“I wanna make a million bucks, wanna make my millions,” sings Hannah Georgas on Millions - which you might have heard on HBO’s Girls if you’re into that sort of thing. With fighting words like those, you might expect Georgas to brim with noisy ambition. In fact, she chooses the quietest corner of the pub and rocks one of the cosiest-looking cardigans I’ve ever seen as we sit back with pints of Sagres for a down-to-earth chat. Ambition bubbles beneath her words, but it’s subdued - she wants to make her millions, but she doesn’t feel the need to scream it with every breath.
Georgas is pretty composed considering she’s not long off-stage at The Blind Tiger Club across the road, a show she describes as “super-chaotic”. “These shows are always ‘hurry up and go’, a rush to get your stuff on stage, no soundcheck. It’s just, ‘does your keyboard work? Okay, go!’” she says laughing.
The Great Escape marks Georgas’ second trip to the UK this year, having toured with City and Colour - AKA Alexisonfire’s Dallas Green - as the main support in January. Having embarked upon a headline tour in her home country late last year, you might expect that playing second-fiddle to showgoers who, frankly, haven’t heard of her might have thrown her off a little. Not so.
“There’s always that feeling when you’re an opener for someone who, just like…clearly the people are there to just see him. The first six rows are just like, these people glaring at you, waiting and wanting to sing every word with that headliner, y’know? So you do feel like you’re trying to win people over but at the same time as soon as you start getting your head out of that stage and do your thing and forget about that fact, it turns into a good thing.”
Back home in Vancouver, one of Canada’s numerous culture-rich melting pots, Georgas is used to playing much bigger venues and being far closer to the front of people’s minds. Her success at home is down to her indefatigable efforts to make music her living, an ambition which has its roots in her early childhood. Her mother signed her up for piano lessons at the age of five and by six or seven years old she was writing her own music, largely inspired by her late father.
"He was a really amazing blues piano player and he would write songs and play them in front of us all the time. He was like…boogie-woogie, rocking out on the piano and played like, crazy crazy things on the piano. We’d all show him off all the time, I remember showing him off to my friends and bringing him into show-and-tell in my school!
“I took very classical Suzuki training which you focus on learning by ear. I did that until I got into grade 8 and then quit - I just wanted to play on my own and do my own thing. I played in a couple of bands in high school, still trying to figure out: do I love music so much that I want to do it [as a job]? School, or music? School, or music?”
After spending two and a half years working on a psychology degree in Victoria, Georgas chose music and upped sticks, moving to Vancouver. Throwing herself at every open mic night available, she affiliated herself with Music BC, a non-profit aiming to promote musicians across the British Columbia province and submitted The Beat Stuff, the title track of her debut EP, to a song contest. The Beat Stuff came up tops and piqued the attention of state-owned CBC Music, whose consistent support and airplay ensured that Georgas didn’t remain under the radar for long.
Part of Georgas’ appeal is her downright honest songwriting, coupled with catchy, minimally synthesised pop beats. Millions isn’t really a begging plea for success, rather an autobiographical statement of the work she conscientiously puts in: “Every conversation I have means something. I take away so much and lose a lot, it’s nothing.” Robotic could be considered equal parts protest against emotions - “No more blood in these veins. I wanna press reset” - and a pointed acknowledgement of her music’s evolution from tidy acoustic guitar pop to a mish-mash of that and newer electronic elements: think gentle drops of synth and skooshes of digital drums.
The latter’s prominence on her latest self-titled album is at least in part down to the influence of producer Graham Walsh - renowned as one quarter of electronica outfit Holy Fuck and someone whom Georgas regards as “a synth god”. That said, Walsh’s influence is not explicit - his work on Hannah Georgas involves minor additions and tweaks to songs rather than complete transformations of compositions largely written on guitars and keyboards. His efforts ensure that Shortie is peppy and ambitious and that the heartbreak dirge Somebody is morose, but not without an undercurrent of defiance.
"I basically was writing these songs, either on keyboard or guitar, recording it and them embellishing a little of myself with synths and drum beats and stuff. But I wanted someone to take it further and help me kind of realise the direction that I was going and just flesh it out a bit more and so I found Graham…I love their band [Holy Fuck] and I thought this would be such an awesome kind of collaboration, fusion of his world and my world together.
“The sounds he can come up with and the way he just goes about constructing and colouring production and stuff is really incredible and so…I sent him my demoes and he said yes. We spent two and a half months making my record.”
The production process itself had some appropriately rustic origins: beginning, as many albums do, with a couple of songwriting excursions in the wilderness.
"I had to go away to a cabin for a bit to just kinda start things and clear my head out…I had a beautiful cabin! I rented it for a week and I had all the amenities that I needed, and a beautiful jacuzzi.
“It was so nice: I rented it on a low season time so it was super cheap and rainy and all I could do was stay inside and be by myself. Which was just amazing. It was the best thing I think I’ve ever done in my life, and that’s kind of what started that last record. I went home and I was inspired to keep going.”
After returning from a series of shows across Europe Georgas plans on returning to the studio to continue work on her third full-length album. Unlike her latest release she’s aiming to mix up how she writes in a bid to improve upon her own musical abilities. Her aim is to record the as-yet-untitled record in the autumn, following a support slot in a summer tour across the US with Love Song singer Sara Bareilles.
"The songs I have right now have been happening in a similar vein to the last record where I kinda write when I get emotional and whatever comes out comes out, which is nice. I’m trying to steer a little bit away from that because it’s always good to grow and try different things and I’ve written some songs that, I dunno…I usually try and write from a personal standpoint. I might try and write some songs thinking about some other situations that have nothing to do with me, but write that in the first-person. An experience…a situation that happens to that person and speak from how I would deal with it? I dunno, I’ll try that.
"I’ve been trying to write some music without having to go to an instrument. I can play so much on a guitar but I’m not a very awesome guitar player at all. I just kind of use it like a writing tool and…I have habits where I’ll just gravitate towards a certain chord progression. I’ll try and get away from that a bit and just write strictly based on melody and lyrics. I’ll try and write a song without having to use an instrument.
“I started writing a song with just me playing a beat, which I don’t normally do that at all, I usually get all emotional and pick up an instrument and start singing, so I’m just trying to challenge myself in different ways and do that. As far as production goes, um…I’m still thinking about that, I’m still thinking about producers and ah…who would be the right fit for me? I really want Graham [Walsh] to be involved but I don’t know who I want to produce yet. It’s still in the stages where there’s still things to sort out but I wanna record in the fall. I have hopes of that but I dunno, I have to work my butt off this summer.”
Working her butt off probably won’t be an issue. For Hannah Georgas, the grind is the life. Having carved her way up from nothing, via a university stop-off and a support slot or two, the UK could be next on her to-conquer list. And from there, there could be no stopping her. But don’t call her an egoist hellbent on world-domination. "I feel like I’m a lucky individual, that I’m doing exactly what I want to do.
“I have worked pretty hard. Sometimes I think I can work harder, I’m just that kind of person that I’m hard on myself, but I’ve been only really seriously concentrating on it for four years. I know I have a very long way to go…it’s just the beginning.”
Watch out for Hannah Georgas and her infectious, delectably unpoppy synth-pop. She might just make her millions yet.
Hannah Georgas is out now on iTunes. US tour supporting Sara Bareilles kicks off on July 10th - full list of dates at hannahgeorgas.com.