have you ever been in love? georgie fisher has. i don’t know because we’ve talked about it — it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask — i know because i can hear it in her songs. warm, honest acoustic folk music that, while it doesn’t necessarily speak to break ups or relationships, is somehow grounded in the kind of openness that only falling in love can bring to light. or maybe it’s just that georgie’s is the kind of voice that you can tell has broken a heart or two.
the first time i heard georgie play, it was my second week in berlin. she and cohort harry leatherby had set up — guitars, amps, bottles of beer — outside an u bahn station in kreuzberg. we were just about to wander away when they started playing. we danced a bit. it didn’t last long, maybe a song or two, before it started raining and they were gone but i knew — knew — that i wanted to work with her on a piece for littlecity, which as it turns out, is my first rooted in berlin’s music scene.
when i meet georgie for the second time, we are both hungover. over bagels and coffee at friedrichshain’s shakespeare & sons, we talk about street performance, berlin, and her own history with folk music. a native of sydney, australia, georgie moved to berlin a year ago after a short while spent in london, where she recorded her debut EP playground. now based out of berlin, she quit her job bartending to pursue music full-time, a career that finds her not only playing gigs in small venues around the city, but on bridges, in parks, at the local flea market, and in the streets.
do you remember your first time picking up a guitar?
i started to learn guitar, a few chords, when i was about 10. my mum taught me — she used to be a singer herself — and i started messing around. i’ve done a number of different things but it’s only the past couple years that i’ve worked seriously on my solo stuff. i’ve done reggae and hip hop and jungle and bass and trip-hop and all sorts of different things. i worked with lots of different genres, all the while playing guitar and singing in my bedroom.
when you were doing all these other projects, was folk music always where you wanted to be?
no! no, absolutely not. it’s the opposite. what i didn’t want to be was another boring singer-songwriter with a guitar. i tried to stay away from that for a long time, and i really liked bass culture, drum n bass, reggae, and i always gravitated towards that. i kind of ended up here. it was never the goal.
that seems like quite a leap, going from bedroom musician to where you are now.
well, when i moved to london, i didn’t know anybody there… i only had me. so the best thing i could come up with was just to play guitar and sing on my own. i did a few gigs and it just snowballed from there. i ended up getting a contract, and making an ep, and now i’m performing and making music under my own name.
what has it been like for you in berlin?
berlin to me is just amazing. i can chill out, get up when i feel like it, have a coffee, do my work, be productive but i’m not pushing myself to the bone quite yet. i make money from street performances, and small gigs, and… i would like to start building a band now that i’m a bit more settled here. most of my songs are written for a band, i’m not the greatest guitarist, it needs some other musicians, and that’s where harry comes into it. harry is a really talented musician. he’s really changed my sound and my style.
she’s talking about harry leatherby, the 21-year-old guitarist from new zealand who, like georgie, packed up and moved to berlin this summer to pursue music. they met through georgie’s sister, who found harry while he was staying in a hostel, and the three of them spent the summer busking together — georgie and harry’s sound has been inextricably intertwined ever since. georgie has plans for her debut album in the works, one that will no doubt involve harry, but will also hopefully include other berlin-based musicians. the goal, she tells me, is for the music to come about naturally, without being overthought or overworked. “i need to represent what i’m doing now. it’s going to be a lot more organic than my EP,” she explains, “it’s gonna be me and a couple guys sitting down in a room, we’re gonna record it in a couple days, and whatever comes out of it, that’s what it will be.”
we finish our coffees, and georgie leaves to pick up her equipment. we decide to head over to admiralbrücke, a bridge in kreuzberg later that afternoon. by the time we get to the bridge, another crew of buskers has already set up — a guitarist or two, someone on the tambourine, and a whole host of others clapping along. it’s a sunny day so the bridge is full of young people, most of them drinking beers, but no one appears to be really listening to the music. it’s background noise at best. they’re singing in german, and as it turns out, they are a religious music group who eventually try to convince georgie to find jesus and let them speak to god on her behalf. all in a day’s work, apparently. georgie has been busking for a little over three months, and as she tells it, anything can happen when you’re out on the street in berlin (case in point, her impromptu canoe concert, seen below).
