Hannah Georgas on Fulfilling Her Dream of Working with the National, Ditching Toronto and Her Tanning Bed Regrets

The Exclaim! Questionnaire

Photo: Vanessa Heins

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 1, 2020

Way back in 2008, Hannah Georgas's debut EP featured a song called "The National," an aching ballad about running into an ex at a concert of the titular indie rock band. Now, more than a decade later, her career has come full-circle: her new album, All That Emotion, was produced by the National's Aaron Dessner, and she spent part of last year touring with the group as an opening act and backup singer.

All That Emotion is a beautiful culmination of the journey Georgas has been on throughout her career; while her early releases often featured surging dance rock and quirky shouts, she now prefers to find intensity in heartfelt feelings, and Dessner's spacious production leaves plenty of room for her soft, poignant vocals to shine.

So, now that's she's closely acquainted with the National, what do they think about that old song that Georgas named after them? "I never told them about it," she says with a mortified laugh. "I'm too embarrassed."

What are you up to?

My current projects are putting out this album September 4 and doing lots of live-at-home sessions and writing. I've been still kind of keeping that a focus. And doing word searches and puzzles in my free time.

What are your current fixations?

Watching baking shows. I get the paper delivered to me every week and I've been finding word searches that I really like to do.

Why do you live where you do?

I moved out of the city [to Prince Edward County]. I have a nice little music space to work out of now, which feels really good. I had one in Toronto, but I was in a townhouse with neighbours and things. It's really nice to feel like I can record and play and not offend anyone. The move was a long time coming, but I think the pandemic really made me feel like a pressure cooker was happening. I definitely grew out of my neighbourhood, and the pandemic really pushed it on through.

What's the last book or movie that blew your mind?

The Michael Jordan documentary, The Last Dance. I was just completely blown away by Michael Jordan's story and his ambition and confidence. The stuff that he went through and his career just kind of threw me for a loop. I never knew that his dad was murdered. He was just so inspiring.

What has been your most memorable or inspirational concert?

I really loved the show that I curated last year on International Women's Day in Toronto [at Lula Lounge]. I asked artists like Donovan Woods and Rae Spoon and Tamara Lindeman of the Weather Station to cover a non-binary artist or a female artist that had made an impact on them throughout their lives. It was just inspiring to put something on like that and the night sold out really quickly and it made the wheels turn to do more things like that.

What's been the greatest moment of your career so far?

Getting the opportunity to sing with the National has been pretty great, and to open for them as well. I have always really admired their project and have listened to them so much. I've just been a big fan, so it was pretty surreal to get the opportunity to sing with them.

Who's a Canadian musician that should be more famous?

Devon Welsh should be more famous. He had a project called Majical Cloudz, and I just love his music a lot. He has such a captivating voice, and I like his production style a lot. And he has a song called "Downtown" that I've probably listened to… I can't even count how many times.

What advice should you have taken, but did not?

I should have taken the advice, in my teens, never to go to a tanning bed. I think I went because I had really bad acne growing up. I think that was just something that I thought could fix it, and my mom told me not to do it and I did it, probably around the age of 16 and 17. I really regret that. It's just long-term damage. It's just totally bad for you. It's just cancer. That will probably be the long-term damage at some point.

What was the first song you ever wrote?

The first song I wrote was a song about God on piano. I think I was 5. I was raised in a very religious family, and I wrote a song about God giving me a talent and that I should use it wisely and share it with a friend or something like that. Those are the lyrics.

I didn't know that you were raised religious.

I'm not anymore and you should say that I'm not [laughs].

What do you think of when you think of Canada?

Home. I think of the landscape and the beautiful countryside and fresh air.

What's the meanest thing anyone has ever said about your art?

It was after one of the first really big shows that I had ever played. I was opening for City and Colour in Calgary or something. I played a stripped-down set, and I know that I had a really bad show and I was really nervous. I woke up the next day and there was a review in the paper saying that I was "a sheep in wolf's clothing," and saying that I just need to play more shows. In hindsight they were right, but it made me really sad at the time when I first read it, 'cause I knew I was really bad.

What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?

It was a tape. I bought Paula Abdul's record called Forever Your Girl. It had "Cold Hearted" and "Opposites Attract," and I just remember loving those music videos that she put out with a cartoon cat. That's very weird. I was pretty young. It was the '90s at some point, so I was in elementary school. I loving dancing to a lot, and making dance routines.

What was your most memorable day job?

I worked at a community centre — an after school care program in Vancouver at a place called Douglas Park Community Centre. I just really enjoyed it there. It was the last job that I had before I pursued music full-time, and they were just so great with my schedule because I started to get busy with touring. I just really loved the vibe there and loved working with kids. I learned how to play chess there.

If you weren't playing music, what would you be doing instead?

Probably working with kids, 'cause that was the main job that I had in my earlier years. I'd either be working at a summer camp or teaching basketball or piano to kids, working at an after school care program. That was something that I really enjoyed doing.

How do you spoil yourself?

Going for a massage or getting a facial are good things that get me really excited to decompress. Or eating a cinnamon bun.

What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?

I think people feel really comfortable around me and I'm easy to talk to. What I dislike about myself is, I am really sensitive and I overanalyze things too much. It could be anything, like people just not getting back to me about something. That would make me feel like, 'Oh, did I say something wrong?' It's just really stupid shit that I read into. Just people's body language or energy can make me feel off sometimes.

What's the best way to listen to music?

For me, the best way to listen to music is driving in a car. I can really kinda zone out and not pick up my phone or get distracted by anything. I can just really kind of dive into a different universe. Or walking and listening with headphones. Those are the two best ways to listen to music. I find Spotify is kind of what I'll go on to listen to new music.

What do you fear most?

Birds flying around my head. I just have a genuine fear of birds or any flying animals. They just scare me a lot. Bats. Birds.

If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?

I would invest it and I would help my family out. I would treat myself and go on some trips post-COVID. I would just make sure I had everything I needed for studio stuff and recording and had a really sweet pad.

What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?

A while ago I saying backups for Kathleen Edwards on her previous album [2012's Voyageur] and we played David Letterman. I went to get my makeup done pre-performance, and Ricky Gervais was just sitting in the room by himself. I sat down right beside him and we were both looking in the mirror, getting our makeup done, and I didn't say a word to him because I was in shock the whole time.

Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?

I really love Chelsea Handler. She has inspired me a lot. I've watched every single one of her specials that she does on Netflix. I just think she's such a badass, and she's doing a lot of good with the platform that she has. It would just be really fun to sit down and hang out with her and talk to her. I think I'd want to do that.

What would I serve her? I am not a good cook… I would try to ask her team what she likes and then I would go from there. I know she really likes to smoke weed, so I'd try to find someone to help me get that for her. And she likes to drink, so I would find out exactly she loves and get that.

What is the greatest song of all-time?

The thing that's popping into my head is "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Joy Division. All of the instrumentation is just so perfect and it's organic, and it's got this synth element to it. The words are so heart-wrenching, and you could choose to listen to it by tuning into that, or just tuning into how great it sounds. I love songs like that, where you don't realize at first how well-written and how deep the music is. It's a beautiful song.

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