Melbourne band Georgia State Line are relatively new but have already made their mark, in their home town and on the national country music landscape. Now they’ve released a single credited to the band and Patrick Wilson, who’s in the band but also the co-writer of ‘What I Know Now’. Recently I interviewed the band’s impressive frontwoman Georgia Delves, whose musical talents and knowledge are extensive, and found out more about the song, the tour she and Wilson embarked on, and the band’s plans for a new album.
You had a very busy time while you’re at school by the sound of it, learning music by day, singing in choirs at school and performing gigs at night. Was that exciting or exhausting or both?
A bit of both, actually. I remember looking back on that time and thinking, I don’t know how I kept up with a schedule that busy. It was exhausting, but it was really grounding for me. Coming from a background of classical music, especially for voice, as a singer, I really think it sets you up to be able to sing properly and know how to use the instrument. But I felt as well with the creative side of things, studying classical, it took me a little bit to break away and find my own kind of creative pathway.
Your grandparents introduced you to country music, but did you try a few different styles of music before you settled on country?
I definitely did. As a teen I tried out songwriting and thought, What the heck am I doing? These songs are so bad I can’t let the light of day come to them or anyone hear them. I started off playing in a folk duo and [then] branched out when I started to play more music with lots of different people and I moved to Melbourne and met lots of other bands and friends through there.
Your voice sounds like it could suit a few different styles of music. The classical training I can hear because you have such great tone and control of your voice. But was there anyone – like a music teacher, voice teacher – who might’ve tried to nudge you in a particular direction of music?
Studying classical I had a very strict, traditionally classical teacher, and I remember when I told her that I was going to move to Melbourne and study a contemporary course, I don’t think she was totally that happy. I think she was wanting me to go down the very classical opera route but that definitely wasn’t my thing. But it still is a really valuable practice. I think doing my own research and getting into different country singer-songwriters, looking at who they sought inspiration from and then tracing that back. I don’t think anyone kind of pushed me apart from the classical way, but I suppose it’s just a big melting pot of all the music that I listened to and enjoy. That’s what comes out.
So it sounds like you’re really interested in and have a lot of knowledge about and pedigree in music theory, music history, different styles of music. Are you a naturally curious person about things? Because that suggests to me that you like to know a lot of stuff.
I do. I do like to try, I suppose. It’s up to other people to see if I pulled that off very well. But I do like to find out different singer-songwriters and take inspiration from them. I’m always riding with the knowledge that I have Dolly Parton and all the classics in the back of my mind, but looking at everyone who’s coming up through the Nashville scene at the moment and just seeing what they’re doing with their music and how they go about making it all work. That’s really inspiring to me at the moment.
Your background sounds clear in the music in that it sounds like you have so much knowledge and history and practice, and I guess that you are able to distil that sound, because it’s such a clean sound on your record. Your voice, as I said, you’ve got such command of it. The instruments are all really clean. How does that background come into your songwriting as well, if that makes sense? It seems to me that you must be really skilled at shedding things that aren’t useful.
I suppose it comes down to the musicians that I’m playing with today. I’ve got Tom Brooks, he’s a great bluegrass player picker around Melbourne. He plays with a whole range of players. Patrick Wilson is on the drums. Pat and I just recorded and are releasing ‘What I Know Now’ together. He’s a singer-songwriter in his own right. And I’ve got Laura Baxter, who plays banjo, bass guitar and backing vocals with us as well. Working with those musicians really helps shape where I want to go with the music. I feel like maybe when I write a song by myself, I can have a different kind of visualisation of how it will come about. But when I put it to those musicians, that’s where we shed all the crap and go with what sticks and is the sound of the band.
When I interviewed Ben Leece he basically said that he’s managed to take most of that band at some point in time to play with.
[Laughs] Well, we had such a good time. Ben stayed with us in Melbourne the other week when he was on the Victorian leg of his tour and Tom, Pat and Laura all played in his band and I jumped up for one or two songs. We love Ben. He’s so good.
