George Pringle makes a lot of people very angry. Out there on message boards are faceless entities with strange pseudonyms who are, in their apparently genuine rage, prone to asking questions that smack of exasperation.
Questions such as: Who likes her? Who does she think she is? What is she doing?
And then someone always does the thing that immediately rams a rusty nail through the knees of sensible discussion: they bring Nathan Barley into it.
She’s young, she’s female and, yes, she went to boarding school. As her 10-minute epic narco-disco number Bonjour Tristesse testifies, she speaks French. But are these crimes to inspire vitriol and bile?
We first saw George Pringle back in 2007, when an otherwise nondescript winter evening at the Social was enlivened by a girl performing spoken-word pieces over handmade minimalist beats wrung from GarageBand. Her lyrics touched on everything from Fellini to Street Fighter 2, delivered in an accent which called for French synonyms for haughty. This London-born fine art graduate’s very modern brand of public confessional/disco was hugely interesting.
Nearly two years on and her self-released debut solo album Salon des Refusés is finally out, and its now 24-year-old creator proves no less interesting in person. She turns up looking flustered and apologising profusely for being late, which she is, by all of 90 seconds. Surely this demure figure can’t be the cause of such virtual consternation?
“I’m not a particularly offensive person,” she answers. “I thought it was quite funny that, just by making music in a different way and not pretending to be something that I’m not, it would provoke. People get so angry they have to say something, but, you know, no press is bad press.”
So she doesn’t mind the criticism? “I think there’s this real irony in the fact I’ve been billed as this totally bourgeois posh person, and I’m working in a shop not making any money. I’m actually quite socialist in the way I’m doing (my music) and all these people seem to think I have a castle.” She pauses. “I do have a castle, but, you know…”
One of the key problems she has been stricken with is one of labeling. She’s being judged, but it’s not clear which box she should be put in. She attended a boarding school, so she gets labeled as ‘posh’. She calls herself a ‘diseuse’, which translates as ‘a female entertainer who performs monologues’. Not songs. Does she even consider herself a musician?
“I dunno,” she says, frankly. “I want it to be so much more. I want it to be set with strong images and ideas. Although I’m not someone who dresses up a lot – in fact I tend to now dress down – because I want the music to be the colour. I think it’s so boring when people are wearing stupid space-suit shit. It’s so annoying. The thing is (now) everyone has to have a shtick, everyone has to have this image, and I think it distracts. The raw material should pass those images.”
So artists shouldn’t bother with a style to work their music? “I like the fact that people have a style,” she says, “but it just seems like everyone fills a different niche, and I think that’s boring. You can have all the niches, you can do what you want. People accused me of that, actually, but now lots of more extroverted people have come out of the woodwork and I don’t look so bad!”
“All these people seem to think I have a castle. I do have a castle, but, you know…” – George Pringle, class warrior
But there are some niches, at least as far as attire is concerned, that she will not take on. “What annoys is the so fucking trendy stuff, it’s the Urban Outfitters stuff – plaid shirts, plimsoles… If I see another band like that…” She grimaces. “I’m sick of bad taste. I’m having a good taste revival! I want to wear stylish things and make stylish music. I’m sick of fucking ’80s rehash. So sick of it.”
She’s warming to her theme. “That’s the problem with the ‘indie scene’, that if you are doing something that requires some thought, to try and put it across to people who aren’t really in to anything… I’m not totally damning it, but I think there is that element of people just not being arsed and wanting to dress cool.”
As a self-released solo artist she found she stood out like a sore thumb on a circuit that preached to the converted. “When I started I got put on indie bills all the time and I found that quite frustrating, because these people aren’t going to get it. They’re all in to the posturing and whatever, but they’re not really paying attention. I like those extremes of people being fucking nice and getting on with it or just wanting the music.”
But Pringle’s ambition was not going to be so easily daunted. “I wanted to start a scene of like minded people who wanted to make futuristic music and were interested in film and art. But it’s impossible to mobilise those kinds of people. So you know, I failed”. She laughs.
Surely not yet? “OK, well, no, not yet. There’s still hope.” She could still try and build an army. She’s not even 25 yet. “I really wanted to, but people just go: ‘Oh. What you’re doing is weird’. Which has been good creatively, because if I’d started and then loads of people did similar stuff I’d be really annoyed. I want to be the only person doing what I’m doing. I’m a bit ego-centric like that; I don’t think I could share a scene with anyone, I’d have to be queen. Queen George. So maybe it’s good I’m still a total outsider. I can morph a lot more. You can get away with more. Look what nu-rave did to the Klaxons. Scenes are bad.”
