PGH is all about helping artists highlight their most recent projects, so let us all know what your latest project is – and tell us about how it come into the world. What has the initial feedback on it been like?
Gail George (GG): Even though it’s been out for a year now, my latest project is The Barrio Sessions with singer/songwriter musician Early Times. The CD came about after Early and I had connected here in New York so I could get a few guitar lessons from him. He’s a brilliant artist! He and I are also both from Sacramento, California and even though I knew of him in the years we both lived there, we had never officially met until years later. I really had a definitive idea of what I wanted when going in but as sessions went on I realized there was a lot of Early going into what we were doing. Plus, his studio was up in Spanish Harlem so our working title of The Barrio Sessions just eventually grew into the actual album name. And his presence and input as well as the neighborhood itself became the backdrop to how the songs eventually evolved which surprised even me. I love Power Pop! I love all melodic, harmony filled music and am madly in love with this community but I have the hardest time pulling that off myself so it’s been thrilling to have people respond positively to this very non power pop record. I didn’t expect that all and I’m completely humbled.
The Recording Process: There are so many interesting ways that music projects come into the world these days compared with what artists had to struggle through years ago. Take us on the creative arc of how this project came into being and any wisdom that you learned along the way. Also, what were some of the obstacles or struggles that you encountered when you were working on the project?
GG: Well, my last fully recorded CD was the EP, Follow Your Bliss and that was released back in 2003. After that I went musically dormant for a decade. After almost seven tumultuous years living in NYC, starting in 2005 I ended up losing my apartment and my job in a perfect storm of chaos. To add to the calamity, I lost my savings, retirement and my 401k on a failed business too so in the spring of 2012 I left NYC and moved back to Sacramento feeling pretty lost and defeated. It was in this somewhat harrowing time I decided to go back to music because that is where I find the most comfort. And it’s really all I know in many ways too so when John Borack sent me a very kind email greeting on my birthday a light bulb went off. I knew he was doing the Elvis Costello tribute and without even thinking how I was going to do it, I asked him if I could contribute. He shocked me by saying yes and that really set the wheels in motion to start doing music again. I reached out to my longtime Sacramento friend David Houston whom I had done many musical projects with over the years to head it all up. I also decided I was going to finally make a record again after almost 10 years! David and I got two songs in including the Elvis tribute cover of Deep Dark Truthful Mirror when all was about to change again. Eight months after coming back to Sacramento, absolutely believing I would never return to NYC, I was offered my old job back and four weeks later, with everything in storage, I would be sleeping on a friends couch in Queens. Without wasting another second, I reached out to Early and within the year the seeds were planted to make what would become The Barrio Sessions.
Are there any particular songs on this project that are special to you or communicate a message that you’d like to share here?
GG: Many of the songs on The Barrio Sessions were written over the course of about 13 years with a few of them being completed literally in the moments prior to recording so it all feels a bit fragmented at times. The song Walk Away came very quickly as an answer to why I left NYC to begin with in 2012. I was led to believe I was broken and when I came back from Sacramento and took a hard look at the big picture, I realized I wasn’t at all. I didn’t crumble, I didn’t fall. Now no longer tethered, I walked away. Leaving was about self-preservation and in returning to NYC I knew there was no going back to the way things were. The ending conveys the attempt and the obvious failure.
As we all know, the music industry has been devastated for many reasons over the past 10 years, what are your thoughts on these changes and are you finding some of the changes helpful to you with getting more people to hear your music?
GG: I am sort of split between two worlds. As someone who moves way under the radar and in a small circle of listeners as well as many of the artists I love, my actual day job is to move the music of some of the biggest musical artists in the world. For the last 16 years, on and off, I have worked for one of the major music labels in a division that is still relevant. Manufacturing! We still make CDs. A LOT! DVDs. And yes, even cassettes again! Obviously not the same numbers as 10 or even five years ago but with a massive catalog there is still a healthy market. And with the resurgence of vinyl I am seeing astonishing numbers for a configuration that was pretty much left for dead a decade ago. So many vinyl plants went out of business or downsized to only cover a niche market so when it came roaring back to life the industry was not prepared. It’s still struggling and I don’t know what the answer is except patience if you’re trying to get vinyl made.
How does this effect me though? There is probably no better time to be an independent artist. The digital age of music allows someone like me and so many others to remove the middle man, to reach an audience on a somewhat level playing field and that’s empowering. It’s also a lot of work. I have no delusion as to why I do what I do. It makes me happy and is surprisingly cheaper than therapy. If someone else comes along and likes what they hear then that is the icing on the cake. I will always continue to find ways to express myself in ways that bring me joy. I love the act of writing and recording. Bringing a song to life. Very few things in life make me feel that way.
Along the lines of this discussion, it would be really interesting to get your thoughts on what you think the future of ‘music enjoyment’ will look like in the coming years? How do you personally enjoy and ‘consume’ music? Any trends you’ve noticed with your own habits compared to, say, 10 years ago?
