Andrew Darley talks to the fascinating musician George Pringle about her new album, Golfo dei Poeti, and her unique approach to writing experimental music.
George Pringle emerged in 2007, fully embracing the platform of Myspace to get her music heard. She boldly identified herself as a ‘diseuse’, meaning a female entertainer who performs monologues. She stood out in the world of Myspace for her combination of poetic vindications with electronic backdrops, all produced and recorded herself using the Mac music-maker software Garageband. It wasn’t very long before she was before she was either compared to her British female singer Kate Nash or considered to be too experimental to be a pop artist.
She has now returned with her sophomore album, Golfo Dei Poeti, which is more melancholic and atmospheric than its predecessor. Pringle explains that she needed to kill the image of what she has become known for to in order to allow herself to grow as an artist. The result is a collection of minimalist songs exploring loneliness and desire, which are inspired by the power of London and the landscape of Northern Italy. I spoke with her about her unique approach to music, creative process and her affinity with the French language.
So your new album Golfo Dei Poeti has just been released. How does it feel to have out in the world?
It feels good. It was a long time coming but I now feel a sense of relief.
From my first few listens it sounds as though you have shifted gears compared to your first album, Salon Des Refusés. The lyrics are more sparse than the almost stream-of-consciousness style of your previous work. Was that something you wanted to move away from or did it happen organically?
It was a combination of the two really. It happened naturally and I felt as though I was betraying the creative ego I had created in the first place, but then I realised that what I had to do was to kill George Pringle as we know her. I don’t think spoken word is something I will quit forever but I think you want to form a protective layer sometimes and speak your own cryptic language, when you need to protect yourself. At the time I started to write this album I had just come to the end of a five year cycle of touring and promoting and I was very exhausted with giving so much of myself away. I think it made me more vulnerable than I should probably let on.
You have to see the works almost like films. Why would you make two films which are completely the same? The last album was very heavy on the stories and this one is more abstract. It’s like a soundtrack. But it’s the definitely the same character.
You’re also singing more on this album and less focus on spoken word.
I love to sing and have always sung in my own way. Singing felt right for the material. As the album began to come together it made sense, in that the only way I could communicate how I was feeling was to revert to singing. There is something very primal about singing. It’s like crying when you can’t speak.
The French language plays a huge part in your writing style. What’s your relationship to the ‘language of love’?
Well, I’m not sure, really. All I know is I was sent to preparatory school in South Kensington when I was a little girl. We wore purple berets and they taught us to speak French when we were 4 years old. I used to share the school bus with the kids from the Lycée. Anyway, I got very good at French and could mimic the accent quite well. I did my A Level and that’s as far as it goes.
My grandmother is from Morocco and was educated at the Lycée in Casablanca. I spent a lot of time with her when I was growing up and she would always say these great expressions in perfect French like “chacun à son goût“. I think they really rubbed off on me.
Also, I met my boyfriend in Paris and I went on tour with Air and have played synthesiser in a band that was located in Paris too. Perhaps I am drawn to the place because I am a bit of a Francophile, although the other day I met a French man who said I looked French and was too good looking to be English. My English-ness was incredibly hurt. Even the wife of Gainsbourg was a “Rosbeef “and she was a very pretty one at that.
You make all your music on the Mac software, GarageBand and record your vocals on it too. Is the program difficult to work with? Have you thought about changing the way you make music?
I use GarageBand to sketch out the songs. This album was recorded at home on GarageBand. That was where I made all my productive decisions. Then I took it to a Studio and put in Pro Tools with an Engineer and a nice Neve desk. That’s where you get it to sound good. Sadly, you can only really make Demos in GarageBand which is a shame since it’s so easy to use and accessible. I used Logic for a bit but it didn’t suit my brain at all. I think it’s probably easy once you spend a week with it but if I’m going to spend a week swotting up on any software, it’s going to be Pro Tools.
You’ve taken your music on the road quite a bit. You toured with Air back in 2010 and have done other performances such as poetry festivals. Is performing live something you enjoy?
I love playing live but it has not always been easy. My iPod karaoke, as I call it, was very nerve wracking. I felt like Joan of Arc. Very exposed. There were so many times I would play gigs and go back to my hotel room and cry and be sick from alcohol. That’s the unfortunate reality of being a young person who makes music totally alone. There is nobody there to look out for you. But when it’s good, it’s really good.
Touring with Air was great because the crew were like a family. We ate dinner together every night and they were there when I came off stage. I also took my friend Maria V (who does all my photo shoots) with me. We had a riot! Once you have your people there, you’re more relaxed. When I tour in the future, it’s definitely going to be with a family of my own creation.
Is it difficult to interpret or translate the songs live to an audience?
