The sound of emotional truth

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The liltingly smooth sounds of experimental folk group georgie belies some of the contradictions in the makeup of the band.

For instance, the group’s moniker is a reference to names associated with its banjo-playing vocalist, Claire McClusky. Her middle name is Georgia, and a number of her family members are named George.

At the same time, the lower-case spelling is also both an aesthetic and calculated choice. It gives the group another point of uniqueness. As some music-streaming websites have many artists with a variation of the name “georgie,” being different can help the name stand out.

“People have told me, ‘If you put something weird in it, then it’s easier to find.’ Originally, I wanted it to be in parentheses, but the streaming services just wouldn’t let me do that,” McClusky notes.

Claire McClusky

“But I think most people actually find us by talking to us,” she admits.

The band formed a few years ago after McClusky started actively pursuing the banjo and features a large number of musicians. The group currently includes guitarist Leaphe Ferm, keyboardist Christina “CC” Das, trombonist Duvanté Cora, bassist Allegra “Rick” Dziedzic, cellist Andie Burkey and drummer Connor Benincasa, along with collaborator Benjamin Wayne Torrey.

“It’s hard (to define a genre) because it changes so much depending on the different arrangements at a show,” McClusky says, reflecting on the cohort of musicians who have gathered together under this group. “The recordings are kind of folk-ey, kind of rock-ey. But I like to imagine that we’re experimental because I like that word. It means we can change and try new things.”

So far, georgie has created two albums, “Gorky” and “Intimacy Hangover.”

Both collections radiate an aura of emotional rawness and vulnerability. “Canyon,” a song off “Gorky,” for example, even begins with a spoken-word piece about isolation and loneliness.

“The sense of powerlessness that the soaring structural slabs impart to the modern urbanite is deepened by the anonymous crowds in which he is immersed,” it begins as a chaotic guitar and bassline builds with messy drum kit and sporadic percussion sounding off in the background. “To break this field of indifference is regarded as an eccentricity at best and a hostile act at worst.”

The song sonically erupts through after the poem is concluded only to shrink back and regroup for a second wave as McClusky begins singing. A refrain in the lyrics: “Let’s try/the earth is still alive.”

“I think it encompasses a lot of what the project is about. Being in relationships at a transformational point in our society and trying to figure out ourselves and just answer the question, ‘What are we going to do?’” McClusky says.

In fact, the lyrics in all of georgie’s songs are poetry packed with layered meaning that lasts well after the music ends. “Porch Talk,” the group’s longest song, feels like receiving glimpses of an emotional truth instead of a clearly defined point of view.

“She sits on the porch/she’s wanting nothing more/she knows what life is for,” McClusky softly croons. “And I walk out the door/I’m wanting so much more/lay down on the floor/don’t know what life is for.” 

The tenderness of the vocals, combined with a sparse but mellow instrumentation and recorded nature sounds, disguise the turmoil in someone spinning slowly out of control.

“You aren’t listening again/you tell me I’m too in my head/always bring up shit before bed/ask me if you’d be better off dead,” state the song’s final lyrics, before asking: “Can you hear me?/Do you want to leave?”

“Intimacy Hangover,” which includes “Porch Talk,” was the band’s second EP and was recorded in an entirely different fashion than “Gorky.”

That first project was recorded after a number of shows on the road, together as a band at the local Submarine Sound Studios. The final mixing and creation of “Intimacy Hangover,” on the other hand, was decidedly more of a solo endeavor.

McClusky mixed separate recordings together from bandmates and remembers working by herself in a basement late into the night on the project. In a way, that experience fits the overall aesthetic of the album, however.

She first learned the term “Intimacy Hangover” running into someone after an intense circle of community building and sharing at the 490 Farmers garden.

“‘That was really nice, but I need some space for a little bit from deep conversations,’” she recalls the acquaintance saying. “And with the band, being together so much was amazing. It felt like this close sleepover every night with inside jokes and learning more about each other. But in a way, it can be exhausting.”

“Intimacy Hangover” felt like the right way to describe the transition from being together on the road, to being on one’s own instead.

The band members still remain close; they share a plot at 490 Farmers and start each practice by first cooking dinner together using their own produce. This also gives them space for mental health check-ins and group discussions, something they had a lot of while doing shows.

For McClusky, she believes that dedication to emotional reflection and interpersonal dynamics is the base for continued art with georgie.

“It’s definitely confusing at times because I started this project and then invited people in, but I’m trying to make it really collaborative,” McClusky says. “Like, I didn’t know that much about Chumbawamba, but (the band) listened to this podcast on a drive and all agreed they’re so cool. They were more like a worker coop than a band.

“So we’re trying to figure out how to be more like that. We’re having more group discussions about choices that we make that affect all of us,” she continues. “We’re excited to keep creating art together.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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