Carla Geneve is a Perth success story – imperfections and all
On her debut self-titled EP - out now - the long-time Perth favourite establishes her ground as a refreshingly raw songwriter.
When the unabashed sounds of Carla Geneve first hit your ears, there’s nothing to hide behind. Immediately you’re hit with frank honesty, one that never tip-toes around emotions for the sake of convoluted art, and one that never favours obscure metaphors over blunt descriptions. Her relatability, wrapped in sepia-toned guitar licks, has taken the Perth singer-songwriter from an aspiring bedroom muso to an emerging artist (and Perth favourite) that’s supported San Cisco and Jen Cloher, and won two WAM awards (Best Single & Best Rock Act). We even named Carla Geneve on our list of Ones To Watch in 2018, for good reason too.
Around that time, her first major single, Greg’s Discount Chemist, was just on the horizon – ready to grab anyone and everyone’s attention with that fuzzy, tumbling rhythm, but seal the deal with the infamous “I wish I could kill time, but time’s killing me.” Then came Listening, a mellow slice of indie-rock that sits somewhere between Middle Kids, Courtney Barnett and Hyperview-era Title Fight, in a melting pot of shoegaze and the somewhat vague yet fitting genre “Australiana.” Geneve continued to throw surprises around every corner throughout 2018, darting from genre to genre and coming up with lines so ingenious it’s as if she’s taken a page from your diary – all while maintaining an immediately distinctive sound. Now it’s clear Geneve hasn’t lost her spark with words, continuing to strengthen her way of phrasing the mundane that sits at the heart of all six tracks on her debut, self-titled EP Carla Geneve.
“Did you get a new job? Did your dog die? Have you started jogging every second day?” Geneve questions at the start of the EP's second track, and a highlight amongst highlights, Things Change. “Are you vegetarian now? Did you try MDMA for the first time? Did you fall in love, or have you given up on that?” Over and over she questions, diving deep into those familiar post-relationship curiosities and laying them bare on a plate. It goes hand-in-hand with the following track, 2001, a pop culture-infused breakup song that “covers depression and escapism through books and movies,” namely 2001: A Space Odyssey. Here, Geneve’s conversational vocals shine in the form of a folksy ballad, as she croons “they’ll tell me that I’m not alone, I’m just lonely, not used to being on my own.”
Things Change and 2001 were specifically placed together. Actually, according to the songwriter herself, every part of Carla Geneve was planned to be exactly the way it is. The EP was ordered in a way that would make her experiences flow one into another, and the recording process - with Dan Carroll of RADA Studios in West Perth - was done loosely and quickly to mimic how the full band executes each track live. In fact, the whole recording process only took a week and a bit to complete.
When Carla Geneve talks, she exudes a passion for all these details and more. The EP isn’t polished to perfection (that’s not what she was going for anyway), but it is raw and commanding. There are moments of pent up energy and a fierce frustration, copy and pasted in amongst intimate, confessional tales. Songs like Empty Stomach and Juliette rise, and keep rising, until their bluesy walls of sound hit an emotional peak, whereas the EPs closer I Hate You (For Making Me Not Want To Leave The City) quietly slinks around. Both are equally captivating.
When asked about her beginnings, Geneve replied, “when I started singing, it just felt really right to me, like I’d found my passion; something that I’d love doing inexplicitly.” The WAM award winner has come a long way from humble beginnings playing the piano at an early age, and later picking up a guitar around 12 years old; to right now, having only recently released her debut EP. The maturity and self-awareness in all six songs stem far beyond what people usually expect of a 20-year-old still navigating themselves and the world around them, but Carla Geneve does it with ease.
To gain a little more insight on her highly-anticipated debut EP, we spoke to her ahead of the release of Carla Geneve, where she opened up on the EP writing process, her love of imperfections, and 'the if you have something to say, just say it' mantra.
Your debut EP is self-titled, Carla Geneve. Do you feel like these songs best represent where you are in life right now?
In a way, I’m looking at the EP as more of a collection of stuff that we’ve done so far. I guess that’s what it means to me – where we’ve gone and what we’ve done live for so long. It’s very live-sounding. I wanted [the EP] recorded to reflect what we’ve done and after that, we can sort of move on.
[It’s about] just capturing the last couple of years gigging and the songs that have come out of that. They’re all very individual, some of them are from a very long time ago, like two years ago, and some are a couple of months ago so it’s not really a narrative piece. An EP is a collection of songs, whereas an album to me would be a bit more narrative.
