When I first spoke to AKA George four years ago and saw him perform live in Brighton, I was extremely impressed with his boundless talents as well as the undying passion and energy he puts into the creation of his music and performing. Such talent is rare and for that reason major labels wanted to sign him, but, at the time he wasn’t ready and declined the offers. Instead, he went for a wise move – keep on evolving as an artist and improve his songwriting and performing skills. So for the past few years AKA George has been working hard and putting out music for his dedicated fans; music that’s original, creative and brilliant. His latest single Stone Cold Classic, a tune as cool and catchy as it can get, has become a huge hit and proves that AKA George is now more than ready to get signed and show the rest of the world what he’s capable of.
Here is our interview about his musical journey, creative process, performing, fans and plans for next year.
Eva: I’ve been following your music since our interview four years ago after you released Animal Keeper. It’s been quite the journey for you since then. You’ve changed your name to AKA George and began a new exciting path. How do you think you’ve evolved as an artist through all this time?
George: Hi Eva, nice to speak to you again. Since Animal Keeper I’ve toured the UK, moved to London, and written an album. In the middle of all that I decided to change my name and film over a dozen music videos, so it’s been a busy time! I think the evolutionary process was this: first I was writing whatever came to mind and the instruments were 100% organic, THEN I was over-analysing every lyric and the sound was 100% electronic, and now I’ve come full circle with all that knowledge and I’m writing the best music of my life. I’ve seen the limitations of both sides… and I know when best to pull from both.
Seems like 2017 has been a hell of a year for you. Firstly, at the beginning of the year you put out a record on Spotify called First Friday, which is a collection of songs released on every first Friday of the month, something you did a while back. How much fun did you have producing these tracks?
I think the “where” is really important when it comes to creativity, so when I moved to London in 2015 it changed a lot of things and opened up my perspective. I wanted to challenge myself and write more music; “First Friday” came from that. I wanted to write, produce and finish a song, THEN film the video and release it every month, so I did it for a year – on the first Friday of every month. The songs started involving darker sounds I’d heard in trap and EDM, and the lyrics were more focussed than anything I’d done before. At the end of the process I realised I had 10 songs that hung really well together. I didn’t even change the order of the tracks – they progressed perfectly – so that was the album. I learned so much making “First Friday”. It’s my first proper collection of songs that sounds like ME.
Let’s talk about your latest hit single Stone Cold Classic. So far it’s had over 87 thousand plays on Spotify and keeps on getting an amazing response. How would you define the track and how much effort did you put into making of the video?
Stone Cold Classic came to me one morning when I was trying to play guitar like Nile Rodgers. I had loads of delay and reverb on a clean guitar, jamming some chords – it sounded pretty good so I recorded it. Then I had a cup of tea and decided to take all the effects off it. BOOM! It leapt out at me. I knew it was a great riff from that moment. I also knew the lyrics would have to match its strength so I wrote from the perspective of someone pumping themselves up, puffing out their chest. I love Kanye, and I like to think if he did a rock song, it would be like this. I’m proud of the line “Instagram the blaze – I’m Shere Khan savage” – shoutout to The Jungle Book. When it came to the video, the concept was simple – I wanted to show the recording process of me playing the drums, bass, guitar and singing, and incorporate flashes of red (in reference to my record label – Red Tape). It was directed by Conor Muir-Cochrane, and he put it into black & white and gave it movement. You should check him out, he’s amazing. We filmed it in my small studio in east London, Conor brought some lights and it got unbelievably HOT. We had to have a break between each take so we could breathe! The end result was worth it though, I’m proud of it.
What I love about you is the hard work, passion and originality you put into everything you do and for this reason you have earned an amazing following of fans. Not bad for an unsigned artist. Does it ever bother you not being signed or do you think it gives you more freedom and control over your creativity?
