As Georgia leads us down the garden path to her home studio in north London, she explains the history behind the room. Though originally built by her dad Neil Barnes at the turn of the millennium to write and record with his band Leftfield, the UK electronic legends split up before they had the chance to work in the space.
Instead, it became the room where Georgia – who started out as a drummer for the likes of Kae Tempest and Kwes before launching a solo career in 2015 – made the entirety of her first two studio albums and where the genesis of what would become her third LP Euphoric also began.
Inside, we’re told that things are a little less cluttered with gear than normal – Georgia is currently in rehearsals for a summer of festivals – but multi-coloured tube lights sit behind the mixing desk and parts of her signature red Simmons electronic drum kit are strewn around the room in between stacks of keyboards and synths.
“I’m a studio girl really,” she smiles, delighting in showing off the mix of vintage gear and plugins at her disposal as she explains how opening herself up to collaborators and searching for a more rustic, earthy sound led her to Euphoric.
After releasing her self-titled debut album in 2015 and emerging as a producer and singer with an ear for melody and echoes of the club-ready beats of her father’s band, it was in 2019 that Georgia truly arrived as a pop star. That summer, her gigantic, euphoric singles Started Out and About Work The Dancefloor barely left the Radio 1 playlist for months and positioned her as a new alt-pop icon.
Live, she performed solo and managed to balance thrashing away on the Simmons kit with dancing and riling up the crowd, closing her sets with exuberant covers of Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill (prior to the Stranger Things wave taking hold). That summer, she brought the house down at Glastonbury and beyond, and solidified the hype with more dance bangers on 2020 LP Seeking Thrills.
It was during that summer of 2019, though, that a new path began to emerge for Georgia. Around this time, Rostam Batmanglij – former member of Vampire Weekend, current mononymous solo artist and producer for Haim, Clairo and more – heard a demo of Live Like We’re Dancing, which Georgia sang on for London-based producer Mura Masa.
“[Rostam] sent me a DM and said he really loved my voice,” she smiles, particularly encouraged because she already knew she wanted her third album to prioritise vocals over club production. “He didn’t really mention much about the production,” Georgia remembers. “I really wanted to think about what I was singing, the rhythm of the melodies, but that’s not my natural thing.”
The pair then met for a session when Georgia was in Los Angeles later in 2019, and they wrote the entirety of the new album’s pseudo-title track, It’s Euphoric, in a single day. More of a slow burner than the turbo-charged club bangers of Seeking Thrills, the album’s first single uses acoustic drums – a fixture of the record at large – and a more grounded perspective, shifting from the pure escapism of her second album.
“I wanted to work with someone where I was being challenged in a good way and learning new skills in the studio.”
“It was pretty obvious that we got on musically; personally, we’re on the same level as well,” Georgia says of her collaborator. This is the first time she’s worked with an outside producer on her solo work. “I was really yearning to work with somebody else for this next record. I had collaborated with a few people beforehand, and suddenly started to see the merits of collaboration.
“I wanted to work with someone where I was being challenged in a good way and learning new skills in the studio.”
Speaking to NME in 2020, Rostam said of the first collaboration: “I feel like, in the span of four minutes, we were able to create something that starts in the disco era, then migrates to the house era, and then finally lands in the EDM era. Maybe in the most tasteful sense of EDM… It’s cool, because it just keeps getting bigger.”
After she spent the 2020 lockdowns fleshing out ideas for the record at her London home studio, Georgia returned to Los Angeles to work with Rostam at the end of 2021. “It didn’t matter where Rostam was, I think I would have just travelled there to work with him,” she smiles, though admitting that “there was no guarantee that what made that first day wasn’t just a fluke.”
“It didn’t matter where Rostam was, I would have travelled there to work with him.”
Euphoric features more live instruments than Georgia’s previous work – a decision she made before the first song was written with Rostam. It was the producer’s meshing of live and electronic sounds that impressed Georgia about his production before they’d met, and a big part of why Euphoric feels like a significant breakthrough for her.
“I was listening to a lot of early Gary Numan and how he added live drums over synth bass,” she says, with large chunks of the new album also embracing this dual approach.
Her background in dance music is still honoured, with the Daft Punk-tinged hit Some Things You’ll Never Know being a prime example. But any reach for clubland euphoria is mixed with live instruments and a connection to the album’s core sound. On All Night, Georgia sings with Auto-Tune for the first time – an effect that suits her well – but is backed by acoustic drums. It’s a track full of unusual but stirring juxtapositions.
“Dave Fridman gave the album a little extra sprinkle of something – it doesn’t sound like anything else.”
After recording was complete in Los Angeles, Georgia and Rostam headed up to snowy Buffalo, New York to throw another curveball into the Euphoria universe by recruiting Dave Fridmann to mix the record. Across work with The Flaming Lips, Tame Impala, MGMT and more, the 77-year-old has become the go-to producer for psych rock bands across the globe, adding kaleidoscopic waves of noise to records and bringing them into his hazy world.
For Georgia, Fridmann’s involvement in the album took the album further away from straight-up radio pop and into a deeper, more textured space that she was looking for.
