In some ways George FitzGerald had change thrust upon him, but in others he had no choice.
The English born producer spent much of the past decade based in Berlin, an electronic citadel and the testing ground for his 2015 debut full length ‘Fading Love’. But nothing in life is permanent, and after becoming a father he felt the ties to his home city become ever stronger. So he moved.
When George FitzGerald picks up the phone to begin our conversation he’s seated in a studio in South East London, an area of the city that has changed remarkably over the past 10 years.
“Obviously I’m from London – well, Greater London – so it’s at once very familiar but also you’re coming to an area where you don’t know the streets and have no idea about how you get around. South London… I don’t know it at all! Everything is slightly different and you kind of just have to get used to it.”
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This process of starting over, of returning to find only new beginnings, seeps into George FitzGerald’s new album. Out now, ‘All That Must Be’ is a supreme technical achievement, the work of a producer entirely adept with the field he is working in, but it’s also one riddled with subtle shifts, with sharp turns in mood and phrase.
“My music mirrors what I go through emotionally, and it reflects the different sorts of experiences that I have,” he says. “Over the two years that I wrote the record one of the main things that happened in my life was changing city after nearly 10 years. Having a kid. Coming back to London and going to a new part of the city. All of that is inextricably in the mix, in that big melting pot in the record. It feels like a record of endings and beginnings, if that makes sense. New beginnings and feelings of dislocation”.
Writing the album has helped the producer move through this, but he never quite gains that sense of transcendence, of completion. “Writing music is a therapy in itself, that’s why people do it,” he insists. “It’s always an ongoing thing, though – you do it, there’s resolution, but if music really is part of your life then very quickly after that you want to keep writing.”
“That can be one of the frustrating things about bringing out a record,” he says. “I love these tracks and I’m very proud of them but I also finished them a few months ago… There never really is a moment of closure. With music it’s ongoing, it’s like meditation or something…”
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Writing music is a therapy in itself, that’s why people do it...
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There’s definitely a meditative edge to ‘All That Must Be’; a times is boasts an innate sense of calm, the undulating electronics spiralling around melodic cores. At first, George worked “entirely out the box”, as he puts it, before swapping software for physical kit – and lots of it.
“I’m very much a machines person,” he explains. “I’m almost at the point now where I think I’ve got too many things! I now need to slightly streamline what I’ve got. With the last record I did I made a decision that everything on it had to have been recorded in that studio, whether it was coming out of a drum machine or a real synthesiser.”
“And I basically repeated that, plus more bells and whistles, on this. There’s live drums recorded in my live room that have been cut up into different bits and layered up. It’s a very hardware heavy set up. There’s quite a lot of time and effort put into the signal processes, and a lot of that kind of stuff. A lot of the engineering side of things. Trying to make it as audiophile as possible, really.”
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It’s an approach that bears dividends. ‘All That Must Be’ is a simply gorgeous listen, one that displays a striking producer operating in full confidence. Yet it’s also one peppered with guest appearances, as George FitzGerald broadened his scope to include fellow producers, and some stellar vocalists.
‘Outgrown’ for example, finds the producer sparring with fellow electronic heavyweight Bonobo. “Working with new people is always interesting but he’s a particularly inspiring guy,” George explains. “He’s a really creative person, and he works in a different way to me. He’s a bit more streamlined in the way he works – he’s a bit more in the box, and it’s all about the ideas, and the creativity.”
“Maybe before working with him I was in danger of becoming too process focussed. It being about, oh it has to be recorded with this synthesiser otherwise it’ll be shit. And with him (Bonobo) you have to concentrate way more on the musical idea, which was a really important thing to be reminded of at the time, I think.”
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You just have to write something. Do your thing, and it becomes something new.
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Hudson Scott and Lil Silva both make key contributions to the record, each adding their own distinctive approach. The moment Tracy Thorn’s voice adorns ‘Half Light’ however, is a moment fans won’t forget in a hurry; a song of hushed beauty, it’s perhaps one of the finest, most complete songs on the record.
“I’ve always wanted to work with her, as a child of the 90s,” he laughs. “I’ve always felt like her voice matched up with melancholic electronica is quite a classic combination. And I just wanted to do it. I emailed her, she heard some stuff off the first record and was into it. So we did it remotely. I’ve still not met her!”
“In some ways it was intimidating,” the producer admits. “Everyone you work with you want to raise your game a bit, but there’s something about working with her… As she’s the first person I’ve worked with who really had a long, long, long history. When I was writing the song at the beginning I found it a bit hard as I couldn’t get ‘Protection’ by Massive Attack out of my head. But you can’t think like that at all… You just have to write something. Do your thing, and it becomes something new.”
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Clash caught George FitzGerald at Holland’s Eurosonic festival in January, with the producer battling a Code Red storm to make soundcheck with seconds to spare. The first of a lengthy series of live dates he will complete, the interaction between studio work and performance is something that has shifted the way he approaches making music.
“When we went in to writing this record it was very, very present in my mind,” he admits. “It was part of the thinking process right from the beginning, I was arranging things and writing things that were going to be performed onstage and not just in a DJ set.”
“My live show is almost me bringing my studio on the road. It’s like me being in a mini version of my studio. The two things really inform each other. And I’ve found that since I started going out and performing live it’s changed the way I approach the studio as well, quite a bit. In small and interesting ways. The two are way more linked to me in terms of process than being in the studio and DJing was. They’re way closer to each other.”
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London is just this hyper-competitive place...
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With a new base in a new city, George FitzGerald is poised to put this into practise. At heart, he’s always been a Londoner – and he’s elated to be back in the city once more. “If you find your space – which can be a little bit more difficult – it is still an incredibly inspiring city,” he insists. “You’re driven to the margins a little bit more in London than you are in a city like Berlin. Maybe this is just me being a Londoner, but I feel like in Berlin sometimes things are a little too easy. People aren’t pushed to do new things, in the same way people aren’t pushed to differentiate themselves.”
“London is just this hyper-competitive place. If you’re an artist in London, unless it’s daddy funding you, then you really actually have to make it work. Whereas Berlin is full of people who are just kind of drifting. I’m not doing the city down – I love it, I still go there the whole time. I find company like that far less inspiring than people who are really hustling their way.”
And that’s where we leave George FitzGerald – hustling, producing, continually moving forward.
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'All That Must Be' is out now. Catch George FitzGerald at the following shows:
27 London Islington Assembly Hall
28 Glasgow The Art School
29 Manchester Gorilla
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