Saturday 20th January 2018
Following the success of his first 2 albums, George Simpson decided to take a break for a couple of years, to spend some time deciding what direction he wanted to take his music. Having already been picked up by the likes of Jeremy Vine and Graham Norton, and with his single “Open Door” finding success on the TV show Hollyoakes, George wondered what his next step would be. Now, due for release on the 23rd February, “Finding Myself” is the upcoming single, which will be followed by a 3rd album release from George in the coming months. The single also features the harmonious vocals from UK Country songstress, Kezia. My interview with George has been very enjoyable, as he gives me a detailed background in to the early days, his music career so far, and his songwriting process.
Hi George! Please could you tell me about yourself, how it all started and at what point you decided to make a career out of music?
I’ve always seen myself as a regular guy. One of the lads who grew up playing sport and not music. Music came very late to me picking a guitar up at 17 and not being able to perform solo until I was 27. I’ve only been performing solo on the piano for 3 years so as a performer, my background is very different from that guy, who has been learning an instrument and having lessons since they were at primary school, and had small friend circles and spent hours practicing. That was definitely not me.
I had a hopeful career as a footballer at one point, playing for my county (Leicestershire) and having trials for Leicester City when I was 16, and apparently I used to sing a lot in the changing rooms before football matches… so it’s something I enjoyed and something my friends obviously picked up on.
The football thing never materialised and I went backpacking for 2 years after leaving school and my A Levels half way through. I was never a keen academic… but when I went backpacking, I purchased a guitar and spent a year or so learning and playing and singing around camp sites etc, so when I came home I really got the music bug.
I joined a band called Shine, who were a cover band in my home town. One of my mates dad was the bass player and they let me get up and sing at his wedding. A few months went by and they needed a singer and they remembered me and I joined the band and thats where it all began!
The more I played the guitar and sang, the more I experimented with writing so I started writing from the word go.
I then joined a original music band called Lux Mundi to really put my writing to the test. They created the music which was prog rock, and I wrote the lyrics and melodies. Not the way I would have liked to write in hind sight but some great stuff came out of it. We never really got anywhere. We spent hours rehearsing and no time gigging. We were young, and there were personality clashes and we went our own ways, but it was a valuable experience, and at that point I was writing all of the time.
There was a pivotal moment where I left both both Shine and Lux Mundi at the same time in 2000. I focused on performing solo and writing as a solo artist and two year later I released my first single ‘Never Leave You Out in the Rain” and it went from there.
By this time my reputation as a performer helped me make the jump from full time employment into being a full time musician performing around the UK and Europe every week. It’s been nearly 4 years as a full timer and I am loving it! I have more writing time than ever, and see my two young boys (Zak-5 and Savvi -2) all the time which is great!
What is it about Country music that you enjoy, and who or what has drawn you to this genre?
I actually really got into Country music around 2 years ago when my wife drew my attention to the series Nashville. I don’t watch much TV but as soon as I heard that the series was about the Nashville music scene I thought I would give it a go… then…. these stunning duets and the beautiful melodic songs they played each week just grabbed me and it went from there! As a writer I am always analysing writing styles and looking for ways to be more diverse myself, so I wanted to test myself and try and write a country song, and within 30 mins, ‘Finding Myself’ was born! I found it came really easily to me and my style is quite emotive anyway, and being an acoustic guitarist it seemed to really suit me. I really really adore male and female duets too!
Following on from 2 successful albums you decided to take a break. What was it at that moment that made you feel you needed the respite, and how has it helped you going forward?
Yes, after my second album my second son was born and I was also still trying to cement my career in being a professional entertainer/musician, so it felt like a natural break. But… also, I simply wanted to just focus on new material and thinking about what direction to go in to next. I didn’t want any pressure on myself to write, so I went with the flow and tried to build up a collection of songs that could potentially be on album number 3! The previous 2/3 years were really full on. I hadn’t released a song before 2012 and most people I knew didn’t even know that I write songs, so there was a lot of hype at the time, and I tried to keep the ball rolling, and get a second album out and new singles and videos out there, but after that I was mentally exhausted from it all. Especially being an independent artist and doing everything myself.
Your new single ‘Finding Myself’ is due to be released in February. How are you feeling about getting your new music out there?
