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NewTracks New Artist: Gala George

NewTracks New Artist: Gala George

A graduate of the same high school as Lorde, Gin Wigmore, Finn Andrews and The Checks, Gala George, full name Gala Georgette Morris, also has her own uber-musical personal heritage to add to that Takapuna Grammar School pedigree. It’s been a question of when, not if, she would breakthrough as a new artist in her own right. Love & Lost is the last song on her debut EP titled ‘I Am The Morning’, but the first to attract the attention of NZ On Air Music who added the song to their NewTracks compilation this October.

What’s your full name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Hello! My full name is Gala Georgette Morris, but you can call me Gala or Gala George. I grew up in Auckland and I play a bunch of stuff – bass, piano, guitar, and I sing, write and produce!

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

I was lucky enough to attend Takapuna Grammar School, which has a fabulous music department. Takapuna Grammar very much nurtured me in terms of music, especially songwriting. I used to play in school assemblies, at lunch time concerts, and at school events. It was great fun. It’s no surprise that the school has produced some of my favourite musicians (Gin Wigmore, Finn Andrews, The Checks, Lorde, to name a few). I was also involved in secondary school competitions such as Play It Strange and Rockquest, which were formative for me.

Any other musical projects we might know you from?

I have played in bands since I was a wee bairn, playing for incredible musicians like This Pale Fire and Jesse Sheehan. In terms of solo stuff, I spent my teenage years releasing songs via SoundCloud and I have released a few singles over the years. My EP ‘I Am The Morning’ is my first big project.

What’s the background of how this project under the name Gala George came to be? 

The ‘I Am The Morning’ EP found its roots during a recording retreat with my old friend and close collaborator Levi Patel. Levi and I have worked together on music for many years and we just decided it was time to record an EP.

I drove up to Levi’s house in Matakana, where he has his studio, and brought five songs with me. Over the course of two weeks and without a plan, we explored the essence of each song and immersed ourselves in the recording. We were creating music surrounded by native bush and the rolling hills of Matakana – it was incredible. We would wake up, eat breakfast, record all day, sleep, repeat. The experience felt almost outside of reality. We didn’t finish the songs during this retreat, but we did develop the core of the EP. 

Levi and I co-wrote Love & Lost, the closing song of the EP. I had been playing around with the melody and lyrics for several months but I was finding it hard to develop the song on my own because of the meaning of the song, so I brought those ideas to him and we developed it together.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

I think my approach to songwriting has, for the most part, remained consistent throughout my life. Songwriting has always been cathartic for me. I write about my experiences – social dynamics that ebb and flow, my perspective on the world, etc. My latest project, ‘I Am The Morning’, is an exploration of love and loss – the loss of oneself, the loss of a friend, the loss of a love. Each song was written about distinct moments in my life, across several years, and about different people, but they all came together with that common thread.  

However, I think my approach to instrumentation has evolved over the years. I love experimenting with sounds and pushing the boundaries of what an instrument can do. Levi and I sampled the sound of a lead coming out of an electric guitar, and turned it into a percussive heartbeat in my song I Am The Morning, for example. Those kinds of creative and experimental decisions can really transform a song and, if you get the emotion right, tap into its core.

How did you come up with the Gala George name?

Ha, I love telling this story! When my mum was pregnant with me, I apparently had my hands between my legs during one of the early ultrasounds. Consequently, my parents thought that I was going to be male. My due date was near George Harrison’s birthday – the 25th of February (my birthday is the day before!) – so, excitedly, my parents decided to call me George. 

Subsequent ultrasounds revealed my sneaky tricks and they decided to call me Gala Georgette, the former being a nod to Salvador Dali’s muse (thanks, Mum and Dad – I love my name!). In terms of music, there is a famous Spanish musician called Gala, so I couldn’t go with just my first name alone, and Gala Georgette always felt too feminine for me, so I decided on Gala George. It’s a homage to my story, plus it feels like the right balance of masculine and feminine for me.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

I have quite a few, so I won’t name them all, but: singing with the NZSO at the Kiwi Day Out in 2011 (with Play It Strange); touring the UK playing bass for Jesse Sheehan at several huge festivals including the Great Escape and Liverpool SoundCity (and Jesse wrote an article about our experience playing at Going Global in Brisbane for NZM); ‘playing’ in Ricky Martin’s backing band on the X-Factor NZ (haha); supporting Brendon Thomas and the Vibes at the Napier Soundshell New Year’s Eve gig in 2015, to name a few.

