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Georgia Ruth discusses the healing journey to her new album

21 Jun 2024 8 minute read
Georgia Ruth. Credit: Sam Stevens

Stephen Price

Georgia Ruth releases her long-awaited new album today, created in the aftermath of her husband’s illness.

She spoke to Nation.Cymru about the processes behind her gorgeously eclectic new work, and the experience of realising her dream to record with one of her musical icons – Euros Childs.

Georgia hails from Aberystwyth, and her debut album Week of Pines won the Welsh Music Prize in 2013 and was nominated for two BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.

Georgia’s fourth studio album, Cool Head, was written in the year after her husband and collaborator was taken seriously ill, with Georgia describing the album as a long drive through night into morning.

“Cool head,” a phrase her dad would always use to urge calm thinking, is a candid and affecting collection of songs, spanning wide-open Americana to 60s-influenced folk ballads, and we couldn’t wait to give it a listen and to hear from Georgia about the process.

So good to have you back with a new body of music, although it seems it came from a difficult starting point – can you tell us about how it all came about, and perhaps some of the themes?

“A couple of years ago, my husband Iwan (with whom I’ve been making music for over 12 years) was diagnosed with a heart condition.

“Not long after, he underwent major heart surgery in Morriston. It was a pretty terrifying time for us as a family, and so I suppose the songs were born in the immediate aftermath of that storm.

“But despite it being such a difficult and worrying time, I hoped the album would become a journey; I had this idea of it being a night drive, through the darkness, and into morning. And so that’s what it became!”

A cool head

“It’s a very candid album, but on the other hand I think there’s lots of light in there.

“Cool Head, the title, came from something my dad always says to me when I’m getting in a flap – “Keep a cool head, mun.”

“Something about the phrase made me think of stars, and so that fit perfectly with this idea of a night-time trip.

Georgia Ruth. Cedit: Sam Stevens

Your husband, and naturally you and your family and friends, went through it – did the music come during the storm, or afterwards?

I think a bit of both. It’s hard to remember, exactly! But we didn’t start recording the songs until he was completely healed.

“It was such a joy to have him playing guitar again, and he’s also co-written some of these songs with me. In that sense, the album is a celebration.

Often when you experience a traumatic event, it’s only after that you look back and see the gravity of it all – did the creation of this new work perhaps help with some of the healing, or the understanding of it all?

“That’s so true. I think, often, we’re used to talking about music as a healing thing.

“Maybe we’ve had songs that have lifted us through difficult times, songs that have seemed to speak to us directly.

“And for me, looking back now, I’m able to understand so much more about our emotions during that time by listening to the songs. They’re a document of that time.

“I feel very lucky to have music in my life as a way of processing things.”

You’ve collaborated with a whole host of Welsh artists – do you think that ‘Welshness’ plays a key theme to this new work?

“There are so many amazing musicians in Wales, so I always want to work with as many of them as possible!

“One of the biggest treats for me, personally, was getting to record in Sain studios. It’s such an incredible place.

“There’s a real sense of history there. It was important to me to record in a Welsh studio – it’s so important to use them.”

How does it feel taking these very personal pieces of music out into a wider audience? 

“I think obviously there’s an element of nervousness about people hearing the songs.

“But it’s always quite liberating to release an album, something about letting the songs go, accepting that they’re not your songs anymore!”

How’s the driving going?

“Haha, I’d love to say I’d manage to pass. But I failed my first test a few months ago.

“The Driving Dreams continue, but I’m hoping to have passed by the end of the year!”

I particularly liked the lyrics and sentiment from Would It Kill You To Ask – can you tell us more about this.

“I think that song was written not so much with one person in mind, but more an amalgamation of all the people I miss in my life.

“It’s a strange thing, moving back to the place you grew up – the past is very much alive, and sometimes it can be hard to reconcile that with the present. But it’s a process, and so I guess this song came out of that.”

The mood of the record is very eclectic, with a wide range of genres.. was this purposeful?

“Yes! I always struggle to categorise my music into any sort of meaningful genre; and I’d go so far as to say that I hate trying to do it.

“I’ve always had so many influences and so I don’t like to limit the sound too much when I’m in the studio – I like being taken by surprise if something takes an unexpected turn!

“But, having said all of that, I think this might be the closest thing I’ve ever made to an Americana album.”

Georgia Ruth. Credit: Sam Stevens

The closer with Euros Childs is a beautiful fitting end to the album – how did it come about?

“I’ve loved Euros’ music for so long. I can still remember hearing “A Face Like Summer” for the first time when I was about 14, and just hoping that I’d be able to write something like that one day.

“So to have him singing on the album is such a privilege, and I’m very grateful to him. Particularly with this song – which I heard, years ago, on a Seeger Sisters record for Folkways – I could just imagine his voice singing those words, and when I finally heard it, it was even better than I could have hoped for.”

Alongside the album launch, Georgia also releases her debut novel, Tell Me Who I Am today (21 June).

The novel tells the story of a reclusive musician who is given a second chance (in more ways than one).

Georgia says: “Jude, the novel’s main character, was responsible for writing one of my favourite songs on the album, Tell Me Who I Am. So it makes sense that they should come out together.”

Writing an album in the midst of chaos must be tough enough and a book requires some serious dedication – was this started before the music?

“The book started as a moment of madness in lockdown, and refused to let go! If I’m honest, I became completely obsessed with getting it finished.

“It’s definitely different to writing songs – which are, by their nature, short! But I knew I needed to write it – to work out my own relationship with music.

“Jude, the main character (a lapsed musician – write what you know!) ended up writing a song which appears on the record. I’d never have written a song like that without him, so they had to come out together!”

Georgia will be launching the album at The Gate in Cardiff on release day (June 21) and then playing at Green Man Festival on August 16, and Ara Deg in Bethesda on August 23.

She is also planning a tour for the autumn, with a few very exciting shows to announce.

Georgia added: “I’d just like to say that the album is also my tribute to all the amazing women who have inspired me over the years: Lucinda Williams, Aimee Mann, Joan Armatrading, Neko Case, Emmylou.. Without them, I wouldn’t be making music at all.”

Recorded in Sain studios, near Caernarfon, the album features contributions by Iwan Huws (Cowbois Rhos Botwnnog), Stephen Black (Sweet Baboo), Gwion Llewelyn (Aldous Harding) and Rhodri Brooks (Melin Melyn). With Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci stalwart Euros Childs adding his unmistakable vocals to a couple of songs, this is a truly Welsh affair.

It also features string arrangements by Gruff Ab Arwel, whose ear for melody brings a new dimension to the songs. These are performed by Angharad Davies, Angharad Jenkins and Patrick Rimes.

The album is co-produced with long-time collaborator Iwan Morgan.

Cool Head is released today (June 21) on double heavyweight vinyl and CD, alongside Georgia’s debut novel, Tell Me Who I Am.

Purchase Cool Head and Tell Me Who I Am direct from Georgia Ruth’s website and most good record and book stores, and stream the new album on all platforms now.

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