At times, it has been. I think with Salon Des Refusés, I often felt I was waging a war against the audience. I was going out there with a breastplate on … So it was very scary. I used to pace around shouting. It was quite punk rock. But the actual record is much softer, if you listen to it. I think I felt I had to make it punk rock because it was a very sheltered and brave record. I didn’t want people to pick on me or make fun of me anymore so I got really tough for some reason. I wouldn’t have done it any differently but it’s interesting to think about as time has passed. I was like a cat with my back up. As concerns the new record, I’ll be interested to see how it works …
Can you give an insight into about your writing process? Do the words or music come first?
Words are always drifting around and then, when I sit down to make sounds, sometimes a line in a passage I wrote will seem to fit with a riff and then the rest falls in to place. That’s usually how it works.
One of the things that grabbed me most about is your unashamedly DIY approach to the whole package of your music. You wrote, recorded, produced all your own tracks, you made all the artwork yourself and performed it on your own with the help of your Mac and iPod. Do you enjoy being independent with your music or do you sometimes there were more people involved with certain aspects?
This is a bit of a minefield for me. I think what makes my music so unique is that I am so involved in every aspect. When you order a CD, it is me who has folded and scalpelled the inlay. It is intimate and that is something I love about what I do. It is what makes it different. I never want my music to feel corporate. On the other hand I think that when you are so self sufficient, people don’t think you need any help. I have looked at record deals but I think when you are making experimental music like mine, people don’t trust you to sell them records. And they’re right. My independence has been borne from a need to survive. You can’t wait around for someone to make it happen for you. And I’m lucky in many ways in that I have various skills I can apply. I’m good at designing things. I have a good visual sense. It’s really hard work doing everything for yourself but if it comes off, it’s all the more satisfying.
Has anyone ever tried to critique your approach? How do you deal with critics?
When I first came out, everyone had an opinion on what I do. I was under a microscope and I couldn’t do anything right. I was too posh or my poetry was rubbish or I was too pretty to be able to make the music myself. On the other end of the spectrum, people were too cloying. I was poet Laureate and a Super Model. That’s when I learnt to pay no attention whatsoever. When they love it, it goes to your head. When they hate it, it’s like having a hernia. You know… Everyone is a critic these days. Just do what makes you happy. With or without a critique, you are still an artist.
It’s funny that when you first started you whole-heartedly embraced the function and intent of MySpace to give a platform to your music. Now it’s not particularly used at all with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud to promote music. What are your thoughts on the music world today? It’s even changed quite considerably since you started.
It has changed a lot. I was thinking that the other day, actually. In some ways I am nostalgic for the days when you could use Myspace as your complete platform of communication but you know, whatever. The industry has dissolved. It bleats from disparate platforms. Your fans are going to find you wherever you are. It just makes everything a bit more convoluted, not having a solo channel. It makes promoting things a bit tedious but beyond that it’s essentially still the same old swamp.
You’re still active on MySpace. Are you looking forward to its expected relaunch? Do you think it will make any difference to how we find and access music?
I don’t know. I logged in to my account the other day. It was a bit tumbleweed. I think Myspace might have missed the boat, regardless of the relaunch. I think it would be a good thing if we killed all social media sites. Let’s all go back to making vinyl and existing in underground scenes that don’t rely on the internet. It would be good for us. Get out of pyjamas and leave house!
Music isn’t the only artform you explore. You’ve also created drawings, scrapbooks, poetry and photography. Have you got an envisioned goal as an artist?
It’s funny you should ask that because I don’t really have a specific goal. I just follow whichever side of my creativity is pulling me. About a year ago all I did was draw all day. Recently I am only taking photographs. Although I am currently working on a poetry book with illustrations. This has been a long running dream for me. I went to art school and I always saw music as only part of the picture. I’m interested in making more short films too.
You also have a side music project called Eclipse. Can you tell me a little about it?
I live with Jeremy Jay and we are both musicians. It was inevitable that we would join forces at some point. Eclipse is, essentially, slightly grimy, gothy synth music. There are elements of disco or dub in there but it is also a bit like horror soundtrack music. I play bass and sing and Jeremy does most of the synths. He uses this Korg Poly 800 which is a fantastically crackly, doomy sounding creature. It has a habit of losing it’s sounds just as you are about to play a gig. We are currently working on the album.
Some say that an artist’s first piece is a picture of everything that got them to that point. I mention this because I feel your first album strongly dealt with childhood, adolescence and reaching early 20’s. Do you think your new album is very much where and who you are today?
You’re right about the first album. Golfo Dei Poeti is much darker than Salon Des Refusés and it is definitely sad or lonely or sinister at various points. It is a portrait of three tumultuous, and occasionally, hopeless years. I think Salon Des Refusés had elements of Golfo Dei Poeti but all the darkness was made light of. It was like I was singing show tunes whilst slitting my wrists. With Golfo Dei Poeti, you walk in to the darkness and you wander around in it. It’s an exploration of loneliness and desire.
Golfo Dei Poeti is out now. Click here to purchase it from iTunes.