Jogai Bhatt talks to Broods’ Georgia Nott on her all-female produced solo project The Venus Project, gender representation in the music industry, and why this time she’s gone for a more stripped back sound.
Georgia Nott will be familiar to most as one-half of synth-pop sibling-duo Broods. With their signature sounds making waves globally and becoming synonymous with a vibrant new age of music in New Zealand, it’s safe to say the Notts have no intention of slowing down, together or alone.
On March 8, Nott announced a new solo side venture. A softer, dreamier, more vulnerable body of work entitled The Venus Project: Vol I – an album entirely created by women.
Earlier this year, a group of us got to sit in the sunny lounge of Universal Music’s sleek wooden interiors with antipasto aplenty to hear the first few tracks off the album. With a simple acoustic guitar, Nott began to play those first chords. Any hint of nerves melted away and a soft yet resilient sound filled the room.
In the week leading up to the release of the album, I sat down with Nott again for a chat about gender representation, #MeToo, and the general goings-on of the New Zealand music industry.
When I spoke to you last, you kind of summed up this feeling that I think is all too familiar with being the only woman in the room. At what point did you realise: ‘Hey, this is kind of fucked up?’
I think when I started to be surprised every time I saw a woman. I would be like, ‘Oh wow, you do that? That’s your job?’ And then I was like, ‘Wait, why am I surprised?’ I was annoyed at myself for feeling that way because I know women are capable of doing all these jobs. I didn’t want to be surprised every time I saw a woman behind the scenes, on tour, or in the studio engineering.
Doing this full female record and working with solely women on the creative aspects – right down to the mixing, mastering, artwork, promotion, management, everything – it feels like that was the most positive thing that I could do to actively be the change that I want to see in the industry. I want it to be normal and I want to expect to see women around me. There’s always this uneven ratio between men and women, especially when you go past the mainstream pop industry. You know, the indie industry’s run by men and boy bands – and I love listening to them – but it’s frustrating that it’s kind of seen as a guy thing. I’ve worked with a lot of producers that are women but I guess in the back of my mind I’m always expecting to work with guys.
With pop music, you’re almost better off because it’s at least marginally more welcoming. You look at something like prog rock and it’s suddenly a very exclusive thing.
Exactly, but they’re not the only ones who have something to say. I don’t want my two sisters who love music and are so talented to feel like they only fit in the industry in a certain way. I want them to feel like they can fit into any shape or form they want without being limited by genre. I know when I first started out, I felt like I could only make a career if I was a singer. I couldn’t have made a career being a producer or a writer. It felt like that was the only way I could do music, and I didn’t think twice about it at the time.
And this feels like kind of a radical move, right? Having an all-women production team is such a rarity that it almost becomes this political statement.
Yeah, and it is. Not that it should be seen as politically radical because I’m just asking to celebrate women and have them be valued in the industry.
Why did you feel now was the time for this project?
Oh, the time was years ago. It just so happens that it hasn’t really been a conversation that people have had until the last few years, especially in the industry. People are starting to call out this imbalance of men and women in music and call out the fact that women are really undervalued, seen as less capable, or not being up to the standard of men when truly, maybe, the creativity we have is what they’re missing. It’s gonna be exciting to see how people react.
I’m nervous, but I’ve also gotten to the point where I’ve done everything I can to make it into the thing that I believe in and the thing that I can present with conviction. If people don’t like it, then I hope it’s because it’s not their kind of music. I hope people are welcoming to an all-women cast in an album.
You were touching on this idea earlier about women kind of being undervalued. A common theme that runs through many creative industries for us is this idea of being silenced or dismissed. Do you have any experience of that?
I feel like I’ve always been told to be really grateful every time I get a compliment. To be surprised about it. I’ve almost been trained – and I guess that’s also a real Kiwi thing – to be overly humble. I’ve been trained to wait for people’s approval, but I don’t think that way naturally. I believe in myself and I like what I create. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give it out to the world. I write music that I love, music that means something to me, and I don’t think I should feel ashamed of the way I represent myself. I shouldn’t feel like I have to fit into this box of what a woman is, and that’s something I have to really consciously decide. It was important not to change myself too much on this project.
Tell me a little bit about the transition of working alongside your brother and your cousin and having Joel Little produce your stuff, to working exclusively with women.
