THE meteoric rise of AKA George…
could have derailed his career and made him lose focus. He has, in a short time, turned down the chance to work with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers and seen legions of fans flock his way. The East London-based songwriter is a huge talent who can straddle genres but, on his current single, provides huge rush and funkiness. Stone Cold Classic has the potential to live up to its name and lodge itself in the minds of the masses.
So many people are responding to AKA George’s music so I ask him about his career and what it has been like so far – and why he chose to refuse Williams’ and Rogers’ deal and remain an artist on his own terms. AKA George talks about acts like The White Stripes and Muse; shares the memory of a particularly ‘eventful’ gig – and what gigs he has coming up.
Hi, AKA George. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m doing well, thanks.
I’ve just come back from a Sofar Sounds gig and I’m eating a veggie chili. My week has been busy - I’ve been rehearsing every day for my 4th October gig at Camden Assembly - in a tiny, sweaty room with four other guys...
...twelve-hour days; too much sweat.
PHOTO CREDIT: B@no1funkyhenry
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m George. I’m twenty-three; I’m from the countryside but now I live in East London. I write songs and I play a lot of instruments.
Stone Cold Classic is your new single. What can you tell me about its origin?
Stone Cold Classic started with a guitar riff...
I was in my room trying to play Let’s Dance by David Bowie but then I changed it up a bit and took some effects off - and it started to sound more like INXS or Blur. I recorded it there and then. I had a Spotify playlist called I’m Amazing which I created for songs that make you feel like a champion. Things like Stronger by Kanye West or Sexyback (Justin Timberlake) - you know, things that make you go “HELL, YEAH”. I guess I was listening to that when I wrote the lyrics to Stone Cold Classic. It’s about believing in yourself and owning your life.
The key lyric in my song though is “If I repeat it, maybe I’ll believe it” - because, at least for me, there’s always something lurking in the back of my mind telling me I’m not as good as I think I am.
The video looks like a blast. Did you play all the instruments on the track – as it depicts you jumping between them – and how much fun was it to shoot the video?
Yep, that’s me on all the instruments.
The video was super-fun to make. That room is actually my studio - it’s in East London and it is SMALL. It gets unbelievably hot in there when it’s just me but, when you stick a few people and some lights in there, it’s like a FURNACE. In-between each instrument we would all pile out just to breathe for a few seconds! I was aiming for something that felt real: just me in the studio doing my thing.
The recording process for the song was very quick and instinctive - and that’s what I wanted to get with the video, too. The vocals on the finished song were one take - recorded live, just holding the mic and moving around the room.
It just felt right.
I hear elements of The White Stripes and Ramones in your music. Who did you grow up idolising and obsesses over?
Seven Nation Army was a BIG song for me.
Once, me and my mate Christy decided to do an impromptu version of it at a talent show. We were at a home-schoolers festival, and earlier that week we’d done a great cover of Feeling Good (in the style of Muse) which everyone loved. Christy was like, “Fuck it, we’re amazing; let’s do White Stripes, no rehearsal, tonight.” I’m like “Hell yeah, I’ll even do it topless. AND I know the face-paint lady and I’m going to ask her to paint some cool angel wings on my back…the girls are gonna love us.”
We get on stage; there’s about two-hundred people watching (all parents). Christy starts the riff. He’s out of tune. I start singing. The mic’s off. I’m suddenly very aware that we never discussed how to start the song…or end it. My wings are melting under the stage lights. Girls don’t love us...needless to say, it didn’t go as well as we’d expected.
Our egos took a hit that night (it’s ok; I got mine back).
Your music has gained millions of YouTube views and social media love. How important is that kind of backing and does it all seem a bit daunting?
It used to daunt me, yeah.
A couple of years ago I had tens of millions of views - but all the numbers freaked me out and I took everything down (much to the dismay of my managers). This time, I feel like it’s a solid build. Numbers aren’t everything and I don’t think people should judge on them, but it is fantastic to see people support you - so yes, I guess they are important.
I know you have turned the chance down to work with Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers. Was that so you can retain independence and not be led too early in your career?
Looking back on it now, I know it probably seems crazy not to have taken those offers - but I really didn't know who I was as a musician and songwriter then. I was scared of being something that people jumped on and then jumped off a few months later. I really felt the whole YouTube thing was a novelty: an unnatural way to build a career in music. Even the word ‘viral’ was an alarm bell to me – because, if anything in nature goes viral it’s a disease, isn’t it? I think I knew in my heart that if I took my chance, then it would all crumble within a year or two. It was a risk but it paid off.
Now, if I work with other people, I know who I am.
PHOTO CREDIT: @huntershootsinlondon
Was there an ethical and commercial quandary turning an offer like that down?! Will you work together down the line, do you think?
If you believe in what you’re doing you don’t jump at the first glimpse of fame.
I’ve always seen things long-term - this is my life. I’d love to work with Pharrell and Nile Rodgers but at the right time - and for the right reasons.
You are unsigned at the moment. Do you think about looking for a record label or do you prefer working without that pressure and expectation?
Not at all. I think a bit of pressure and expectation is good for me.
I’d like to be signed by a great label - preferably a big one. No artist I’ve seen has managed to sustain a career without a label - at least not to the level I’m aiming at. For now, I’m concentrating on becoming a better performer, songwriter and person.
All that other stuff will follow naturally.
PHOTO CREDIT: @kristina.emily
Can we expect an E.P. next year? How far ahead are you looking?
Yes. I’m releasing an E.P. early next year with some songs I’m really excited about.
They still have a level of attitude but with more melodic elements and slightly more electronic production. I really want to set things alight with this next collection of songs!
Watch this space...
There are so few genuine voices and exciting artists with their own voice. What do you think of the big artists and does music lack any real bite and direction right now?
There is some great Pop music out there but, yeah, the general slew of music does lack bite at the moment.
I think part of the reason is a lack of intent and originality. People like to jump on a sound: particularly now with the ability to see via analytics/numbers how well it went down last time. It doesn’t matter though - the real ones know what they’re doing and they have the strength to put their neck on the line, speak up and trust in themselves. They’re the true stars.
Anything else is just here today, gone tomorrow.
How does the rest of 2017 look? How will you be spending the next few months? Any tour dates approaching?
Well, there’s the 4th October gig at Camden Assembly which is taking up most of my time at the moment - as I am rehearsing and programming new songs. The rest of 2017 will be spent writing and getting together the new E.P. Also, every now and then, I do a secret gig somewhere and I would like to put one of those in before Christmas.
They’re great nights and we cram loads of people into a small space - and hang around talking afterwards.
IN THIS PHOTO: Sigrid
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
I really like Sigrid - she’s pretty cool.
There’s a guy called Steve Lacy that I like as well - he records everything on his iPhone.
He’s not a new artist but I supported Kwabs last night at the Sofar gig and he was incredible. His voice is soulful and he had great jeans.
IN THIS PHOTO: Kwabs/PHOTO CREDIT: James Marcus Haney
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
All That You Can’t Leave Behind by U2
Because it reminds me of my dad and it is full of great songs.
Sam’s Town by The Killers
Because it’s the album I used to play over and over by myself growing up in the country.
Yeezus by Kanye West
Because I’d never heard anything so explosive and cutting-edge before.
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Try VERY hard at the beginning. Then, when you’re good, don’t try so hard.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Yesss. Please, could you play a new song by Foo Fighters called T-Shirt. It’s huge.
Thanks for the questions x
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