GG: It really took me a long time to get on the iTunes bandwagon. Spotify, Pandora, all of them! I love my music. My CDs. My records. I have moved my large record collection around so many times because I couldn’t bear the thought of loading it all into my computer and tossing the physical away. I need to hold the liner notes or look at the artwork! I need the tactile experience of listening to music. The artist didn’t just put some notes and words together to create chapters of music, they had a vision. From every song, to the cover, to the label artwork, even the thanks you’s. The entire package is relevant and it gets lost with MP3s or file sharing which is devastating to the artist. No other commodity has been devalued as much as music so the artist has to get creative and find new ways to make sure they are paid for their work of which should never be questioned.
We would love to hear what your plans on with your next project – Are you going to a full CD, an EP or just release songs as you finish them? Release them digital only or combine physical with the digital or what?
GG: I have started work on a new CD that is reuniting me with the great and talented David Houston! We are file sharing across country (thank you technology!) but I will head back to Sacramento periodically so we can be in the same room to work on everything. That’s important to me. I need to be in the room. And at this point I have no idea how I will release. Right now I’m in the early stages of writing and recording so I’ll have to see how things unfold down the road. I really want to release on vinyl one day. I guess I better put my order in now then because it may be a year or two!
What are you finding that is working well for your music right now that others may find interesting to hear about?
GG: For me, and I am so late to the party, but Garage Band has been an amazing songwriting and I have only started utilizing it in the last six months or so. It has allowed me to explore a bit more sonically and in helping get parts out of my head when I demo. To share these musical thoughts and ideas with a collaborator has been so liberating. The other thing I have started doing is giving myself a writing day which for me is Sunday. Working a full time job which at times can be extremely stressful I find my brain is mush when I get home at night. By giving myself a whole day to write or focus on music has freed me up in ways I didn’t expect. I’ve stopped beating myself up if I didn’t do anything musically throughout the week because I know I’ve got Sunday. That doesn’t mean I won’t write on any other day though because when the muse speaks you listen!
Is there a particular musician(s) you’d love to collaborate with – and why?
GG: There are so many! Can I do an entire record with a different musical hero on every song? It would include the following just to start with: Jon Brion, Linus of Hollywood, Lisa (Elsie) Mychols, Andy Partridge, Chris Price, Bleu, Parthenon Huxley and Don Piper just to name a few. And if I can get crazy and delusional: Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, Prince, Beck, Andy Sturmer, Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Jason Falkner, Brendan Benson, Andy Partridge, Glenn Tillbrook, Randy Newman and Neil Finn for the box set! And if a time machine existed the sadly gone, Harry Nilsson, John Lennon, George Gershwin. And that each one of them would bring to the table all the reasons why I love them so. And I know I’m missing more. I’ll face palm once I finish this.
Advance apologies: the so-called ‘classic’ questions. What other artists and bands have influenced your music and any particular reason why? Also, push come to shove: “Your Top 5 Albums Of All Time”? (Pop Geeks really are interested in this, trust us!)
GG: I’m going to do this fast as if I am grabbing them while running from a fire because it’s impossible to choose five. The Beatles “White Album”, Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”, Elton John “Madman Across The Water”, Jellyfish “Bellybutton”, XTC “Skylarking”. Don’t ever ask me to do that again! :-)
We’re always trying to find new music discover here at PGH – what are some of your favorite music releases of the last few years?
GG: As of just recently, these three came to mind but this is hard to choose as well. Always so much great music being made!
* A Don Piper Situation is Don Piper and his new release “What It Is” is a daily listen is what it is. There are so many things about this release that I love but just to start with it was all recorded live over a two day period which gives it wonderful energy, the songwriting/production is superb and it’s one of the rare times that I pretty much love every song on an album. I will listen to as a whole and then hit play again. It’s soulful, melodic and atmospheric and fans of Neil Finn and Wilco need to be all over this! http://www.adonpipersituation.net
* I also discovered “Goon” by Tobias Jesso Jr. last year. This beautiful baroque piano pop album was inspired by a painful break up as well as his mother’s cancer diagnosis but it doesn’t feel like a downer. It’s a beautiful record. He has been compared to everyone from Randy Newman to Harry Nilsson to Emitt Rhodes and rightfully so but I might throw a little Todd Rundgren in there as well. A guitarist and bassist normally he was teaching himself to play piano when he started writing this record. It's stunning. http://www.tobiasjessojr.com
*And from across the pond comes Ralegh Long and “Hoverance”. He reminds me so much of early Elton John at times. Madman Across the Water/Tumbleweed Connection Elton which were life changing records for my young self. I even hear a bit of Beck’s Morning Phase/Sea Change in production and in the quieter moments some Nick Drake as well. Very lush and gorgeous. A new favorite. https://raleghlong.bandcamp.com
Also on shuffle: Courtney Barnett, Jen Houston, Boy, Nelson Bragg, the entire Elvis Costello tribute, Beyond Belief (It’s great!). Everyday it’s someone new.
Where can we hear more of your music and any other releases you have?
GG: I finally have a web site so you can go to gailgeorge.com and pretty much all is there but CD Baby and iTunes can get you the music if you’re feeling kindly. I'm also on Instagram as well. That scratches a whole other kind of creative itch.