What is a career in music these days? The ideal of “making it” that many of us have encompasses creative freedom, outlets for our artistic expression, public adulation and financial security. Yet this dream is so difficult to square with the harsh reality that being a music-maker is often neither lucrative nor all that rewarding. Putting aside unquantifiable variants such as luck, talent or being born into wealth, music in our society remains a commodity and therefore the supply and demand logic of the market applies. In practical terms, this means that many artists sooner or later face the choice of compromising their art in order to make a living or – perhaps the most common scenario – relegating their music-making to hobby status in order to make a living doing something else.
Luckily, there are other paths that can be taken. A fruitful creative existence can be made possible by splitting time and energy between crafting one’s own output and providing services to others. Over the last half-dozen years or so, this is exactly the groove that NY-LA duo Georgia have carved for themselves. What’s more, producing music (and visuals) for any number of clients, functions, and occasions has in no way diminished the spirit of joyful experimentation that brought Brian Close and Justin Tripp together in the first place. A sampling of the work they have done as videographers, sound designers, animators and editors for Reebok, Vogue, Adidas, Adobe, Dunkin’ Donuts (to name just a few) reveals much overlapping territory, in sound, vision and execution, to their releases as Georgia.
We caught up with Brian Close and Justin Tripp to chat about the evolution of Georgia, the differences and similarities in doing creative work for themselves and for others, and how they manage to collaborate while living on opposite coasts.
You started Georgia when both of you were in New York? What were you doing individually before Georgia and how did you end up working together?
Brian Close: Yes! New York is the Birth Canal! Chinatown in the 20 Century. I had a design studio at the time, called Lifelong Friendships Society, which was making some pretty far out psychedelic graphics for television, advertising, fashion, etc. I first crossed paths with Justin, making a video for his music project at the time. We ended up working together first on a music video, and from there we just kept going. Justin was more into the music world, he was in many amazing bands that I was into… I was always playing music as a kid, and in Georgia it more became pronounced.
Justin Tripp: Brian was making video and doing design and graphics and was very productive and intuitive in his approach. He has an explosive creative energy that’s very attractive. I always was into film and image and wanted to do more in that world. We started working on some visual projects and playing music, side by side. Turns out Brian’s creative energy isn’t really bound to a medium; he can kind of pick up and go, whether it’s music or video or soccer or whatever… that intuitive spirit really opened me up and allowed us to group ourselves off and produce a lot without questioning where it was all headed.
How has the collaborative process changes since you now live in different cities?
BC: Regarding distance, the creative process is still the same, we just have to sync over the internet. It actually feels like we are more in sync with the time difference and the different city vibes , which healthily color our image and sound palettes.
JT: The remote collaboration definitely frees up a lot of things. After a while, the shared physical studio created a pull where you feel like you kind of need to be there and keep up some regular hours. That gets dangerously close to feeling like an ‘office’, but what matters is the output and an atmosphere of creative freedom to allow you to create without obstacles.
With me in LA and him in NYC, we can both work when we feel most productive and have the space of mind and physical space to do what we do best. We talk about what has to get done, then each set off and do our parts, then bring it back together. We love these cities for so many reasons, so it’s also nice to feel connected to them both.
BC: Lately we create our tracks isolated from one another, and then just combine them into album form! This really works somehow, and gives the music a natural disconnect, a high contrast.
JT: Our collaboration lately has involved discussing an approach before we start a project, so that we have a sort of shared palette or vision for where it’s headed. This might mean using the same group of instruments – maybe Ableton racks (something Brian’s built from scratch) or a bank of the same samples – and then using those to make the music. We then go off on our own and make what we make, then come back together and share it. The music I make is always made more interesting when it’s butted up against Brian’s. You know you need salt/fat/acid to make a good dish, not just any one. We both use the tools very differently, so it’s interesting to hear/see how it comes together.
BC: Also not seeing someone physically I think is interesting, because a lot of the Georgia manifesto is about metaphysicality, so in a way we are dealing with ghosts of each other . A lot of subconscious sync happens (live on Soundcloud) or live on our various radio programs (NTS, London, The Lot Radio, NYC and Dublab Radio, LA). And we are making tracks and images and uploading them almost daily. This is where the intel is brewed, on that metaphysical plane …
JT: We kind of fill the holes in each other’s output and that gives us a more rounded, complete vision when we come together.
You’ve made a few the Instrument Racks that Brian built available for download. How were these made?
