Cathartic as the writing and recording of Hannah Georgas might have been, the creative process seemingly didn’t end on a high note. “Elephant”, the wounded, reverb-drowned lullaby that kicks off the album, was the last song completed, and it suggests that, by that point, the storm clouds had gathered round and the heavy rains rolled in. Over heart-flutter synths and jagged-glass guitar, Vancouver-based Hannah Georgas sings “As I age it sinks deeper in/This life is temporary/It’s all gonna end.” Just in case that’s not bleak enough, she follows that up with “I don’t wanna wake up one day thinking ‘What did I miss?’/I fear my own fate.”
“Elephant” is a bold artistic statement, mostly because Hannah Georgas is a record that finds the 29-year-old reshaping herself as a thinking person’s electro-pop artist, this being a departure from the singer-songwriter stylings of 2010’s This Is Good. The safe route would have been to kick things off with an instantly accessible shot of ear candy: the retro new-wave dance jam “Shortie” or the instantly addictive “Robotic”.
Given where the singer was at by the end of Hannah Georgas, however, that would somehow have been too easy, and perhaps a little disingenuous.
Reached on her cellphone on a busy morning in Vancouver, Georgas has no problem flashing back to what should have been a happy time. Unflinchingly mining her private life for inspiration, she’d just created a record that managed the difficult task of being catchy and accessible yet emotionally engaging. Still, things weren’t all lollipops and winning Lotto Max tickets, so there was no point pretending otherwise.
“I woke up one morning feeling down and out, and ‘Elephant’ just came out right away,” Georgas says with a wry laugh. “I phoned up and had a chat with my sister, complaining about how I was feeling sad. She was like, ‘Go write another song.’ I was like, ‘Fuck you! I hate when people say that.’ But I did sit down and write that last one for the record, funnily enough. I felt like I still had something to say. I was very emotional.”
Lest all of this make the singer sound more tortured than Morrissey, rest assured that Georgas couldn’t be more wonderful to talk to. Her interview with the Georgia Straight starts off with a conversation about guilty breakfast pleasures. Although Georgas was raised in one of those households where Cap’n Crunch is seen as the devil’s cereal, she’s making up for lost time now.
“I actually love Golden Grahams and Cocoa Puffs,” she admits. “And what is it… not Cookie Crisp, but, oh yeah, Sugar Crisp.”
However, it’s not sugary cereals or the brilliance of seeing MC Hammer when she was a teen growing up in Newmarket, Ontario, that’s mostly on the mind of Georgas this morning, but rather the Juno Awards (which will take place three days after this interview). The singer is trying on dresses with a stylist, her fave pieces so far coming from two lines: Vancouver-based Obakki and Toronto’s Greta Constantine. This fashion session is important because she’s not only scheduled to perform “Robotic” at the Junos, but is also up for two awards for Hannah Georgas (alternative album of the year and songwriter of the year).
That the fall-of-2012 release has been a critical and commercial success shouldn’t surprise anyone. Georgas isn’t afraid to bare her soul on Hannah Georgas, and that’s connected with plenty of folks who can relate to her troubles. She confirms that she had plenty of personal turmoil leading up to the album; the beautiful downer “Somebody”, for instance, was sparked by her falling in love with a good friend. Lyrics such as “I know you don’t know what you do/What you do to me/But it hurts like hell” are a tip-off that the feeling wasn’t reciprocated. The upside of that, however, was that angst, as is so often the case, proved good for art.
“Starting on January 6 , I rented a cabin on Salt Spring Island with no cellphone reception or Internet connection,” Georgas says. “I was there by myself, and then just kind of went to work. That was where everything sparked. Then I came back and made an effort to write every single day until basically the end of the summer. Lyrically, I guess that everything that I was going through at that time just kind of seeped to the surface. I was reflecting on relationships and relationships with friends. I tend to write from a personal standpoint. Even if what I’m writing isn’t personal, it’s about something that’s affected me.”
Helping her reshape her sound was Graham Walsh, a synth-obsessed member of Toronto analogue-electronica upstarts Holy Fuck. Georgas decamped to Hogtown, and then got busy retooling her sonic palette with brilliant results, laying the groundwork for songs like the driving keyboard pop of “Millions” and the futuristic dance-floor filler “Waiting Game”.
“I wanted to challenge myself, even with the demo and writing process,” she says. “I wanted to mess around more and have fun with the production. I played a lot with beats and keys and stuff like that on my computer, as opposed to the last record, where I had my songs on guitar and then just went into a friend’s studio, pressed Record, and played the songs on guitar, and then handed them to a producer to be fleshed out.
“This time I wanted more of an electronic element, and wanted someone who would really know how to realize that,” Georgas continues. “I thought that Graham Walsh would be an awesome fusion with my pop sensibilities, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I wanna work with that dude.’ The stars aligned.”
What might have pleased her most was how easy it was to change things up, perhaps because Walsh and Georgas meshed so well as a team.
“It’s important to find someone with the same musical vision, and who has the same musical taste,” she suggests. “One thing I found out with Graham is that he’d put on a record while we’d just be hanging out, and I’d be like, ‘What is this? This is so awesome.’ It was like ‘Man, you’ve got great taste in music. I like exactly what you like.’ ”
There’s genuine joy in her voice as she recalls this, suggesting there were far more great moments during the creation of Hannah Georgas than bad ones. The singer confirms that, despite what darker moments like “Elephant” and “Somebody” hint at, she indeed has been in a good place.
“I’ve been able to just do music for the last three or four years, and not do anything but focus my efforts on that,” Georgas acknowledges. “This has been my career, and I feel great about that. Being your own sort of business, you’re always having to think ahead and look at music differently, almost from a business perspective. It’s not like when I was 18 years old and was like ‘I just wanna play.’ Now I think about how I can make this work forever. But, yeah, I’m pretty happy.”