Growing up, Hannah Georgas took piano and singing lessons. Her parents were happy to support her hobbies, but when they turned into a career path she wanted to follow, they “strongly advised that I didn’t pursue music.”

Clearly, Georgas went ahead and became a musician anyway – a successful, multi-JUNO Award-nominated one at that – but for years, her main source of encouragement came from listening to other female artists. “I realized that, subconsciously, those artists all had an influence on why I’m doing what I’m doing,” she says, looking back at the wealth of women in music that she experienced at a young age. “It gave me courage to follow my craft.”

Imprints, her latest EP, released on International Women’s Day, is Georgas’ way of paying respect to those female artists who helped get her to where she is now. The four-song release, her first since her 2016 album For Evelyn, takes on a range of eras and genres: The Cranberries, Eurythmics, Janet Jackson, and Tegan and Sara. The disparate collection is unified by Georgas’ own lush, downtempo signature sound, as she taps into the emotional core of each song and interprets them in gorgeously intimate ways that show that show her familiarity with, and admiration for, these artists and songs.

In a digital landscape that’s over-saturated with covers nowadays – just plug the name of any artist and/or song into YouTube’s search engine and you’ll find endless results – Georgas wanted to make her intentions with Imprints clear. “If I’m going to do a cover, I want to do a cover that means a lot to me,” she explains. “Not something that’s just going to get attention.” The ones she selected, as Georgas notes, represent distinct parts of her past. “I flash back to certain times in my life when I listen to each of those artists,” she says.

For instance, Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” conjures up memories of elementary school for Georgas. She still remembers catching the pop star’s late-‘90s Velvet Rope Tour at Canada’s Wonderland – it was her second concert ever. It’s a vivid recollection for Georgas, who can still remember being mightily impressed by the “sensory overload” of Jackson’s theatrics.

The Cranberries marked high school for Georgas, a time when hidden “bonus” tracks were still a delightful surprise at the end of an album; practically an impossibility now on streaming services. Georgas discovered “No Need to Argue” at the end of the 1994 Cranberries album of the same name, and was “blown away by the fact that it’s just her voice, and just an organ supporting her, and her lyrics are so simple, but so heart-wrenching.”

It was when she was at University that Tegan and Sara’s 2007 album The Con entered Georgas’ life. Introduced to her by an “obsessed” friend, the album became the soundtrack of their drives to school. Georgas says the song “Back in Your Head” reminds her of being out West, where she was away from home and standing at a crossroads between completing a psychology degree and still wanting to make music. It was an overwhelming time, but one in which this album proved to be grounding for her.

Finally, Eurythmics, while an act from the ‘80s, brings Georgas to a more recent time, also in a car, when she hit the road with her guitarist. “Love is a Stranger” was on repeat during this specific trip, and it was a re-discovery of sorts when it dawned on her: “What the hell, this song is so awesome.

“With all the songs, I feel like they were re-invigorated for me, somehow, by covering them,” she says, reflecting on the EP shortly after its release. “As I dug deeper, I realized the importance of these four, plus many other female artists. They were big triggers and were big pushes for me.” (Other artists that made Georgas’ long list of potential covers were Tina Turner, Emmylou Harris, Fiona Apple, and Lauryn Hill.)

A Comment from the Covered
While Georgas hasn’t heard any feedback from most of the artists she covered on Imprints, she did receive a plug from Tegan and Sara in January 2019, when they posted about her Cranberries cover. “Such a gorgeous @thecranberries cover from @hannahgeorgas and @ilovelucius!” they wrote on their social media platforms. “Can’t wait to hear your version of Back in your Head with @theweatherstation when your EP comes out March 8!” “They were super sweet about it,” says Georgas, confirming that the Canadian sister duo has heard her cover of their 2007 single. In fact, Georgas even met up with Tegan Quin in Los Angeles while she was down there recording these covers. “I didn’t tell her, at the time, that I was doing them!” she says, laughing at her covert efforts. Georgas seems content with that one co-sign but she’s not afraid to be ambitious: “I haven’t heard from Janet Jackson. I’m waiting for that.”

While Imprints represents the music that Georgas personally connected with over the years, she didn’t want this to be a solo project. The idea, which she first pitched to Lucius drummer Dan Molad while she was in Los Angeles recording her upcoming new album, was to make this a collaborative effort. In the end, she enlisted Lucius, Montaigne, Emily King, and The Weather Station’s Tamara Lindeman to help bring it to fruition.

These collaborators, in some ways, provide the most important part of Georgas’ project: a thread that ties her thesis of influential women together. “I thought, why don’t I get all these female artists who I now work with and love, and have come across my path, and pay respect to those people,” she says. “So I wanted to do a bit of the past and present, like my path from the start to now. That’s why I reached out to a bunch of my friends, and they were all on-board.”