How long did it take you to create the EP, from when you first started tracking to the final mix and mastering?
About a week and a bit all up, over a couple of weeks. I don’t think that’s too long! I really wanted to avoid [dragging the recording process out] with this group of songs, it didn’t feel like that’s what it needed. We just live tracked everything first up and didn’t do too many takes. We didn’t spend too much time nailing one particular part, just a very live process with Dan Carroll from RADA.
Do you find it easier to test songs live and round them out that way, rather than taking potential songs into a studio first?
Totally. That’s why it took a long time to actually record these songs because I just wanted to get better at practising them live and gigging them - that’s where we practice the most, at shows. These songs are pretty much exactly how we’d play them live, so there’s barely any over-dubs - maybe a couple of over-dub solos, maybe two guitar parts on most of them - so very live.
I think we’ve changed a lot from when we started playing so they’ve changed a lot over the period of which they’ve been gigged, if that makes sense. They’re very different from the first time we played them, and I like to let the song evolve on its own. I don’t like to spend too much time planning it out before I bring a song to the band, we’ll usually just let it happen.
I think it’s pretty clear how you’ve worked that live element in across the five songs. It’s almost as if, not to say this in a rude way, but there are little “imperfections” that make the EP what it is.
There are totally imperfections! Imperfections are something I love in recordings. I wanted this to sound live [so it reflects] that the gigs we’ve done; “imperfections in a good way” is one of my favourite things to hear.
Is song-writing a cathartic process for you?
Totally, they’re very personal songs. Sometimes it’s scary to release them because they are so blunt, it’s nerve-wracking to put that out into the world. It’s totally cathartic and that’s a huge part of why I write and play.
As someone who has never really been musical in a practical sense, I guess I’ve never quite understood what it’s like to write a song and wear your heart on your sleeve, especially so bluntly. How do you manage to write about a person or a situation, and feel like you’ve accurately represented it?
I have no idea, it just happens! Sometimes you can spend a lot of time on [a song] and put a lot of thought into it but the purest way of capturing that emotion is when it just comes out and you don’t think about it. Yeah, the purest way of doing it is when you have something to freaking say and you just say it.
I’m nervous for [the whole EP] to come out, but I think the song I think of when I think of a pure, just-did-it song is the last track, I Hate You (For Making Me Not Want to Leave The City). I just wrote that one quite quickly, I had something to say and I said it, and I haven’t really changed it since.
That’s definitely one of the most striking tracks I think you have, in terms of lyrics.
It’s really interesting because [the lyrics] are so personal. At first, I was like ‘oh it’s a bit weird that people would relate,’ especially with specific ones where it’s literally what I’ve done in a day. I’m starting to realise if you write something and put it out into the world, it’s your song, but it sort of becomes a different song to everybody that hears it. Their interpretation is just as real as my interpretation of those words. It just becomes a different song for everyone.
When you first released Greg’s Discount Chemist on triple j Unearthed, it completely blew up. Even scrolling through now, there’s a heap of comments talking about the lyrics and how people felt the song so deeply. Did this reaction surprise you?
I was surprised that people liked it! I remember writing and playing it for some friends and just being like ‘this song’s so dumb, I just wrote this about my day,’ and people were like ‘wow!’ I guess it’s relatable or whatever, but I was surprised that was the song. I didn’t put any effort into it whatsoever. There are other songs of mine that I’ve spent weeks and weeks on and [Greg’s] was just a joke, but that makes sense! Like I said before, the one I didn’t think about is the one that’s the most relatable or pure.
You have these really lovely country tinges in a few of your songs. Do you take much influence from genres outside of the traditional rock sense?
Yeah, I absolutely love country, so I put a little bit of that country thing in there. I have a shortlist of artists and genres I really enjoy, and I’ll be the sort of person that’ll go over an album a hundred times as opposed to putting on a playlist. At the moment I’m listening to Chastity Belt's I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone (2017), that one’s huge for me.
Is there anything you want listeners to know about the Carla Geneve EP, the way you wrote it, or where you were in life while writing it?
I guess I’m apprehensive because it’s that debut [pressure], but the way I’m looking at it is a period of time. I wanted to make something out of that period of time, remember it, and keep going forward. It’s just a little memento of the past couple of years for me. I’ve also been writing a fair bit and not necessarily trying to go in a different direction, but just refine how I’m writing and try to improve my skills.
Carla Geneve's debut EP is out now via Dot Dash Recordings/Remote Control Records.
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