The whole process was all over the place because I was doing it in between other stuff with Broods. I was on tour with the idea of trying to work with other women, but everyone else had their jobs and trying to align everything so I could actually make it come to fruition wasn’t always easy. Trying to find someone to mix the album took a while too. Finding someone to do the video took some time, mostly because of timing. But when we finally made it work it was so exciting. Every time we were struggling to make it work it was so motivating. It’s made me feel like I’d grown so much in my capability and my capacity for my own self-respect. My own creativity’s been broadened. What I’ve gained from it, even though it’s been really difficult at times, has been more than I’ve ever gained from anything else I’ve ever done.
What are the implications of a project like this where you’re in control of all the production elements, but it’s released by a label where men still hold a lot of the executive roles?
That’s a huge thing as well, yeah. My manager’s a man and he’s been incredibly supportive of this record. He knows that it’s something that needs to happen, so he assigned Sherry Elbe to manage this project. This is such a vulnerable album to me, where what I’m speaking about and singing about is so personal that, to be able to share that with another woman who is so nurturing and easy to be in that space with, it made me a little bit less nervous about exposing that side of myself. It made me way more fearless about being honest about things that are sometimes hard to talk about, and sometimes things people don’t want to hear.
In that way, it’s been great to have all these women being like, ‘yeah, no, yeah, we can do it!’, all amping each other up and rallying together to make sure that our voices are heard and that we’re not holding back on the things that we think are important for the sake of somebody’s ego. And sure, some of the songs are about moments that are a little bit sadder and some of the lyrics – like the voice memo on the album – are all really vulnerable, but that’s a part of being human. When you can own that side of yourself, you have so much more energy and time to be proactive and self-assured and creative. That’s the most important thing that I can say through this record is, ‘Yeah, I felt like that. But look at this! I can also do this.’ It’s important to acknowledge that these emotions come hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. It’s not too emotional. Women aren’t too emotional.
Is there such thing as being too emotional?
Nah. If you’re not emotional then you miss out on so much. If you don’t let yourself experience every part of the spectrum, you miss out on what it means to be human.
Completely. And of course we know you as one-half of Broods and you’ve explored the whole edgy electropop thing, but this record is quite stripped back. What inspired this particular sound?
I wanted the sound to reflect what I was feeling.
The sound of your soul, eh.
Yeah. Every song is very exposed and what I’m singing about is all very personal and raw and uncensored. I wanted the music to complement everything I was feeling when I was writing the songs. Some of them are still demos, I just didn’t want to change them because it felt like that was the most honest way they could ever be presented. With some of them, I went back and I was like, ‘This needs to be more aggressive and this needs to be more industrial and this needs to feel more cinematic’. Because the things that I’m singing about, that’s how they felt in that moment. I feel angry and larger than life and self-reflective. All the songs are supposed to embody the whole vibe and it’s been such a cool change from doing all the pop stuff. I’ve always wanted to write this kind of music and to be able to release it is so exciting. It’s crazy, a few years ago I never thought I’d be able to do this kind of music. Never thought I’d have the opportunity.
Did you draw inspiration from any other female artists during the process?
So many. A lot of different artists for different reasons, and it wasn’t all people in the music industry. A lot of women that have spoken out about their views and not apologised for where they stand on feminist issues, they were all really inspiring. But on the music side, I love Bat For Lashes. Her essence as an artist is something that I find really inspiring and Lykke Li, I love how dark she is. That’s something that I always connect to. Pretty much every artist that I listen to kind of works in this style of being real mellow and emotional. That’s the music I like, it’s the music I listen to, and it’s been really exciting to finally do that myself.
Tell me about ‘Won’t Hurt’ and ‘Need A Man’.
‘Need a Man’ is the third song on the record and it’s kind of this almost erratic world of questions and emotional vomit of, ‘Why, why, why?’ It’s this whole thing of, ‘Why is it my fault if I get yelled at on the street by a guy? Why is it this person’s fault that they got roofied and dragged home? Why is it always the victim that seems to get fault laid on them?’ And I think, it seems so simple to me that it’s not their fault. It seems so obvious to me that they shouldn’t be left with this blame. But we still see it all the time. We still see cases that are in the public eye and have an expectation to be addressed, yet many men still aren’t held accountable. I always found it really frustrating that I was the one that always had to watch my back and worry all the time. I was the one that had to clench my fist when I walked past a group of guys, and imagine how I would defend myself. I’m the one that has to carry pepper spray. It’s like, why am I the one that has to frantically worry and prepare? Why am I preparing for the worst all the time?