Raging against the conventions, starting her own scenes only to quit them, you’d assume must have made it doubly hard when she first arrived, lumbered in as she was with other London-based female solo artists with laptops (principally Lily Allen and Kate Nash) who had suddenly found favour. But no.
“It worked in my favour I think, because they were looking for girls and I was there. It’s like the wallflower at the disco. It worked out fine because I think my stuff would have been this really obscure internet thing unless people had honed in on it, so I was lucky. I only got annoyed in a really dull feminist way – we’re not all the same because we’re all girls.”
But she had her initial fanfare-heralding arrival almost two years ago. She got the big build up, and then nothing. What happened?
“I’m sick of fucking ’80s rehash.” – George Pringle minces her words
“I think it was a long time because there wasn’t any money. I had a manager, then I lost my manager, then I got a new manager, so the whole thing took a long time to get sorted. But I’m quite glad that it did, because I think if I’d put an album out after the first year I think it would have been very downbeat, I don’t think it would have had as much of a sense of fun.”
But the rather ace Salon des Refusés has finally seen the light of day. GarageBand and those artsy lyrics of course feature, but she didn’t begin her musical trajectory with a MacBook. “I started off playing piano and stuff, I wasn’t very musical, but I taught myself guitar and was in bands. But that didn’t really work. I found the guitar incredibly frustrating. I could play it, but I didn’t like it. I don’t think it’s very subtle. Then I got a computer and then I was like ‘Oh. This seems to be much better’.”
Not only does she not fit with the indie scene she found herself so unwillingly attached to, she sees more kinship with dance music. “I think it was Phil Oakey from The Human League who said about synths: ‘You press one button and it sounds like you’re doing loads’, and I really like that. Those layers of sound. It’s much more subtle. It’s like dance music where it takes time to build the track from a few very subtle things. It’s hard to do that in a band.”
But it’s not so hard with GarageBand. Recording and uploading in the same program, she’s placed plenty of her material on the web for free over the last 18 months. As such, she must have an opinion on the current filesharing debate? “The thing Lily Allen is weighing in about?” She asks. “The thing is the people who are really affected by it are people like me. But I think it’s really difficult. Because, I don’t buy music. I’m sorry, I’m one of those dickheads.”
So Lily is wrong to censure filesharers? “The reason I’ve picked up the music I like is because someone has given me a CD. And then I might go and see a gig or whatever. But when I started out, people where nicking my demos and sharing them around, which kind of pisses you off, but then at least people want to listen to it. And you know, I haven’t recouped anything I’ve put into making my record and I’m OK with that, as long as I can do what I want.”
One thing that always strikes you when listening to George, either live or on record, is how personal it all feels. There’s a ‘shouldn’t-be-here’ diary-peering voyeuristic element to her work which is both awkward and fantastic. Given her lyrics about parties, do people still invite her to any? “I don’t think anyone would do it to be cool. I didn’t think about it, and then I realised what I was doing was a bit weird. Basically I had to commit complete social suicide and feel like no-one wanted to talk to me.”
So it’s not a construct? “No.”.Not exaggerated? “Well.” Pringle pauses. “It’s difficult because sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t, and I kind of prefer not to let people know. There are bits which are over-the-top and tongue-in-cheek. The problem is people can’t differentiate. But that’s good, because it offers a degree of self-protection. It’s a tug-of-war between what you would like to be like and what you really are, and then you become what you’d like to be and then you don’t know where you are”.
“I haven’t recouped anything I’ve put into making my record and I’m OK with that, as long as I can do what I want.”– George Pringle on filesharing
It’s hard not to occasionally feel a little bit sorry for her up there, all alone with just these staggeringly personal vignettes. “I figured this out,” she says, “because I used to think I should have a band, but my music is basically about being isolated. At least half the songs on the album are about not having anything to do, that horrible feeling that you should be having fun, but you’re not.”
She’s certainly excited about the future. “Yeah. I didn’t think I would be. I was sitting in the studio about two months ago crying and I was like I just want to do this album and never ever make another record. I felt exhausted by the industry, it totally shits on everything you want to do. I couldn’t see the point of it, I felt cheated. So I then thought it’d be really poetic to make just one album, a really strong statement. And then three weeks ago I’d written (all of) three songs and it was like… ‘Oh shit’.”
With Salon des Refusés now out, will she carry on making… monologues set to music? “It’s something I think is really adolescent. I keep thinking I shouldn’t be playing around doing this kind of thing. But then again, I do feel like I’ve totally scuppered myself in terms of a career: I’ve decided to be a pop star and not get paid for it, so I might as well live it out!”