As the young songwriter steps confidently into a new phase of her career, she explains how it’s unfolded to this point.
Georgia Lines comes bearing gifts. Ice blocks, to be specific. Never mind that we’re past the crest of the afternoon on what might be the coldest day in an unusually cold Auckland winter, the Tauranga-based-and-raised singer-songwriter is in good spirits, and she’s feeling generous.
She’s in town only briefly, visiting to perform the following evening with a handful of the most esteemed wāhine in contemporary Aotearoa music. We meet at Auckland city-fringe neighbourhood hangout Frieda’s, Lines seated at a piano in the darkened front bar as I arrive.
She greets me warmly, cold treats in hand, and remains gracious as I shamefacedly refuse her thoughtful offer. She’s fresh from rehearsal, one night removed from probably the most prestigious gig of her still young career, and what strikes me first in her ease and her enthusiasm is how entirely uncowed she seems by any aspect of the occasion.
“I usually get real nervous [before performing], like regardless of the show I’ll get nervous,” she admits, “But I feel really excited for this.” It’s a difference which she attributes in part to having somewhat less responsibility than she’s used to – ”It’s not all resting on me…telling my band what to do” – but also to the mana of the event’s more established names – Annie Crummer, Anika Moa, Julia Deans and Tami Neilson among them.
“I feel so privileged to be a part of it. I’m just 24-year-old Georgia, and to be a part of this amazing room full of wāhine that carry something so special…it’s amazing.”
For those taking only a cursory interest in the recent machinations of Aotearoa music, the presence of Lines – alongside fellow up-and-comer Paige – in such a pantheonic lineup may seem surprising. Zoom out, though, and the nod feels like justified acknowledgement of an imposing emerging talent. A Rockquest alumnus, she’s been writing since her teens, but first released music under her own name just a couple of years ago.
Last year saw the arrival of her self-titled debut EP, a largely self-directed effort comprising close to six years of writing and honing and funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign. Crowdfunding enabled Lines to travel to Texas to record, and having gone through the process she felt obligated not to disappoint those who’d put their faith in her art. But something didn’t feel right. It was that uncomfortable feeling which led to one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever made: to start again.
“I went over to the States, and I had all these songs and this idea of what I thought I was going to do. And then when I got into the studio and started tracking I was like, ‘This doesn’t represent me as a person now.’”
Feeling ill at ease, Lines weighed up the potential risks of throwing out those first efforts and starting fresh – not least the very real possibility that the decision would be a fruitless one. After a conversation with her Auckland-based manager, her mind was set. “I went back the next morning and was like, ‘Cool, we’re starting again.’”
“I realised I just have to trust myself. And trust that I’m good at what I do. If I’m enjoying it and if I’m really proud of it, then that’s all I can do. I think getting to that point was a real pivotal moment.”
As with nearly everyone else in the music industry, Lines was materially impacted by the events of last year. When that debut EP was released on March 27th, just two days after the country moved into level four lockdown, in-person promotion became an impossibility. Live performances were deferred; broader plans derailed almost entirely.
But Lines kept moving forward. In October 2020, barely half a year after the release of her debut, she returned to the studio, this time with in-demand producer and collaborator Djeisan Suskov (Leisure, Benee). The first fruit of their joint labour, the pared back but propulsive ‘No One Knows’, arrived in March and signaled clearly a new era not only for Lines’ songwriting, but for its presentation.
Built on top of a simple four-bar piano loop, the song builds and recedes for a scant three minutes. Throbbing synths and crackling percussion arrive and depart; wordless backing singers cross-talk behind submarine filters. At the centre of all that is Lines’ powerful lead line, mixed high and dry to the point that it almost sounds more like a series of impeccably layered voice notes than a pop vocal. On headphones, it feels almost unsettlingly intimate. As Lines tells it, that was exactly the intent.
“I love the idea of it being so close that it feels like I’m talking to you,” she acknowledges. “It feels very honest.”
The song’s follow-up, ‘Call Me By My Name’, arrived this past Friday. A kind of cold weather bossa nova, it offers an ode to romantic vulnerability; to the scarier than it should be idea of standing in front of someone you love and asking them to accept all aspects of you. It’s for sure less pacey than the song it follows, but the simple clarity of its writing ensures its impacts are no less immediate. For Lines, that’s testament to the trust she feels in working with Suskov.
“It’s a massive credit to Djeis for creating an environment where I feel OK to have the conversations that have resulted in these songs. I haven’t had that with someone before, and I think that’s been what’s really special about them – they start as these well-thought-through, pulled-apart conversations, and they end up with these beautifully written songs that carry so much weight for me.”
As her career continues to progress, and as she continues to accumulate accolades, it would be understandable for Lines’ ambitions or priorities to have shifted in the past couple of years. But while she acknowledges that her chosen career can be a psychically taxing one – ”I’ve heard so many stories of artists getting burnt out … there’s got to be another way of doing this” – she seems both genuinely content with how things have gone so far, and open to whatever comes next.
“I want to get to the end of my career, whatever that looks like, and be like, ‘I enjoyed that.’ I got to be a mum and I got to have a family and play shows and travel, and I actually enjoyed it. It didn’t rob me of who I am as an individual. I didn’t stop enjoying the process.”
This content, like Georgia Lines’ upcoming second record, was created with the support of NZ on Air.