Georgia Ruth first came to the world’s attention with her 2013 Welsh Music Prize winning debut album, Week Of Pines. This year’s award was, rather fittingly, won by Meilyr Jones, who appears on Georgia’s beautiful new album, Fossil Scale, which came out a couple of months back on Navigator Records.
Fossil Scale is both musically and thematically something of a departure for Georgia. Musically, perhaps the biggest change came via a decision Georgia made right at the start of the writing process; whilst previously most of her writing was done on the harp, for this second album she relocated to the piano. The greater flexibility the instrument offered has allowed her to explore new territory on this album, which arguably owes as much to the ambient experimenters Radiohead or James Blake as it does her oft-quoted folk roots.
The major thematic shift came, at least in part, due to a relocation from the clamorous setting of her native Cardiff for the more serenely paced lifestyle offered by the small port town of Caernarfon. The resulting record is undoubtedly a product of its surroundings; an expansive and almost other worldly record, littered with references to the sea, and an awe like wonder at nature’s ability to shape the world around us.
One of the most enticing features of Fossil Scale, is its ability to encompass new ideas, but without casting aside the history of Georgia’s influences; in the vocal melodies still flutter the inspirations of generation of folk musicians, in the shanty like outro of Fossil Scale lies her father’s life as a member of the Merchant Navy and in a cover of Meic Stevens’ Sylvia lies a proud tradition of Welsh songwriting. These traditions and roots might be the base of all her music but they don’t stop Georgia incorporating elements of Hindustani classical music, electronica and a deeply modern touch with complicated musical layering.
A fascinating departure, Fossil Scale is a complex and clever record, but also remarkably easy on the ear. Today Georgia was kind enough to talk us through the recording process, the history and future of Welsh music, and how a “mutant-fish – with reptilian head & fossilised scales” came to be an important influence on this album.
FTR:Who is Georgia Ruth?
She’s me, without a surname.
FTR:You’ve just put out your new album Fossil Scale, what can you tell us about recording the album?
The album was recorded in lots of different places. We started in Bethesda (at the sadly-departed Bryn Derwen studios) and recorded in London and Cardiff before finally settling in Mwnci Studios with the very wise and awesome Marta Salogni, who produced the record. Mwnci is on an old gothic estate near the Pembrokeshire-Carmarthen border, you can walk to the Cromlech – an ancient megalithic monument which dates back 3000 years.
FTR: What prompted you to relocate from Cardiff to Caernarfon? How do you think the move affected the writing of Fossil Scale?
I’m back in Cardiff again now. But living in Caernarfon for two years definitely shaped the record. I kept being amazed by the hugeness of the landscape. Snowdonia is incredible; until you live near it, it’s easy to forget how tiny (and insignificant) your own life is. In the city, there are so many ways of hemming yourself in, of convincing yourself that everything you do has meaning. So up there, the landscape gave some sort of perspective to my little personal introspections – it just made them feel small. I wanted to write about that difference in scale.
FTR: You’ve collaborated with some amazing people on this record – how did you come to work with Meilyr Jones and Suhail Yusuf Khan? What did they bring to the record?
Mei brought his dulcet tones and some vigorous percussion-bashing, and Suhail brought his amazing sarangi. I’m very grateful to them both.
FTR: Most of this album is sung in English? How do you decide whether to sing in Welsh or English?
It’s not always a conscious decision. To me, the two languages are two different worlds! Usually, the music dictates which world it’s from.
FTR: Wales has a rich tradition of uniquely brilliant pop music from Super Furry Animals to Cate Le Bon – why do you think Welsh musicians are so creative?
I’m not sure I can give you a definitive answer! But maybe bilingualism has something to do with it? There are so many studies that show that speaking more than one language enriches the human brain, so I don’t see why that shouldn’t stretch to music too.
FTR: As one of the BBC’s resident experts on new Welsh music – who should we be listening to?
There’s a great new label from Carmarthen called Decidedly Records which is home to a collection of brilliant new bands, like Adwaith and ARGRPH. It’s great when one area has an explosion of new bands – it feels like a cohesive statement!
FTR: You’re often pinned with the “folk” tag by the media – how do you feel about the term? Do you consider yourself a folk musician?
I’m not very good with labels because they don’t really allow for any sort of fluctuation. I adore folk music, and it’s probably the first kind of music I ever heard. But it’s not something I really think about, that label. I just try and do what makes me happy.
FTR: You’ve said that you wrote most of this album on the piano rather than the harp – what prompted that decision? Do you see yourself returning to more harp based compositions in future?
I’m sure I will. It’s good to have several options in your ammunition! I’ve still got a lot of things I want to work out on the harp, we’re in it for the long-term.
FTR: Something we never thought we’d ask a musician – but tell us about the “mutant-fish – with reptilian head & fossilised scales”?
Haha, well.. I read a news article online about this weird fish that had been dredged out of the sea by fishermen in Russia. And it was described as being a mutant whale, with a reptile’s head and fossilised scales – a living relic. I found it so sad, just that sense of total displacement. And I started to read about all these other ‘discoveries’ of living fossils – all these strange, ancient species. The Caelocanth is a good one. They thought it’d died out with the dinosaurs, and then found a live one at the end of 1930s.
FTR: There are a lot of references to the sea on this album, why do you think writers and musicians always been so fascinated by the sea?
I’m not sure! Maybe because we’re bad at swimming? My dad was in the Merchant Navy during the 60s and 70s, so I grew up with a fairly romanticised view of the sea. The irony is, of course, that I’m terrible on a boat. Awful. So it’s very much a sort of wistful contemplation of the water, rather than a desire to actually be on it! And with this album, it was more about wanting to be underneath. Jacques Cousteau’s film Le Monde du Silence (1956) was a huge influence when I was writing; just that sense of diving down into technicolour sea-space, that wonderful feeling of being immersed by something vast and elemental..
FTR: Why do you write music?
Because I really enjoy it
FTR: Who are your major influences? What were you listening to when you wrote Fossil Scale?
I was listening to a lot of Radiohead when I was writing, Kid A and Amnesiac. And Reachy Prints by Plaid. And then loads of Baroque recorder music – like Corelli and Vivaldi. And other stuff!
FTR: What about influences outside of music? Are you creative in other ways?
I can lie creatively! But I can’t paint or draw, which is a constant disappointment. I’d like to write a book at some point – but they’d be short stories, I think.
FTR: You recently shared the video for Cloudbroke – what can you tell us about it?
It’s a surrealist rhapsody featuring the choreography of the amazing Eddie Ladd! Directed by Eilir Pierce (who also directed the Fossil Scale video), it was filmed on Southerndown beach, not far from Cardiff. It’s a Jurassic coastline, and a prime spot for fossil-hunters so seemed like a good place for our three fossil dancers.
FTR: Do you enjoy the non-musical aspects of being a musician, Videos, photo shoots, artwork etc? Is the visual aspect of your work important to you?
Yes. I’ve always loved that. It’s like suddenly finding 3D. I loved working with Kirsten McTernan on the photographs for this album – she’s an amazing photographer. The videos too. To see Eilir’s interpretation of the songs, it’s exciting.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record?
That it makes sense to some people. I think that’s all you can ever really hope for. And that it may have a lingering effect.
FTR: What’s next for Georgia Ruth?
I’m currently planning a country soul album. Well that’s what I want it to be today!
Fossil Scale is out now via Navigator Records. Click HERE for all upcoming Georgia Ruth shows.