To return to your song with Patrick Wilson. This is the first time, I think, that there’s been co-credit with Georgia State Line and another artist. And because he’s also in the band, is he credited because you’re singing with him and you’ve written the song with him?
It’s credited because it was a fifty-fifty collaboration. We’re really excited to be releasing a song as a collab. Pat and I have been playing together for a very long time. We studied music at university; we also moved into a van last year and did a three-month tour around Victoria, New South Wales and up into northern Queensland. So that was a hectic time. But I feel like out of all those good and bad experiences – living in a van is a hard thing to do [laughs] – we definitely got some good music out of it.
Greta Ziller and Andrew Swift have done something similar recently as well in a van. There’s the driving, there’s the performing, there’s this soundcheck, there’s all sorts of things. Do you find it hard to keep your energy up for performance when you’re doing that?
Yes, definitely. It can be very tiring. It’s all about logistics – a good plan in place and trying the best. Life throws it out. It doesn’t always go to plan. You could be stuck somewhere else and running late. Thankfully we were never late to a show. But it is very tiring, the touring kind of life. It takes the right person, I think, to be able to do it. You have to be wanting to go touring and to know what you’re getting into. There are definitely positives and negatives to the whole touring life.
Do you think you’d do that again? There seems to a bit more of it going on. Fanny Lumsden does her Country Halls tours. And for audiences in those towns, it must be great to have you turn up.
I definitely want to do it again. Probably not for as long as we did. We were both at points with our own jobs on the side of music and our living situations that meant it was a perfect time to pack everything up and just try touring nonstop for the next three months. So it worked out for us in that aspect. But next time maybe we’ll do little, shorter stints. Kudos to everyone that can get out there and do it for as long as they can. It’s a hard beat.
Even if you weren’t in a van, are there any places that are on your wishlist to play? Anywhere in the world.
Georgia State Line are going to be releasing a album probably not until early next year, but we’re hoping with that we can finally get overseas and do a few shows there. On the top of the bucket list would be the Red Rocks Amphitheater. That’d be pretty amazing. But small steps. I won’t discriminate. I’m open to wherever.
Have you already recorded the album?
We have. We spent April recording. And we’re getting onto mixing in the next month. Hopefully we’ll have a couple of singles out by the end of the year. But the full album probably not until early next year.
Is it hard to be patient with that kind of process when it seems so far away?
Yes. I think the whole process, you have different mindsets at each phase. At the moment we’re being quite critical, listening with a really critical ear, picking up everything that we need changed. And the mixing process will very much be the same – going over everything with a fine-toothed comb. Checking that there’s nothing in the wrong place. I look forward to the end of that process and being able to listen back and say, yes, we did everything that we wanted. I think we’re well on the way to having an end product that we’re going to be very proud of and happy to put out. The album that we have out currently,Heaven Knows– that’s an EP, actually, an eight-track EP. That EP to the one that we will put out is going to be very different. It’s been nice seeing how my creativity has changed and being able to go into a studio setting and have much more knowledge and control of what I’m working out and doing.
To me, eight tracks is an album.
[Laughs[ And that’s maybe my inexperience as well. I thought, I have this many songs. I want to get it out. And the first thing to do is do an EP.So I just called it an EP. So, you know, I’ve grown from there [laughs]. Many people have asked me about that one. I’m, like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s an album. Maybe it’s an album. I don’t know.’
It’s an EP with bonus tracks!
I didn’t want everyone to miss out.
I’m interested in what you just said about how your creativity has changed. By that do you mean your creative processes changed or that because you do know more, perhaps your confidence in your own creativity has changed?
Confidence, I think. Just backing the decisions I make. It’s a hard thing to think, I want the song to sound like this and feel like this, and then translate to the musicians that you’re working with and the producer and the engineer. And knowing how to give the most accurate translation from my head to what comes across physically and in the studio – I feel like that has become a lot easier for the musicians I’m working with to understand and to get the end result that I’m imagining.
