Georgia English (from the album Pain and Power available on Me and the Machine Records)
It warms my heart when I witness The Arts being integrated and utilized as a teaching tool for our youth, and for future generations to come. Georgia English, Nashville’s rising star, has created something highly unique that she can consider all of her own, where music meets illustration ever so elegantly. Her latest endeavor, Pain and Power, takes us on a journey through the mind of a deep thinker who spent most of 2020 reflecting, learning, and trying to heal from internal wounds challenging her musical journey toward enlightenment. I
was able to get a first-hand look into Georgia’s creative process, and how adversity pushed her into finishing a body of work that symbolizes resilience, empowerment, and emancipation. I truly appreciated our conversation, and admire how open and honest she was about her mental state of being under duress during a pandemic. Georgia English had no qualms allowing herself to be completely vulnerable to a stranger such as myself, and that says a lot to who she is as a human being putting the pieces together to this so-called thing called life, one day at a time….
JOE: I know you're on the brink of promoting your Pain and Power project and I have to say, I am very impressed. I really like the idea of combining illustrations with music and have never heard of anybody doing this type of collaboration. Let's just dive right in, what was the impetus getting you motivated to combine art with music?
GEORGIA: It was really organic, and it wasn’t intentionnel. Last fall I was having a lot of struggles with my mental health and took a leave of absence from work. In that time, I rekindled my love of drawing. I didn’t draw very much in adulthood, but it was something I really liked to do as a kid. I definitely have a style but I wouldn't say I'm skilled at this, you know? Just in terms of technique I couldn't shade an apple correctly or anything as opposed to music where I have had a lot more training. I went to college for music and support myself with my music, so there was just a lot less ego involved in drawing with music and because of that it was a lot more fun to do.
JOE: I am saying this with the utmost respect, there is a kind of childlike quality to the drawings that bring me back to ‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which is quite extraordinary. When I was looking at them it reminded me of being a kid reading that book and enjoying the illustrations, I appreciate the innocence. A lot can be said in a picture, especially when you combine it with lyrics.
GEORGIA: Yes, I wanted to bring that up, absolutely. I'm probably projecting
here but I think anyone who finds themselves in a situation where you really do have to prioritize your mental health usually end up reconnecting with your inner child. So, I think a very playful part of myself came out and through that process it linked itself. I think with my musical process, at the end of the day it's all the same thing coming out a different lane. A human desperation for connection started coming out through the music, I'm really writing with a lot of imagery representative to a lot of the things I'm drawing. I think the first song I did
was called “Messed Up”. I drew that picture after having had a really important conversation with my friend Paul, I drew that picture and then wrote the song. I was like ‘wow this is really encompassing all parts of myself and I'm really inhabiting myself when I draw it and write it and sing it, as though everything is awake here’.
JOE: Have you found through adversity you're more inclined to be creative? You were talking about how there were some mental health issues occurring during the pandemic and had to take a leave of absence from work. Do you think that experience was pushing you creatively to produce more output?
GEORGIA: You know, it's interesting because I wouldn't say it’s necessarily a pattern. Usually when I'm depressed, I'm pretty useless as most of us are. Yeah, so this was kind of different, I think in this case it was like, ‘okay, Georgia your full- time job right now is to get stronger’. I think because I've kind of made that space for myself rather than going through the motions of going to work, coming home, getting stoned, watching TV, eating snacks, zombie life you know? This time was different.
JOE: Regarding material, was it a clean slate starting from the ground up with illustrations and then the words, and then the music?
GEORGIA: I had one song written by the time I started the project. Actually, that's not true, I had two songs written. I had “Springtime in The Suburbs”. I wrote that on Easter two years ago. Then I have “One of the People”, that one kind of felt like a psychic song predicting what the next chapter of my writing would be about. I came in with those two, and then the rest were a complete clean slate. I think I pretty much wrote and drew everything between September and
November of 2020.
JOE: That was a pretty bleak time, there was an uptick of people getting sick from COVID and more cases on the rise. I can see where that would make somebody get depressed and kind of reflect inwards. Did you find that you needed to retreat into nature in order to get inspiration?
GEORGIA: Yeah, I definitely did start taking daily walks.
JOE: Talk about the writing process for us. How does it work? Do you need to be surrounded by the elements outside, or do you need to sit in a room with peace and quiet? What is your method to the madness?
GEORGIA: This is funny too because professionally I'm a music teacher. I mostly work with teenagers and middle schoolers helping them express themselves through songwriting. It's funny to be asked this question. Let’s see, what is my process? I think it has to become my lifestyle to be in the writing season. It's less ‘one-offs’ and more of creating new habits like getting up at 7AM in the morning to meditate, taking one hit of pot, and drinking a cup of coffee etc. I am self-employed, at the time I was working at a company I had co-founded, but I've since left and now have the ability to build my day around my process.
