Nashville’s loss is The Bay Area’s gain as Victoria George embraces bluegrass and California country for a high lonesome 90’s country sound. BY kelly gregory.
When Victoria George arrived in Nashville from California just over a decade ago she was like all the others with a guitar and a bunch of songs hoping to find
fame, or at the very least, a career in writing and performing in Music City US of A. Armed with a knack for a melody that few can match, in any kind of just world Victoria George would have been snapped up by a major label, or at the very least have become a go-to songwriter for those in search of a future hit. For Victoria George though it wasn’t serendipitous, with her style of country more like that of a decade earlier when Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis were the country queens than the bro-country just about to be released from the bowels of the music gods.
Getting to Nashville around the same time as Rascal Flatts, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan started continuously hitting the top spot. Bro-country was on the horizon and Nashville was reinventing itself (or having an identity crisis). Victoria George seems to remember it well — “I call it power chords with a banjo. Pop power country,” she says of the music coming around the pike at that time.
“I lived in Nashville from 2008 until 2010. I was there for two years, and we tried really hard. I had a management deal and I never uite fit in with the Nashville sound. The music industry was changing quite a bit during that time and a lot of the development money had just dried up because it was harder to sell music. You really had to be on tour. And I never quite fit the mould of Nashville and I don’t listen to much modern day, quote unquote, country music because a lot of it doesn’t appeal to me. There’s like a TV factor to some of it that is not my thing but there’s a few new artists that I really like and I like a lot of old school country.”
While in Nashville Victoria George had a publishing deal, so there are publishing houses sitting on a bunch of her songs that, theoretically, could still get cut.
“Tables Are Turning, that in particular was a co-write with a Sony artist so I know Sony has a demo of that song. I had moved back to California at that point and they had spent some time in the studio with this artist recording it and I got the demo and I was like, ‘Oh God, that’s horrible’.”
Victoria George presents Tables Are Turning in a way she finds much more acceptable on her recent album, Victoria George And The High Lonesome. She continues, “I was a
little discouraged by the way they produced it so that felt really good to record that song because I think that song turned out great and it’s such a better representation of the song than what Sony probably still has in their vault.
“My career would probably be further along if I was better at tooting my own horn and kind of being obnoxious and getting in people’s faces but that’s not the kind of person I am.”
Her latest new record was two years in the making after fits and starts in the studio while raising her two small children.
“I’m really happy with the outcome of the record. It was definitely a labour of love. We did most of the basic tracks during a period of probably like ten days in the studio but it took almost two years from start to release.
I have to fill the available time I have and it is really hard to make your own record so it just took a long time. But we had a really good time making it and I think that it’s a fun record and I think that came through.”
A few of the songs from the new record were from her songwriting days in Nashville. “Some of these songs are as old as that and it just took this long for them to make it on to an album. Fiona was written probably in 2007/2008 and we played it for a long time and then it sort of had a reverse...
I changed it a little bit, like the chord progression and then that version is what ended up on the record.”
The beauty of putting albums out independently is that you get to do it your own way and Victoria George favours a sound that is gloriously 90s. Sometimes you can’t beat being your own boss.
“The great thing about making your own record is that you don’t have to care [what’s in fashion]. It’s like the other side of that. It would be nice to have help making records and have labels and all of that, but the side of that is that you then have to make other people happy and we just make the records that we want to make.”
Subtle Dobro punctuates the West Coast twang and strong melodies of the new album, giving it a rootsy sound that would have been the envy of Patty Loveless, but really it’s that Victoria George has found the secret to her sound.
“All of my previous records have all had a lot of variety in them and at certain times people have criticised that — there’s some that seem more pop and then there’s some that seem really classic country and then there’s bluegrass — but I just haven’t paid attention to any of that. I just keep making the music that genuinely comes out of me.
So much of it is trying to figure out what your sound is which takes a while and I think that this record I had more experience. My last record was an EP in 2013 so there was quite a bit of time between then and this record and I just feel like I was able to hone in on the sound I wanted to produce. So the bluegrass sounds...some songs just come out that way. They just lend themselves to that instrumentation so we just try to just let the songs speak for themselves and dress them accordingly.”
The biggest gun in Victoria George’s arsenal is her ability to write a really good, catchy melody. Something that can often be overlooked in a lot of today’s music. Her song Lonely Town might be the finest example, and George admits, “Melody is what moves me. I have an app on my iPhone that’s like the voice memos, and I’ll lay in bed, trying to get to sleep, and I just get this melody that comes out and they just bubble to the surface. I oftentimes just have to get up and just sing a melody into a phone to catch it. That’s how a lot of these songs start. Sometimes it’s noodling on the guitar but a lot of times it’s all melody driven.
“A lot of songs for me are written in my head first and Lonely Town was one of those songs that I practically wrote just singing it out and then I went back to the guitar and wrote the music for it. That song just arrived in a matter of a few hours, the whole thing.”
Firmly ensconced in California’s Bay Area Victoria George has found a lot of inspiration
in the West Coast scene. “California has obviously a storied history with music just generally, but I think country music...There’s the Bakersfield sound and there’s obviously a lot going on in LA and I think LA sort of takes the shine and the attention off of Northern California but there’s a great artist community up here. It’s just a cosmopolitan place. I’m very close to San Francisco and we have Hardly Strictly Bluegrass [Festival] every year so there are people up here that just care about music and there’s a lot of great venues. I think for me, California country...You know, when I went to Nashville in particular I didn’t feel like I quite fit in and when you’re a young artist and you’ve moved across the country and you’re living there and you’ve left your friends and your family and all these things, you really want to have success and you want to fit in so it’s all worth it. For me that was hard and I didn’t want to change myself. I still to this day feel like the parts that make me different are ultimately what one day, hopefully, will become a boom for me. I feel like there’s a freedom in having it be California country. I don’t sound like
I’m out of Nashville but everyone, when I open my mouth, says, ‘Oh, you sing country music’. When I sing up here and they haven’t heard me before they say, ‘Where are you from?’ And I say, ‘Down the road! I’m not far!’” cmp
Victoria George & The High Lonesome is available now.