Scottish singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni makes a comeback this month with a short tour and her gorgeous new album Dreamer Awake, only to go away again – for a time, at least.
While the album was written from the perspective of being a new mother to her first child, she’s now pregnant again, and due very soon.
“When you see me at these dates, I’ll be four weeks, give or take, to giving birth again,” says Sermanni, who grew up in Carrbridge in the Highlands, but now lives near Edinburgh. “I’m getting large. It’s quite fun doing these gigs, trying to navigate my energy and a big bump.”
‘The world shifted’
It’s easy to forget Sermanni is still only 31. As well as being (almost) a mother twice, she’s also brought into the world four original albums to date, which demonstrate a rich, mature and always-evolving ability to relate her own emotional experience.
Dreamer Awake is her best yet, the follow-up to 2019’s So It Turns, which was written before the birth of her daughter Rosa in 2018. “I’m always about two years behind with my writing and its release,” she says. “It works, because you need that retrospective sometimes.”
The period after the writing of So It Turns was filled with “becoming a mother and the big shift of identity, or lack of identity, that came with that.” Then Covid arrived.
“The world shifted,” she says. “It’s still finding its return in many ways, and Dreamer Awake definitely spawned from that time. I was navigating motherhood and all that entails, and the turbulence of a relationship that… I was with my daughter’s father for just two or three months. There was a lot to contend with.”
It was her drummer who pointed out this is at least in part a breakup album. “I guess the breakup was a trigger for self-discovery, which was really necessary,” says Sermanni. “I think it had been years in the making, it wasn’t focused on one particular relationship or human, just the self-exploration.
“As soon as I became a mother there was also this intrigue into my anatomy and the female body. My previous life before my daughter was very free-spirited, touring all the time, I didn’t live in a house, didn’t pay rent, just lived out of a van. I had no real commitment, other than to myself and to music and playing gigs.”
The experience of motherhood
Motherhood upended all of this. Sermanni describes herself as hungry for spiritual things (“I wouldn’t regard it as religious, but I need things to speak to me in a way that has to do with what one cannot see and is more to do with what can you can feel”), but it stopped her being able to do yoga or meditation, and made her a “useless, grumpy human.”
She connected with women who knew a lot about the experience of motherhood, which also brought about a sense of reflection on her own body and her past experiences; the writings of Nan Shepherd and the author Sharon Blackie also inspired her. “One of the songs on the album is about a memory of my first day at a new school, then leading into growing up as a teen and certain thresholds of womanhood that aren’t given any notice, let alone celebration. A few songs act like a reclamation.”
The song Dreamer Awake, she says, is a statement of intent. “It’s a bit of a call to arms. There’s been a recognition that things in our society could be done better or improved, or are currently imbalanced. That song speaks about how for a long time I’ve been a passive part of that, so it’s a wakeup call.”
‘The last push with intent’
“I’m one of the lucky few people who is valued in some ways for having an imagination and creating things, but not everybody has that access. People use the phrase ‘it’s just your imagination’, which I don’t think is how we should be treating our imagination. So much of our experience is our imagination, whether we know it or not, and we need to enter a little bit more into trusting those senses.
“The opening track says I’m up for this dreaming, then at the other end, the final song says it’s really hard to look inwards – but it’s much easier to spend your time looking externally and pointing fingers, so it’s a good thing I’m spending time here, even though it feels uncomfortable.”
The two-year window between writing and release has moved on again, and now Sermanni is in a new relationship and a new home, with a new baby on the way.
“This is the last push with intent,” she says of the tour, for the moment. “It’s a seed planting and then I’ll cocoon, to reflect the learnings in the album. I’m going to let myself descend into motherhood without the pressure of feeling I should also be playing lots of gigs.”
Rachel Sermanni plays the Lemon Tree, Aberdeen on Thursday, September 25. Her new album Dreamer Awake is out now on Navigator Records rachelsermani.com