THE last few years have been a period of real change for Rachel Jack – from those first nerve-wracking performances to the release of her debut EP.

Her journey has been filled with pitfalls and lessons, but the Grampian native is well-versed in hurdling whatever obstacles are thrown her way.

She left behind a comfortable life in pursuit of her passion and soon went back to school. As the first recipient of the Paolo Nutini songwriting scholarship, I completed an MA in August 2019.

During her studies, the songwriter honed her craft and soon had a handful of tracks she had created from the ground up. While they were submitted as part of course then, they have now been come known, collectively, as The Calgary Tapes.

She tells The Weekender: “The songs are a narrative of the last few years and are sequential in my journey of learning to let go of the things that no longer serve me, facing my fears, and learning to trust my intuition.”

Jack took to the far reaches of the country to record the album, opting to work with Gordon Maclean at An Tobar in Calgary, on the Isle of Mull

The recordings are simple and raw – featuring only the elements which Jack can replicate on her on during live shows.

The singer adds: “It was important to me that I didn't try to market myself as better than what I was. And to record something I could recreate live, with the ability to chuck a guitar in the boot and drive anywhere.

“I wanted to keep it raw and real and to have a benchmark for myself that I'll continually aim to improve on. So, all of the songs were written within the limitations of what I could do just myself with a voice and guitar. I layered my harmonies to make it sound a little more interesting, and Sam Hird sang backing vocals on tracks Bring Me Down and Guided. “

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser: Picture by AG WyliePicture by AG Wylie

Though she has unveiled four of the five tracks as singles, The Calgary Tapes EP will be officially released on Monday, July 20. It will be a landmark day for the Aberdeen-based artist as it marks the end of the first part of her journey and heralds a new era for the songwriter.

She says: “When I joined the course, I could have counted with my hands how often I'd performed in public, I'd also never shared any of my songs. So, to now be self-releasing an EP that I wrote - it's a massive milestone for me, and I'm really excited about it - finally having something out in the world.” 

With just a few days until its release, Jack gives The Weekender some insight into the story of each song on The Calgary Tapes EP.

Alloa and Hillfoots Advertiser: The Calgary Tapes will be released on Monday, Jul 20The Calgary Tapes will be released on Monday, Jul 20

Nowhere – By the time I turned 29, I'd spent 11 years climbing the corporate ladder; I achieved a first-class honours degree; and was studying a masters in supply chain and procurement. My career took over my life and every day felt the same. I got used to the cleaner shouting at me, telling me to leave the office after 10pm. I was addicted to work, and when I'd come close to burning out, I'd book a holiday. There I'd often meet creatives whom I'd jam with, and I'd usually write in my journal which is where I got lots of ideas for songs. The line “this is not what I spent my childhood dreaming about” is in relation to my childhood dreams of singing. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a singer, but I never had the confidence to do it.  

The Hardest Part – There was a time when I was really angry with someone who hurt me. I got so tired of carrying the weight of it, and so I had to learn what it means to forgive and let go. That song is written like a letter to the person who hurt me, and it transformed my anger into empathy. It starts with me being angry, then when I put myself in their shoes, I begin to understand some of the reasons behind their actions. 

Bring Me Down – This was written at university as part of a songwriting workshop. We were asked to speed write to five words, I can't remember what they are now, but references to them are throughout the song. We speed wrote for one minute on each word and then tried to understand the underlying stream of consciousness. I had just won the scholarship the week before, and although it was one of the best moments of my life, I felt like I had no one to celebrate with. I felt as though I was in this place of not being in with a music crowd, but having separated myself from the crowd, I had been in for the past decade. I was also finding that the music industry was very different from the one I had romanticised about. 

Equalised – Is about facing and unravelling my fears. There's that saying that “the key to moving forward is buried in your past” and I felt as though I had a lot to unpack before I could move forward. I knew that I was giving up a lot, I knew I had a lot of work to do, and I didn't have any mentors or anything at that point, so I also knew it was going to be a pretty lonely couple of years. I had to do a lot of inner work before I was ready to finally take the leap. 

Guided – Guided is the fifth and final track and the only previously unheard song on the EP. I had intended for the fifth song to be another tune, but when we went to record it, it didn't feel like it fit with the others. I sang this one to Gordon Mclean (the recording engineer), and he really liked it, so we recorded it instead. It's a song about surrendering to the ebb and flows of life, it's the most chilled song on the EP and felt like a nice way to end it. 

LISTEN: Rachel Jack - The Calgary Tapes (Spotify link)