Looking ahead, Georgas is putting the final touches on her upcoming album, which she hopes to release later this year. While details are still scarce, she did reveal last year that she worked with the National’s Aaron Dessner and producer Jon Low at Dessner’s Hudson, New York, studio, in addition to work done in Los Angeles.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about this new music and new chapter,” she wrote on Facebook. If her next album serves as a snapshot of who she is now, then Imprints is a vital look into the journey that led her to this point — an integral blueprint of her musical DNA.

 


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There’s a line in Toronto punk band PUP’s single “Free At Last” that goes “Just ’cause you’re sad again, it doesn’t make you special.”

This one line puts a whole generation on blast. It’s a self-eviscerating take on millennial snowflakes and all their concerns, whether they be mental health, the environment, the rise of fascism, the lack of meaningful work, the machinations of the one percent, or a whole host of other entirely justifiable reasons for being sad.

Thing is, in PUP’s case it’s kind of a lie. PUP – Stefan Babcock (vocals, lead guitar), Nestor Chumak (bass, backing vocals), Zachary Mykula (drums, backing vocals), and Steven Sladkowski (guitar, backing vocals) – are special. And it’s specifically because their intensely personal songs so perfectly capture the turbulence that comes with stumbling through the world each day.

It’s working for them. Formed in Toronto five years ago, PUP quickly became favourites of the punk scene with their first two albums, winning accolades everywhere from the New York Times to Pitchfork, NPR to Rolling Stone. Their last album, The Dream Is Over, not only debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, but also catapulted them into international waters, selling out shows worldwide throughout 2016. They also won the $10,000 SOCAN Songwriting Prize in 2017, for their song “DVP.”

Their new third album, Morbid Stuff, continues in their sad and special vein: it’s  11 songs of deeply-mined observation on anxiety and despair. In particular, it’s a window into songwriter Babcock’s soul, exploring his bouts with depression, his heartbreaks and existential angsts, and the difficult journey of trying to find one’s place in the world. It also flips the script for PUP. The band’s last album The Dream Is Over was built around a physical health crisis of Babcock’s that could have forced him to quit singing and cause the end of the band. The inward-looking catastrophizing on Morbid Stuff, though intensely about the self, feels paradoxically more universal. Anyone who feels things too deeply can see themselves reflected in these songs.

Babcock can certainly be accused of feeling the world too deeply.

“I have absolutely noticed that about myself,” Babcock says, accompanied by Mykula at a west-end Toronto café, to talk about songwriting with us. “My mom pointed it out. She said, ‘The world is always ending for you,’ and holy shit, is that true. Because even when something is going good, I tend to create problems in my own brain. Which can be really hard for my bandmates and my girlfriend.”

All this morbid stuff Babcock thinks about is, however, good for making songs. Babcock’s pointed lyrical style is ripe with slogans perfect to be carved into desktops, or Sharpied onto handmade T-shirts. The single “Kids,” for example, is a nihilistic love song with the tear-it-down line “I don’t care about nothing!” “Scorpion Hill,” a tale of dark thoughts and life spiralling out of control, features the slogan-worthy “If the world is gonna burn / Everyone should get a turn to light it up.” The metalcore-adjacent “Full Blown Meltdown” sums things up with “I’m still a loser and always will be/ So why change now?”

Don Valley Days

PUP won the 2017 SOCAN Songwriting Prize for their song “DVP.” The song, from the band’s second album The Dream Is Over, recounts a troubled drunk-driving episode down the Don Valley Parkway, the vital expressway that runs down the middle of Toronto. PUP’s Stefan Babcock reflected on the Don Valley.

On the song’s subject matter
“It’s not a grandmother-appropriate song, that’s what my parents said. They wouldn’t send that song to my grandma.”

On rafting down the Don Valley Creek with his sister in his youth and falling in the water
“We both had full body rashes after that. Of course, you’re going to get pinkeye from being in that water. I have a lot of fond and not-so-fond memories of Don Valley.”

On winning $10,000 for the SOCAN Songwriting Prize
“We’re very surprised and honoured that a song that dumb won… we’re very grateful for that.”

Listening to “Full Blown Meltdown,” inarguably the heaviest, most frantic song on Morbid Stuff, shows that however hard Babcock may be for his bandmates, they understand how to package his thoughts around bristling, appropriate sounds. The song sounds like a breakdown.

“This song is just rage,” says Mykula. “In that song the lyrics are really aggressive and snarky, and that was injected into the music.”

It helps that Babcock’s lyrics come from an honest place.

“They’re very much based in real life, and from personal experiences,” says Babcock. “It’s not about the similes, or the metaphors, or whatever. It’s just about saying what I want to say as directly as possible.”

Distilling this soul mining down to its essence is far from an effortless process. It requires extensive self-editing.

“This stuff certainly doesn’t just fall out of me,” he says. “The lyrics usually start off as gibberish, but I know what I’m trying to say. I do melodies first and I know what the theme of the song should be, but I don’t know what to say yet. I’m really not articulate. So for the first couple months of playing the songs, the melodies will be exactly what they end up being. But the words won’t be there, and I’ll be thinking in my brain, ‘How am I gonna say this thing that want to say, and not make it gibberish?’ And I definitely work way harder on the lyrics than anything else, because writing melodies comes naturally to me, but writing lyrics doesn’t.”

