’s fearless too. Aged 17 she left Carrbridge for a “gap year” making music in Glasgow. “I had connections. Roddy Hart was going to record a wee demo with me, I’d made friends with a band called Pearl and the Puppets. I basically immersed myself in the student music world in Glasgow.”

By the end of her gap year, Sermanni had a management deal and had befriended Mumford and Sons. “It was like an ignition period which I feel still propels me in some way,” she says. “That first year became… now.”

Part of her seems to crave stability, a new place to call home. Six years after leaving the family home she is still a “sofa surfer” – the closest she has come to having her own place is renting a flat in Berlin for a month earlier this year. Even then, she actually spent a mere 14 days there. “It worries me because I like touring so much,” she says. “I’d love to have a regular place to do yoga or see friends and stay friends with them because you’re seeing them all the time. Not that I’m losing friends all the time but it’s hard to retain relationships.”

She seems quite content, though, with her life as a wandering troubadour – one who, more than ever, is making up the route as she goes along. “That’s why I certainly don’t need managed, because I’m too erratic in what I want to do. I don’t have an ultimate goal.” Well, apart from one. “I’m not a veteran but in four years I can say I’ve been touring for a decade,” she says, with a gleeful look on her face. “Isn’t that cool?” n

• Tied To The Moon is released on 10 July on Middle of Nowhere Recordings