Name: George FitzGerald
Occupation: Producer, composer
Recent release: George FitzGerald's Stellar Drifting is out via Domino.
Recommendations: The book I read most recently was Barbarian Days by William Finnegan. I’m obsessed with surfing even though I can’t surf at all. I find the idea of somebody dedicating their entire life to finding and riding the perfect wave fascinating. It has a lot of parallels with sitting in the studio waiting for moments of inspiration to arrive.
The album I listened to the most during recording my new album was Spirit Of Eden by Talk Talk. The way it was recorded (mostly improvised and unplanned) is very different to the way I work, but no learning about other people’s processes is always inspiring.
[Read our Tim Friese-Greene of Talk Talk interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with George FitzGerald and would like to dive deeper into his music, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My earliest experiences of music are going through my parents’ record collection as a small child. I was really fascinated by the turntable, 12”s and the hifi system.
In terms of writing and playing music, I learned the piano for years but was quite a bad student. I was much more interested in copying my older brother, who had a set of turntables and was buying drum and bass vinyl. DJing was so instantly gratifying and exciting.
My first records were all 2-step garage 12”s. It felt like you had discovered a secret world back then. You had no idea what the artists looked like or who they were in real life. It was after reading all the sleeve notes on the records that I became interested in the people behind the music - the producers - and wanted to do something similar myself.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
For me, music is inextricably linked with place and time. Quite often I’m thinking of a very specific scenario when I’m writing or listening to music.
When I’m writing it’s usually a moment that hasn’t happened yet in the future. When I’m listening to other people’s music, it’s usually the past I’m thinking about.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I think you are always searching for a personal voice as a musician. It took a while for me, but I feel that I’ve learned to trust the slightly uneasy feeling you get when you write something distinctive. Your art doesn’t need to fit neatly into any definitions or genres.
At the beginning I used to be afraid of making music like that and was more concerned with making it sound like other things I’d heard.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please. What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
As a listener and consumer of music and art, I’m ultimately the product of my surroundings. I grew up in and around London, which is arguably the most diverse city on earth, culturally and musically. I’ve also been greatly influenced by the 10 years I spent living in Berlin, which is another cultural metropolis.
I’ve never felt comfortable sticking to one style or attempting to refine a single formula. My music is about throwing different interests and influences into a pot and seeing what comes out. If you’re not changing and evolving as a musician, reacting to your surroundings, then what is the point?
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
I have a great respect for musicians who strive to achieve a sense of perfection in their work, and focus on continuing and refining traditions. But my interest in music has always been about the sense of excitement I feel when I hear something genuinely new and original.
It’s a rare feeling, but that is what I’m always searching for, both as a writer and listener.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
The piano and my computer.
Without the piano I wouldn’t have the foundation to understand anything about the music I write or like. You don’t need a formal education in music to write great music, but I do believe it can help. My computer and the democratisation that happened in studio technology over the past 15-20 years gave me the ability to teach myself to be a producer, engineer and songwriter.
I find I switch between my DAW and my piano constantly whilst writing music.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
Get up, have breakfast with my children before they go to school. I try to get to the studio by late morning.
In the afternoon I’ll try and do something active and then go back to the studio after everyone is in bed. I often have the best ideas when the world outside is quiet.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I like to write by creating collages out of different ideas. On my most recent album, Stellar Drifting, almost all of the tracks are amalgamations of three or four different sketches.
Usually, I will write an idea to about 60%, save it and move on. Then later I come back to that idea and combine it with something totally different, in a different key or tempo. It’s like collaborating with your past self.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I’m most comfortable working on music on my own. Collaborating with other artists is incredibly exciting, but I find I need some solitude in the studio to do my best work, especially when I’m finishing off tracks or starting new ideas.
Too much of either one becomes a hindrance for me though. During the pandemic, the large expanses of time alone in the studio and the lack of creative stimulation from other people made writing very difficult at times.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the
role of music in society?
I’ve asked myself this a great deal in the past few years. The pandemic really made me consider what the role of (mostly) instrumental electronic music is in such a difficult, uncertain time.
If I can’t speak directly to the issues of the day, like a poet, rapper or singer does, then I can reflect the emotions that I and others are feeling. So much of electronic music has been about togetherness, transcendence and creating temporary utopias away from the difficulties and challenges of the outside world.
In my opinion, creating those moments of escapism for people is innately political.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
At its best, art manages to convey several different, and sometimes contradictory, ideas within a single piece. The complexity of emotions that you feel in moments of loss, love and extreme pain are often so confusing that you can only make sense of them by referring to great works of art.
Like everybody else, I have a personal relationship with the art I love, and specific memories that are linked to it, whether it’s from hearing songs at funerals or associating a certain album with an ex.
How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
I think they are both ways of understanding the universe and the world around us. Neither field provides a complete picture of the human experience, so we need both to make sense of life.
They are also intrinsically interrelated. So much of tonal music is clearly mathematical - from the harmonic relationships between different notes in a scale (of any kind), to the way we design instruments.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more “mundane” tasks?
I certainly believe that people express their creativity in a myriad of different ways, not just through traditional artforms like music.
I often feel that being a producer is very similar to other artisanal disciplines like furniture making or cooking. They’re all a constant process of experiment and refinement through repetition and practice.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
I think music is another form of communication. Just like language it’s an incredibly complex activity that our brains are able to perform and understand quite effortlessly.
It’s a way of creating and perceiving order in an otherwise seemingly chaotic physical world. That, for me, is why it resonates so deeply with almost all humans.