It’s been an adventurous eighteen months for Brisbane’s george (Katie Noonan, Tyrone Noonan, Geoff Green, Paulie Bromley and Nick Stewart) since the release of their double-platinum debut album, Polyserena. However the roller coaster polarity of hard work and personal space, of external pressures and internal joys, of the expectations from the world and the ideals of the band have all culminated in a remarkably well realised second release in Unity.
Refusing to ride on the successful formula that saw singles such as Special Ones, Run and Breathe In Now achieve critical acclaim, george have broadened their musical scope. They’re exploring different sounds from the introspective, getting back to the acoustic joy of five musicians and then taking the songs where they will – whether it is a simple melody and guitar line or the grandiose splendour of a huge symphonic sound.
“I personally feel like I’ve developed a lot as a songwriter,” comments Tyrone, “more confident lyrics and statements being expressed through those lyrics. Overall it’s a more positive approach in dealing with personal issues and socio-political issues, more positive light. As a band, this to me feels like a really mature album for us. I feel like the five of us have really connected stronger than ever before musically as a unit.”
“The album is a combination of all of the recording practice we’d all done,” adds Paulie. “george have always prided themselves on high quality recordings, and individually Unity was my sixth or seventh full length album to record with a band. We were all completely comfortable with who we were for each other, and that was something we really learned on the first record. Polyserena was us learning how to make a record, Unity was making that record.”
Working hand in hand with producer David Nicholas and assistant Justin Tresidder (additional production and engineering), both of whom also worked on Polyserena, everyone felt a sense of comfort and intimacy during the recording session that occurred in the beautiful surrounds of Byron Bay. Melbourne’s revered composer Paul Grabowsky also assisted with sweeping orchestral and horn arrangements, lending the music a dignity that refrained from falling into pretension. Songs like first single Still Real and Today examine people’s relationships with their own lives, as well as providing a touching insight into the band themselves.
“I think that sense of friendship comes from the early days of george, in that it was about two sets of siblings, so it was about family and love and very close, intense relationships,” considers Katie. “That family vibe brings a closeness and honesty that permeates what we do. Collectively and individually, we’ve been through a great period of change and growth. Knowing we can look to each other for strength brings comfort and solidarity. We have all been through the same thing and there’s an incredible sense of union from that experience – that’s what being in a band’s about.”
It’s a perspective that has seen this band survive more than seven years now. “The essence of george was a couple of sets of siblings getting together for the sake of music, and both the Noonan family and Stewart family had musical parents who were very passionate about letting their children find what made them happy and how to achieve what they wanted to achieve in life,” explains Nick. “From the very onset, Ty, Katie and myself have had that passion and goal, and that’s definitely where Unity comes from. It’s a musical search that with complete support from our parents, we’ve been able to pursue, and it’s likewise for Paulie and Geoff. That came very much to the forefront just before we came in to record this album. It signifies that after all the success that Polyserena had, the basic formula was happiness in music, and that’s where we come from and where we’re going to and what Unity encapsulates. All five of us very strongly feel that way.”
That sentiment of strength and focus is apparent throughout the record – despite moments of darkness and questioning, musically the overriding force is that of positivity and seeking out that silver lining. “It’s meant to be universal,” asserts Katie. “There’s been an extreme amount of emotional intensity in the world over the last two years, but I feel people are now starting to look to each other again. I’m feeling that anyway. We’re feeling that uneasy political turbulence, that sadness of seeing our brothers and sisters in war. So I guess it’s not meant to be just about unity for us, it’s an everyone thing as well.”
Unity. It conjures images of persistence, of sunshine, of hope. It signifies faith and motivates change. It’s the album that george has been slowly and determinedly working towards for the past seven years and one that will serve to elevate them to their next goal.
Track by track with george…
Katie: This is very much a reflection on the journey that we’ve been through in the last eighteen months as a band. We never really wrote music for commercial success – it was like a happy accident and we feel very lucky and blessed, but it was also very unexpected and it changed our lives a lot, individually and collectively. This song’s a reflection on that huge period of growth and change that we’ve been through as a group and how basically we’ve learned to look to each other for strength and perspective. At the end of the day, what we do is a very simple thing – it’s five people playing music purely because they love it.
Tyrone: This a reflection on the times – the fall of Archbishop Hollingsworth, the Iraq War, the lies about the Tampa and what really happened in Florida…but it’s also a positive look at the fact that we are all 99.9 per cent the same and that some, if not many, of us are waking up to what’s going on, stepping outside the matrix of fear and remembering to smile! Musically, the chorus idea originally came from one of Nick’s happening riffs, but classical composers including Elgar and Vaughan Williams inspired the rest of the song.
Katie: This was a song that I wrote a very long time ago, we’ve been playing it live for about four years. It’s a reflection on the need to get out of the city and the need to break free from the monotony of schedule and timetables and buses and taxis and deadlines. Just the need to get away from the stuff that holds you captive in your space in the city or wherever you may be. It was a great song to give Paul Grabowsky the chance to explore the orchestral arrangements in a really cinematic space.
Geoff: I don’t think as a band we could have pulled it off recording it any earlier, I don’t think that the vibe would have been captured. Nothing replaces just playing together, and we’ve done so much playing together that we all know where we fit and how to weave in and out of each other.
Nick: It’s something we’ve always thought of as a studio track and something we wanted to have a good look at. At the end of the day during tracking I played my parts, but felt after listening back it was a bit ‘boxy’, or something was a bit not right. I went back in by myself, pulled the Marshall out of the 2m by 2m booth, took it into the big room where the drums are and turned it up to 11!
