George Maple On Her Upcoming Debut LP, Australian Roots & Thinking Of Music In Colors: Idolator Interview

Idolator Interview: The Knocks
The dance duo talk their upcoming debut LP and staying true to NYC!

We at Idolator are always on the hunt for new artists, and our latest discovery is the lovely George Maple. The singer-songwriter originally hails from Sydney, Australia but is now living in London. She has been collaborating with various electronic producers like UK’s own Snakehips, and is now gearing up for her next solo musical project.

During our trip at 2015’s SXSW, we caught up with the singer (whose smoke-filled, breathy vocals first grabbed our attention) about her upcoming debut album, collaborating with other artists and thinking about music in colors. Read on to see what she had to say in our conversation below!

So how did you first get started in the music industry?
GEORGE MAPLE: I’ve been writing songs since I was like 11 or so, and I did my first professional gig when I was 13. I looked older so I could perform in pubs! Then when I was 18 I met Hugo [Gruzman] from Flight Facilities, and we did a song called “Foreign Language” together. I was on tour with them for a few years around America and Europe, and during that time I was learning to produce and continuing to write my own stuff. I hit a point where I was just like, “I need a solo project!”

When I listen to your music, it has a soulful vibe to it. Did you listen to that growing up?
GM: I listened to a lot of Etta James and k.d. lang, I love her voice so much. I saw her in concert when I was 18, she was incredible.

I know your real name is Jess Higgs, so where did the George Maple moniker come from?
GM: I think at the time I needed something to hide behind, to be honest. Something that wasn’t me and didn’t any meaning whatsoever, so I could sort of create something from a name. It’s funny because so many of the people I work with ask if I thought about this name because of this author back in the 1800s called George Sand. There were actually quite a few females who called themselves “George” because you couldn’t write a book as a female during that time.

You’re originally from Australia and a lot of great music comes from there, so why did you decide to move to London?
GM: When I moved, it was just before that started to happen. My friend was living in London at the time and I just wanted to be in a different space. I’ve always just packed up my suitcase and left. Like when I was 15 I went to Paris for two months, and when I was 18 I went traveling with my friends. It’s never been a big thing for me. I think the next step will probably be the U.S. I have a visa now, so I can!

So would you come to New York or LA?
GM: I think I’d go to LA purely because I spend heaps of time in New York anyway, and it’s closer to Sydney. I do a lot of ghostwriting for other people, and from a pop perspective that’s kind of where everything is at for what I want to do.

Speaking of writing for other people, how does that process differentiate from writing for yourself?
GM: It’s still the same because I feel like even when I’m writing for myself, I’m writing in a different way every time. I’ll write a beat, then I’ll sing over it. Or sometimes I’ll start with chords…there’s so many different ways of writing. I think writing for other people has the same concept. Writing a really great song should translate across varying production fields so that any artist can sing it. I think it’s about when you’re writing for someone else, they connect with what you’re saying. It’s a constant conversation.

I was first introduced to you from the “On & On” tune with Snakehips. Was that a collaboration or did they remix an original song of yours?
GM: They just sent me an instrumental, and — I remember it so clearly — I was in my apartment in London one night and my manager told me that Snakehips wanted to do something with me. A week before, my younger brother (who is always on top of what’s cool in music) sent me Snakehips and said, “Check this out. It’s awesome.” That night, I wrote “On & On” in like a half hour, sent it back and we recorded it the next week. It was very quick.

Currently a lot of R&B artists are bringing back collaboration with these electronic producers, like Mary J. Blige and Disclosure and Jennifer Hudson with Gorgon City. Why do you think those two genres work together so well?
GM: Maybe it’s because it sounds fresh? You’re maybe not used to hearing those kind of vocals on that sort of beat, so when they’re together and create a really awesome groove it becomes the perfect combination. I feel like the tones of their voices seem to fit.

Your “Vacant Space” song is amazing! How did the concept come about?
GM: Oh, it’s very personal. It was very much an experience. I almost didn’t put it on the EP because I was so afraid. I wrote it with a friend of mine at his studio, and that song was written from just a jam session. I went home to listen to it, and I was like “Oh my god, I can’t believe I just wrote that.” As the months went on, I showed it to a few people and they were like, “You HAVE to release this!” This was when it just in its song form, so I sent it to Harley [aka Flume] and then he edited the production. He turned it into what it is now, and I got it back and said, “Alright, we should release it now!” [laughs]

I feel people could relate to that song, so it’s a win for you now!
GM: That’s probably why it was so uncomfortable for me, but also why it worked. When you say something really uncomfortable, people go “Wow, I wish I could’ve said that.” They felt it probably, because it is a real feeling!

So this is a different question for you — how would you describe your sound using colors?
GM: It depends on what section of sound. So “Vacant Space” for me is very much a dark green, then new stuff I’m working on is kind of in the pinks and purples with some overtones of shimmer. There is a bit of sparkle on top of it. I feel like the collaborative side is sort of an orange.

For your debut album, you chose pinks and purples. Will it be more romantic?
GM: Oh god no! [laughs] It just felt right. That’s funny, I didn’t even think of romance. I guess it’s a twisted romance, like a slightly aggressive shade of pink. I don’t know why those colors came to mind. But when I write a piece of music, I instantly see a color. Sometimes the color is off and it doesn’t look right in my mind.

When can we expect the album?
GM: Nothing is confirmed yet, I haven’t officially announced anything. I’m so excited about this next phase in music. We’ve been playing a couple of the new songs in our set, which I’m testing out to see how they’re going. There is a collaboration with What So Not coming out, and I’m so excited for it to come out. I guess throughout the year it will all build into something.

Are there any other collaborations you’re working on?
GM: I don’t know if there will be any yet. There are a few people I’d like to collaborate with vocally actually, like Tkay Maidza. She’s Australian but from Zimbabwe, and she raps. Her stuff is fire, so I’ve started producing a track for her and I’m hoping we’ll do some more thing eventually. That would be cool.

I think you should try to collaborate with Kaytranada, that would be a fun one!
GM: Oh yea! That’s really good, I should get my management to hit him up. I love his remix of Teedra Moses’ “Be Your Girl,” that was my jam for like two years. It’s so good!

What artists are you currently listening to know that you think should be on people’s radar?
GM: There’s a girl from Australia who I’ve been helping out with. Her name is JOY, and she’s awesome. She’s like 17 and she produces, sings, plays piano…she’s great. But I haven’t been listening to much new music to be honest. I look at my playlists and it’s like Prince, Whitney [Houston]. It’s like, do I know anything new? [laughs]

I’m really interested in your “Talk Talk” video, it’s very sensual to me. How did you think of that concept?
GM: With that video, I worked with Yeoseop Yoon, who is the director. I put together a mood board and an outline of what the song is about. In hindsight, I didn’t really say what it was truly about. I used to be terrified of revealing that! But I feel like if I’d actually said what the song is about, then maybe it would’ve turned out differently. He [Yoon] did his interpretation of it and we worked with him on that. Basically we gave him the tools to create the concept, which I like. When you’re going to work with another creative, you give them the creative freedom to do that.

So last question: if what you have for your forthcoming album so far could be a soundtrack to a film genre, what would you choose?
GM: For some reason I’m thinking of Save The Last Dance!

Get an eyeful of even more pop music coverage, from artist interviews to exclusive performances, on Idolator’s YouTube channel.