Walking A Fine Line
Posted on April 6, 2016 by Corey LeBlanc firstname.lastname@example.org
You would think it was a case of – been there done that – when Heather Rankin held a copy of her recently released CD for the first time.
After all, she has been part of several albums over the years, including as a member of The Rankin Family, the globally-renowned Celtic group made up of her and her siblings; or as a trio with her sisters – Raylene and Cookie.
But, this was different; A Fine Line, which made its debut April 1, is the first solo effort for the Mabou native.
“It is kind of like that experience when they first take the training wheels off of your bicycle, where you are absolutely terrified, and you just kind of blindly go for it, but it is exhilarating at the same time; that’s probably the best way to describe it,” Rankin told the Casket of that moment.
“You know, it is really my jumping-off point for – I have never done anything this (pauses) separate from my family, so it is exciting, it is very exciting.”
In recent years, Rankin has remained on stage, but as a cast member with a variety of theatre productions.
“It just felt like the right time for me to maybe venture out and try a solo record.” she said.
Rankin added she “didn’t want to completely abandon the music world.”
“Opportunities with my family were my outlet for so long, and when that became less and less frequent, it just seemed like the obvious direction to maybe venture out and record a solo record,” she noted.
Rankin said she “never really saw herself as a solo artist.”
“I guess, maybe, because I never needed to; I was always quite content to be one of the gang,” she added.
Taking ‘an adventure’
Nevertheless, Rankin had been penning some songs and “didn’t have an outlet to share them.”
“So, I decided that I would maybe make this record. I just went exploring and I worked with a variety of people,” she said.
One of those was California-based songwriter and producer David Tyson, who has worked with other Canadian solo artists, such as Alannah Myles and Amanda Marshall.
“He is a master of the craft of song-writing, and also an amazing producer, and I am a fan of his work,” Rankin said of Tyson.
She added she never envisioned co-writing seven of the album’s 11 tracks with him.
When they met, Rankin said Tyson encouraged her to move from her original plan to record a group of cover songs.
“He encouraged me to just take my time and finish – write more – and write with him, and do more of my own music, which – in a way – is a very smart thing to do,” she added, her voice rising.
“You are really speaking to the heart of where you are coming from.”
She described the process as “an adventure.”
“When I think about it, I have never – my entire life I have been flanked by family; I have always had that support system of family, in whatever I have done in business – whether it was making records and touring with The Rankin Family, or making records and touring with my sisters, or buying the pub [The Red Shoe Pub in Mabou],” Rankin said.
“Even when I went to university I had two sisters going to the same university and one of them was in the same program. So, really, relatively late in life, I am setting out on my own, for the first time. While that is liberating in its own way, it is also very terrifying.”
She described meeting and working with Tyson as “a real jumping-off point for me.”
“I feel like I have grown a lot as an individual. I guess I am kind of a later bloomer (laughing); relatively late in life making my debut solo record,” Rankin noted.
‘The human condition’
As for the song-writing process, she said, when she is writing on her own, “I am usually noodling around on the piano, and it is just repetitive, until you find something.”
“Sometimes, it is mumbo-jumbo, and you get a line out of it, and it grows from that one kernel of an idea,” Rankin added.
And, other times, “it is just a lyric that comes to you,” as was the case with Sitting in a Café, one of the cuts from A Fine Line.
“Walking around by myself in downtown L.A. and I went for some breakfast and saw a couple guys walk in and order breakfast,” she recalled.
Just from that experience, Rankin said a song came to her, while part of a lyric for another one came while she was sleeping.
“So, a variety of ways, I think, for me when I write,” Rankin said, with a laugh.
As for what listeners can expect from the tunes, she said “you could categorize it as adult contemporary music.”
“Some of the songs lean more in the pop direction, while some of them are a bit more theatrical, and then there are some that are more in the direction of what you might have expected me to have done with The Rankin Family,” she said.
“But, although they vary musically, thematically, there is a thread that runs through all of them, and that includes the one cover song that we do on the record – Everybody Wants to Rule the World.
“I am singing largely about the human condition and that quest that we are on each day to find balance, whether it is in our work, or our relationships, or ourselves,” Rankin added.
As for her favourite tunes, Rankin started with We Walk as One, which also features vocals from her brother, Jimmy.
“It really speaks to my experience coming for rural Cape Breton, growing up in a large family with very little, and rising out of the adversity that comes with all of those things,” she said.
Rankin added she is “quite fond” of Titaniclly, which she and Tyson penned about the violin recovered after the Titanic sank.
“We personified the violin and gave it its own personal story and it kind of goes in the direction of musical theatre, which I really love,” she said.
Noting it “changes every day,” when it comes to her favourite songs, Rankin then talked about the aforementioned Sitting in a Café.
“It is a very – almost cabaret-like singer-songwriter; very simple, accessible lyric, with a kind of an interesting melody,” she said.
On the road
The official release of A Fine Line took place April 1, which included an appearance on CTV Morning Live.
“We are going to officially release the video for Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” Rankin said, in the March 22 phone interview.
From there, she said she was scheduled to fulfill her commitments as co-host and gala performer for the 2016 East Coast Music Awards in Sydney.
“I have got a number of other commitments during the week for private events and a songwriters’ circle,” Rankin noted.
In May, she will team up with North Sydney native Kim Dunn, another a singer-songwriter, for “a string of dates in Nova Scotia,” including Sydney, New Glasgow, Truro and Mabou, along with a pair of performances in Halifax.
Ruling the world
As for the listener response to the CD’s first release, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, the re-make of the 1980s Tears for Fears hit, Rankin said it has been “pretty positive.”
“That’s very encouraging, and I am so grateful that people are responding, because it is a bit of a departure for me, and I know a lot of people would have expected me to come out and do traditional music, which I can always do – I can always go back to that,” she said of the compilation.
“But, that’s what I have always done and it just didn’t seem – at this point in time – the right fit for me to try and re-produce what I had always done with my family.
“I thought – why not just go and do something completely different and surprise people; and stretch, it required me to stretch a little and be open-minded and open to different things, different ideas,” Rankin added.
She noted “it was liberating in that sense.”
“I am excited. I am terrified, but I am excited,” Rankin said.
For more information about Rankin, including tour dates, visit www.heatherrankin.ca. She also has Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts.