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by Richard Thorne

Georgia Lines: Shaking Up The Moon Soda

by Richard Thorne

Georgia Lines: Shaking Up The Moon Soda

Having first announced herself as one to watch at the 2014 Rockquest, it wasn’t until 2019 that singer/pianist Georgia Lines found her feet as a recording artist, timing that coincided, unfortunately, with the promotion-stifling arrival of Covid. July 2022 finds Lines releasing her sophomore EP, this one confidently badged ‘Human’, the songs reflecting on the challenges and big emotions of human life. Richard Thorne talked with the fast-climbing Mt Maunganui pop music star just ahead of her EP launch. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

Yesterday Georgia Lines spent the day filming a video for Faith, the single introducing her new EP, and following our early morning interview she will spend the rest of the day working alongside her manager, editing the video scheduled to coincide with the release of the five-song ‘Human’ in just a few days.

From another artist camp, such last-minuteness might be construed as a lack of organisation, but the evidence of attention to detail over the last two years points more to this team’s scheduled efficiency. Along with mainstream pop radio plays, a string of visually striking, and frequently just a little weird, music videos have significantly helped the Tauranga pop artist build her fanbase through the restrictive Covid years and likely led to NZ On Air providing Project Funding for her second EP.

Another pointer lies in her explanation for the several-year gap between winning the Solo/Duo section of the 2014 Smokefree Rockquest (as well as the overall Musicianship award), and subsequent music release. Although writing and recording over that time, it took Georgia the years until 2018 to resolve to put some music out there.

“Winning Rockquest didn’t mean, ‘Okay, I know exactly what I’m doing’. I think it was kind of the opposite,” she explains of the delay. “It was a real confidence booster in knowing that, ‘Maybe I am good at this’, but I had no idea of how to pursue it as a career, and of course there is no set pathway towards having a successful career in music.

“I think there was a combination of my wondering, ‘How do I actually do this, and do it well?’ and also my over-thinking it, and being caught in that people-pleasing thing – which I’ve talked about a lot in the last few years.

“We are humans, so always have doubts – especially creatives I think. It felt like a long journey on my own until that point, which is about when Mikee Carpinter, who is now my manager, first got in touch with me, saying that he’d love to help.”

Now a confident and conversational 25, Georgia has evidently grown beyond any such artistic anxieties, and anyone who’s seen her in concert will surely have enjoyed her entertaining live performance. They might too have noted a complete absence of awkwardness, or apprehension on stage – in tandem with an unpredictable expression of fashion in her colourful attire.

“I feel very comfortable in my own skin, and don’t feel like I am trying to prove anything. There’s something about the stage, I feel more myself on stage – I love to chat and share stories – and that is me being fully myself. It’s how I express my creativity.

“In terms of how fashion and my music morph together, it’s like another form of expression for me. I just feel fashion is very me, it excites me! What do I want to wear (to show artistry) on stage? I get so excited by live shows… [but] haven’t been able to do many,” she laughs, more in anticipation of the future than frustration at the past Covid years.

Written over those last two years, Georgia describes the songs on her new EP as reflecting what it means to be human; “…to love, to grieve, to experience joy and pain, to learn and grow, and to navigate all of these big emotions we all feel and experience at some point in our lives,” as she notes in the media release. “These songs reflect my journey of navigating all of these emotions and experiences.”

Presented in capitals on the EP cover, the ‘HUMAN’ makes a bold artistic statement. The title, she explains, is very intentionally used, having it in caps perhaps more about the look of strength it carries.

“My journey of realising that I am human does sound weird, but it has been a big thing for me to realise that I can’t be everything to every person. I’m only human, and I’m not going to get it right always. Some things I’m really good at, and some things I’m awful at. And being a wife and being a friend, and a daughter and an artist – not putting the pressure on myself to have it all together all the time. I am only human. These are the songs that represent me as a human being and my journey to figure it out.”

While the songs on her 2020 self-titled debut EP seemed no less personal, Georgia says she has slowly become more comfortable with being honest and vulnerable within her songwriting, abetted by working with a variety of experienced co-writers and producers.

“I feel like I’m sometimes a too honest person, and an over-sharer – but I’m okay with that! I think people need to be more honest, but it is so scary. Obviously, that’s why the EP is called ‘Human’, we are humans and we feel vulnerability, and we crave real connection with others.

“As a body of work I feel like there’s a real rawness and a real honesty to the songs. In the last few years I’ve worked crafting these songs and lyrics especially, asking, ‘What is the lyric I don’t want to say – because I’m too scared to say it – but that I need to be saying here? How do I say what I don’t want to say?’

“So lyrically, and in the sonic layers that work in with that, the project feels very honest, and it’s something I am really proud of. It feels like a body of art that represents me as a person. Not that the other one wasn’t, but I am way more grounded in this work. It feels like it has represented me very accurately in the last year or so. It feels very personal – which is scary – but I like it!” she giggles.

Auckland producer and Leisure member Djeisan Suskov was integral to some of her successful recent single releases, including July 2021’s Call Me By My Name and No One Knows, the Alexander Gander-directed video for which won Best Music Video at that year’s Aotearoa Music Awards. He helped set up the approach to her exquisitely produced sophomore EP.

“Djeisan said to me that with this project he really wanted to work on the songs – instead of the production – and that became a big thing for this EP, a focus on working on the songs first.

“So for instance when we wrote Save Me it was just him and I, and a piano. Instead of thinking about the drum sound or any production, it was, ‘Let’s just sit here and focus on what we want to say with the song and how we are going to do that.’ Those were the conversations we were having constantly with those songs, and I think that really comes through, in that song in particular.”

She ascribes powerful piano ballad Save Me to the influence of artists like Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, strong songs driven by the vocal rather than production.

“And it feels very raw. The song’s about the experience of when your emotions are on an all-time high, and you make decisions based on that emotion, and often regret it later. I do it all the time… and so it’s about, ‘Oh, save me from myself and what I’m feeling,’ you know? Like I need someone to do that for me in that moment!”

The other tracks are also the result of shared songwriting sessions, the oldest, Leave Behind coming out of a Parachute writing camp when she was randomly paired with writer/producers Nic Manders and Nick Dow. Released as a first single (and video that’s had over 84k views) early in NZ Music Month this year, the emotive song features interestingly time-bent piano chords, lending a sense of distress to the backing instrumentals echoed in Georgia’s vocals as the track comes to a close.

“That was something Nic Manders wanted to capture. The song is about me losing my Poppa, my grandfather, and Nic was saying there needed to be an element of grieving about loss felt in the music. He’s so clever, there’s a real artistry to what he does and I really appreciate how his mind works.”

The similarly delicate Moon Soda was a co-write with Rory Noble and Alex James [Alae], who shares the vocals.

“It’s my first recorded duet and it was so fun! We wrote that a while ago… coming out of lockdown and writing a fun love song was great. We’ve been waiting for the right time to release that one, I love it.”

The EP’s poppy lead single, Faith, was written with yet another Auckland producer, Joe Farris, aka Ezra Vine. While neatly referencing George Michael’s hit of the same name, their Faith draws sonic inspiration from Prince, with crunchy synths, layered lead guitars and hooky vocals. The track explores that common tension within relationships where stubbornness can often get in the way of necessary change. In tandem with its visually dramatic video it has ‘hit’ written all over.

“I love it!” she giggles. “It’s like those moments when you are waiting for change, impatient for it, and so cliché, but like, ‘Come on, I’m running out of faith.’ And it could be anything. It’s so fun that song. You have these sad lyrics but with a very poppy fun sound and feel, which I love.

“I could just sit in my feelings all day and write ballads,” she laughs again, “but not every song needs to be a ballad!”

Where indecision was previously detrimental, her own very human prerogative for change is evidenced with the inclusion of Nothing But Love – a song that literally didn’t exist as the EP was being compiled. Just weeks before the scheduled release, Georgia headed across the Tasman on another self-funded writing excursion. It included a stint with Sydney producer Xavier Dunn that resulted in the outlines of Nothing But Love, another evocation of late ’80s/’90s synth pop. Within days it became a finished track.

“I came home with just a 30-second demo on my phone, and said to Mikee that I really think the song needed to be on the EP! Xavier sent the [full] demo through overnight and then we had two Zooms and I quickly recorded the vocals back in Tauranga, sent him the stems, and then signed off on the master a few days later!”

Georgia loves to talk, to the point of over-sharing as she admits, and when asked if it was a case of writing to meet the titular context for the EP her ‘No’ comes quickly.

“I’d written this pick’n’mix bag of songs (about grief, and love, and falling in love and navigating big emotions), and was wondering what was the thread that ran through them? ‘Oh man, it’s just encapsulating what it is to be human.’ I went through, like 50 names that had to do with being human, and then I just thought, ‘Simplify it… just call it ‘Human’!” she laughs happily.