“when i get to be someone else, that’s when i feel amazing” — georgia thurstingBack
A question that Georgia Thursting asks a lot is, “Does that make sense?”
It’s a good question; and when she asks it, it feels as though she’s asking it of herself more than anybody else. It crops up again and again — we didn’t count — while we talk outside Arrosti in Leeds, as warm sun and cold milk restore Georgia from a hangover, sustained while celebrating her grades from Leeds College of Music. It usually comes at the end of meandering paragraphs that often start with, “I’ll tell you how that started.”
Among the things we talk about are Georgia’s music, and finding a style that fits; about performing, and feeling like someone else; about self- promotion, and how it hides the hard times; the shelves of unpublished poems and stories her dad has written; about interests, that become hobbies, that become jobs, that have deadlines; about how people need to talk more about what they’ve been through, and how they manage; about how Georgia always did best at drama, but wanted to work in radio before she decided to study music; about her dream of starring in Chicago, which she’s seen at least five times; about interviewing people who inspire her for her blog series, Women Who Werk; about moving to Spain with her mum when she was eleven, and moving seven times in one year, and loving it; and about how to do everything when there’s so little time in which to do it.
“Does that make sense? I don’t know. I’m just trying. I enjoy doing loads of different things, because I get bored really easily. I can’t really sit still. Everyone says, take a week off, but unless I’m sat in the sun with a cocktail or something I can’t do it.
“It’s not because I want to be good at everything. I just enjoy trying everything. It’s the best way to stay creative, I think. Does that make sense?”
Things have changed a lot since Georgia started to listen more closely to the answers when she asked herself that question. For a long time, the answers sounded like, ‘Yes, of course.’ But when that was no longer a given, life became more interesting.
“When I came to uni it was just me and my guitar,” she says. “All I listened to was Amy Winehouse, so I was just a product of that. I moved on to a full band but that was still the style, really groovy and happy. I do like that. But I don’t think that’s me.”
What wasn’t making sense was that it was working. Search for Georgia Thursting on YouTube and you’ll find a clip of her performing in front of thousands of people at Gibraltar Music Festival in 2014; in front of thousands, and in front of a massive sign that said only one thing: her name. It was the culmination of two years of career-minded single-mindedness, a determination that by her third year at the College of Music Georgia would be signed to a record deal and on her way.
“Everything was just about me, and I think that’s why I crashed in third year. I just didn’t want to do it any more. We played some good festivals, but things were all just about me and I started to realise that’s not what makes me happy.”
The identity and presence of the person with the name above the stage didn’t match up to the person people were seeing on it; and the person on the stage didn’t feel like she could be there, and still be herself.
“After that performance I didn’t even know if I was happy or sad,” says Georgia. “There were all these young girls coming up to me saying, ‘Can I get a selfie?’ At first it was funny, but after a while I was asking, ‘Why?’ I began to realise they were scared to come over and talk to me, and it felt really strange — we’re all just people.”
That’s the theory, anyway, but witnessing backstage tantrums from star performers insulted by the wrong colour of towel, and later, on a train back to Leeds, watching the video for Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azealia’s track Booty opened Georgia’s eyes to how much she wanted to close her eyes to the whole thing.
“I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I nearly left uni. And that video nearly sent me over the edge. It might as well just have been porn and it made me really angry. I was studying music and trying to learn to be an artist and it felt like, if that’s the highest level of success you can get as a woman, if that’s what it’s like at the top, then why am I even bothering? Do I want to be a part of that?”
People are a part of it though; and as part of Georgia’s sense-making processes, she began to talk to people who, rather than depress her, inspire her.
“I went home and wrote a big rant about it, and that became the first post on a blog called A Musician on The Edge. It was probably terrible, but it made me think about how women need some better representation, and I started a series on the blog called Women Who Werk, about people I look up to.
“The first one was Hollie McNish, who is a feminist poet who writes a lot about all the terrible things and great things she faces as a mother. I worked at an event she was involved in at Leeds College of Music, and I just asked if she minded having a chat afterwards. We talked at her hotel for about two hours and it was the most inspiring conversation I’ve ever had. That became the first interview.
“Something that makes me feel rubbish about being a musician is how much of it is about self-promotion, so that nobody ever sees the tough times. You can’t ever put a photo on Instagram of a terrible gig, because you feel like people will only take you seriously if you look like you’re doing well. I’m guilty of doing that too.
“I want to keep doing the blog because I don’t think people really talk to each other enough about what they’ve been through. I feel really good after reading interviews with women about how they’ve done what they’ve done, because so many people, even when they’re good at something, don’t know how to go about being good at it. I’ve just started, but I’ve had more people tell me they enjoy my blog than that they enjoy my music. So maybe this is what I should be doing?”
Working on that is one of the plans for this year; along with working on styling for Leeds-based singer-songwriter Malaika’s appearance at Montreal Jazz Festival, promoting the Sundown series of gigs at Nation of Shopkeepers, as well as finding a new, post-uni musical project; one that fits.
“I need to really sit down and decide and maybe drop one thing,” says Georgia. “The outcomes of everything have been great but sometimes I do get mad at myself for making myself so busy, trying to do so many things in a week. I never have time to review my emotions, to sit down and reflect.
“The styling is a little hobby that has maybe got too serious. I like doing it for fun, because for me it’s just putting together something that looks nice, and I always spend hours shopping and on Pinterest looking at clothes and shoes. I guess you learn from trial and error, but I definitely want to go for coffee with some stylists who are really doing it and get some wisdom, because I’m only starting to learn.
“We’re not doing Sundown over the summer so that’s out of the picture for a bit, but I enjoy doing it. Getting a load of people in a room and seeing how happy they are enjoying the music — and being out of the limelight — has felt amazing.”
What links all the projects Georgia is occupied by now — the promoting, the styling, the blog — what makes sense about them — is that they keep her out of the limelight. The next musical project might see Georgia back on the stage, but not at the centre of attention. After losing the sense of what she was doing musically at the start of her third year at college, Georgia ended it with her most experimental compositions and performances so far, and it’s worth noting that the grade she was celebrating for her performance was 100%. She earned the hangover.
“It’s the most fun I’ve ever had performing,” she says. “I absolutely loved it. It was the last performance of uni so I gave it everything. The set was really dark and I had make up like a superhero, with a band of orange across my face. I was playing a character who was losing her mind and another girl was taunting me; that was the dynamic. I cried when I got off stage because I’d pushed myself so hard. I was shaking all over.
“Out of everything involved in music performing is what I love best, but when I’m being me I feel a bit rubbish afterwards. I can go on a proper downer after performing my stuff. But when I get to be someone else — that’s when I feel amazing. It’s like being nameless in a way.
“That’s what I want to do now. I was talking to some guys from the band about a new project, something heavier, and based around creating a proper persona. To have this story to tell and really embody it in every way possible. I need to work out how to do it.
“All the limelight or the attention or whatever that I was getting before, everything that came with performing as myself — I’ve realised I didn’t enjoy it. By starting to do the blog, by styling other people, promoting other artists — it just brings me so much pleasure to help people. That sounds really cheesy, but I don’t know how to say it in a cool way. And I don’t care. Does that make sense?”
Originally published in The City Talking: Leeds, issue 25
Photographs by Tom Martin • @TomMartinPhoto