by Stewart Cheetham
Turbulence, catharsis and the turning of the tide
On new album, All That Emotion, Hannah Georgas deals with heartbreak, change and coming to terms with the aftermath of a relationship. And it was during the recording process with Aaron Dessner where the Toronto based singer really brought the record’s themes to the fore.
The record’s beginnings came during a turbulent time in Georgas’ life. ‘I moved to Toronto right when I released my last album and I didn’t have a lot of time at home. I had just started sinking into the city, I had just broken up with somebody and I was dealing with a lot of change, and new beginnings and I was also sorting somethings out in the background with my team in music too. So in my work life, it was all changing – so writing these songs, all of that was all coming out in the music.’
Georgas’ tackles the heartbreak of failed relationships head on the track Easy, delivering the devastating line ‘Memories of you slowly fade; Losing sight of you more every day’ and in the chorus ‘Baby, your love was never for me; Baby, your love was never meant to be.’ For some artists the writing of such weighty topics could be traumatic, however, for Georgas, she embraces the process – ‘Music has always been a therapeutic, cathartic process for me whether it’s about me, or something that’s inspired me – it could even be from somebody else’s story if that’s made me feel something.’
Someone I Don’t Know serves as a moment of empowerment on the record – she sings determinedly, ‘Someday I’ll get over you / And you’ll become something I don’t want /You’ll become something I forgot.’ Georgas explains, ‘Someone I Don’t Know is a turning point – a realisation. In time I am going to realise that this is a small blip in my life and it’s not going to mean anything, and I’m going to be in a good place and you have perspective. But you’re still hurting – you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was a moment there was hope.’
The album’s mood palette is also much more understated than Georgas’ previous work – allowing her voice to move front and centre in the production. Something she says producer, Aaron Dessner, played a part in helping to draw out of her.
‘After things calmed down with my last release, I got in contact with Aaron Dessner and started sending him my demos – started this dialogue over email, and just started talking about ideas. We scheduled time for me to come out to his studio and started painting the songs from there with production – how the songs all came together as far as production stuff has a lot to do with my collaboration with him. We talked a lot about how we wanted the vocals to have an emotional presence and depth to them, and for that to be a real focal point. And we talked about how we wanted it to be a blend of organic textures and some electronic elements too. That whole process with Aaron played a big part.
The record was recorded at Aaron Dessner’s Long Pond studio in upstate New York. A unique way for Georgas to make a record, which involved a monster nine-hour commute down the East Coast.
‘Aaron and I got together in April 2018 and we would work for a week or so at his studio, and then we’d take a break for about a month, regroup and work on it again and take a break. There wasn’t a lot of back and forth between sessions. That was a lot to do with scheduling. Also, in hindsight, now I think about it, it was really good for us to take those breaks and come back with a fresh mind and ear and perspective – and to go back and work on the songs again; that’s how the process went and we finished everything at the beginning of 2019.’
Georgas attributed the weeklong intensive camps to helping her focus and fully immerse herself in the experience. ‘What I really appreciated about our experience is that when we were working on it, there weren’t any distractions – I would drive from Toronto to upstate New York, and that gave me – kind of – this like chance to put myself in a headspace of diving into working with Aaron and being as creatively open as possible, and as focused as possible because when we were out there and working, it was all I was focusing on and doing, so that was really cool. I’ve worked on records before where I was working in the studio then going home at the end of every day, so I really appreciated the fact that when I was there with Aaron that was all I was doing.’
When asked if she was itching to get back to work on things after recording sessions, she explains that she was under strict instructions to take time to reflect from her producer.
‘Aaron told me not to listen to anything after I had left Long Pond, and give myself some time to think about it, but I would want to put it on as soon as I got in the car to drive home. It inspired some ideas and I would go home and spend some time thinking about it, and there were a couple of songs where we had a version in one session and then I came back and we rejigged the version. When I think about the whole process, it was actually a great way to make a record.’
On Punching Bag, there are backing vocals that are quite disorienting, which creates these unusual textures. The track excellently uses production techniques to imitate the album’s themes. ’That was Aaron’s idea – he thought that would be a really cool thing to do – to have some sort of rhythmic talking in the background in the space in between the vocal verses; he asked me to go in and give it a shot and just try doing it. I was nervous to do it, and I kind of got excited about it once we started trying it. Then I realised it would be so cool – the song is about staying in a relationship and trying to make something work when you know deep down that it’s not the right thing, and it’s a dysfunctional thing, so the talking lyrics in the background became that voice of reason and the truth of the situation – and the main vocals are the opposite of just trying to ignore that voice and keep things going and begging for things to work out.’
All That Emotion serves an excellent window into the world of the Canadian songwriter. However, Georgas tells us that the song meanings will change over time. ‘From my perspective, I think my music and my writing doesn’t feel like its specific, as I write songs they take on new meanings; the older the song is, its just life.’Georgas rounds off our chat by expressing how excited she is for the album to be finally out there in the world. ‘It’s been a long time coming. I started working on it early 2018, and it took a bit of time to write and record, so it feels really nice that it’s finally out – it feels a bit surreal actually.’
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