You’re constantly in defence mode.
Constantly. But I don’t want to have to live my life pre-empting the worst. It’s a shitty way to live. It seems obvious to me and so I wanted to say that. Why is the problem the woman? Why is the problem me? Because I don’t see it.
We’re currently in the wake of these two massive global movements #MeToo and Time’s Up, where those who felt previously silenced are beginning to break that silence, and those who did the silencing are finally being held accountable. What does that mean to you?
I think the things that are coming out and the things that have been said can’t be unsaid. Now that the floodgates have metaphorically been opened, people can’t pretend that it’s not happening anymore. But I hope it’s not just a woman-led fight. I hope men get behind us as well and fight with us for safety, security, opportunity, equal rights, and equal value. That’s going to be the thing that makes the fight quicker and a little bit more easy on us – when men that allegedly love us, fight for us.
One hundred percent. Did you have any reservations while making the album?
Yes and no. It just happened that I’m at a time and place in my growth as a person that I feel like there’s no point in not saying what I’m thinking. It’s going to do more damage to me as a person to be quiet. It’s going to do more damage to my career to not stand up for what I believe in. I do believe that people will be welcoming to this, and of course, there’s going to be some people that think it’s unnecessary. But I hope it changes the way men and women see each other. That men see women as their equals in all industries, not just the smallest of female jobs, and women see men as people they can trust – that they don’t have to clench their fists when they walk past.
Tell me a little bit about the other women that were involved in this project.
A lot of these connections were just made through friends. Camila Mora, who’s one of my best mates, she plays keys for Broods and we basically worked on the whole album together. Ceci Gomez I met at a party and we co-produced ‘Won’t Hurt’ together. The artist, Ashley Lukashevsky, is my best friend’s friend.
You’ve got all the resources.
Yes! Especially since I moved to LA where it’s such a creative hub. It kind of seemed like it would be a waste of time living there and not using all these awesome people to make these amazing things. But yeah, for the most part I just met everybody through friends or through past collaborations, like the woman that mastered it (Emily Lazar), mastered the last Broods record. It was sometimes hard to find a few people. It took us a while to find someone to mix the album. But when we found her, it was amazing. It was the first time I’d actually had a personal relationship with someone that was mixing our album. Every time it’s been a man, it’s been this critically-acclaimed mixer that wouldn’t have time to talk to me. But I’ve had emails and been to dinner with her and she’s been so supportive, more than just in a collaborative way, she’s the kind of person where she’s like, ‘yes I love this song!’ It’s just a different bond. I’ve been able to have personal relationships where I wouldn’t usually, which has been so special. That’s why it’s so personal and why I’m so much more invested in this project.
You’ve toured with Ellie Goulding, Haim… you could’ve worked with the big mainstream artists if you’d wanted to. Why was it important for you to work with relatively unknown talent?
I wanted to make something that wasn’t pop or mainstream. I’m working with people who are at the beginning of their careers and people who have been in namely independent industries. I didn’t want it to be this big wank-fest of, ‘these are my famous friends!’. I wanted it to be more like, these are the people that I believe in who are flying under the radar, that aren’t getting recognised for all the talent they have, and people who are at the beginning of their careers who I know are going to be incredible if they’re just given the chance.
No wank-fest, no sausage-fest. I love it – and I get the feeling it’s something much larger than yourself.
Exactly. I didn’t want to call it Georgia Nott. I didn’t want it to begin and end with me. It’s not about me. The music is from my brain and soul and heart, but it’s about a bigger movement and a bigger celebration than just my own artistry. I do want it to carry on without me one day and that’s the way I kind of started it. Maybe one day there’ll be a Volume II and it will have no input creatively from me. It’ll be run by somebody else that makes a different kind of music, that would be the ideal situation. Sure, The Venus Project is drawn from this idea of ‘men are from Mars, women are from Venus’ thing, but I remember sitting on the beach and when I saw the first star – which is always Venus and it’s the first light at night too – it felt kind of poetic to me. I felt like, ‘This is what women can be. Give us the opportunity and we’ll be the light in this darkness.’
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