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Friday, October 24, 2014

Competition and camaraderie drive Georgie James

Oct. 9, 2007

Considering the effervescent pop Georgie James plays, it isn't hard to believe the first song the band wrote was "The Grizzly Jive," a song for a children's compilation.

"It was kind of a perfect way to start our songwriting career, because in the beginning, it was like, 'have fun,' so we did," keyboardist Laura Burhenn said.

That isn't to say Georgie James' songs are for kids.

In fact, it is genuinely appealing, unpretentious music for anyone with an open ear for classic-pop sensibilities.

Burhenn, a Washington D.C.-based solo artist, met Georgie James' other half, John Davis, as his old band Q and Not U was winding down. The two were brought together by a shared love for pop music of the '50 to '70s and began to write songs.

Burhenn and Davis were pleased with where the music was taking them and recorded a set of demos, Demos at Dance Place.

The songs served as a rough sketch for what would eventually become Georgie James' debut, Places.

Places acts something like a time warp to the past, updating the pop sounds of the '60s with contemporary tastes. In many ways, the music does not resonate much with Burhenn and Davis' past projects, but their musical handprints are all over it.

"What's really interesting is John and I don't necessarily see it as being a huge departure, because we're referencing a lot of music that we've loved all along," Burhenn said.

"When you collaborate with certain people, you end up with some sound that's everybody meeting in the middle. So, it's really funny because some people say, 'Oh, this is a huge departure from what John did in Q and Not U,' but from listening to John's iPod mix and from talking to him about records, it doesn't seem that way to me."

If the pop stylings of Georgie James don't strike listeners as the product of Washington D.C. musicians, especially one as entrenched in the Dischord Records family as Davis, the city's independent spirit remains there.

"There's definitely something about our music that's connected to what D.C. was and the Dischord roots, but it's also something growing out of it," Burhenn said. "It might sound kind of cheesy, but it almost seems like growing up and leaving the nest but not forgetting your roots or not stopping to be grateful for where you're from."

Similar or not to previous projects, Georgie James' demos were enough for Saddle Creek Records to sign the band.

Although the obvious choice would have been to join the Dischord roster, Georgie James had reservations about the decision and held out for other options.

"John's opinion was that they had tried to do some more pop-based stuff in the past, and it's just not what people associate with Dischord," Burhenn said. "So when the Saddle Creek thing came up, everything aligned."

Georgie James, although cautious when it came to picking a label, is certainly not a band that's afraid to try new things.

As part of a new segment on NPR's All Songs Considered, Georgie James had to write and record a brand new song in only 48 hours.

"It was crazy, but it was a great experience, and we're happy with the song," Burhenn said. "I think I freaked out a little bit at some point. I mean, normally songwriting takes forever for us. We'll write a song, and we'll come back to it, and we'll work on it, and we'll try it out live, so the idea that we had to have something finished in 48 hours was really stressful."

The dynamics between Burhenn and Davis are really what drive Georgie James.

The elements of friendly competition and camaraderie between the two brought out fresh ideas for Places, helped produce an incredibly tight record based on the duo's singular creative vision and keeps spirits positive between the duo.

"It's funny how (the dynamic) comes through," Burhenn said. "We keep each other in a good place."

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