From session drummer to solo supernova: meet the R&B raver breathing life back into London’s music scene
Taken from the summer 2015 issue of Dazed:
Since getting blunted in last year’s VHS-style video for single “Hard Lie This”, R&B raver Georgia has spruced up her “tumbling to your arse shit” into a fiercely focused debut album. With a magpie style inspired by Missy Elliott, M.I.A. and the myriad sounds on her own doorstep, the west London singer and percussionist is bringing her DIY approach to an ongoing collaboration with Björk’s right-hand design duo, M/M Paris, on her artwork. Though she first got her break as a session drummer for leftfield Londoners like Micachu and JUCE, she’s even stronger marching to her own beat.
How much has growing up in west London informed your music?
Georgia: West London is incredible because you have a really big West Indian, Arab and Indian community there. You can hear sounds of the diaspora in what I make. Recently I was in a cab and we were driving down Harrow Road. The driver was like, ‘Check out my friend’s mixtape’, and I swear to God, it was the most incredible sound I’d ever heard. It was qawwali (a type of Sufi devotional music popular in South Asia), full of Timbaland-esque drums with this beautiful vocal. He ended up giving me the mixtape, and it influenced me to do this song called ‘Kombine’ on the album.
In your video for ‘Move Systems’, you play drums as well as sing. Who are your drumming inspirations?
Georgia: (Prince collaborator) Sheila E is one of my favourite drummers of all time. Watching her drum and sing was one of the most inspirational things I’ve seen. She plays in massive heels, kicking the shit out of the drums. Cora Coleman-Dunham plays for Beyoncé and is another one of my favourites – I still think one of these days I’m gonna meet her. I got so close at Lovebox (festival) two years ago, but apparently she had just got a cab back to the hotel.
Is it Cora over Beyoncé for you?
Georgia: I’m a massive fan of Beyoncé, but Cora tops it. These girls are at the top of their game. Tell you what, if you think being a female producer is hard, being a female drummer in America is even harder. They are inspirational because they don’t let anything stop them.
When you were session drumming, were you a frustrated artist?
Georgia: I think unconsciously I was a frustrated artist masquerading as a drummer, but they’re actually integral parts of each other. I was exposed to so many great musicians and sounds, so the four years I spent after uni as a session drummer were crucial. I don’t think I would’ve released good music without them. I was watching Kate Tempest, who I played with, thinking, ‘I can do that!’ If you’re a drummer, you’ll know about that thought process. We’re sitting back listening, taking everything in.
Which female artists inspired you growing up?
Georgia: Missy Elliott and Aaliyah were the biggest inspirations. And thanks to my dad’s record collection, I’d be with my friends when I was 14 like, ‘Have you heard Joy Division?’ I was listening to weird folk music and Gil Scott-Heron as well as Britney Spears.
What were your early clubbing experiences like?
Georgia: I was a real techno fan. The racing, repetitive nature of the music was something I was always very influenced by. But I’m talking about Detroit and Chicago when I say techno. When I hit 18, I went to (London nightclub) Fabric. I remember wearing my Converse and a baby-blue Evisu jacket. My friends were interested in exploring the grimy and gritty edge of London. And that’s just what we did.
“Men are known to be the boisterous ones and when girls do the same it’s seen as totally outrageous. But we like to go nuts and go on benders and break the rules” – Georgia
How do your experiences of going out and being reckless feed into your work?
Georgia: Spending all your time in the studio can be really intense, so I need to go out with my mates and get a little fucked up. Those wild nights lead me to all kinds of places all over London, taking booze on the tube. I know you’re not supposed to do that. Men are known to be the boisterous ones and when girls do the same it’s seen as totally outrageous. But we like to go nuts and go on benders and break the rules. I do get fucked up quite a bit – I’m no snob when it comes to booze. If there’s a watermelon Bacardi Breezer around, I’ll probably drink it.
How did the collaboration with design agency M/M Paris come about?
Georgia: I got a DM from them on Twitter saying they liked my stuff, and asking to chat. Obviously they had worked with people like Björk and Kanye, so I was pretty much just in a state of shock. I think they wanted to work with me because I was young and in the early stages of my career. There’s a lot of multi-layering in their work and in my music, so I guess it made sense to work together. I kinda felt like I had to up my game to meet them, though. I went straight to Comme des Garçons after I got that call.
What is your general style like day-to-day?
Georgia: I don’t spend loads of money on clothes, but I do try and have a few staple bits. I currently have an all-camouflage stage outfit from Maharishi, and I reach for bucket hats when I haven’t washed my hair for a few days.
How important is breaking the rules to you as an artist?
Georgia: It’s important, because women can be whatever they want. Those ‘I-don’t-give-a-fuck’ artists like Björk, M.I.A. and Azealia Banks have a strong attitude that is very, ‘This is me and this is what I do and fuck you if you don’t get it.’ I’m inspired by that.
Your dad, Neil Barnes, is in the British electronic outfit Leftfield. What did he think about your more out-there tracks like ‘Hard Lie This’?
Georgia: He was encouraging but I don’t know if he got it, and I didn’t really care. I’m lucky that I’ve been supported to just go for it. Though on one track I’m swearing quite a lot and my mum was like, ‘Bloody hell Georgia, what’s that?’ She’s always thought it was a bit odd.
Stepping out with a debut album is a defining moment. How does it make you feel?
Georgia: Absolutely terrified. It’s your first thing and there is so much emotion around it – you don’t know how people are going to take it. I guess I’d describe it as futuristic pop… without wanting to sound like a wanker.
Do you feel a greater sense of ownership of your work because you play so many instruments on the record?
Georgia: Well, yes. I play drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, piano, kora – and I sing. I’m a big lover of instruments, so I never hold back. It does give you a sense of ownership, especially if you’re a girl. I guess it means you’re taking the power back. Being a producer, writer and singer is important, because it’s saying something: ‘I can do all these things on my own… What else could I do?’
Georgia is out on August 7. You can stream the album exclusively here
Cover image: Georgia wears chambray shirt by Maharishi; knitted sheer top by McQ; jeans by Guess; trainers by adidas; bronze ring by Joy BC; socks by Falke
Hair Kim Rance using Moroccan oil; make-up Theresa Davies using M.A.C
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