Stars Shine Through the Darkness
Story by Justin Allec, Photos by Chad Kirvan
During an interview with Nick Sherman about his third album, Made Of, I ask the young singer-songwriter what he thinks makes a good song. He laughs a bit, then provides a response that shows of course he’s thought about this question—good songs are all that he wants to write. “A good story is important. It’s hard to write a song around a story that isn’t literal… that allows the listener to have their own interpretation. Other days, I just really want to hear some kick-ass drums. So I guess if a song has both….” So much of Sherman can be explained just by that duality.
There are many great songs on Made Of where Sherman masterfully combines the intimacy of a lonely acoustic guitar with the force of a rock band. A devastating moment occurs in the song “Winterdark,” when Sherman’s voice cries out, “Find me a place to live/find me with ghosts breathing down my neck,” and the pedal steel guitar whine shivers like it’s been cleft with a cold knife as the drums suddenly punch in alongside a raging guitar riff. It’s abrupt and effective, an old trick that must be executed with skill: it’s the perfect moment to push the song towards maximum emotional damage. I know you’ve got hope, he seems to say, but then you also have to know about hopelessness.
Like many musicians, Sherman first picked up the guitar because people in his family played. Between growing up in Sioux Lookout and spending weeks in the far north helping with the family trap line, the instrument soon had a hold on him. “At first, I wanted to learn other people’s songs, but then I realized that I could come up with my own melodies… and just learn that quicker,” he says. In Sioux Lookout, Sherman and his friends became part of the small punk scene. Even then, though, Sherman knew that if he wanted people to listen to him it was important to sound good on the songs he was burning onto CD-Rs for friends. Punk gave Sherman a subculture dedicated to music, but also an approach to having music in your life. “Punk had something to say that was based in togetherness. You’re given a foundation of being aware and importance of making yourself heard and making connections,” Sherman says, and he’s aged comfortably with that outlook.
Post-graduation had Sherman moving to Winnipeg for business college, but it was a chance to tag along with a friend’s band doing sound and opening shows that really pointed towards his future career. He thrashed around for a few more years, doing labouring jobs and trying to get closer to a career in music. Eventually he finished studying broadcasting in Toronto and found himself working for CBC in Thunder Bay while preparing to release his first album, Drag Your Words Through in 2012. “It was an exercise in uncertainty, but I knew I just needed to go for it,” Sherman says. His second album, 2015’s Knives and Wildrice, proved to be an even bigger challenge because his increasing popularity as an artist had to be balanced with new fatherly responsibilities.
At 32, happily married and with two kids, Sherman is looking ahead at a busy year with confidence. Made Of was released at the end of October, and he’s got a small tour arranged before doing a much longer stretch on the road over next summer. Carver, the local rock band he fronts, has plans to record an EP this winter as well. Additionally, Sherman also regularly travels to remote communities as a sort of musical ambassador. “I try and bring music to communities in the best way for the students to learn. For example, if they want to learn guitar, I bring guitars… I want to help maintain a musical movement from the North, to keep the passion going.” It’s what’s fueled Sherman throughout, whether he’s playing clubs in Toronto or sharing his skills on a remote reserve. It’s Sherman’s past informing his future, and Made Of is helping him lead the way.
Made Of streams on all digital platforms; downloads are available through iTunes and CDs will be available at shows and select local retailers. Visit nicksherman.ca for details.