JOE: It's nice to have flexibility in your schedule.
GEORGIA Yes, it's huge!
JOE: Do you find that you need to have conversations with other people to be inspired or can you go through the entire day not being around anybody and still feel that you can get a lot done as far as your music and your lyrics are concerned? Speaking for myself, I like to have a conversation with somebody and kind of have that steer me into a certain direction. As far as lyrical content, some people enjoy stream of consciousness where they just want to sit by themselves and let their brainwaves take over. Do you find that human conversations fall into the songwriting as well?
GEORGIA: That's a really good question. I think the answer is yes but not so much like person to person. The two things for me to be healthy in my writing is journaling every day and reading. So, in some ways I guess the reading is like listening, and the journaling is the talking. People's energy can be so much sometimes that I can self-abandon in those moments and lose presence, I feel like I really do require that kind of solitude. Yeah, I hear you, the reading and writing is a similar thing.
JOE: Whether the information is coming from television or from your mobile device, our current political climate these past few years has been really heavy, and the rhetoric can bring you down making you feel defeated. I wanted to thank you for sharing with us your personal struggles with mental health, it takes a very strong individual to be open and transparent because not a lot of people want to talk about this topic. I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed. Moving along, you had a collaborator named Josh Preston who played all of the instruments. How did he become part of this project, and how exactly did you work together under the pandemic, was it in person or virtual?
GEORGIA: Yes, Josh has been a really good friend of mine for a long time, and I've actually wanted to work with him for a long time as well. He's a very colorful songwriter and producer who is bold and has goofy concepts. He does goofy very well but it's not goofy at the expense of human connection, the way he approaches music is very observational. So, I knew that about him as a writer, and then he's also a fantastic guitar player. I also knew that over the last few years he had started getting into more of the production side of things. On my past records I've always worked with folks who are primarily producers first. I thought for this one, especially with the space I was in, and the fact that we're under a pandemicneeds to be as much fun as possible. I really trust Josh, he helped do this with so much care so I connected with him because of his enthusiasm. I thought this is already a weird concept album and the reality of our current situation linked to it. I sent him demos to all of the songs of me singing and playing different parts that I could hear specific instruments doing over it. Then I sent him the drawings and said, “take the colors in the drawings, take my musical ideas, and take everything I give you and just go crazy”.
JOE: You gave him the freedom to run with it? Did you have any chord charts or did you just send himdemos and had him rearrange things as he heard them?
GEORGIA: I sent him chords and charts, but I didn't write out the horns or string parts.
JOE: Okay, you gave him rough sketches with ideas as a template to work from. How long would you say it took for him to flesh out the parts and get them back to you? Was it a long process?
GEORGIA: He was super quick and spent maybe a week or so on a song. Then I would take the file and sing something else on top of them. It was awesome, I think he thrived from having the freedom.
JOE: Were you recording everything in the box? The end result sounds crisp, how was everything recorded?
GEORGIA: Yes, he did all that in his home studio using Logic. Once we were vaccinated, I came over and did all of the background and lead vocals.
JOE: Tell me this, was there a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? There is often that moment where you hear a chord change that goes from the verse into the chorus and you're thinking, ‘Oh my goodness that is brilliant’. For instance, Seal’s song “Kiss from a Rose” is one of those instances where I wish I wrote it. There is a certain hook you just cannot stop humming in your head. Was there something in your music that Josh produced where you felt that way thinking, ‘wow this is the money shot, this is it?’.
GEORGIA: Yeah, man there was so much, I think track three “America” has a string part he wrote that really took my breath away.
JOE: I really embraced the lyrics in “America”. I'm going to quote you, ‘but they’re raising children on the Bible and Chick-Fil-A, America, so free, free as a child In the cage’. Please elaborate what you were trying to convey?
GEORGIA: I was thinking a lot of course about the children on the border, and seeing that and hearing those stories. I'm heavily involved in a lot of youth work in youth advocacy here locally. So, you know, I would turn on the news and it would just feel like it was the kids that I'm responsible for during the day, it really affected me. Meanwhile, that's all going on and then kind of externally there was this overwhelming sense of nationalism and pride. This scenario is nothing new, but there was something just in that moment where we're hearing all about America and the freedom. I remember thinking how can we define our freedom by anything other than the most vulnerable people in this country. That's got to be the bar line, that's got to be how we measure our so-called freedom. You're only as happy as your unhappy child or however the saying goes, I'm not a parent so I don't know. I just remember thinking, ‘okay, that's how we have to define our freedom by keeping a child in a cage on American soil?’. That's how free our country is?
