Hannah Georgas learns how to tame the monsters

Moving to Toronto and making the adventurous For Evelyn was better than therapy

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Giving her something in common with pretty much all of us, Hannah Georgas knows what it’s like to have the monsters come in the middle of the night. And there were plenty of visits between the release of her career-inventing 2013 breakthrough, Hannah Georgas, and her profoundly accomplished new release, For Evelyn.

      “I deal with anxiety and depression from time to time,” the 32-year-old singer shares, on the line from a tour van headed for Chicago. “I know what it’s like to have that panicked feeling, those moments where you are just questioning everything. Questioning one’s purpose, I think, is where all that stems from.”

      The challenge is to turn the panicked moments into something positive. For Georgas, that process started with accepting the idea that sometimes life-altering change is better embraced rather than feared.

      “In the last couple of years I’ve been going through this feeling that a transition is going to happen,” she relates. “There are moments when you feel like ‘transition is great,’ and then others where you end up totally overwhelmed by that thought. So a lot of the new record is about facing and dealing with fear, and also overcoming that fear.”

      There have definitely been changes, perhaps the biggest one being the singer’s decision to abandon Vancouver—her home for more than a decade—and return back east to her family in Ontario. The singer is now based in Toronto, where she’s an hour or so’s drive from her mom in Newmarket. That’s been important for a big reason. Few of us are lucky enough to count a parent among our best friends. Georgas is one of them, one of the spinoff benefits being that her mother has insights no amount of therapy can buy.

      “I asked her once, ‘Is my worrying something that has come about as I’ve gotten older?’ And she was like, ‘You were born like this.’ I think it’s just the way that my brain works. I’m very much a perfectionist, and I analyze and think about things a lot. I have a lot of trouble getting my brain to sleep. It’s always overworking.”

      The downside of being a worrier is that, traumatizingly, there’s never a shortage of things to worry about. But there’s an upside if you happen to be a creative person, namely, that art can be invaluable for exorcising one’s demons.

      And with For Evelyn, Georgas was able to do just that, the result being a Top 10–calibre record that’s as thoughtful and moving as it is forward-thinking and adventurous. Whether she totally understands how great the album is is, for now at least, debatable; getting a naturally humble person to trumpet her own brilliance is never easy. But she’s well aware that For Evelyn at least helped her make sense of some inner turmoil.

      “I know that everything is totally a frame of mind and mind over matter,” Georgas reflects. “I’m naturally a very happy person, but it’s interesting to me how I can feel so on top of my game one day and totally powerful, and something will hit me and I’ll feel like nothing but a small little blip in this universe. What inspired me on the record is talking about that and dealing with that. I write a lot about personal experience, and when I do I just feel better. It’s a powerful thing to be able to write and get things off my chest.”

      On the day of her interview with the Straight, For Evelyn has been out for less than a week and Georgas is on tour in support of the record in the States. But Vancouver is very much on her mind. Part of that is because this coming weekend she’ll be the headliner at the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party, which, since starting as a grassroots celebration in 2011, has exploded into one of the most mammoth cultural events in Vancouver.

      When Georgas takes the main stage at Burrard and West 4th Avenue sometime around 8 p.m. on Saturday (July 9), she’ll be greeted by an audience of thousands that will stretch up the street. Because she’s a mainstay on Vancouver radio, many in the crowd will know the words to her electro-tinted, thinking person’s pop songs.

      “I went to the first Khatsahlano festival and I think the second, but I’ve also been away a lot, so I haven’t been to the last couple,” Georgas recalls. “But I’ve seen photos and it seems like it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s going to be fun—I’m so excited to be able to come back and play it.”

      Even though she was raised in Newmarket, coming back to Vancouver will in some ways feel like returning home. Georgas lived on the Coast for more than a decade, first heading out west at 19 to study psychology at the University of Victoria and then settling in Kits, which she loves to this day.

      “Vancouver is home for me still,” she gushes. “I met people that I still talk to every single day—it was heartbreaking to leave them behind. I created a real nice little nook for myself in Kitsilano. I loved my place and my routines. I loved the water and I loved going for runs and I loved that, no matter what the time of year, you could still be active and outside. I was scared of leaving that, because it was such a big part of who I am.”

      But toward the end of her stint on the Coast she knew that it was time to leave. When she suddenly pulled up roots, she did it in an impulsive four-day whirlwind, giving most of her belongings away to friends.

      “I started feeling like, ‘This is a time of transition and change for me,’ ” she remembers. “Like, ‘I have to go to Toronto because there are reasons that I have to be there.’ I wanted to be close to my mom. Also, I was working with a lot of people in Toronto.”

      Among the most important of those people was Graham Walsh of analogue-obsessed renegades Holy Fuck. The keyboardist produced the breakthrough Hannah Georgas, a record that saw Georgas morph from sensitive singer-songwriter to whip-smart pop artist. And Walsh was back behind the boards for For Evelyn, on which Georgas once again demonstrates she’s all for taking chances.