how did you decide you wanted to start busking?
it wasn’t really a plan so much as a feeling that i got when i moved to berlin. i knew i wanted to come here to do music, i knew that much because i’d been here before, i knew it was a creative mecca. the vibe here made it very accessible.
were you really nervous your first time going out?
oh. my god. so nervous! i’ve been performing for a number of years now to big crowds, small crowds, sometimes to nobody, sometimes at a major festival, but busking is a whole new ball game.
people are not there to see you, if you know what i mean? you’re just kind of there, imposing yourself. well, not imposing but –
no, totally. you could be imposing. that’s the thing. some people really like it but others do not. my favourite kinds of busking experiences are when you set up where there aren’t any people, and then people hear you and they come. that’s the best. i don’t like going somewhere where there’s already people because then i feel like i might be imposing. i don’t like to set up where people are just hanging out, and i show up and go, “hey! look at me!” (laughs) i prefer to go where there isn’t anyone and try to draw a crowd.
how do you decide what you’re going to play?
i’ve never written a set list for when i’m busking. just whatever! i just get out there. but i suppose how it works is just that i have a collection of songs in my head, and i just go out there and play whatever comes to me in the moment. it depends on who is listening as well.
what is the strangest thing someone has left in your guitar case?
i got a fortune cookie once, and the fortune was something about following your dreams [laughs]. i’ve gotten an apple, twice! that’s quite nice though. you often get that kind of thing from people who can’t afford to leave you money but they want to leave you something. it’s a nice gesture, it’s almost more important.
so many of our relationships now are online, through facebook, twitter, that kind of thing. it’s rare nowadays to grab people in a real way, you know? real people, on the street, there in front of you, and make them feel something.
there’s no bullshit. it’s not like connecting with people online, it’s really real. people will walk past and hear your music and stop to listen. it’s very personal! especially when you get over feeling nervous about it, when you get over the hurdle of fear of performing in the street…. the thing that helps me get over it is exactly that, the people that stop and listen. or like you! you guys were dancing in the street! that is fantastic. that’s as real as it gets.
once the religious group finishes their set, harry and georgie hurry over and set up. nothing extravagant — two guitars, an amp, a microphone, and a couple of beers — but part way through their first song, the atmosphere on the bridge is already changing. the apathetic attitude has faded and before long, there’s a crowd. people have paused on their bikes or parked their cars or found a spot on the concrete to stop and listen, occasionally tossing a coin or two into georgie’s guitar case, eliciting a shy “danke,” and a smile. together, she and harry are magnetic. when harry snaps a guitar string and comes over to sit down with the group, he quickly changes his mind and goes back to resume playing, minus one string but no less spirited.
how does songwriting work for you? are you a planner, or is it more like “whatever comes out of you, comes out of you?”
well….yes. yes, and no. i’ve sort of had an idea to make each song about a character… each one will be a story about someone in my life, and it’s nice because when i think about the songs i’ve got on the album, they’re all so different and about these different experiences and people, and really the only thing that connects them is me. so it’s very personal in that way.
so, do you have an idea and you turn that into a song? or you have an idea for lyrics and you add the music? or you have an idea for music, and you add lyrics?
lyrics are important to me. i want to be able to listen to a song and get something from it. that’s something that just comes out of me naturally, it’s a skill more so than my technical abilities as a guitarist or my knowledge of musical theory. it’s coming more from me, from my heart, my soul.
you can, of course, hear that in her lyrics. maybe they’ve broken a heart or two but above all, it’s clear they come from the heart. and that seems to be what’s so captivating about georgie — it’s not just her voice or her lyrics, but the way that she performs. it’s real, realer even than performing on a busy street corner and gathering a crowd. eventually, true to form, the police show up and ask the pair to stop, but there’s no animosity. the audience on the bridge gives a final round of applause as, laughing, georgie and harry put away their guitars.
++ all photos by @littlecitybot