Thank you for saying that. I don’t know if being unsigned is such a big part of having freedom and control. I think it more comes down to personality and being passionate about good ideas. Back in 2013 I did a cover of Get Lucky by Daft Punk that went viral. Millions of views – a lot of major labels wanted to sign me. But I realised pretty quickly they were just signing the next Youtube cover star, which I didn’t want to be. Instead I focussed on improving as a songwriter and performer, doubling down on my talents and giving myself time to mature. That seemed like a much healthier way of entering into the music industry. Now I feel that I really am worth signing. I have the songs, I have the concepts and I have the confidence to carry them through. That’s the frame of mind you WANT to be in when you sign a deal; Here are my ideas, I am open to your ideas, let’s work together. I’ll always have freedom over my creativity whether I’m signed or not, and I’m sure I’ll be working with a major label in the near future.
When it comes to producing music, how do you challenge yourself to keep things fresh, unique and interesting?
Often I have the opposite problem – how to not go off on random musical tangents! I’m easily excited by new ideas and I get carried away. I think the key to being strong as an artist is knowing when to set limits… and when to break them. Sometimes it’s just playing on an instrument I haven’t played on for a while, or hearing a story that gets me thinking. Lately I’ve been with my guitarist Jay in the studio a bit. He’s a good energy to be around, and keeps me on track so I don’t do weird things like make a spaghetti western opera album.
Now, how was that highly anticipated headline gig at Camden Assembly Hall? Would you class it as the highlight of the year?
I’ve played some big shows this year, but that one meant the most to me. From the start, the energy was right. I was putting so much out and every single person in that audience was giving it back to me, times ten. It was such a pleasure to play those songs to people who had supported me from the start and hear them singing back to me. I did “Return Of The Fever” in the middle of the dance floor and everyone went wild. We were all rock stars that night.
What’s the best part about performing live on stage and how do you channel the energy between yourself and the crowd?
I love performing. I’ve been in bands since I was 10 years old, so I’ve always had a good idea about what works in a live setting. And that is the point for me – the live event. I’m a songwriter but I’m really a performer first and if the song doesn’t work in the cut and thrust of a busy gig, it’s no good. The crowd is relying on you to provide the excitement, so every performance needs to be the performance of a lifetime otherwise people feel cheated and so do I. You just need to use judgement and be quick on your feet. If the moment feels right, slow things down and trust your audience to follow you. If you show conviction, they won’t hesitate. That’s what I love most about performing live – it’s all about the heart and never about the head. It is instinctive. Sometimes you’re backstage stressing, thinking you’re gonna have to work hard to win people over, and then you come out and it’s like “Fuck! They are so up for it. Ok, let’s go all the way.”
What’s your favourite way of keeping in touch with your fans?
Social media mainly. I love hearing from people on instagram or twitter, especially if they’re turning a song or a lyric into a meme or if they’ve been inspired to pick up an instrument or make a change because of one of my songs. I always thought it would be cool to do a newsletter, or some kind of club where people can just send in stuff and I could send notes back. Good old fashioned letters. It’s time to bring it back. I have a email list of people i correspond with so that’s a good start.
Honestly I’m just bowled over every time someone gets in touch. A girl from Malaysia gave me a homemade bag with my entire discography’s artwork on it, painted on. I couldn’t believe it. I feel lucky to be able to connect with so many good people. It goes both ways.
If you could give any advice to a young kid who wants to make it in the music industry, what would you say?
Keep your eyes and ears open. I listen to a lot of new music but I always try to zoom out and take time to observe the classics. Experience the best of the best – music, films, sports – great works down the ages. When you see a person (or a group of people) at the top of their game, that sort of stuff really wakes you up and inspires you. The Rolling Stones, Catcher in the Rye, Conor McGregor, Forest Gump. If you drink from that well, it nourishes you. Drink deep.
Do you have any special plans for the rest of the year? And also what are your main hopes for 2018?
Well for the next few weeks I’m going to be finishing my EP, and I’m also going to put on a secret gig for everybody who has supported me so far. I did one earlier this year and it was great – I send out an email and the first 50 people to reply get the gig address. The last one was in my rehearsal studio in east London – I played a few songs and then we had some watermelon and did a bit of a Q&A. That’s what it’s all about – getting together and sharing a special moment. It’s always the same, whether I’m in a rehearsal room playing to 50 people, or a festival stage playing to 5,000.
As for 2018, my plan is this: finish songs, get record deal, dominate the world. That about covers it.