      Where Hannah Georgas and her folksy 2010 debut, This Is Good, were written on guitar, the singer sat down in front of the keyboard for For Evelyn. (The title of the album is a tribute to her grandmother, who is still alive and being awesomely inspirational in her 90s.) She’d quickly learn to love the myriad options offered by modern technology. Take, for example, the album’s deliciously crazy kickoff track, “Rideback”, where, over squealing smack-jazz saxophone, she pulls back the curtain with lines like: “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking /‘O my God, who the hell am I?’ ”

      “With that first song, I was writing something all day long and getting nowhere with it,” Georgas recalls. “And then I found this preset on my keyboard called the blow sax. I started messing around with it, and then wrote ‘Rideback’ within the hour. It sort of just came right out and I was done.”

      Such moments of lightning-quick productivity are rare. And there’s an explanation for that.

      Ask Georgas what she likes about herself, and she’s quick with her response.

      “I like the fact that I like to laugh a lot,” she reveals, and then she quite appropriately laughs. “I like that I’m a good friend, and that I have a lot of great people in my life that I’m thankful for. I like that I get to do what I love in life, and that’s play music for a living. I’m really ambitious, and I also like that about myself, I guess.”

      Vanessa Heins

      She’s equally open about what she doesn’t like about herself.

      “I’m a perfectionist. And I don’t like that about myself sometimes because I can be really hard on myself.”

      One can trace that back to her upbringing. Georgas was born to a mom who was a nurse and an entrepreneur dad who built a swimming pool next to the family home and then launched a successful business teaching kids how to swim. It’s obvious she loves her family.

      “It’s funny how you view your parents, to think that my mom was once my age,” she marvels. “I’ve spent time thinking about that. One of her friends told me that she loved to dance and used to smoke a lot of cigarettes. And I was like, ‘Whaaat?’ That totally floored me. I was like, ‘That’s not my mom!’ ”

      Music was always around. She remembers her late father being a great boogie-woogie piano player and a born showman. Georgas pays tribute to him on For Evelyn’s touching “Walls”, which is marked by soft-soul synths and lines such as “When you left me, I was ready for you to leave/’Cuz when I built these walls, I built them so high.”

      “My dad was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 18, and it got worse and worse and worse over the years,” Georgas says. “It was really painful to see the process of something that could have been reversed but just didn’t go that way. It was tough to watch, so I started to prepare myself for the fact that my dad was getting sick and that one day he was going to die from not taking care of himself. I moved away and would get the warnings that ‘This next time could be the last time.’ I kind of built up an immunity—I was mad about it. Mad that my dad wasn’t trying to change the situation when it first came along. When it finally happened, I was obviously very upset, but I realized that I’d been preparing myself for years, building up walls.”

      Georgas acknowledges that her parents expected her to strive for the perfectionism that’s turned into both a blessing and a curse.

      “I just always want to do well, and I think that’s because of the way that I was raised,” she says. “My family always had really high expectations of me, and they were kind of really old-school in the way that they wouldn’t easily give a compliment. It was like, ‘Well, yeah, duh—you should be getting good grades. And you should be playing that piano piece perfectly.’

      “I don’t want to make them sound like crazy people,” the singer continues, “because they definitely were not. It was more that that was the way that they were raised. And that definitely rubbed off on me.”

      As a result, Georgas has pushed herself in directions far removed from her girl-with-a-guitar beginnings. For Evelyn is a record that’s all about wonderful flourishes, some of them big and bold (the dancetastic electro riff on “Waste”) and others beautiful and understated (the spectral synths on “Don’t Go”).

      Watch the new Hannah Georgas video for "Don't Go"

      Get ready to break out your best neon-splattered ’80s finery for the swooping title track and then expect chills from the CinemaScope strings on the haunting final song, “City”, on which Georgas sings “There’s nothing here for me anymore…It’s me lying to myself all the time.”

      If there’s a constant to things, it’s that Georgas proves herself something of a master at tapping into feelings that are easy to relate to. Take, for example, “Loveseat”, which will resonate with anyone who has ever attempted the almost-impossible task of keeping a long-distance relationship going.

      “I met someone right when I put out my record [Hannah Georgas], and then I started touring,” she relates. “We were together about a year and a half and it was very much me being on the road and that person being back home. It was good, but it was tricky, and it didn’t work. Now I’m getting better at realizing that I like my independent self. I like being in a relationship, but I don’t want to waste my time if it’s not the right thing. Um, I don’t even know why I’m bringing this up.”

      The answer to that is perhaps because she’s gotten used to working things out, and that skill will be invaluable moving forward. Because, like most of us, Georgas has learned that—no matter how happy we might believe ourselves to be—at night the monsters never stop coming.

      Hannah Georgas headlines the West 4th Avenue Khatsahlano Street Party on Saturday (July 9).