George Maple is our kind of a girl. For one, the Aussie-born, London-based artist specializes in a fluid, finely tuned blend of between the sheets R&B and downtempo dance grooves. For another, when we asked her to reflect on the recurring themes in said songs, she responded, “Sex, I guess,” before astutely adding: “It drives us to do the most absurd things. It's intertwined with so many parts of our life without us even realizing it: power, money, relationships, love, lust, desire, sin, safety, vulnerability.”
Yup. All the good stuff in life, all the bad stuff in life, the grist utilized to create all the greatest art. Deon Jackson’s “Love Makes the World Go Round” is a damn pretty ditty, but let’s be honest, an emotion that’s much more base and primal fuels that thing we end up calling (romantic) love first.
Also Maple rocks knuckles full of gold like a baller, wears Agent Provocateur dot-printed mesh like a lady who knows exactly what she wants, plunging sequins like a Studio 54 regular, and Alice McCall jumpsuits like a “space princess.” That is to say this rising solo star is a style chameleon and an in-demand guest vocalist and collaborator whose resumé includes on-point collaborations with everyone from Flume, Snakehips, Slime, and Flight Facilities. Following her US debut at last year’s CMJ, Maple dropped “Vacant Space”—her finest song yet—to close out 2014. Maple may be remaining tight-lipped about her schemes for the next twelve months, but we talked to the songwriter about creative tension and her alter ego, fashion and visual representation, how logic often comes second and why boys reading too much into her lyrics don’t last long.
Noisey: Is there a song in your catalogue that was sparked from a real life situation or experience?
George Maple: I think everything I've written has come from a personal experience or my reaction to a situation. I've tried to write pop songs before to a brief. They were awful. Sometimes songwriters will talk about trying to relate to a wide audience or create something that people can sing along with. I've come to realize that when I try too hard or I'm not being honest in my songwriting it just doesn't work.
I think I latch onto a sentiment or a moment from an experience and develop it into a full song. I like to focus on one particular perspective or emotion. Sometimes it's an extension of the truth but the core of the emotion is there. I try not to censor my work even if the lyricism may be painful for myself or people involved in situations. Like "Vacant Space." I've had ex-boyfriend's who have read way too far into my lyrics and been really offended or suspicious. I've had to explain my way out of not getting into trouble. They don't usually don't last long.
Why did you decide to move to London? Were you drawn to the music scene? Was it just Australia was too isolated and all Aussies do their stint in the UK? Is it just because you love fish and chips?
Ha! I remember a friend of mine first played me that Jamie XX and Gil Scott Heron album when I was on tour. I started stalking XL Records/ Young Turks and following everything they put out. I quickly became obsessed with XL and the scene surrounding all the music I'd heard of from London. A friend of mine was living there and I went over for a holiday. It took me a day and I'd decided I should live there—I'm a bit like that, I've always just made a decision and rolled with it because it felt right. Logic comes second a lot of the time. I spent the next couple of years traveling between London, Sydney, NY, and LA for various reasons, mostly because I'd either be asked to do a show or to write. I love the music scene in London, I'm really glad it all worked out the way it did, mostly because of the people I was able to work with and the friends I made.
You weren’t born George Maple. I’m assuming the idea behind the name was to disassociate yourself from the narrative of the songs so that you were more uninhibited when writing them? But that didn't work out in the end…
Ha, spot on. I guess I was nervous/shy/afraid about putting my songs out there. You know it's like having a diary of your thoughts on the internet. It's not ideal. I'd been writing for a long time and I'd written for other people and guested on other artist's work, but the idea of going out there solo was a bit terrifying. I'd been really indecisive about a name and Nathan—from Future Classic—called me and asked me how I wanted to be credited on the Flume album. I remember talking to my mum and what she thought of the name. She was the final decider: she liked it; she has good taste.
It's a name with no meaning at all, which meant I could create my own meaning from a blank canvas. I could write what I wanted to write without the fear of people knowing it's my own thoughts. I don't really care about people seeing inside my head now—it's just a part of the whole process—but it took a couple of years for that to happen. It's been really good because it's been great to develop a project and be slightly objective about where everything is at. I think it allows more room for development and if it goes pear-shaped or I feel like it's not evolving anymore or I'm just over it, I can detach myself from the project and run away to the Bahamas.
How important are the visuals and how you present yourself on stage and in shoots and videos to George Maple?
I'm very particular about everything in general. I'm sure I drive some people crazy. I just don't believe in anything being half cooked and everything has to work as a whole picture. The music and the visuals are so intertwined. I often write with a visual or setting in mind. Sometimes it's a dungeon, sometimes it's underwater, sometimes it's 20 years into the future; it’s just an intuitive connection between the music and the visuals. I like the idea that characters evolve in the music, like a villainous queen or a scorned lover. I like to dramatize the world the songs are created in. It just makes the whole process more enjoyable and in depth. On stage and in videos I like to think about the context. The venue, the lighting, the audience and the story of the performance. In December we played at this incredible venue in Paris called Le Carmen which was an old hotel. The ceilings were really high and the walls were embellished. We were in Paris and it was a really intimate show so I wore an Agent Provocateur one piece and a sheer Alice McCall dress. The lighting was dark and red and it added to the whole energy of the show.
Maple in Agent Provocateur(left) and Alice McCall (right).
How would you describe your look presently? Do you gravitate towards a particular style or group designers? The Alice McCall one piece you wore recently is to die for.
I feel like a space princess when I put that jumpsuit on! I guess so much of what designer I'm digging has to do with the shape and the cut of the piece. I tend to fit particular designers really well or really badly. I love the Alice McCall collection at the moment, Dion Lee is incredible and so are the Camilla and Marc pieces. The more feminine pieces are working for me right now. I like being being dressed up. I like interesting textures and well made clothing. I have no idea how you'd describe my style at the moment. When I'm on stage I just want to be able to move. I've worn tight dresses and pencil skirts before and it's fine…but it limits the way you can move. Jumpsuits and unitards are the way to go.
What was the experience of working with Flume and Noah Breakfast like? What did they add to the mix?
I tend to collaborate with people who I've developed a strong bond with. There has to be some real chemistry. I feel like it's this tension and energy that helps you evolve from the creative relationship. I've known both Noah and Harley for a few years now, and we've become better and better friends the more we have worked together. The dynamic with both of them has developed it and we feel 100 percent comfortable with one another. With Noah, he's such an incredible musician and all round great human being. I have no idea why but I find when I'm around him I tend to write really specific lyrics. There's something about our dynamic that means I write in a more poetic way. When I'm around Harley I find myself writing with his production style in mind. When we work on his material I write vocal chops and think about the composition as a whole and how it will work with the instrumentation rather than it being just about the lyrics and the melody. It's a different kind of songwriting. The focus is a lot more of a conversation between the production and the melody. When we work on my tracks, it's more about developing the best sonic space for the song.
So Lorde is a fan. What female artists you championing at the moment?
Yeah she did a post on her blog—that was so awesome. I have so much respect for her. I'm still such a sucker for R&B pop queens; I love Beyoncé. I like to see artists who are in control of their creative vision and not manufactured or contrived. I came across an artist called JOY from Australia who I was so impressed by. She's like 17 and produces, writes, plays instruments, and seems really wicked. There's so much great talent out there at the moment, both male and female. I think hopefully it's becoming more and more about great artists rather than great female versus male artists. I feel like the more it becomes non-gender specific in the media and among the music industry/community the more it won’t be a thing. It's not a battle of the sexes, it's just about making great music.
Kim Taylor Bennett is Noisey’s Style Editor and she’s on Twitter.