Joana Serrat’s third album, ‘Cross The Verge’, does just that. Not only exploring new musical territories, its recording saw the singer-songwriter travel from her home in Vic, near Barcelona, to Montreal, Canada so she could work with producer Howard Bilerman on a collection of deeply personal songs.
She tells us about those songs, others she wishes she’d written, Garbage, Neil Young, and “foggy pop”.
What was the first album you bought?
I think the first album I bought (or I asked my dad to buy it for me) was Garbage’s debut album. I remember watching the ‘I’m Only Happy When It Rains’ music video and thought: “This is awesome.” It’s been ages since I’ve listened to it.
What was the first song you wrote?
I remember going to my grandma’s several times a week after school. She and my aunt still had my grandpa’s piano. It was completely out of tune but I loved to play around with it. I’d never had a piano lesson but I ended up writing a song. I think I was 6 or so. After that, when I was 11 I started studying classical music and taking piano lessons and kept writing songs. I was influenced by Béla Bartók.
What one song do you wish you’d written?
There are lots of songs that I would love to have written, but I would say Neil Young ‘Heart of Gold’. It has everything a song must have: great sound, great lyrics, and great vibe. It’s a timeless song that everybody can feel attached to. It’s one of the biggest songs of all times.
In the past you’ve mentioned Neil Young is your biggest musical influence. What have you learned from his music?
I don’t know what I have exactly learned from Neil’s music. I only know that his records make me feel at home. I knew it from the very first time I heard his music. I was a child and his songs were like an ancestral call to me.
How do you think living in Vic has affected your songwriting, if at all?
Not sure at all if it has affected my sound, but I feel it has affected my lyrics. Robert W. Service or Henry David Thoreau, for example, were influenced by the landscapes and nature when writing, so am I when I sometimes use landscapes as a metaphor for my feelings.
Your Facebook page lists the genre of your music as “foggy folk”. What’s that?
Well, it’s a little joke. Everyone needs to tag every kind of music and my manager invented this. Why? Because in Vic, where I live, the fog is present much of the day for much of the year and also because I really like the reverb in my songs, which creates the feeling of fog.
What one song you’ve written best conveys what you’re about?
That’s a difficult question to answer… I think the whole of the new album, ‘Cross The Verge’, shows me well.
Its title, ‘Cross The Verge’, suggests you’ve gone into new territory. So, to you, how is the album different to its predecessors?
I have always had this little obsession with thematic albums and I think I got quite into it this time. I feel it’s more complete and compact than the others. I guess there’s this eclectic side in my songwriting that made the two others approach more pop and, as the result, having different genres in one record. I also feel more proud of the lyrics.
Was this change a conscious change or did you just find that the songs you were writing were different to the ones before?
The songs directed me to the sound. I didn’t have any intention of making a particular record with a specific sound. As I was writing the songs, I realised that I was approaching a new sound. I don’t consider myself an overblown rose at all. That’s what I said to Howard: “I know I am not making anything new, don’t get me wrong, I have no intention to do so, but I need to follow what’s in my head, and this is a new sound for me.”
Do you ever feel you express too much of yourself in a song?
I don’t think of people’s opinion about my songs when I write, I just think about the song itself and if I am happy with the lyrics. I don’t know if it’s bad or good to express too much of yourself in a song but I don’t think it’s relevant. In my opinion a song has to move you, in a way or another (emotionally or intellectually). In the end, whether what you’re describing is real or not doesn’t matter at all. The song is all that needs to be real.
Are you already working on songs for album number four? Any idea yet where that will take you?
Yes, I just started to work on new songs. I still don’t know where this is gonna take me, but I have an idea who I’d like to work with.