Georgia Delves has the sort of velvety-rich voice that could tell you the wildest stories and you’d want to believe her. It is deep, warm, momentarily heartbroken, then soaringly defiant. As Georgia State Line, the Melbourne country artist and her band have won a steadfast local following, but – upon releasing their debut album In Colour September 24 via Cheatin’ Hearts Records – her wondrous voice and their melancholic, melodic brand of soulful guitar-based country is likely to expose them to a global audience.
Together with Tom Brooks, Patrick Wilson and Laura Baxter, they enthusiastically channel Nashville-via-Australia, journeying through bluegrass, folk-rock, and rootsy country with the confidence of experienced, dedicated musos. Brooks is a singer-songwriter under the title Tom & The Moving Wallpaper, in which he indulges his passion for krautrock alongside country and roots music. Wilson has established himself as a go-to drummer in the Americana tradition, and he’s a singer-songwriter with a number of solo releases to his name (beginning with his accomplished debut EP, Ryan the Moth in 2013; currently he’s working on Don’t Hurry for 2022 release). Baxter wields banjo and bass with aplomb, a member of both Georgia State Line and Hana & Jessie-Lee’s Bad Habits. She’s also contributed guest vocals to various Melbourne indie albums, including on the song “Bind Particles” from Sleep Decade’s 2018 album Collapse.
With each member of Georgia State Line a highly accomplished musician in their own right, the question of whether too many chefs could lead to clashes of ego in the studio arises.
“Maybe in some different scenarios, that could happen…[but] I’m really grateful to work with the people I do,” muses Delves. “I feel like as a songwriter, for me, it’s a very isolated process. I write by myself then I take the completed song to the band; I’m really open to ideas about how we arrange it, how we collaborate on that front. We all get along really well. I respect the backgrounds that they all bring, and their experience.”
That includes Kat Mear, who guests on In Colour on backing vocals and fiddle.
“We met Kat through Tom. Tom had a little folk-string-trio with Kat and we knew her from the scene. I really wanted some fiddle the songs, so she plays quite traditional country fiddle on ‘Lessons’ and she does backing vocals on some tracks too,” says Delves.
The recording happened in 2019 at James Cecil’s Super Melody Studios in Macedon, in regional Victoria. He’s an engineer and producer, and a former member of Architecture in Helsinki. The band had met Cecil when they’d performed at the Macedon Pub, which is close to Cecil’s home and studio. He’d approached them with the invitation to his studio after striking up a conversation about their recording plans.
“It was great finding him,” enthuses Delves. “I really wanted to work with someone removed from the country scene. We had a collection of songs that was traditional country but also some that were more contemporary and progressive, so I felt really strongly that we should capture that quality of our sound. I wanted to do something a little bit different, and I love pop songwriting. I think about writing a melody that you can remember, I’m very pop influenced in that sense. I want a chorus to be something you can’t get out of your head.”
The band caught the attention of some illustrious names in US country and blues, including the late Justin Townes Earle. They played support to his August/September shows in 2019 and the year before, and supported Eilen Jewell (USA) on all her Victorian shows in 2018.
Their 2017 EP Heaven Knows explored the fertile ground of growing up, the reality of adulthood from the perspective of what feels like a fast-ending youthful freedom. They toured nationally in 2018, including Out On The Weekend, National Folk Festival and Dashville Skyline Festival.
The EP was the result of Delves’ Bachelor of Music graduation project. She’d moved from the regional town of Bendigo to Melbourne for the course in 2014. As part of her final exams in 2016, she had to write a collection of songs and form a band, culminating in their performance for her final exam. When they recorded Heaven Knows the following year, Delves shed the armour of classical and folk music she’d felt caged into performing, and embraced the music that expressed her stories truthfully.
“I always loved the storytelling and songwriting. I always respected that and was bewildered by it,” she says. “I grew up studying classical violin and doing classical voice. I didn’t listen to classical music out of enjoyment – I was learning the foundational skills, which was really formative for me and I really appreciate having that background.”
Still, the allure of banjo and pedal steel proved to be too great for Delves to ignore.
“I’d been in different bands and a folk project, but I had an epiphany that this wasn’t what I wanted to do. The style of music I was playing didn’t feel that true to myself. I was writing with another person and I had to bend what I wanted and make a lot of compromise. As I was coming out of that time of my life, I was coming towards the end of my uni degree and I felt courageous enough to make something of my own,” she remembers.
Wilson was already in the band, but Brooks and Baxter entered – initially as a guests – on the basis of their rare skills.
“It was always a dream of mine to have that pedal-steel sound, and there’s not that many players around, so Tom came in to guest on the EP but then stuck around, which is great,” Delves details. “Laura came in late 2018 or the start of 2019. I’d been doing some intern work for a friend and Laura was their housemate. Laura was playing banjo at the time and doing backing vocals. She plays bass now; she’s a jack of all trades.”
Pushed to name a formative influence, she concedes that it’s the eminent Dolly Parton. “She’s done it all.” Beyond Parton, she namechecks Nashville singer-songwriter Erin Rae, Kelsey Waldon and Brandi Carlile, with a few pop sirens sprinkled in.
“I say I’m a vocalist before an instrumentalist. Voice is my first instrument and that’s what shapes what I like and what I’m influenced by. I love big female vocals,” she explains. “I saw Celine Dion with my mum and growing up I always loved The Dixie Chicks, for their voice and what they stand for. I’m inspired by strong women telling stories and owning their space. For Dolly, I enjoyed her music before I listened to country, because that voice, that personality, it crosses all genres.”
The dexterity with which Georgia State Line crosses genres is perhaps the result of the physical freedom Delves and Wilson embraced during the writing of the album. The two – a couple for the past seven years – decided to sell all their belongings and travel Australia in a van after both quit their “soul-crushing jobs.” Their original plan was to fulfil a three-month tour between Northern New South Wales and Victoria, but they lived in the van six months longer than intended.
“I wrote the majority of the album when I was travelling with Pat. We’d meet the band at a couple of festivals in between. Everyone romanticises living in a van,” says Delves. “It was great in terms of removing a barrier between me and meeting people I wouldn’t necessarily have met. There’s a community around living in a van and the places you go, but also, I recognise that it was a very privileged thing to do. When I was in the van, there was a lot of instability but also a lot of freedom. Waking up and not having any ties apart from the shows that we had, we could go anywhere. At the same time, there were harder parts.”
Before life in the van, Delves was the victim of workplace harassment and a lot of those feelings shaped her lyrics.
“I was still trying to make sense of [that] and there were situations I was trying to break free of,” she says. “So it was physically freeing to break away from what was causing me grief and sadness. The title In Colour reminds me that pain is fleeting and temporary, for the most part, and remembering all the good that can happen and will happen. The sentiment behind all my experiences is universal.”
Delves hopes that the album serves as a reminder of our shared humanity.
“The songs are very human, and I’m a big believer that we don’t get to control where we’re born and a lot of extenuating factors about our lives, but everyone is very similar, and we forget that.”