Interview: George Maple on ‘Vacant Space’
November 12th 2014
The last time we caught up with Jessica Higgs, aka George Maple, she had ticked off collaborations with Flume and Flight Facilities, and was touring with the latter at SXSW Festival.
A year and a half on, George Maple is taking centre stage with her debut EP Vacant Space: a soulful blend of refined electronica. Its first single ‘Talk Talk’ has had us completely hooked for months, and the second taste – title track ‘Vacant Space’ – was recently premiered on BBC Radio 1 with Annie Mac.
There’s certainly no sign of slowing down for this Sydney girl, so we thought we’d better catch up with her again before she’s shot off into the sky. Lucy Smith chats with Higgs about collaborating, the making of Vacant Space, and the legend that is Yeezy.
Lucy Smith: First of all, congratulations on signing with the Future Classic family! That was back in August, so a little while ago – but how did it all come about?
Jessica Higgs: I was talking to Nathan McLay (Founder, Managing Director) at Field Day earlier this year, and he asked, ‘What have you been working on?’ And at that point I was being scouted by quite a lot of large international major labels, and I wasn’t very happy about that because I didn’t really want to sign to a major label – so I was quite resistant to it. And he sort of said, ‘Do you want to do a record and basically come hang with us?’ And I was like, ‘You know what – yeah! That sounds good, I’ll come and do that!’ It was a casual affair.
People would probably recognise you more-so from your collaborations (Flume, Flight Facilities, Snakehips) – so for those who maybe don’t know you, could you tell me about your musical upbringing?
I grew up listening to a variety of soul and pop music, and I listened to a lot of N.E.R.D and then a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, and Sade, Jeff Buckley, Rose Royce, and all the rest of it. And I started writing when I was about nine, and that progressed into performing, and singing at restaurants when I was like twelve or thirteen. And then it kind of progressed into meeting people and collaborating, then meeting the Flight Facilities guys and developing the George Maple project, and ending up here basically! [laughs]
And ‘here’ is ‘Talk Talk’ which has reached almost two million plays on Soundcloud! That single has really taken off, and was co-produced with Flume? What’s that working relationship like? Because it definitely works.
It does, you’re right actually. I think it’s just a good friendship, and I think that’s why it works. We’re both from the Northern Beaches of Australia, and we sort of grew up doing the same thing, respect one another musically, and it’s so comfortable and easy to throw ideas around. It’s really casual, which I feel is always the way that music is made best.
You’ve spoken previously about being really vulnerable with your writing . How do you maintain such honesty within your lyrics, and what is your writing process like?
I try and balance my time between collaborating with other people and then writing by myself. Because I think that I’m sort of half introvert, half extrovert; and I feel like from a writing perspective I approach a lot of my songs in a similar way. And I think that it’s the introversion that allows me to be honest, and vulnerable, and really think about things; and then it’s the extroversion that allows me to talk to people, and learn from these people that I’m working with. I think that the fusion of the two is where my music comes from. And also just being honest in every day life helps a lot as well; not lying to yourself, and just being okay when things go wrong, and being okay when stuff isn’t amazing I think is kind of the vibe for me.
There’s definite postmodern, surreal themes in the video for ‘Talk Talk’ – did you have any creative influence on how that video would come about?
Yeah well, Future Classic arranged for Yeoseop Yoon (Director) to run the video, and the way that it usually works in that instance I’d send over what was in my head when I was developing the EP. And it’s funny, because I look at it now and it’s actually evolved quite a lot in the last three months where creatively I’m at at the moment – in terms of what images I see when I’m writing, and what themes I connect with. And when I was actually putting that together there was a lot of surrealism that I was being influenced by, a lot of gothic landscapes and really that utopian approach to everything. I think that that’s definitely where it came from, that’s what he’s captured.
What type of themes do you explore throughout Vacant Space, and what kind of images does the EP conjure up in your mind?
There’s actually a lot of dark green for some reason, when I think of the EP I think of this bottle green colour. And I think that I sort of have semi-synesthesia sometimes when I write, but usually it’s in an image form. I think the EP definitely came out of more of a darker place than some of the music I’ve written in the past, or the music that I’m working on at the moment. I think it was exploring different facets of my path that I’ve taken over the last year and a half when it was written, because it was written over the space of about 12 months or 18 months or something. I guess it’s like fractures of what has been over the past twelve months and I think each track has its own little message or own little story, but it’s definitely a body work that I’m happy to present. There’s an element of uncertainty throughout a lot of the EP, and I think that the title Vacant Space and the title track is about not being quite sure about where you stand.
But there’s a really beautiful space in between certain and uncertain; and I feel like that’s the space that I’ve tried to capture.
One of the tracks ‘Gripp’ features Kilo Kish, who’s also worked with other members of the Future Classic family. What was it like working with her?
Oh she’s so lovely. That was interesting actually, because originally I wrote the rap that she does on the track and I wrote a guide reference type thing, then there was one of those moments where I was like ‘Wait, I wonder if she’s going to write her own thing or what she does?’ And she came back with something that was like, a million times better [laughs]. It was really good. She’s amazing.
Without meaning to sound all ‘Age of the Internet’, but how do you feel about online collaborations where you’re swapping material in comparison to being in the studio, right there and then?
Oh my god, it’s so much better in the studio. I’ve done both and I think that particularly from a production point of view, sometimes when you’re working with two producers it can be better for them to swap material online, because then they have their own space to do their own thing. Then they’ll come back and a lot of the time it’ll be sonic editing, or re-programming drums or something. But I think in terms of writing a song, there’s nothing like being in the same room as another person and feeding off that energy that’s in the room. And it’s something that I definitely am going to adhere to from now on, because I’ve written songs over the internet, and it’s been great and it’s been fine; but you lose that experience to a certain extent, because you don’t remember as much, it’s not as memorable for you as an artist. And I think that that comes across in the music as well.
If you could collaborate with anyone currently making music, who would you collaborate with?
I’d love to collaborate with Flying Lotus, or Jai Paul if he was ever collaborating with anyone. Or I think definitely a bucket list for me, and if it happens I would just keel over, Kanye West.
The electronic and dance music scene in Australia is killin’ it of late, with some really stellar young artists emerging. How does it feel as a producer to be apart of such a thriving scene right now?
Oh, it’s incredible. I really feel like creativity fuels off creativity and the more creative people are being, the more creative people will be. Because it’s like this roll-on effect, it’s like a snowball. And I think that’s kind of happening at the moment whether it be in an online atmosphere or whether it be in a physical environment in Australia; there’s an energy and everyone’s like, ‘keep going, and keep making better music, and keep pushing boundaries.’ There’s a lot of acts that are doing that and encouraging each other, because a lot of the time they’re friends as well, so they’ll hang out. And it’s just really exciting that we have that now because- well I don’t know if we ever had that before- but it’s a really nice feeling.
And finally, while you’re out and about touring and travelling – what are three of your go-to albums?
I listen to the Kendrick Lamar album, Good Kid m.A.A.d City, the new Caribou album Our Love which I just downloaded, and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West would probably be my main go-to.
Vacant Space by George Maple is out on December 1 through Future Classic