JOE: In a way you were taking on a parental role with this song. Even though you're not a parent you are still responsible for kids during the day helping, educating and protecting them.
GEORGIA: A lot of them are very vulnerable. Kids with skin tones, like the ones I was seeing on television.
JOE: That's a powerful statement, it really is. I definitely enjoyed listening to that song out of the bunch. I like them all, but the song, ‘Starring in a Play” really stood out. You may disagree, but I hear so much of Aimee Mann in your inflections, it's uncanny really.
GEORGIA: I am ashamed to say I have never listened to her.
JOE: Check her out when you have a spare moment, there is something in the tonality of voice in particular that reminded me of her. I hate to ask songwriters to discuss the meaning of their songs because I know a lot of people just want the listener interpret it how they hear it. In this particular song it seems like you're speaking about committing to your trade, and possibly trying to impress somebody by being on stage to impress them. Is it correct to say that?
GEORGIA: Kind of yes, but the face value of it. For me it was extending a giant metaphor, just like regular life, regular conversation, and a regular setting for rehearsing. I think I put that song first because it was kind of a hint of you sacrificing your authenticity, and that sucks. Maybe it’s being bold putting it as track number one because it is very tongue in cheek. I have no interest in Hollywood or anything like that. To me, it's so clear it's a metaphor because of course I'm a musician. It's like the rehearsal element of being up all night and here's how a normal non-depressed person functions.
JOE: Gotcha, I think it's a great lead off track for sure. I was also enamored by ‘Houseplant', I love the lyrics. I know everyone has an opinion on musical influences and who someone sounds like, but I heard so much Suzanne Vega and Carole King in the vocal delivery. I wanted to ask, there is a line where you’re expressing the prefix of ‘dic’ in the word dictator. Talk to me a little bit about that line, was it a fuck you to Trump?
GEORGIA: Oh no, I love Trump (said jokingly). Things were really scary, especially during election week in November thinking to myself what is gonna happen to democracy as we know it, and what kind of crazy shit is he or his cabinet is gonna pull here? He and his team had already gotten away with so much so why not be nervous of the final outcome?
JOE: A scary time for sure, it has been like walking on eggshells having had that person as our leader. Anyway, I don't want to get too political and need to stick to the topic of conversation, which is you. There is another line that resonated with me that says ‘you don't give a shit about me, but I'm the one who saved your life’. Now to me that is a double entendree. The plants not caring about us, and our leaders not giving a shit about us yet we put them into their positions of power. Is this fair to say?
GEORGIA: You know, you're the second person to bring that up and I almost want to put that in my pocket and be like, ‘yes, yes, I kind of got that feeling’. It's way more narcissistic than that really. I think I was talking to the plant but I was projecting myself on to it, I hated myself and did not take care of myself yet here I was saving my stupid life. But no, I think especially coming after “America” that I could see how it could sound that way.
JOE: Yes, very powerful words that resonated with me. I read your press release and you mentioned Joseph Campbell's book, The Hero's Journey, as an influence. What in Campbell’s writing inspired you?
GEORGIA: Ah yes, around that time I was doing a lot of soul searching, consisting of really deep reading, learning about different world religions, meditation and self-reflection. I was trying to figure out where I connected to the world, and to the universe through all of this reading, whether it's Buddhism or Christianity or Hinduism or Judaism what have you, there are all of these stories about unlikely heroes vulnerable in some way, marginalized in some way against all odds coming out victorious and healed.
JOE: A transformation?
GEORGIA: Exactly. So, in thinking about that, I have a flash back to ninth grade English and studying The Hero's Journey. When I google searched, Joseph Campbell came up as the guy who spoke the loudest, so then I ordered a bunch of his books and read Pathways to Bliss, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and I just I went to town on Campbell’s writings, not so much because I appreciated him but because he had the vocabulary on this subject matter, and that's what drew me. He's not a personal hero of mine, he just happened to have words I needed to understand the template he has dedicated his life to across cultures for centuries. Once I had that, I just got a giant poster board and started tacking my songs onto it and then filled in the holes with other songs and drawings. It was the convergence of all the therapy and self-help books I was reading. They converted into the space where I could see what I needed to do in order to look at the whole picture of childhood traumas. Now I need to look at the whole picture and take a bird's eye view because these stories have existed across cultures and corners of the world. That's not a coincidence, that’s the human story I am tapping into so I can see clear.