Getting to this place isn’t easy. During the writing process Babcock frequently checks out from the urban world to commune with nature. This comes with risk (see sidebar). It’s why any nature references in PUP songs are more rough waters and groddy reservoirs than gorgeous sunrises.

“I’ve almost died in nature many times,” says Babcock, who can tell a mean yarn about the time he and his sister were trapped in a snowed-out valley in Cape Horn, Chile, with no food. “I’m very into survival skills, survivalist culture, and when I say camping, I don’t mean car camping. I’m, like, in the middle of the Northwest Territories with nobody around.

“There’s a lot of pristine beauty, but more so we’ve found ourselves in complete disaster situations, where we felt like we might not get out of it.”

Cheating death? Isolated adventures? The deep exploration of self? These things may involve sadness, but they sure sound like living, and that is special.


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Le long chemin, singer-songwriter Nicola Ciccone’s 12th album, was an accident. Literally. In the winter of 2018, Ciccone was driving along on a road in Sutton, Québec, when an unforgiving patch of black ice made him lose control of his vehicle, and Bang! Six months of recovery after whiplash and a concussion.

Nicolas CicconeSo, what was he to do? Write songs, obviously. “It helped me heal and reveal myself,” says Ciccone. “No matter what, music has always been there to save my life. Six months of physio, chiro, and osteo sessions. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was in so much pain. I thought I was going to write a super-dark album during my convalescence, but paradoxically, all the songs came out sunny and positive. Writing songs isn’t always straightforward; a lot of it is subconscious, abstract, and emotion-based. I didn’t write a song called, ‘I’m recovering from my accident.’

“Inspiration doesn’t write songs, it only starts them being written. That’s why I consider myself a song builder. Even if I’m sitting in front of a blank page, I work hard! Take the title song, “Le long chemin”; I worked on that one for a whole month.”

After listening to the 11 new songs selected from the roughly two dozen he wrote (among which “Elle,” “Pleure,” “Love Is Like a Loaded Gun,” and “Superman est une femme” stand out), plus the reprise of “Oh, toi mon père” (which originally came out on his 2016 album Esprit Libre), the assessment comes naturally.

“I’m a humanist, I make music for human beings,” he says. “The first song I wrote was to woo a girl. I’m lucky to have a mostly female audience. Men are welcome, too! You might think it’s funny, but I get a lot of messages from guys telling me some of my songs move them and give them courage. It’s nice to read.”

This album is an unpretentious one that flows effortlessly, and makes you want to listen to it on “repeat.” He doesn’t re-invent the wheel, but his mix of intimate songs makes for an interesting cocktail – one that doesn’t end up drowned in over-production. The songs are showcased exactly as they should be.

“I like when things are simple,” says Ciccone. “When I went into the studio, I told my musicians that I didn’t want any loops or sequences, just real instruments. The guys freaked out [laughter]. All that was missing is the key ingredient: emotion. I’m Italian, so I like vocal flourishes, crescendos. However, I don’t have the same vocal personality when I sing in Italian, as opposed to English. It’s quite peculiar.”

Ciccone’s career has been flying high since 1999. Songs such as “Ciao Bella,” “Chanson pour Marie” and “L’opéra du mendicant” are all crowd favourites during his live shows. Another example is “J’t’aime tout court,” a single from his third album of the same name, which was certified platinum, with more than 100,000 copies sold. It was crowned Popular Song of the Year at the 2004 ADISQ gala, and went on, in 2006, to receive the ADISQ Reconnaissance Award for having spent more than 100 weeks(!) at the top of the sales chart. His song “Tu m’aimes quand même” was honoured by SOCAN in 2011 for being one of the 10 most popular songs that year.

“I never received a songwriting subsidy from SOCAN,” says Ciccone. “Maybe I should ask them! [laughter]. Of course, I’m just kidding. I read Paroles & Musique when I started out in 1999; I wanted to learn the ropes, know more about publishing, co-writes, I was trying to network, to get into showbiz. But I had songs such as “L’opéra du mendicant” or “Le menteur,” that aren’t as accessible, and very idealistic. I wanted to be in showbiz, but not by any means, or at any cost. Twenty-two years later, I can say I work this trade without compromise. No doubt that my pig-headedness served me well back then.”

What’s his take on the current state of the music industry, in Québec and elsewhere? Is he optimistic? “There are no miracle solutions,” he says. “Music still has the same value, it’s just as precious in the hearts of artists and their audiences. But when you’re a songwriter with an Italian name, you have to work a little harder. That’s why, in Québec, everyone is an emerging artist. Seriously! Especially songwriters. Nowadays, whenever you release a new song, it’s almost like you’re launching a new artist.”


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