Inspiration Hour: Rachel Sermanni
One voice. One acoustic guitar. One incredible sound. Scottish singer Rachel Sermanni has toured Europe, set up camp in the independent music charts and fronted an RBS ‘here for you’ campaign. She reflects on her foray into ad land…
How would you actually describe your kind of music?
I would prefer no label but essentially everyone has a need to categorise. Even I’m guilty of it – I do tend to associate new artists with people I’ve heard before. If anyone asks I say I’m of the folk ilk. It’s called folk because I’m playing with an acoustic guitar and singing, but the actual music is influenced by classical, jazz, all sorts.
So how did the RBS/M&C Saatchi collaboration come about?
A few people came to hear me play at the Hospital Club and decided they were keen to do something. I’ve not had the best experiences previously with corporate types, but I was intrigued by this project. I recorded a minute-long clip of a song that talked about change, which fit with the premise for the campaign. I sent over a demo and three days later the song was written. Within a week it had been recorded – I was able to take control of all the instrumental and be my own producer, which was amazing. The difficult bit came when having to talk straight-faced to a camera about my banking antics! But it was a lovely inspiring team to work with.
How does making a TV ad compare to filming a music video?
They’re not so dissimilar; music videos takes a long time, and lots of focus, whereas these ads seemed to take the least amount of time and the most amount of focus of any filming I’ve ever done! I was warned beforehand ‘make sure you have makeup’. Predictably I forgot, so one poor production guy had to do a Boots run… But aside from being smothered in foundation, it was all good.
Having now come full-circle, how do you feel about using advertising as a platform for your music?
I think advertising is a fine thing. Every artist uses it to some degree, albeit some more subtly than me, as I essentially fronted a campaign. Others may have their music used in an ad and leave it at that. But really it’s down to the client and like I say RBS were so lovely to work with. ‘Here for you’ is about a company really having a presence on the ground and having a human face, and that much I am fully behind – I will always endorse community and openness. As an artist I’m glad I saw it through, it taught me a lot.
As a lyricist, you are essentially a story-teller. How do you decide what kind of tales will capture the imagination of your audience?
I started writing just because I wanted to write, but you do end up composing with an audience in mind. And sometimes you have to challenge them. Stepping out of what you and your listeners are comfortable with can be a good thing – you shouldn’t panic if you end up in unknown territory.
How does a particularly good or uneven response from an audience affect your performance?
Well, a warm reception is brilliant, but awful beats mediocre! You’re always looking to create an atmosphere – one song I have about nightmares is a bit edgy and no one knows when to clap at the end, which is fun… I remember a gig in St Agnes where the crowd was way too loud. I thought ‘I’m going to have to boss them about a little bit to be heard’. I like forcing the audience to pay attention.
You’ve been ‘the one to watch’ and ‘breakthrough artist’ – what big plans for 2014?
I want to record more songs. I’d love to disperse the touring with a little bit more creative time. You must dedicate enough time to the creative process to end up with good work at the end of it.