Nick Sherman Shows What He’s Made Of
From his early days Nick Sherman has taken his stories and the ones from those close to him, and crafted great music from them. With Made Of, Sherman has found himself in the music again, and crafted a rich record built from the bones of a supportive studio session. We caught up with Sherman ahead of his November 8, 2019 set at Queen St. Fare, to talk about supporting communities, being sensitive in the studio and why his record nearly didn't happen.
OTTAWALIFE: How did Matt Wiewel and Jonathan Danyliw get involved to produce your new album Made Of, and what did they bring to the process?
Nick Sherman: It all came together out of pre-existing relationships really. I wasn't too sure how I was going to make my next record. My manager was instrumental in pushing me forward to record and find who worked well with me. People that would take care through the process and be on the same page, that was the forefront of finding people. Matt and Jon have been good friends over the years, we've supported each other's bands. So it was good to have a great place to work in Sudbury, and it came together so naturally. Earlier this year I was in a bad headspace where I considered not playing music anymore, and I didn't want to put energy into it. I was pushed to go in for a week with Jon and Matt, and so I just went in with nothing to lose. Those two stepped into the producer roles and the record just came together. They were able to guide it all through and let Steph set in on the drums with as little stress as possible.
And how do you feel about playing music now?
Nick Sherman: When you play music for a long time, you get a lot of highs and lows. You come up to albums sometimes like a mountain and think "Am I really going to do all this again?" Once we started recording the album and hearing the mixes, I was excited again and I felt refreshed. This was the first time I'd had that much control. I heard things as I'd really envisioned them, and they were my songs. It all came through in the record which was really refreshing for me. You really have to be conscious of people in this spaces because we're all so vulnerable, so anything can go wrong. It's really refreshed my outlook on playing music. I didn't not want to play music at all, but I didn't quite have the energy to tackle a whole album. You have to find the energy to support yourself and the people around you. I want to write more songs, more album and share more stories, especially if I have a spot doing that. I feel renewed now!
I was also interested to hear how Steph Duchesne and Geoff McCausland got to play on the record with you?
Nick Sherman: Everyone on the record was in a project before it. Those two were in Murder Murder, a great bluegrass project with great storytelling. It just came together, since I already knew those players and that they were amazing people. So it was really a matter of who was free. We just happened to know Geoff was available, and so we were hoping he was on the same page with the record. They were all able to be intuitive with the project and lock into the ideas. I'm sometimes unable to share my ideas fully, so it was nice finding people who could figure that out.
Especially with the strings on this record, how have you found trying to adapt it for a live space on tour?
Nick Sherman: It's definitely a challenge I've faced as a solo performer for many years, trying to get more instruments on stage. In this case it wasn't difficult, and it doesn't feel like we're missing anything. As much as we want to represent everything from the record. Luckily we didn't get in a full orchestra though. Thanks to the musicianship of the band I'm touring with, we were able to keep the feel of the record through the hooks and melodies that make it what it is. We capture the spirit of the songs. That can be hard when you go extra in the studio, but sometimes you just have to leave that in the record. We can get Geoff for a show or two but we often have those parts taken care of on tour.
What led you rerecord your track "Winterdark" for this album and what did you want to say through it about Indigenous relocation?
Nick Sherman: It really came down to the story of that song and why it exists. I recorded that song for my first album in 2012, and at the time it had this fresh emotional weight to it. When I wrote that song I was working for a media company in Northwestern Ontario. We got a story about a young Indigenous man who had gone missing. Everyone was in a panic trying to find him, his family flew in to help and there were months of the family mobilizing the community. We watched people lose hope and not find him. And eventually they found his body the next spring, but to this day it's an unsolved mystery. It's kept happening since then, whether they go missing or are found dead. These kids are expected to manage themselves in a new city at 14 without a support system in a new school. It's obviously very dangerous for the system to allow it to happen. I brought the song back because it's so many years later and we're still talking about it.
I understand you also tour Indigenous schools to help kids learn about music and expression, can you tell us how that started?
Nick Sherman: It's not something I ever planned on doing, getting on stage was pretty difficult itself when I was younger. I never saw myself going to a school to teach young people to share and emote. I give them ways to express themselves and get their trauma outside of them, which I never saw myself doing. I've had the fortunate experience of touring with good friends like Leonard Sumner and Ryan McMahon, they were doing a lot of tours in schools. I got a chance to join them for some of the schools and share those experiences. That was my first experience doing that and it took me some time to process what it meant. I saw there was a need for that, especially where I'm based out in Thunder Bay. I reached out to the communities and asked if I could work with their students. From there I just started figuring out ways to get into small communities through events and such. Any way I could connect to fix this gap in small communities where kids aren't being given the tools and warnings to survive in a city alone.