“I want to press reset,” Hannah Georgas sings in “Robotic,” a driving and purposeful song from her self-titled new album. And she’s done just that. A few years ago, when Georgas was first toting her guitar through the Vancouver music scene, she was known for her acoustic leanings. Then the more intricate production of her nascent recordings, in combination with her luscious voice, helped raise inevitable comparisons to Canada’s most favored musical export, Feist. But with Hannah Georgas, she’s found bold new ways to marry her essential singer/songwriter sensibility to elaborate studio soundscapes, while significantly upping the playfulness factor. It’s an album of rich, emotionally resonant synth-pop that isn’t afraid to walk a fine line between vintage new wave and contemporary ethereality, easily gliding from tongue-in-cheek come-ons to hauntingly emotional head trips. One thing you’ll never accuse it of being is robotic.
Heavy on the electronics, but not the electronica, Hannah Georgas harks back to a time when hookiness was the order (or New Order) of the day, and human emotions (or Human Leagues) ruled, even when the underlying textures tended toward the synthetic. Her principle cohort in this redefining effort was producer Graham Walsh, of the celebrated Canadian band Holy Fuck, who shared her desire to forge a sound that makes heavy use of pre-EDM keyboards.
“Graham is a genius when it comes to creating and programming different synth sounds,” says Georgas, “we wanted to make a record where these sounds could come to life and be recreated in a live setting. I came to Graham with my guitar, and he brought his OP-1, Moog, other synths and pedals, and we jammed, sitting in a room together for almost three weeks doing pre-production. My last record was more complex, in terms of its instrumentation, this time I wanted it to be less planned and more free-I wanted this record to have more space and let things breathe. I thought it was important to focus on a great melody and not let too much get in the way of that. At the same time, Graham was like a scientist, creating incredible sounds on his different instruments, while I watched in awe and said ‘That sounds rad!’ a lot.” The resulting album somehow manages to sound both primitive and plush.
Lest this extended production hibernation makes it sound like Georgas is some sheltered studio rat, it’s worth noting that the recording sessions were sandwiched by two lengthy tours. She spent much of 2010 and 2011 hitting the road in support of her previous album, This Is Good. And after recording Hannah Georgas in the fall of 2011, she headed back out for a four-month international tour with Kathleen Edwards that took her well into 2012. And she wasn’t just the opening act, but also pulled double duty as a member of Edwards’ backing ensemble. “Being in her band as well as doing my own set every night was an incredible experience for me,” she says. “Doing your own thing and simultaneously participating in someone else’s project “is the best thing that an artist can do,” Georgas maintains. “I played a show recently in Vancouver and friend of mine said, ‘You’ve changed a lot since the last time that I saw you play. It’s ridiculous, how you’ve gotten your tour legs.’ I feel like I’m better on the mic, better on my instruments-I just own it more.”
Georgas was born and raised in Newmarket, Ontario and moved out to BC at the age of twenty. “I come from a big family and have three sisters, I needed to clear my brain a bit and find my own place that felt like me,” she says. A stint studying psychology at a university in Victoria gave way to the supportive music scene she found in Vancouver, her home of five years now. Her pianist father and other family pragmatists strongly discouraged her from following a path in music, but there was no dissuading to be done: “I’m a bit more shy when it comes to interviews and that stuff, but performing and singing, not a second thought comes through my brain.”
Collegiality’s loss was Canadian music fans’ gain, as her moxie paid off with a slew of validating accolades. Uptown magazine called her previous album “an expertly crafted and frequently adorable…gem of a pop record, full of infectious hooks and gorgeous vocal gymnastics courtesy of Georgas, who has the ability to go from girlish and sugar-sweet to raw and angst-ridden, sometimes in the same song.” The Vancouver Sun hailed her “bold, quivering voice and confessional approach to songwriting.” It wasn’t just critics getting Hannah-happy: she won “Emerging Artist of the Year” at XM’s Verge Music Awards in 2011 and “Solo Artist o the Year” at the Sirius/XM-sponsored Indies. This Is Good was put up for the Polaris Music Prize. And at the 2011 Juno Awards, Georgas was nominated for both “Best New Artist of the Year” and “Songwriter of the Year.”
Although her latest writing is mostly personal enough, Georgas isn’t wearing her heart on her sleeve on every single track. Perhaps the least personal song, she’ll admit with a laugh, is “Shortie,” a title anyone familiar with her previous work might not have seen coming. “I was having fun watching really shitty videos on YouTube that were extremely poppy, and I thought, ‘I want to write a fun and fluffy pop song.’ That song actually is not about me at all, though I guess I’ve had my days where I’ve actually lived that song.”
But other songs do veer more toward the confessional-and justify her decision to wait until this third record to go with the eponymous title that suggests strong self-definition.
At the opposite extreme from “Shortie” is “Ode To Mom.” “It’s about my dad, who passed away a couple of years ago. That was not an easy experience for anybody in my family. I wanted to dedicate that song to mom in hopes of helping her move on and heal.” Two other songs on the album, “What You Do to Me” and “Somebody,” deal with the less mortal but just as eternal theme of falling hard for the wrong person. “Enemies” is in a seemingly similar vein-capturing that speculative moment when a relationship enters its end game-but describes the abrupt conclusion of a friendship, not romance.
“Millions,” “Elephant,” and “Waiting Game” touch on life goals and on how a few hard knocks on the way to being a wisened woman of 28 have made her less of a careerist, although she hardly lacks for an ongoing sense of ambition.
And as for the song “Robotic”? The new album may be a bit more synthesized, but surely she wouldn’t trade her human skin for a steel one, would she? Only occasionally, she says, does she have the urge to self-program herself into feeling less. “There are a lot of times where I’ve felt quite vulnerable and anxious,” she admits, “and I get frustrated with feeling sensitive and wish I wouldn’t have to think so hard about the fact that I think so hard all the time,” she says with a laugh. “Maybe I wouldn’t be a musician, though, if I was like that.” Neither, if she were like that, would she have been able to pull off the hat trick of making an electronics-dominated album that’s as un-robotic as it gets. If much of the album’s pulse comes out of heady programming, at its core is a gorgeousness that would be instantly familiar to anyone who first saw Georgas playing her music in Vancouver folk clubs. The ghost in this album’s machine is tender, astute, sassy, and alluringly human.