George Maple (Jess Higgs) has steadily become one of Aussie music’s most daring faces, bridging aesthetic and sonic elements to build a multi-dimensional pop narrative. The Northern Beaches native has collaborated with top guns from Flume, to Snakehips and France’s DJ Snake, extending her hand to production and bending RnB soundscapes around her own signature silky vocals.
Having spent time between L.A., London and Sydney, Maple has sold-out shows around the world and stunned audiences with her meticulously curated, intimate performances. The follow-up to her ‘Vacant Space’ EP (2014), Maple’s debut album ‘Lover’ is a 20-track reassurance of her knack for dynamic melodies and expansive textures while tapping trusted names like What So Not and GoldLink across thoughtful lyricism and poised rhythms.
We caught up with Maple ahead of her support slots on the Australian leg of Lorde‘s colossal ‘Melodrama’ tour, to talk about how Russian raves, brutal break-up, and Prince-inspired performance art played a role in the making of ‘Lover’.
Best Before: Where did you look for inspiration during the writing and recording process of ‘Lover’?
George Maple: This record is a cultivation of my own experiences and observations over the last two to three years. I write from a subconscious place, so it’s as though I’m writing whilst living the experience. A huge part of this record was actually reviewing my subconscious creative decisions and making sense of them. I operate on instinct. I almost have a synesthetic visual way of working; If I can see an image through the sounds and words I’m putting together, then I’m making the right choices.
In the final part of ‘Lover’, when I was deciding on the flow of the record and the interludes, I had a moment of realisation that I had this obsession with intimacy — that’s what I had written about. The record was a “series of intimate events.” I think my fascination stemmed from the fact it has such a powerful place in the human condition. The “intimacy vortex” is where we hide our deepest and darkest fears, desires, good and bad experiences, emotional residue from childhood — the list goes on. I think what fascinated me was what happens to us when we let someone into that space.
“Hero” has a distinct ‘80s/early ‘90s club edge to it. Can you fill me in on the story behind the song?
I wrote “Hero” in LA when I was staying in a tiny little Airbnb guest room. I was going through some really challenging situations in my life and this song was a cry for help and, ultimately, a lesson in self-discovery. Essentially, it was a track helping me to be okay with being vulnerable and coming to terms with the loss in my life that I was avoiding. The ’80s energy I think came from somewhere in the tapestry of LA. There is a certain sonic landscape that seems to resonate in that place. Perhaps it is ghosts of Hollywood past, or something along those lines.
You’ve said that that “Kryptonite” is all about capturing “that moment at 3 A.M. where your feet hurt and you’ve been dancing and singing half the words to old George Michael.” Beyond the lyrics and melodies, how did you try to capture that energy in the production and arrangement of the track?
Haha, did I say that?! I guess that track was a by-product of the lifestyle I was living at that time. I’d been through a heavy break-up and was finding my feet again. I was being exposed to lots of new environments, waking up in strange places, going to drag nights, raves, dancing a lot. I was surrounded by all kinds of fascinating people, and I think there was a sense of freedom I was experiencing that I hadn’t tried to capture in a song before. So I guess “Kryptonite” was an avenue for me to do so.
The video for “Kryptonite” also seems to tie directly into that ‘90s club era, and there are some beautiful expressive moments in it. How and where did the clip come together?
I wanted to make a video that captured the sense of freedom I was just speaking about before. I wrote a guide and rough outline of the kind of mood I wanted to emulate in each scene and Lisa Paclet, the director, took these ideas and bought her own experiences into the creative process. We spoke on the phone a week prior to filming, and knew immediately that we would create something special. Lisa is a very passionate and special individual. We filmed in a warehouse in Kiev, Ukraine with 50 cast members who were all from Kiev; they brought their own wardrobe and we created a rave on set.
Vodka was flowing and underground techno was played in between takes. I later found out that the swing scene was inspired by Lisa’s personal experience. She was partying with her husband and they ended up in a club where this drag queen was performing on a swing. I love the fact that the video is a cultivation of various experiences, but has this central message of freedom love and sexuality and encourages people to feel free and uninhibited.
That’s an incredible shot with the hanging swing. How do you feel “Kryptonite” builds on the sound, style and image you established with a single like “Lover”?
Thank you! I was very afraid of heights before I filmed that scene. I think it helped me overcome my fear. I remember walking on set and thinking ,“Oh shit, really? That’s a lot higher than I imagined…” But that’s why music videos are fun! Never a dull moment. I think one really important part of my work is never being restricted. I try and practice what I preach. If I encourage people to be free with their expression, then I need to encourage myself to do the same. “Lover”, “Kryptonite”, “Hero”, and “Sticks And Horses” each expose a small facet of my being and are relevant to where I am at that particular time. I, like every human, am full of faces, facets, dimensions and various characters. It’s really important to me to freely communicate all of these sonically and visually in my work.