“Other names were being tossed around, and Rostam and I knew that we’d get a really good mix from them, but in going to Dave we got a little extra sprinkle of something – it doesn’t sound like anything else.
“We really got him to go back to Fridmann zone!” Georgia laughs. “‘Dave, this needs to be more distorted!’” she and Rostam would tell him. “‘Do your thing!’ I think he really loved that.”
During the process of creating the album, Georgia says she relished learning new ways of creating music and the differences between Rostam’s musical background and her own.
“I’m from the dance world, and my vinyl deck is hooked up to my interface in this studio, so I can play something and record it straight into Logic Pro, and then fuck around with it and add beats on top of it. I’m quite experimental when it comes to beatmaking, but I also wanted his take.
“Straight from the first day I spent with him, I knew he was going to be very open with me,” Georgia says. “I would ask him, ‘Oh, why have you added that EQ?’ and he’d say, ‘Well, that’s this frequency here’ or whatever. He’s very technically gifted so I was constantly learning. I didn’t really get in on myself and think, ‘Oh no, I don’t know any of this’. I was very open-minded and I wanted to learn everything.”
“I loved writing all the lyrics in LA, because it’s so visceral there.”
In line with her initial ambitions for the foregrounding of her vocals on Euphoric, it was using the mythical Sony C-800G microphone that allowed this new approach to flourish. “I’m actually in the process of buying the microphone because I fell in love with it on my voice,” she laughs, saying that the piece of kit will likely become integral to all future Georgia recordings. “It’s a very expensive microphone [around $10,000], but it’s got this clarity. Some people find it quite off-putting because it’s so clear.
“I’ve never really experimented with different vocal mics on my vocal before because I’ve never been able to afford it,” she adds. “I’ve always just gone with whatever is there and I’ll make it work.
“Here, I felt really liberated that I could have a mic set up in the corner and be able to just go over, record it, and know that it’s gonna sound good.” Elsewhere on the album, she shouts out an old Hohner organ, a bounty of guitars and mandolins, Rostam’s piano and beyond, giving Euphoric an earthy and varied sound palette.
This new clarity in her vocals naturally spilled over into Euphoric’s lyrics, which counter the giddy escapism of Seeking Thrills with a more real sense of peace and satisfaction. “I really wanted the adventure of going to Los Angeles and experiencing living somewhere new to affect my lyric writing,” she says. “I loved writing all the lyrics in LA, because it’s so visceral there. I found it very freeing, because it’s so expansive. I had ideas before I got out there, but it really took form when I was there.”
The new lyrical perspective is perhaps best shown on album standout Friends Will Never Let You Go, a hammerblow of crashing drums, thunderous synths and Georgia’s crystal clear, brilliant vocals.
“I finally let go / Now it’s coming home / Finally I’ve accepted what I can be / The only thing is I can’t do it on my own” – Georgia on Friends Will Never Let You Go
“That song came from the liberation of me not feeling like I’m a producer and a singer. I just felt like I was a singer, and Rostam made me feel like that. He just really freed me. That song came out of me, and I remember thinking that this performance was a culmination of everything I had been trying to change. I’m a singer!”
For her new live show, trialled at an intimate London gig at Omeara in the spring, Georgia now also has a live band, freeing her up to take this newfound vocal confidence into a live setting.
At shows on the Seeking Thrills tour, one could sense that being behind the drum kit was holding her back; in almost every song, any drum-less section saw her sprint from behind the kit towards the front of the stage and dance and sing in front of her fans before running back just in time to drum the next section. With a new drummer now playing with her, the transformation is closer to being complete.
“I had been really looking forward to handing the reins over a bit, just because this record is so vocal-lead,” she says. “I wanted to really make sure I translate my vocals well to the audience, and we’ve choreographed bits in this new set where I’m still on the drums and we have like this drum conversation on the stage.
“It’s about representing the new music as closely as I can, and because live drums are such a feature on this record, playing acoustic drums standing up is quite challenging. It’s been really liberating to have another drummer on stage.”
Closing the circle that brought them together, Euphoric also features a sequel version of the song that brought Georgia and Rostam together, Live Like We’re Dancing Part II. While the version from Mura Masa’s 2020 album R.Y.C. (Raw Youth Collage) is a tropical pop hit, the new version brings it into the Euphoric universe, adding more acoustic instruments, a percussion-heavy sound and some bright sprinklings of piano. It stands as a representation of Georgia’s journey through this album, and a shining example of her and Rostam’s unique chemistry.
“It’s a nod to how we met, and it’s also a great song that never got its time because [Mura Masa’s] album came out at the start of COVID,” Georgia says. “I called Alex [Crossan, aka Mura Masa] and asked to play him the song,” she adds. “He said he loved it, and said that if his was the midnight version, this is the 4 am version.”
If Georgia’s previous work placed us in the middle of the rave – a room full of escapism – Euphoric is the walk home, a place that’s a little stranger, full of surprises, and a lot more real.
Check out Georgia’s music and upcoming shows at georgiauk.com.
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