JOE: I was checking out your music on YouTube and saw a preview for a podcast Blame Your Brother. There is an interesting still shot of you holding up a sign that says ‘Feel Your Fucking Pain”, Feel Your Fucking Power’. Explain what that was all about?
GEORGIA: So that's a line in my song, “Whatever It Takes”, which is a song for abuse survivors. Okay, so that's verse three and I was really excited about this song because I placed the word ‘fuck’ in exactly the same spot in different sentences throughout the entire piece, which is exhilarating! Once I got on a roll it was so fun to write even though it was also dreadful.
JOE: Sometimes a good ‘F-bomb’ is a nice release!
GEORGIA: Well, there's plenty in that 1st and 3rd verse. ‘They are not your heartbeat they're not your skin, you are not imprisoned by this body you live in see all the fucking rain coming down like a shower, feel your fucking pain to your fucking power’. So that’s the verse and that's me, like in The Hero's Journey when the hero has the ordeal. That's a horrific thing to have to deal with and for me at that point in the song sums up the big lesson I learned which is your power does come from your pain, and that also seems to be the common denominator in these global myths.
JOE: Do you feel better now that the project's done and you've finished it, and do you feel like a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders?
GEORGIA: In some ways yes, and in other ways it’s kind of sad because it was a painful time, but also a sacred and pure time. Now we put it on this tiny square on Instagram and use the right hashtags for your traumas, it's kind of weird. But you know, things like this happen and that's cool.
JOE: Do you have plans for the rest of this year to perform live, what’s on the horizon for you?
GEORGIA: Right now, I'm just kind of working out local stuff throughout the year and have not put too much on the table. I've taken a five piece out a few times and love touring, it has always gone really well for me. I would totally be doing it right now if I had more faith that I'm gonna walk away with X amount of dollars and not come home in the hole. I'm cautiously optimistic and we're looking at getting on the road in the spring.
JOE: Wonderful! Before we part ways, let’s talk a little bit about your musical past. Did you record in Nashville or elsewhere? Did you have a band and what were you doing prior to Power and Pain?
GEORGIA: My band was called Georgia English and The Jukebox Kids which was cool, but then we started approaching 30 and thought, kids? I don't want to end up like New Kids on the Block going by that and they're all in their 50s. Also, it got weird because I do work with kids, but I do for the most part still play with the same outfit I was playing with on my 2015 album Good Girls and my 2019 album Learn to Draw. In between those two I did this project where I only performed songs from the public domain, and that was mostly me with my guitar doing different finger picking ragtimes.
JOE: Who would you cite as your major influences as a player and songwriter?
GEORGIA: Well, it's funny how you tie it all together. My friend Paul Rochelle, who strangely is also from Connecticut is a Country Blues guitar player. I studied with him for a few years and study is a very funny word to use in regard to him. He's right out of the 60’s but also very grumpy, he's just a curmudgeon, and I’m saying that nicely. Paul in one breath, would say, ‘hey get off my lawn’ but then he'd look at someone and they would look cold and he would say, ‘okay, just come inside because I made some soup’. I care a whole lot less about learning finger picking then I cared about hanging out with Paul, because he’s the shit. He is in his 70s and I am in my 20s, when we hang out it feels like we're both 12. He is actually the one I wrote “Messed Up You” about and a phone call I had with him, which was also the deciding factor to do The Hero's Journey because now I have my wise old man. So, he taught me most of the finger picking stuff. Then I think my musical heroes would be Nina Simone, and I love the old soul music of Sam Cooke.
JOE: Agreed, you cannot go wrong with that old school soul which still sounds ahead of its time all of these years later. How did you land in Nashville because you're originally from San Francisco, correct?
GEORGIA: Yes, I’m from San Francisco and went to Berklee School of Music. That's where I met Paul. Graduating from San Francisco was not an option for me. After a while I was kind of bored of Boston and almost relocated to New York but then my drummer said he wanted to move to Nashville, and it’s hard to find a decent drummer you enjoy playing with, so I followed him down south.
JOE: Before we get out of here, please tell the people how we can find you through all of your social handles online, and what you have down the pike in the next couple months?
GEORGIA: You can go. On my website I have a whole Pain and Power tab, it has all the links to where you can find the visuals, whether you want to just watch it on YouTube, or if you want to buy a hard copy of the book. It has links to that on Instagram as Georgia English and I'm on Twitter, as GeorgiaBEnglish.
JOE: It’s been a real pleasure chatting with you Georgia, be safe out there and best of luck to you and your career!
GEORGIA: Thank you so much Joe, have a great night and be good, and be safe as well!
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