Catalan singer songwriter Joana Serrat stunned listeners with 2014’s Dear Great Canyon album, showcasing her original material produced by Arcade Fire’s Howard Bilerman. Catching the attention of BBC 6 Music, Joana is branching into new directions with the arrival of her third album, Cross the Verge.
Upon listening to Joana Serrat’s voice, it’s clear to anyone that she is an artist of great depth. Creating lyrical masterpieces, born out of personal experience as well as imagination and empathy for the universal human condition, she wraps these narratives inside a voice as tender as a butterfly wing and sends these songs out on to the breeze.
Joana grew up in Vic, a small town on the outskirts of Barcelona. Inspired by Xesco Boix, a Catalan musician who brought the sounds of Americana back to Catalunya in the 1980s, himself influenced by the likes of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, Joana has always felt an affinity for this music that would prove to be the catalyst to her own songwriting, later in her life.
Discovering Neil Young, some years later, this further cemented her desire to begin songwriting. Joana learned Neil Young covers on piano, and would later learn guitar to accompany the songs she felt were always within her.
“At that time, the Catalan language was forbidden. Xesco would translate some of the songs he learned into Catalan to try to keep our language and identity alive. He used to play these songs at schools in Catalunya, so I used to go and listen with my Mum. I was very influenced by him, and Bob Dylan and Neil Young.” Joana recalls.
Joana’s journey has, so far, taken her to Montreal where she has worked alongside Arcade Fire’s producer, Howard Bilerman, on all three of her studio albums to date – including her latest LP, Cross the Verge, and its predecessor, Dear Great Canyon – a heartfelt, yet pensive and nostalgic offering (you can listen here).
“I wanted to work with him, because the first time we recorded in Spain, he really made me believe in myself, and I really liked the way he has a vision of the songs and the album as a whole. We share that vision and it’s timeless. My idea is to go back to something in twenty years time and still be proud of it. It doesn’t age. Howard’s not intrusive and he is so respectful.” Joana says.
She has developed her intuition as a songwriter on home turf, in Catalunya, where Joana and her band have played festivals including the annual Primavera Sound. She also has played the LIV-BCN festival in Liverpool (creating cross-cultural connections through the power of music), and this week, her brief UK tour will culminate with a show at Bath’s Chapel Arts Centre on Friday 13 May.
“I think you need to think about the future, but not become obsessed with it. I have an opportunity, so I am just going for it.”
Her third studio album is a showcase of Joana’s talents as a songwriter, and her capabilities to stretch beyond her limits – working with some personally admired musicians, including Neil Halstead (Mojave 3, Slowdive) whom she met at a festival in Barcelona, and teamed up with for her beautifully rich, pedal-steel peppered track Cloudy Heart which you can listen to here.
“We met three years ago, in Barcelona, at a festival. He was there while we were playing, and he was quite enthusiastic about our set. So we kept in contact. Later, all of the Mojave 3 albums came back into my mind, especially the first album – so I emailed him, and he said yeah, of course he would like to work together. I sent him a demo, and it went from there.” Joana says.
Not afraid of pursuing her dreams, yet under no illusions as to the harsh realities of the contemporary world and the music industry itself, Joana has taken things into her own hands, both creating her own record label and reaching out to artists whom she can envisage to collaborate with. It turns out that her instincts are the best starting point, leading her to some fateful meetings and the ultimate creation of her latest body of work.
“For me, Tug Of War, is about the ways in which we’re all trying to follow this path: you study, get a good job and then you’ll have a happy, stable life. Growing up, we were not rich, but we could afford english and music lessons, but for our generation, perhaps we will not be able to afford our own homes. The big failure of my generation is that we followed everything yet now with this economic crisis, you discover your future is not safe. The future is pretty uncertain.” Joana says.Heralded by BBC 6 Music’s Gideon Coe, at the time of her former release Dear Great Canyon, Joana has earned herself a space in some of the UK’s most beautiful of venues, which would be a testament to her subtle show of strength on stage. With a warmth and honesty that thread throughout her songs, Cloudy Heart and Lonely Heart Reverb stand out for their tenderness and insight.
“I feel like folk music, Americana and country music really makes sense for me. There’s a language and it comes naturally with the music. For me, the sound makes it own language – they need each other. A lot of people in my country ask me why I don’t sing in Catalan – but I feel that I can help others to learn about my culture, despite this.” Joana says.
Working alongside her manager David Gimenez has taught Joana to set her sights high, without boundaries yet with an appreciation for the realities, the hard work and the perseverance required – something that she herself has followed with heart and with soul:
“David my manager doesn’t believe in limits. If you want something, you work for it, you follow it, and maybe you can achieve it. Try not to put obstacles in the way.” Joana says.
Currently working on new material for a future EP, Joana is in no rush to solidify the ideas that float around in the air above her, like tiny, droplets of rain, just waiting to be caught and transformed into songs of new life.
You can catch Joana at the Chapel Arts Centre in Bath, this Friday 13 May. Tickets cost £10 and are available: http://www.chapelarts.org
For more information on Joana Serrat: www.facebook.com/JoanaSerrat