What makes Love & Lost stand out for you as a single?

I’m really proud of Love & Lost. It captures the essence of the EP, and that time in my life. In terms of music, I think Levi and I made it beautiful in a way that poignantly reflects the meaning of the song, particularly in the end section where it builds and crescendos. It is also one of the heaviest songs I’ve ever written in terms of lyrical content and meaning. It felt right to highlight it.

What is the story behind Love & Lost?

My uncle [Ian Morris] passed away in 2010 and left behind a fully recorded album, the closing song of which is called It’s Over (you can listen to the album on Spotify – it’s a work of genius). In one of the verses, he sings, “Saw your shadow in a doorway, black night on a motorway.”

Love & Lost came to me as I was driving my friend’s car down a moonlit back street in Napier during Art Deco Weekend. The line “On the coldest night, on the darkest road, I drive,” came to me first. As I was driving that night, I realised that there was a clear parallel between the two lyrical sentiments. I wondered if how I was feeling in that moment – a bit lost and uncertain, but hopeful – mirrored the inspiration for his lyric. 

I guess I’ll never know, but that spark inspired me to write a song about the experience of losing him. I was only 16 when he passed, and it was unexpected. It had taken me many years to put that experience into song. Grief is hard to articulate. The lyrics are fairly vague and sparse, but Levi helped me to develop the music to reflect the feeling. 

I’m really proud of the journey that I went on as a songwriter to create Love & Lost

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

There are two! The first are the lyrics in the second verse:
“All that I am,
and all that I will be,
will pass.
Time is cruel,
to us.”

And the second is the moment in the build when my vocal choir in the background hits an extremely high note (around the 4:00 minute mark). It’s so satisfying to me. I think it’s the highest note I’ve ever recorded that hasn’t sounded awful, haha! Levi had to really push me to do it and I’m so glad that he did.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

That you can experience grief and that it’s okay to not be okay. You don’t have to be ‘brave’ or mask how you are feeling. Feel it. 
Grief decides when it wants to affect us. You can’t control it – not really. So, let yourself feel it, and be kind to yourself as you do.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

I think this mostly comes down to how the song makes me feel. I don’t focus too much on ‘radio-ness’ of the song, but rather how much it resonates with me. The most typically radio-y song on the EP is Comfortably Silent (it’s short, catchy, and punchy), but I haven’t (yet?) released it as a single… I think the general expectations of what makes a ‘single’ has changed quite a bit over the past few years.

Who else is in your team?

I manage, write, and produce my music almost entirely on my own. I co-produced ‘I Am The Morning’ with Levi Patel, and he took the front seat with mixing the EP. (I would tell him what I wanted from time to time, but he did the grunt work!) Levi is an incredible composer and musician and has released a bunch of stuff himself, so he helped a bunch with promoting the EP too.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

I have another EP in the works! I’ve gone through a lot over the past year, so I have a gazillion songs waiting to be recorded. I can’t wait to see how this project takes shape.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside Love & Lost.

Ah, there are so many!! It’s hard to choose, but:

  • Tom Verberne: Ain’t Life Like That
  • This Pale Fire: Delicate Words
  • : Ego

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others out there?

Oh, absolutely! I received NZOA New Singles funding for my song Serendipity in 2015, but I have submitted around 5-6 times. I have applied for NewTracks three times and been included twice (thank you so much!).

There are so many incredible musicians here in Aotearoa. Not receiving funding isn’t a reflection on your music, but a reflection on the wealth of phenomenal music made here. I think it’s a good thing. I would love to see more of our older musicians be granted funding, however. They’re legends and I want to hear more from them!

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

I’m actually super boring and don’t really read blogs or listen to podcasts … and most of the YouTube videos I watch are either history or true crime related! Most of my work is done on a computer, so I try to avoid using any of my devices as much as possible when I’m not working. (I know, I know… so boring!)

Any last words?

How lucky are we to live in Aotearoa, eh? This EP was made surrounded by native bush and the stunning landscape of Matakana and has subsequently been supported by the incredible people who live here. I’m feeling very thankful about it all.