Amelia’s Magazine | Joana Serrat: Dear Great Canyon, an interview and review

Joana Serrat by youdesignme iIlustration

Joana Serrat by youdesignme Illustration.

Singer songwriter Joana Serrat hails from Spain, where she has carefully crafted her stunning debut album, produced by Howard Bilerman and inspired by the songs of the American heartland via a sojourn in Ireland. Last Friday I managed to scamper out of the house to catch her half hour live set at Rough Trade East just before toddler bedtime, and was left suitably impressed by this diminutive Spanish lady.

Joana Serrat 2014-Rough Trade East live gig, photography by Amelia Gregory

Joana Serrat, Rough Trade East live gig, photography by Amelia Gregory.

Dear Great Canyon is a stunning album of carefully paced extremes: lilting lullabies interspersed with upbeat melodies. It opens with the elegiac Flowers on the Hillside, Joana’s faint Spanish accent the only indicator that this tune was crafted far from the Mid West. In The Blizzard Joana talks about the ‘shattering silence’ of heartbreak, her voice breaking in emotion against the richly orchestrated backdrop, with slide guitar becoming ever more prominent in Green Grass, an upbeat tune that sees Joana in more optimistic mood. After the brief 50s influenced wooziness of Stop Feelin’ Blue, So Clear is a rollicking paen to getting on with things. Summer on the Beach lulls the listener with Moogish noodlings, followed by another highlight – the Cold of the desert which is the setting for metaphors of the heart. The Wanderer narrates the tale of a magnetic dancer, and The Secret returns yet again to wild landscapes. The album draws to a close with the drifting strains of Yellow Rider, rootsy Place Called Home and piano driven Came Out of the Blue.

Joana Serrat by Natalie Burton

Joana Serrat by Natalie Burton.

Dear Great Canyon proves that location is of little importance in our globalised society, where we are as likely to be influenced by far off musicians as those on home soil. Here Joana Serrat describes how she came to fall in love with the folk music of distant lands, and how one email made her dreams come true.

Although you grew up in Barcelona your sound has been very much influenced by Americana, what were your favorite records when you first discovered music?
I used to listen to Neil Young a lot; I got into his music when I was 13 I think. I got into him because I found his Unplugged album at my Dad’s music shelves and really loved it. After that I went into Sleep with Angels and it became one of my favorite albums for years. I used to play My Heart on the piano, which I learned by listening to it. I would say Neil is my essence.

I must say when I was a child my mum used to play me on vinyl the records of a Catalan singer-songwriter named Xesco Boix who had traveled to States and came back to Catalunya under the influence of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, which he had seen live in shows. He took traditional Catalan songs and some American songs too and went all over the schools to play those songs to children. I would say this is my first influence on music. I loved his voice, he calmed me down and made me feel I was not alone. So when I listened to Neil I recognized that feeling and it happened the same when I got into Bob’s records. I immediately felt attracted to his sound at the age of 22 and they made such a deep impact that I assumed I would write songs.
Joana Serrat by David Giménez

Joana Serrat by David Giménez.

What Spanish groups did you also listen to, and did any of these have any influence on your burgeoning sensibility?
I started to listen to Partido, McEnroe and Pajaro Sunrise two years ago, but I have never got that into Spanish bands.
What took you to Dublin, and what was your favorite bit about life in Ireland?
I went to Dublin because I needed a change in my life. I thought that perhaps everything in my life had come because of inertia and routine so I needed to check if I was able to have it for my own. I really felt the need to change my role in the family, and needed to put space between me and my life at that moment. I felt I first had to know myself better and get to understand me before introducing myself to others. I needed to find out who I was, what music meant for me. I came back more secure in myself, with knowledge and the certainty I had grown up and had matured.
I was lucky that I had a job in a wine bar and my life developed around the store and the people who worked in there. The crew was so cool, we really got on so well with each other, and we were like a family. I started to sing and lost my fears about my voice and my songs at some of the barbecues we used to have.
Joana Serrat by Amelia Gossman

Joana Serrat by Amelia Gossman.

When you start to write a song what kind of mood or situation suits you best?
I would say it’s easy for me to write when I feel sad or blue. Most of my songs were written in that mood but with Dear Great Canyon I learned to write from another kind of mood, wanting to make songs that tell a story. I still use my life and my experiences to write a song. I need my experiences, my feelings and emotions so I can compose. In that way I have a kind of dependence on my life. But I am happy I started to move away from sadness. I think it’s kinda dangerous to get dependent on sadness to create (whatever it is: music, painting, literature, etc…) It could ruin your personal life without you being conscious of it (in a Freudian way I mean).

Joana Serrat by Alicia Aguilera

Joana Serrat by Alicia Aguilera.

Where do you live at present, and what keeps you there?
I live in Vic were I was born. I came back here a year ago because my partner and I wanted a quiet life in the country. We were living in Barcelona before that but I love this land, its landscapes. Having said that I would really love to live abroad too.

How did you find and approach your producer?
I love his work with Wolf Parade, Basia Bulat and Vic Chesnutt and I was thrilled with the The Wooden Sky‘s Every Child a Daughter, Every Sun a Moon album that Howard Bilerman produced. So I decided to email him and attached 4 track demos. I asked him if he wanted to help me to make a dream come true, which was to record an album with him and he answered half an hour later saying ‘I love to make dreams come true’.  I wept when read it.

Joana Serrat by Jane Young

Joana Serrat by Jane Young.

What was the process of recording this album like? I hear much of it was recorded live…
Howard and I were talking a lot about the sound of the album. I gave him a lot of references of bands, songs and sounds I liked. I really insisted on the textures the songs must have. So he decided to record the album on tape live. It was great. Such an incredible experience. I had never recorded like that or had the chance to record properly. I mean, it was my first time that I had to think about nothing but the recording. It was amazing. At the same time it was very easy to work with him. He would be seated at the control desk, listening carefully. He is not interventionist at all. I see him as a song hunter. He catches the best perform of the song.

Where can fans see you this year in the UK?
We are playing in Liverpool soon and on August 16th at Jabberwocky Festival, London.

What next for Joana Serrat?
I wish to grow as a musician, as a performer, as a singer-songwriter and I really wish to play in a lot of places. I guess these things are what every artist wish, aren’t they? I would also really like to record an EP of new songs to be released at the end of this year or at the beginning of next year.

Joana Serrat Dear Great Canyon album cover

Dear Great Canyon by Joana Serrat is released on April 7th 2014 on the El Segell del Primavera label.

Categories ,Alicia Aguilera, ,Amelia Gossman, ,Amelia Grace Illustration, ,barcelona, ,Basia Bulat, ,Bob Dylan, ,Came Out of the Blue, ,Catalonia, ,Catalunya, ,Cold, ,David Giménez, ,Dear Great Canyon, ,El Segell del Primavera, ,Every Child a Daughter Every Sun a Moon, ,Flowers on the Hillside, ,Green Grass, ,Howard Bilerman, ,Jabberwocky Festival, ,Jane Young, ,Joan Baez, ,McEnroe, ,My Heart, ,Neil Young, ,Pajaro Sunrise, ,Partido, ,Pete Seeger, ,Place Called Home, ,review, ,Rough Trade East, ,Sleep with Angels, ,So Clear, ,spain, ,Stop Feelin’ Blue, ,Summer on the Beach, ,The Blizzard, ,The Secret, ,The Wanderer, ,The Wooden Sky, ,Unplugged, ,Vic, ,Vic Chesnutt, ,Wolf Parade, ,Xesco Boix, ,Yellow Rider, ,youdesignme

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