Georgia Barnes has never shied away from her love of music. It’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, and after years of backing up other musicians she finally took the plunge into centre stage in 2015 with her debut EP, Come In, as well as her self-titled LP. The genre-defiant multi-instrumentalist is soon to make her maiden voyage to Australia, opening for UK party-starters Jungle. Before the tour, however, we thought it’d be good manners to get to know our guest a little better. Here, Barnes talks her school and uni days, a sliding-doors moment with football and shaping the sound of her next album.

When did you first become interested in wanting to be a musician?
There were lots of moments in my early childhood where I began to get the idea music was something I should pursue. I grew up in quite a musical environment – my dad was a musician, and my mum absolutely loved music as well. I was surrounded by instruments from an early age – my dad was in an electronic band in the 90s called Leftfield, and they would make music together right there in the flat I grew up in.

I was always watching Top of the Pops as a child, and I’d try and recreate the performances just in my room with an acoustic guitar. My mum tells me that when I was a baby, I’d even go around the arcade and push all the buttons so that the machines would make noises. [laughs] That could definitely explain why I’ve always loved playing the drums or playing synthesizers – I just loved making noise! 

Were you making your own songs early on?
Yeah, when I got my first four-track recorder. This was back in the day when you’d be recording onto tape. I would have been about 13, maybe 14. I’d be in my room for hours and hours, just experimenting and trying to come up with things. I used to annoy my mum with them all the time – I’d sit her down and sing through all of them. I can remember one – it was just me singing “Holiday, holiday, holiday” over and over. My brother is a dancer, and he used to sing along and dance to it. [laughs]

I don’t think I’d ever been happier than when I was composing my own songs in there – it was a real moment for me. It made me realise that this was what I wanted to do all the time – I wanted this to be my job.

📸: Hinako

Where was all of this happening? Where did you grow up?
I grew up in London, right in the middle of town. Mum was part of a cooperative living scheme, so we lived right near Baker Street. It’s still a cooperative building to this day. Dad lived there too, in the flat above. I live in the northwest of London now, and it’s a very multicultural area. It’s a real melting pot – there are people that live there that have come from all over the world. I feel like all of that has factored in and played its own role in my music.

At what point did you get out of your bedroom and perform publicly for the first time?
At my first secondary school, I performed an Alicia Keys song. I’m pretty sure it was “Fallin’” – everyone was singing that song at the time. [laughs] I was about 13, and I can remember learning the piano part but also creating a loop on a drum machine that I had inherited from my dad to use as well. I did this cover at the school fete that year, on this little stage they had set up in the middle of the fair. I was really nervous – to this day, I still have a real issue with nerves – but I ended up loving it. That was a big indication that I could do this.

Did you have bands going through high school, as well?
Oh, yeah. I was one of those kids in high school that was always in the music room. I’d play drums with whoever was in there, just bouncing from room to room and jamming. When I got to my next secondary school, I spent a lot of time in the AV room in the library, watching all the old performance videos they had in the archive. I was obsessed with the Talking Heads video – I can’t remember what tour it was from…

Stop Making Sense?
Exactly! That’s it! It was just always music. The only other things I was interested in were football and getting into trouble. [laughs]

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📸Rosie Marks – Dazed Digital

There’s obviously a bit of a leap from “Fallin’” to releasing your first songs as Georgia. What happened next?
I went to university from ages 18 to 21, and I did a Bachelor of Arts. I was studying national musicology, which is an anthropological look at music in world cultures. I specifically looked at West Africa, and parts of India. Even so, I was always waiting and wanting to start my career in music in the back of my head. I had weighed up the idea of going pro with women’s football – I was on a London team, and it seemed like an option for a time there. After a while, I realised it was always music – it could never have been anything else.

You were playing drums a lot around this time…
That’s right, yeah. I’ve always been a keen drummer, like I said, and I was playing drums with a lot of people. I started to build up some contacts, and after awhile I started to seriously consider getting into being a session drummer as full-time work. There was enough work going around London alone that could have kept me going. From there, I started performing all over London – then all over the world. Always in the background, however, was me toying with a few songs here and there using Logic on my laptop – not that I thought anything would ever really come of it.

I remember I was on tour, drumming for an artist named Kate Tempest. I met these two girls on that tour, Cherish and Katie, and at that point I had about four or five songs that I’d done just on my laptop. I played the songs to them to see what they thought of them. They really liked them – and, as it turned out, they ran a label named Kyu Kyu Records. They wanted to release them as an EP – I was like, “Oh, wicked! Let’s do this.” It happened really quickly after that – I had a real creative buzz then, and it ended up leading me to writing an entire album.

What had influenced the direction the songs were taking musically?
Everything. I was working in a record store at the time – I was juggling a lot of different jobs here and there. Anything that caught my ear, I fell hard for – everything from Missy Elliott to Hindustani classical music; from Joni Mitchell to Balinese funk. I was also really invested in modern electronic music – James Blake, Oneohtrix Point Never, all that sort of stuff.

I tried not to let my nerves and my fears fixate on me – I didn’t want to keep asking myself “Is this good enough?” over and over. I was ignoring my inhibitions and just going for it. I’d had fun playing for other people, but I was sick of it. I was ready to really push myself into my own music.

Do you feel like you’re at a point now where you’re wholly confident in the sound of Georgia as a project, and what you want to get out of it?
Absolutely, yeah. My first record was a very experimental pop record – I think it’s such an interesting listen. I was telling people it was a window into what’s to come. After the touring stopped and I started writing this second record, I really wanted to get the songwriting down. I wanted to make sure the songs were good – I wanted to be disciplined in areas where I wasn’t on the first record. This time around, I really wanted to make sure there was a little bit more emphasis on the songs themselves. I feel like I’ve got a way to go in terms of songwriting, but I really feel like this record has a much more focused direction to it.

Catch GEORGIA supporting Jungle in Australia this April. Final tickets on sale now HERE.

Words by David James Young.