By Margaret Farrell
Still bright-eyed from her performance the night before — an opening spot on Hot Chip’s bill at Webster Hall — Georgia Barnes hasn’t gotten used to her own spotlight yet. At 25 years old, she’s already acquired a fair amount of experience in the background, drumming for Micachu and Kate Tempest as well as Hot Chips’ Alexis Taylor and Trinidadian pan legend, Fimber Bravo. Just last year, she signed on solo to Domino Records (Animal Collective, Blood Orange) in order to release a debut album that took over two years to complete. “There is always a struggle really,” she laughs, “but then again, it wouldn’t be much fun if it was easy.” Perhaps it’s because she took this much time — and because she entered the scene as a session musician, a role which centers around absorbing the music of others — that most of the songs on her full-length came “quite naturally.”
Rare Candy sat down with the Northwest Londoner to chat about the project, an LP she calls Georgia. Over bagels at the LES’s Russ & Daughters, I ask her what it means to her to be performing her own songs this time around. “I'm excited. I’m a bit nervous about it, terrified really,” she answers with a tilted smile.
If Barnes appears anxious about the rapid expansion of her promising solo career, it's because she's dutifully humble, not because she's unprepared. She's been at all this for a while now. Following the lead of her father, Neil Barnes (half of the nineties electronic duo Leftfield), she taught herself drums as a young child and began recording herself with a four-track at age fifteen.
Growing up in a musical household meant finding inspiration in everything around her. From the mélange of pop music introduced to her by her mother (Joni Mitchell, most notably) to the platter of techno and electronic melodies served to her by her father, Barnes’s taste for a far-scattered spectrum of sound explains why she studied ethnomusicology at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies. Among the unexpected influences that have found their way into her latest album, Barnes mentions an unidentifiable Kawalli cassette tape that a taxi driver once lent her, and the music of early aughts rapper/producer Timbaland. It’s not so hard to believe Barnes when she claims not to be “a music snob.”
Barnes explains that all of these influences “amalgamate into something that becomes a little bit of my own” — yet to regard the album as merely the outcome of a very clever cut-and-paste job is to miss the point entirely: this is a deeply personal record, one that seeks to assemble not only a wide range of sonic influences, but also a series of autobiographical narratives. “I actually didn’t realize for a while that they all had a story to them, and actually listening back to it now…I think it’s multiple stories, it’s about all the experiences that led up to this point of being in London and being a London girl. It’s like a bit of an open window into my world.”
Indeed, the story of Barnes’s album is one that comes together, for her, only after the fact of its production. Her goals from the outset were constructively vague: “I guess the vision was just to try and release something that is really true to me and make music that I really enjoy and represents me. There was no vision at first. I just knew that I wanted to release something. The goal was to just get a move on and release something,”
Much of the record was made between midnight and six o’clock in the morning, during which time she would toy with industrial drum hooks and apply heavy voice manipulation techniques in her home studio. Barnes showcases her multi-instrumental skills on tracks like “Tell Me About It” and “Digits,” and alongside the relentless intensity of “Move Systems.” The result is an LP as cohesive as it is broad, traversing a vast musical terrain without ever losing its sense of direction. As for what’s next: “I just take from everything really. At the moment I love The Weeknd, “I Can't Feel My Face," stuff like that, so I want to make a disco-y record that’s a bit twisted.” No release date yet, but “it probably won’t be long.”
Listen to more from Georgia on her SoundCloud.