Is there anything you’ve had to unlearn from your formal training – in classical, in particular?
For voice I think there was a lot of tone and articulation things that I changed when I stopped studying it and taking lessons, and venturing into my own singer-songwriter pathway. I did study classical violin and at the time when I was moving to Melbourne I was trying to branch out and take up old-time lessons and start playing more fiddle. But one of the reasons why I don’t play fiddle these days is that I found it very tricky to be able to break the habits and the techniques from classical violin. And I never mastered that jump. But that’s something I definitely want to get back into.
From the outside, music can just seem like it’s all music, but of course different genres have so many different structures within the songs, and even within something like country music there are different things going on within different subgenres. Is it a little frustrating for you, given that you have so much experience and knowledge to think, I have to learn how to do this a different way – it’s not just flowing the way I want it to?
I think structure was a really good word you used, definitely for the classical violin path that I have. But I think working with a lot of different musicians before we’ve had this line-up that I’m so lucky to have with Tom, Laura and Pat, a lot of different musicians would come on board and they would maybe have a metal background and have a really technical background in their own instrument. Like bass, for example. And they’d say, ‘Oh, you’re playing country, that’s really easy, I can get onto that’. But I think there’s such a skill set in its own be able to play at the right times, leave space. There’s all little art forms within those unsaid structures in country music.
And then also I guess within writing the lyrics, because the demands of the country music audience are very much that you’re telling stories. Have you found that you have a natural country lyric writing style?
Maybe not so natural. I definitely have become more critical and have done more editing when I approach songwriting. I started out playing in a folk duo and when I was writing for that the songs were a little bit blasé. It was kind of like, ‘What are you actually talking about here? Very vague phrases that people use.’ It was saying everything without saying anything at the same time. So I felt before I came into writing for Georgia State Line it was nice to have another outlet where I’ve been able to learn how to edit and write something that’s more true to myself.
Do you tend to have a process for writing? Do you set aside time to write or if an idea comes to you do you follow it when it turns up?
It depends. I have a part-time job that I do in Melbourne on the side of music and I work that three days a week. So on my days off I make sure I sit down and do writing on those days that I have free. Otherwise, I’ll be on the bus and I’ll just whisper into my phone a little tune or lyric idea that I’ve thought of. Just catch it when it comes, I suppose. I’ve tried to be more diligent in the songwriting practice and turn up like it is a job, start at 9 a.m. and sit down and write. But I’m probably not that strict on myself. I probably don’t follow that as well as I should.
It’s tricky to do that when you have another job, I’m sure the songwriters in Nashville, who have to write however many songs a day, turn up and do it. They have their processes. But for you, with other things going on, it’s different.
That’s really true. It is. It can be creatively stifling having to think about other work, other priorities, you know, money for the album, money for different things. But I suppose that’s the beauty and the difficulty of being a self-managed artist – you’ve got to wear many hats.
For sure. And so many people in country are. My theory is that it has actually led to excellence. So many of them, like you, have such an incredible background, and you have the awareness and skills and knowledge to make those decisions to make an excellent product. It’s interesting to see what happens once you give the artist that control to choose their producers and choose when things happen and choose the amount of time they’re taking and all that sort of stuff. I think it has led to these really amazing products. I don’t know if you see that as an artist. I’m presume you do because you’re in the scene.
Yes. You’ve got to really work for it and when the time comes that a team would be willing to work with us or we have enough workload for that to be managed by someone, I see that being very much a collaborative team experience. Very much gone are the days when someone would discover you and you’d be swept up and things would happen immediately. It’s a hard task but I’d like to think that if I’m making money off my music or I get to do music as a full-time job that’s a really big achievement, and I suppose the end product is just going to be a little bit more well rounded and, and well travelled.