“Beauty Of All Things”
Tyrone: This song is designed to put a smile on your face! No matter what trials and tribulations we all must face, love is stronger than any of these things…with special thanks to the amazing Pinewood Studios/Herb Albert-inspired orchestration from Paul G and the superb playing of the Queensland Orchestra. Part of the inspiration of this song came from listening to lots of my favourite alternative pop records (yes, vinyl!) from the ‘80s. But thanks to Paul G I think we’ve ended up more in the late swingin’ ‘60s!
Katie: It’s been an amazing year and it’s been a wonderful time of growth together and there are certain less artistic sides to our chosen path that we have to deal with, that probably in an ideal world, we’d prefer not to have to. When you’re an artist it’s often hard to make decisions about your art in that sense. It’s a bit of a reflection on that and how unfortunate it is that it’s sometimes a reality we have to deal with. But it’s also meant to be positive and that it’s kind of carefree and let go. It’s a positive song because we’ve got through that period. It’s fuelled a very happy, uplifting thing in the end.
Nick: It went through so many forms in the arrangement. We had these very different periods – the first time it had a much more riff based chorus. Then it lost its drunkenness!
Geoff: Paulie went down to a wrecker and got all sorts of metallic bits and pieces, and we were out on the verandah of Coorabella and we just started throwing things around. The cows were mooing and getting upset and I was getting the two wheel drums and playing them like symphonic cymbals and hitting things! In the end we just ended up diving on all the stuff and kind of rolling around that’s all through the intro.
Tyrone: This is a love tale that started out almost like a folk song, with its 6/8 feel banged out on an acoustic. It’s about those lighter-than-air feelings you get when you see your partner’s smile or look into their eyes – and it’s augmented by an amazing Indian-inspired string intro and Balanescu-inspired outro led by the wonderful Paul Grabowsky.
Katie: I wrote this song earlier this year, so it was very new. It was just a very simple song, a reflection on other people’s lives and also my own, but it’s written in third person. I suppose I’m incapable of not feeling things 110 per cent, I’m just not capable of not letting things get to me, and that’s in good and bad ways! I think we’re all like that; we’re all pretty sensitive. It was meant to be a metaphorical kind of thing, like when you’ve met somebody and you’ve fallen in love that’s just the deepest degree of that emotion possible, and it’s a reflection on that – there’s been a lot of emotional intensity recently. In my life, but also just generally.
Tyrone: Be happy for today – that is the mantra of this song. While there is a yearning for an end to violence and greed, there is recognition that love is the greatest force on earth and that each day is a gift, no matter how much further we feel we have to go. The original idea came from a simple riff that just wouldn’t go away whenever I sat in front of the piano; and even though it has a minor feel, the subtle change to major for the choruses just appeared one day and gave the song the lift I was looking for.
Katie: I wrote this years ago when we were on the road, when we’d been touring for a very, very long time. It comes back to the Falling Inside thing – not wanting to let other people make you jaded. For me this is Special Ones Part II. It’s very much about self empowerment and self worth, and empowering in the sense of everyone has so much stuff in their life that if you wanted to let it get you down it could, whatever it is. It’s not just about being in the music industry, it’s just whatever it is about your life.
Geoff: It’s such a positive reinforcement and that is the message that we’re trying to get across throughout this whole album, just the positivity. Everyone has some element in their life and this song will hopefully transcend to all sorts of different people – and it might be relevant to race issues or anything, and hopefully the positive aspect will come through.
“Growing With Love”
Tyrone: This is a reflection on learning the lessons that life has to offer, and remembering what we are here for. This is one of those songs that came together in the studio – we still weren’t certain about where it was at by the end of pre-production – and then something happened when Dave (Nicholas, producer) started miking up the whole studio space and the four other members of george found a special groove.
Katie: This was something that couldn’t have happened on a previous recording as well. We left it to the very last song, and the whole time we were thinking it would probably be a closing track of the record. For Ty and I, that’s our favourite backing vocal moment. It was inspired by keening, a particular vocal technique that’s all in the throat, and it’s actually a style of singing used in mourning. I’m wondering if people will think it’s other people!
Paulie: I’ve written a lot of music on my own and this was the first piece I felt really suited, more than anything, the line up of george. I’d only written the parts for one guitar, but had ideas for an accompaniment. I put together a basic arrangement of three or four sections that went loosely together, gave a copy to Katie who added a vocal melody and then joined that with a poem from Martin Challice (who also writes a lot of lyrics for Elixir, Katie and Nick’s other project).
Katie: This was the first song that I wrote with Paulie B. He had this beautiful, revolving, languid, sensuous riff that the guys had recorded some music around instrumentally. I had a little walkman and I played it and sang along to the CD and it just happened. It’s a very sensuous song and very thematic. It’s also just about letting go emotionally and surrendering to everything. I ended up doing the lyrics at sunset, as the sun was setting on the deck. There were birds and everyone sitting around. The little birds were flying around my head because I was near their nest and they were a little bit freaked out!
Tyrone: This is the first song written in the rehearsal space with the four boys. Nick had the riff going and it all evolved naturally from there. The song reflects on the idea of finding a way to work within the system and effect positive change without letting it change you.
Nick: A lot of my personal writing was done at Woodford with my twin brother; we would grab a couple of acoustics and sit around the camp playing for hours on end. Change started there for me. I got some chords together with him and worked on it as an acoustic piece. When I got it to george everyone said let’s rip it apart and put it back together – as we always do! That’s the wondrous thing with george. For me, this is one of the best expressions of the group. The guitar is not a feature, just part of the melee. It was one of my favourite tracks to record.