I really can’t wait! It’s been a few years of writing, recording and planning and I’m ready now for another push. I’m excited about people hearing my new music, and the new direction. The industry has actually changed a lot since I’ve been ‘hibernating’, ha! Spotify is a real big player now where it wasn’t so much with my first single and album, so planning releases is very different this time around!
Who did you work with for the accompanying video for the single, and where did the shoot take place?
I worked with a friend called Jay Hillyer who is a really talented videographer. He started out when I started releasing music and I have always used him so we have grown together in a way! He has a really big profile now in certain scenes and we work together really well! I always plan my own videos and try and create the scenes and shots. I wake up some mornings and go…. ahhh yeah that would be cool, or that would work well for that part of the song… my head is always on it!
The location was in Derby. An old derelict site… which was perfect. Kezia is from Derby and she pointed it out and said her brother had a photo shoot there a while back. We checked it out… and it was great… it reflected the song… and the relationship between two people where the relationship has gone from good to bad… just like that site. The graffiti added colour and you can see wildlife trying to grow again… and that almost told the story of the song. Accidentally clever I’d say! Ha.
How did you find the process of putting the song together, and how does it feel listening back to a song that reflects on personal experiences?
I found it quite easy actually. I just started strumming some chords on the guitar, in a country style, and just let the first melodies that came in to my head, spill out… I knew what I wanted to write about at that time and it went from there. Some songs come easy, others you can spend months of tweaking and improving certain parts. ‘Finding Myself’ is about a personal experience, my first relationship actually… where things went bad, and I needed time away to reflect and see what I wanted. I moved home as I was living a few hours away in Leeds at the time. There is a line in the song ‘I see fire through your window, but it’s cold in my heart’… and I can vividly remember walking in one day, and seeing the fire on in the house through the lounge window, but feeling like I didn’t really want to be going back to that house anymore… anyway…! I’m please how the song came out. I feel most people could relate to it too and thats always something I strive to include in my writing!
Could you tell me about your writing process, and how you know when a song is ready? Being a solo artist do you have anyone to bounce ideas from?
In terms of writing I have always done everything on my own. I may sit down on a piano or the guitar, and both offer something very different in terms of writing and what comes out of my head! Sometimes I don’t know what to write about, but I play music first and see how it feels emotionally and then build the content of the song around that. Melodies come to me really easily… and then I work on lyrics to fit the melodies. Thats a very typical way in which I would write a song. Sometimes I write lyrics first.
When it comes to production of the tracks, I work with my producer Ben Haynes and he is brilliant to bounce ideas off. Between us, the song can take all sorts of twists and turns, but in the end, I’m always really happy with it. We’ve worked together on three albums now so we are really comfortable and familiar with how each other work, so this third album has been a pleasure with clear focus on what we want to achieve!
How did the opportunity come about to work with Kezia, and how was the experience?
My producer, Ben Haynes, showed me a few years ago, Kezia’s work, as she worked with Ben too, so I always knew of her and really admired her style and voice. So when we started to look at female singers to make up to the duet, Kezia flew to the top of the list! Kezia is a pleasure to work with. She came in, used our ideas and harmony lines as a guidance, but then just improvised and did her thing, and I was like, yeah… that is great!!! I had another song recorded called ‘Love You Again’ which is almost like the part 2 of ‘Finding Myself’ and she also sang on that. Kezia is a lovely girl, really easy to get on with and really down to earth. I hope she goes far!
Are you looking to release another album in the near future?
Yes, certainly! I have the album ready to go! I have a release date set for April 19th 2018 and I am buzzing about it! I’ll be releasing another single just before then too in the run up to the album launch and hopefully a small tour to go with it all!
Finally, if you were invited to perform on the BBC Live Lounge, which song would you cover and why?
Mmmmmm, actually I recently recorded a cover of ‘Freedom’ by George Michael/Wham. I love turning upbeat pop songs into emotive ballads and really show the true core of the song. I would love to get in the Live Lounge and do that with a small string section and some backing singers! I just love the song and love performing it and it would be great to show the world how George Michael probably wrote it originally before all of the production!
Connect with George Simpson via his Website, Facebook and Twitter.