Georgia Fair’s Ben Riley talks to Heidi Pett about the band’s debut album, touring, and how he dreams of collaborating with Snoop Dogg:
“One day, Jordo just mentioned at lunchtime that he was into System Of A Down and I was like, ‘Yeah, me too,’ you know, as you are in year eight,” Ben Riley laughs as he explains the unlikely musical bond which brought he and band-mate Jordan Wilson together. “We decided to start this sort of System of a Down/Nirvana cover band and we just started jamming on weekends and having a bunch of fun and mucking around.”
Although Ben (above, right) insists that they’ve matured since those school days, having “picked up acoustic guitars, grown up a bit and learned from our mistakes”, this relaxed attitude and genuine enjoyment is something which has stayed with Melbourne’s Georgia Fair as their star continues to ascend. From signing with Sony after being picked up at a gig, having their song Picture Frames featured on a Big M advertisement to working with Bill Reynolds of Band of Horses, the pair from Sydney’s Northern Beaches are “stoked” to have had such a good run, and still seem quite content to muck about and simply let things unfold. They are, however, pleased to have managers now. “They’re really good at organising us. We’re not too good at doing that ourselves”.
‘Stoked’ is a word which comes up a lot, and it’s the best way I can think of to sum up their attitude. What really comes through is that the pair are having fun as they explore what they’re capable of. The fact that other people also get a kick out of what they do seems almost incidental, which is not to say they’re ungrateful for the support they’ve received from listeners and industry alike. Rather, Ben is quick to thank and extol the virtues of Band of Horses’ Bill Reynolds for his work during production, and in helping them develop their sound through cutting most of it live. “With the [self-titled] EP, it was our first time in the studio we kind of went a bit over the top with layering and didn’t have the production that we really wanted. And think we’ve just kind of matured a bit in the studio this time round. Bill had a big hand in that. He taught us a lot about how to make real records.”
They were similarly pleased about scoring the support slot for The Panics on the recent Rain on the Humming Wire tour, relishing the opportunity to spend time with and learn from “really good blokes who’ve been around for a bit and know the ropes. They managed to impart some wisdom they’ve gathered over the years”. With Georgia Fair’s own national tour in the works for early next year, the boys admired how, for an established band, The Panics ensure things remain in-house and family-based. “They’re very much a grassroots band and keep everything really close to their hearts. The way they tour is a really refreshing way of doing things and they’re very hands-on.” Despite earlier jokes that the pair rely on their managers to get them places on time, it’s obvious that this involvement and attitude is something which will stay with Georgia Fair.
It’s a mind-set they extend to their collaborations as well. When talking about single Marianne from their Times Fly EP, Ben emphasises how the process of recording with Dave Hosking and Tim Hart from Boy & Bear and Lisa Mitchell happened really organically. “Jordan and I invited Dave and Tim to come in and lay down the drums and stuff. They took a verse and that was kind of the way it stayed for a while. We were really happy with that but then, by chance, Lisa was in town a few months later and it turned out that we hadn’t quite finished, because, when she came in and put her vocal down, it kind of put the icing on the cake. We really enjoyed that collaboration and I think the reason why it worked because it wasn’t a forced thing. It just kind of happened. It was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna sing on this one?’ ‘Yeah, yeaah cool,’ ‘Oh, okay yeah. We’ll do that. It’ll be fun.’ We’re not gonna sit down and force ourselves to do something. If it fits it fits.”
Making friends on tour and creating music together is all very well, but when I ask about plans for future collaborations, Ben laughs and is quick to throw Snoop Dogg’s name into the ring, before admitting, when pressed, that it probably wouldn’t fit with their current style. However, with early influences like System of a Down, these boys could conceivably take their sound anywhere. For now though, they’ve found a happy niche somewhere in the crosshairs of indie, folk and pop. With songs that dredge memories of salty eyelashes and the light sting of sunburn on sticky limbs pasted to hot car seats, their latest album is destined to become something of a summer soundtrack for long days at the beach and time spent on the road with open windows.
Asked whether their experiences of touring affect the writing process or make it difficult to find time to pen songs, I can almost hear Ben shrug as he says in an offhand manner, “So long as your head’s screwed on, you’ve got thoughts going through there and you’re constantly coming up with stuff.” The “stuff” that Georgia Fair come up with involves sweet vocal harmonies and an unaffected brand of folk which they are busy sharing with others in venues around Australia. This week, the pair are supporting Howling Bells, before embarking on their own East Coast tour in early 2012. Ben is clearly excited about returning to the road. “For us, touring is an amazing part of life, it’s something we really love and can’t get enough of at this stage. I miss my bed sometimes but when we’re away we’re so busy and having so much fun that we don’t really think about it too much and you just get used to living out of a suitcase.”
Their live show is beguiling to the extent that it caught the eye and more importantly, the ears, of Sony. Ben laughs when I suggest the boys started something of a bidding war between them and Universal, who Georgia Fair “had a thing going with at the time.” They opted for Sony and, rather than nerves when signing with such a major label, Ben saw it as a big positive for the band. “It was more exciting than anything, just getting a company that really likes our music and likes what we do. It just meant that we could start releasing records and being able to afford them, so that was a really big plus for us. It was really affirming.” When I mention how lucky he is to be making a living out of something he so clearly loves, he laughs and then says, quite seriously, “Yeah, absolutely. It would suck if I hated it.”
Before signing off to repack a suitcase he admits he’s been living out of, and taking Georgia Fair’s beautiful tunes on the road, Ben asks me if I’m going to the beach that afternoon. Not quite, but listening to the summery folk of their album is almost close enough.
Georgia Fair’s debut album, All Through Winter, is out now. You can catch their residency at Phoenix Public House in Brunswick on Friday December 9th, 16th and 30th.
Interview by Heidi Pett. You can read her own blog here.