BC: These were made by starting with a sine wave in Operator. That’s such a solid place to start building drums. There’s something so nice and clean, similar to making vector graphics that are scalable and concise in Illustrator.
There's alot of assigning macros and attenuating them by changing the ranges. Also, inverting the ranges, making subtle shifts in these, makes each drum able to do (minor or major) acrobatics.
By programming sounds one by one while making simple rhythmic sequences, you are building the kit while building the composition. It’s a great way to keep moving ;)
a sine wave splits in anything you’d like, approximately …
The goal is to have something that can be minimal, and is pleasantly rehearable, but can easily be swinging and expressive with a slight rotation. This way everything has a full possibility, like a sound that can change from a clave to a harpsichord…
Requires Live 10 Suite
What is the division of labor between the two of you within Georgia? Has this changed much over time? Does it depend on whether you are creating for yourselves or for others?
BC: I come from more of a design background, so a lot of times I'm doing the graphic design / illustration / type / animation / album art kinda stuff, but music is really the passion. Role-wise it has been pretty steady the whole time. For example, we share interests in film, and depending on the project, we take more or less of a stance and position. So a lot of times, for external projects, we let the project dictate our individual roles. What does the project need from us as a unit of individuals? If one of us is interested in color grading, we just make it so that they can color grade the project … so being able to choose both strategically, and also based on what we want to excel at in the future really helps us out and is crucial to the mini-studio dynamic.
JT: Definitely on the visual side, Brian takes the lead. His perspective on things is always unexpected and unique. He’s able to generate a ton of varied options for a project very quickly and it’s a privilege to have that when working on videos, album art, graphics, etc. I also love to work on those things and I’ll jump on filming, editing, etc. whenever it’s needed and I feel I can bring something to it. Generally, I’m facilitating those visual projects so that Brian doesn’t have to worry about anything except manifesting his vision. With music, commercial or for Georgia, we’re both competent and can run with it anytime.
The way in which things are perceived and contextualized changes dramatically and endlessly over the years. What’s good and what’s bad isn’t a concrete truth but a sliding scale that’s always on the move.
In terms of the writing process, what are some usual starting points for a track? A chord progression, a sequence, a sample, something else entirely? Is there any difference in terms of starting points between when you are creating for yourselves or for others?
BC: We start tracks in different ways. Sometimes we edit jams into tracks (we have a huge library of Georgia Improvisations recorded. Sometimes we start a half and send for the other to complete (exquisite corpse style). And sometimes I make a Rack, and send it to Justin and he makes a track from it. And sometimes Justin records the voice of a friend and I make a track out of it. Its every permutation possible, and that's what we accept as a process…
Personal work is started with as blank a canvas as possible. Personal work is like opening the escape hatch and dashing out without knowing where you're gonna go, and go until ur done, and then enjoy the walk home.
Commercial work, we start with a fuller portrait, but are able to find improvisation between the dots and lines. Commercial work brings in many road stops/roadblocks/obstacles/hurdles or paths of varying efficiencies. But it still requires us to have a fire, and move, and hack like mad.
JT: With Georgia (and in a perfect world with our commercial work), I’m really interested in not self-censoring what we do. If we have a client who doesn’t understand what we’ve made or would like something changed/different, then, yes, that’s an important and normal part of the collaboration and we’re happy to work through it.
Inside of Georgia, however, Brian and I rarely “critique” each other or suggest someone does something differently. We simply move forward and sculpt things until we agree they’re done. I’m most interested in putting things out into the world to allow their place in history to settle over time. The way in which things are perceived and contextualized changes dramatically and endlessly over the years. What’s good and what’s bad isn’t a concrete truth but a sliding scale that’s always on the move.
How does this outside work kick off in general, do you get briefs, storyboards, examples?
BC: We get all kinds of stuff. A typical project has a creative problem to be solved, in a set period of time, by us creating and delivering a specific form of media. Usually the projects have a lot of back and forth between us and the client. Some clients give us 100% free reign over what we make, and some are way more specific. To protect our studio and keep it going, at times we take these projects where we are only using 5% of our creative capacity. Usually these projects have a reward of flexing a technical ability or just learning a new process. We are typically sent a lot of reference imagery and music with commercial projects – it’s how agencies communicate. These are always a good starting point, but we are not interested as a studio to replicate, or make something that isn’t unique …. so we always end up pushing towards something we would want to see in the world. It's a simple integrity that has to happen. The best brief is a brief with no limits …. we start there and plan once things come up.