“I almost have a synesthetic visual way of working; If I can see an image through the sounds and words I’m putting together, then I’m making the right choices.”
How would you describe the sound embraced on ‘Lover’?
I’m terrible at judging my own work — I’m way too close to it. I guess I just write what feels natural and makes sense to the arc and shape of the record and then everyone else can make judgement or absorb the record however they will. I find myself constantly changing, diverging and discovering so I’m sure there will be elements of this throughout the record.
As well as being a singer-songwriter, you also have a bit of production experience up your sleeve. How did you develop that skill and passion, and how do you feel it affects your creative collaboration with other producers?
I never meant to be a producer — it was almost by accident. I have always been a writer, which means I write in all kinds of forms. I would write demos with drums, chords, sonics etc because it was what I heard in my head. The sonic presentation of the song often is one of the first things I hear when writing. I think eventually I just embraced it and learned to trust my skills and consciously build on them. I am constantly learning. As my skills have developed, I’ve become more knowledgable and this helps me work with other producers and artists because I can articulate myself in the studio. I now have a process that feels really good, and allows me a lot of freedom can walk into a studio now and know that I can either finish a song from start to finish on my own or I can choose to collaborate or collate various musicians’ skills. My hands are physically across every stem and part of this album, and that is a really great feeling.
Last year, DJ Snake (William Grigahcine) released his track “Talk”, which included the melodies from your breakout hit “Talk Talk”. How did that collaboration come about?
Yes, that was crazy! Will has been a friend for a few years. I showed him “Talk Talk” when we were all hanging in a hotel room. He simultaneously showed me “Lean On”, which I proceeded to give him notes for, ha! A few months later, he asked me for the a cappella, and then the rest is history. I wasn’t involved in the production of his version but It’s been very cool to watch the song have so many lives and reach so many people.
You’ve worked with some pretty incredible local and international artists, but who are some other artists on your collaboration bucket list? Who would you love to work with down the road?
Yes, I’m very grateful to have been given the opportunity to work with so much talent. I think, in the future, my bucket list would include Kanye, Kendrick, and Beyoncé (probably my top three). I would love to just write a verse or be involved in their records, as I just think they are each so inspiring in their own right.
You grew up in Australia, but you’ve relocated to London and spent a lot of time in L.A. as well. How has being home for the tour for a while felt?
I love being home. There’s nothing like it. I’m from the Northern Beaches so it’s so peaceful and I find myself able to get so much done in a day because there is a lot of space. I have been thinking a lot about where my next “base” should be and the more time I spend in Aus, the more attached and connected I feel to it.
Does down under still feel like home in the same way as before you were a touring solo artist?
I think even more so than before. I’ve been living out of a suitcase for five years now, travelling, touring and writing — just following the wind. Recently, I’ve found myself realising that I’m not very connected to places or people, which is something I’ve only just become conscious of. I think it’s almost a survival mechanism, like I am afraid of getting too attached because I know I’ll have to leave eventually. Hopefully, I’ll spend the next five years building a little more stability in my lifestyle.
There’s a lot of theatricality and physical energy behind your live show. Who or what inspires the choreography, visual effects, costumes and flow of a George Maple show?
Yes! Theatre and drama is very important to me in a show. I’m always changing and evolving in a live context and that affects the way the show is put together. I have always acted quite intuitively and going with what feels natural however i am starting to explore and take influence from new places, I’ve been watching a lot of old Grace Jones, Prince, Diana Ross, Janet Jackson footage, exploring projection mapping, performance art and lots of digital bits and pieces that I would like to begin experimenting with in the near future.
Along with the Lorde tour, you’ve been announced on the 2018 Field Day line-up. How does your approach to performing and choices regarding your set change in a festival setting?
Festivals are all about energy and fun. I love playing festivals because I get to party with the crowd. Festivals are just a whole lot of fun, and a place where everyone is there to let go. For me it’s about the show existing on its own as an experience. It’s a separate experience to listening in headphones to the music. I edit each set to suit the mood of where I’m performing. For Field Day, I’m starting to think about ways to develop the show for what I’m hoping is the best New Year’s Day to date. I’m excited about what the future holds.
LORDE’S ‘MELODRAMA’ TOUR | AUSTRALIAN SHOWS
with special guest George Maple
Saturday 18 November – Kings Park & Botanic Garden – Perth (18+*)
Tuesday 21 October – Sydney Opera House Forecourt – Sydney (All Ages)
Wednesday 22 October – Sydney Opera House Forecourt (NEW SHOW) – Sydney (All Ages)
Thursday 23 November – Riverstage – Brisbane (All Ages)
Sunday 26 October – Sidney Myer Music Bowl – Melbourne (All Ages)
*U18s must be accompanied by parent/legal guardian
Lose yourself in ‘Lover’ here: