Text and Interview Pamela Choo Edited by Lina Esa Photography Edmund Lee Videography Felix Khu Art Direction Mils Gan and Voon Wei Styling Voon Wei and Lim Lee Ann Make-up Cat Yong Hair Juno Ko
Say the name George Maple and you may not immediately conjure an image of a lively dark-haired woman who has the vocals that will replay over again in your mind. George Maple (which is a pseudonym) is an Australian singer, musician, songwriter and record producer who has imprinted her mark in the Australian music scene, and is looking to take on the world. Best known for pop-electro that can ignite a dancefloor, she actually first started dabbling in music at just nine years old. George had flown in to Kuala Lumpur on a recent press tour invited #TeamCLEO into her hotel room with sparkling eyes and a big bright smile.
Besides music, George adores fashion and part of her creative expression is from the way she dresses. She tells us how she loves dressing up for the environment and lately she’s been incorporating suits in her wardrobe! She loves supporting local designers as well – most of her faves are from her home country and she was also super excited to wear Malaysian designers for our shoot.
Initial conversations while we prepped for shoot were incisive (“I’m amazed with the editorial work going on in places like Korea and Ukraine”, “I love the idea that what I create versus what is experienced can be two completely different things”) and she revealed was enamoured with the world around her. On her travels, she walks the streets because “that’s where you find the energy” of a new place.
And that was what we did — we took to the back alleys of Kuala Lumpur and along the way discovered that George was deeply curious about all cultures (including Malaysian ones!), why she uses a stage name, and what really drives her to create.
CLEO (C): Can you tell us how it all started with music?
George Maple (GM): I remember writing songs since I was 9 years old. I started performing professionally since I was 13 because I’ve looked the same age since [laughs]. No one knew that I was underage at these pubs singing. I’d do jazz covers and that’s sort of what I came from.
When I was 18 or 19, I met Flight Facilities and I wrote the song “Foreign Language” with them. We went on the road and that was kind of my entry into the industry. Eventually I came up with the concept of George Maple and that took shape and life of its own.
C: How is it in different places then?
GM: I think every city has a new energy and it’s that sense of spontaneity that I really gravitate towards. The life of a place is super important in my creative process. It’s really about a vibration of a place. That’s why I like walking the streets in the city and getting out of the hotel because that’s where you find the energy.
I try creatively to simply represent the place I’m in at the time, which means that moving around really works for me. It means that there’s a freshness with every city that I’ve built a relationship with.
C: That’s interesting. So it’s kind of like staying present.
GM: Exactly. I mean that’s all we can really do, isn’t it?
“I think every city has a new energy and it’s that sense of spontaneity that I really gravitate towards. The life of a place is super important in my creative process.”
C: And I think a lot of people lose that right now and they’re sort of caught up with everything else, like Instagram.
GM: I wonder if it will return. I hope so. I have to remind myself to do an [Instagram] story on it or something. Because it’s quite incredible to share this with the people who choose to follow you on a social media platform.
I do think that that can be a part of being present, the documentation, but just not losing sight of where you are and making sure that you’re always connecting to the energy that’s around you.
C: Have you been to KL before?
GM: This is my first time. A friend of mine is from Sarawak. There’s an Australian group called Slumberjack and one of the guys is from that place. So that was my first experience with the place.
I really like that your festivals are very pop, which is really cool. It’s like really nicely curated. It’s the same with We The Fest in Jakarta. I played there a couple years ago and it was really so different and so special.
C: It must be. Compared to what you’d get at Anglo kind of countries.
GM: I just think that particularly in Australia, it’s kind of sad what’s happening with the festivals. Our festival culture is so strong but I think this is really going to affect it. It’s what we all grew up with, a whole group us artists, we’re all part of the festival circuit.
The whole industry’s kind of banding together to make sure that it’s safe. But it’s really cool to see that there’s more festivals popping up in Asia. I love that.
“My creative flow is kind of this dance between chaos and clarity.”
C: You do have to innovate when it comes to these things as well.
GM: Yeah and I think it’s natural that trends change and then you have festivals like Glastonbury and Splendour and they’re just so embedded, so significant.
C: Would you say that being out in a new place inspires your songwriting process?
GM: Yeah, I think subconsciously, my creative flow is kind of this dance between chaos and clarity. I’ll spend a lot of time in a new place being completely present and feeling overwhelmed by that city.
I won’t necessarily create during that moment, it’ll be two or three week periods after that where I’ll sit down, be introspective and reflect. I’ll take what I’ve learnt over the few weeks and that’ll manifest into some form of creativity and it could be a song, a cinematic exploration or a story, it kind of varies.
C: Can you explain the inspiration for the song, “Champion” and how it came about?
GM: It came together very quickly when I was in LA. I decided to take a break and then of course that’s where inspiration strikes. I was doing a lot of boxing at the time and I was in these classes with all these incredible women that were just supporting one another and lifting each other up.
I was spending a lot of time thinking about women in this next phase of being a woman and also how lucky we are right now to be in a world where we’re given opportunity. So, it’s almost like an amalgamation of the boxing, my thoughts about feminism and the incredible women around me and it manifested into this kind of anthem.
“[My style] kind of reflects the character or the mood that I’m in. When I’m building stage looks, that’s a completely different realm. The character and the narrative dictate what the clothes will be.”
C: How would you describe your current sound?
GM: Well, now I’m excited about this next phase of music which is pop music because I think I’ve come from quite an underground kind of place. I’m super influenced by dance music, interesting production and strange melodies.
I feel like this record is very much about being upfront. I think there’s such a craft around really great pop music and being able to capture a strong message in two to three minutes.
C: How did the idea for the name George Maple come about?
GM: It really came about because it didn’t mean anything. It was kind of a blank canvas that I could work from, rather than creating from a name that had meaning already attached to it.
I think at first it was kind of a curtain that I could hide behind because it’s quite intimidating and scary to be vulnerable at first. Then over the years it’s become just a place where I can put my thoughts and ideas and just my form of creative expression.
C: It’s sort of like, a very contemporary example is Beyonce and her creating Sasha Fierce and when you watch her doing her interviews, she’s so different from her star persona. So down to earth.
GM: Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. It enables you. A lot of friends who have met me not in an artist context find it very weird when I’m up on stage. It’s like I’m a completely different person. I think it’s quite unnerving for a lot of people but it’s the same thing [with] Sasha Fierce.
It’s just channeling one part of yourself. And I think we have such a diverse range of the people that we are. I think it’s important that we embrace that as well, particularly as women. A lot of the time we’re taught to be one-dimensional and this is all we can be accepted by.
“I came to terms with the fact that whatever I release into the world is a reflection of where I was in that moment. It’s kind of a documentation of your life in a weird way.”
C: Who’s your musical inspiration?
GM: I’m very inspired by the icons – Prince, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Donna Summer. That’s where my heart lies in terms of iconic musical inspiration.
C: Do you have a favourite song that you’ve put out so far? Why does it mean a lot to you?
GM: Oh, I don’t know. I do think that it’s important for me that every song that I release I actually like. I think you definitely go through phases of loving and hating the work that you create [laughs]. But I came to terms with the fact that whatever I release into the world is a reflection of where I was in that moment. It’s kind of a documentation of your life in a weird way.
C: What’s your favourite show you’ve played so far?
GM: I love playing in my hometown, Sydney. There’s something really special about it. And I have my family in the audience. There’s something really magical about that.
C: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced being in the industry?
GM: Lack of sleep [laughs]. I think there’s challenges every single day and it’s coming to terms with the fact that it’s part of every day. And taking those challenges as an opportunity to grow.
I think we’re served the same lesson over and over again until we learn it. So once you realise, OK what lessons are being thrown at me today? What can I learn from them? Having that approach helps you to manage challenges in a different sort of way.
“I think we have such a diverse range of the people that we are. I think it’s important that we embrace that, particularly as women. a lot of the time we’re taught to be one-dimensional and this is all we can be accepted by.”
C: In what way do you think people can relate to your music?
GM: I love the idea that what I create versus what is experienced can be two completely different things. My intention with the music can be very different to what someone gets out of the experience.
And I think that’s kind of magical because all I can do is put the music out there and what happens to it in the world is up to the people. I hope that people just get whatever they want out of the music.
C: What’s the most memorable thing that has happened on set/while recording?
GM: I shot a video in the Ukraine for “Kryptonite” and I still think about that experience because I had absolutely no expectations going into it. And I ended up making the most incredible friends that I still speak to today and I was in a completely unknown environment.
I’m very afraid of heights and I knew there was a swing, but for some reason I thought the swing would be on the ground, and it was 10 metres in the air. I had to be hoisted up there. It was almost like this strange sort of whirlpool of challenge and unknown together which I think is very important creatively. So I think that was one of the most magical experiences of my career and I want to do it again.
C: Which musicians would you love to work with in the future?
GM: I’m totally open to whatever comes my way. I’ve always loved to work with Kanye. I love Kanye.
“I love the idea that what I create versus what is experienced can be two completely different things. My intention with the music can be very different to what someone gets out of the experience.”
C: Are you currently working on new music or projects? Can you tell us if anything is in the works?
GM: Yeah, I have a new album. I have seven singles to release and then the record will come out. It should be around towards the end of the year. We don’t have a set date at the moment.
C: Top 5 artists/songs in your recent playlists?
GM: Rosalia, she’s a Spanish artist and she’s got a song called “Malamente”, which is epic. Grace Jones’ “Pull Up To The Bumper”, Prince’s “Purple Rain”, Madonna’s “Holiday” and I listen to “Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott quite a lot.
C: Describe your personal style.
GM: I think it kind of reflects the character or the mood that I’m in in that particular time. When I’m building stage looks, that’s a completely different realm. It all relates to a kind of narrative of the actual show. The character and the narrative dictate what the clothes will be.
I think that’s part of my personal style. Every day I wake up and I’ll say, “Okay, what am I doing today and what am I trying to kind of express in a certain way?” For example if I’m going to meetings, I really love taking a new [approach] on the suit. Suiting is a really big part of my wardrobe at the moment. I really love fitting into the environment.
“[The] sense of authenticity is the most important part of my day-to-day existence. If I’m not living authentically then it starts to feel weird.”
C: Who are your favourite fashion designers/labels?
GM: I’m really into this Australian designer called Dion Lee who I really, really love. And Ellery as well, another Australian designer. And then I guess it depends on the season. I really love the new Prada, Balenciaga is always a good go-to. I do love the big fashion houses because I think that there’s so much artistry behind what they do and they’re the leaders in the game.
C: What do you do during your free time or not touring?
GM: I keep it very simple. I like to box, I do pilates and yoga. I like to walk around and take everything very, very slowly and hang out with my friends, go out to dinner. I love to just keep things as uncomplicated as possible when I’m off the road.
C: What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
GM: “What are you trying to say?” I think that’s really important for me because it represents something in every aspect of my existence. So creatively, what am I trying to say as an artist and it kind of has a connection to a sense of integrity.
Integrity is incredibly important to me and I think that constantly checking in with yourself and going “Am I living true to what I believe in?”, “Am I connecting with what I started out doing in the first place?” Just that sense of authenticity is the most important part of my day-to-day existence. If I’m not living authentically then it starts to feel weird.
C: What are you most excited about for in 2019?
GM: Exploring the world and sharing my music globally because my focus has always been on Australia and a little bit of Europe and America, but this year I just want to be as open as possible to new experiences.
Check out the behind-the-scenes of our exclusive shoot with George Maple here!