Music is a kind of family inheritance for Georgia Barnes. The stories she tells of her relatives usually come back to music or dancing some way or another. Her dad used to play in an electronic group called Leftfield.
“My bedroom was actually Leftfield’s studio,” she says. “It was keyboards, drum machines, wires, bits of percussion, microphones.”
It’s no surprise that Georgia Barnes would grow up to have her own career in music. Performing simply as Georgia, her latest album, Seeking Thrills, came out this month and is a record to dance to, with driving beats and catchy hooks. Georgia told NPR that her first instrument was the drums — when she was about 5, her dad’s bandmate, Paul Daley, sat her down at his drum set.
“He showed me a rhythm and he said ‘You play it back to me.’ And apparently, I could just play it back to him,” Georgia says. “Then he sort of said to my dad, ‘She’s good, you should get her a drum kit.’ That was that, really.”
NPR’s Ari Shapiro spoke with Georgia about her familial legacy of dance music, returning to clubs after getting sober and about finding joy in a “work hard” world. Listen in the player above and read on for a transcript of their conversation.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ARI SHAPIRO: The first song that really grabbed me from this album is called “About Work the Dancefloor.” What does the dance floor mean to you, in your life?
GEORGIA BARNES: It means everything, really. It’s my childhood — obviously, with my dad being in a dance band. I was always fascinated with “Why are these people all together dancing and sharing this moment?” And then it was the first thing I did when I hit 18 — I went to the club for the first time and it just really exceeded all my expectations. I felt like it was me, it was my identity. I understood it, and I felt so free, and I was able to do whatever I wanted for like hours on end and see these amazing DJs. I feel like my whole identity, really, is caught up in the dance floor world.
And this is your inheritance not only from your father, but I understand, even your grandmother loved the dance floor.
Yes, my grandma used to — I think it was during the war, she would dress up as another identity. She was Lily by day, but Lola by night. She would dress up and go dance. I just love it.
Did you ever get to meet her as Lola?
I never got to meet her as Lola, she was just ‘Nan,’ unfortunately. I would have loved to have asked her what it meant to her, the dance floor.
This song that kicks off the album, “Started Out,” has a hook that has really connected to people, that phrase “wicked and bold.” Can you tell us about a live performance where it really hit you that your fans were connecting to this in a different way?
I think we were in Norway and we were at this huge music festival and I felt a little bit overwhelmed by it, because it was the biggest stage I’d been on. Suddenly, I just sort of noticed the crowd singing back. We stopped the track and I was putting my hand to my ear going “Come on, come on.” And they were all singing “Be wicked and bold, be wicked and bold.” And then I played the drums over the top; I felt for a time I was like U2 in a stadium. I think that was the moment where I felt like I could be part of the audience and really give them something that was like giving myself to them, you know?
And giving them something they need, that they can take with them.
We’ve been talking about the power and transcendence of the dance floor, and some of my friends who stay out all night dancing do it with the help of chemical substances. And I understand you’ve given that up since your last album. Was there one turning point for you, one moment that you thought, “Okay, this needs to change?”
There were a lot of moments, I’m not going to lie. There [were] a lot of really terrible positions I used to find myself in, and it wasn’t that I was drinking every day, I would just go on these binges that would last, you know, three days. And my friends all got together and sat me down and I had an intervention, and they said to me “You need to knock this on the head. This is going to really get you into trouble.” I think I caught it at a good time. I now choose to drink when it’s appropriate. I feel like I have a more censored and controlled view to drinking, which is really good.
What is it like when you are on a dance floor at two in the morning and it’s unmediated, and it’s just the music and the dance floor and you, and not the layers of alcohol, or whatever else?
Well, I found it very liberating, actually, because I was able to really listen to the music, and enjoy the dance floor and not see it as just a tool for me getting “out of it.” I saw it as almost a spiritual place. I love people-observing. I remember being in this one club and I just saw these two people, like they found each other on the dance floor and just started hugging and kissing and dancing. I just thought, it’s amazing, for the first time I found myself noticing things like that instead of drinking and getting out of it.
The title of the album is Seeking Thrills. Does that phrase mean something different to you now?
No, I think even though I kind of live a little bit less of a hedonistic lifestyle, I didn’t give that side away. For me, Seeking Thrills is about checking in on yourself. We work so hard every day for other people, whatever job you’re in: if you’re a mom, if you’re a stay-at-home dad, whatever your situation is. I think it’s healthy from time-to-time to check in on yourself and think about what you need. And perhaps what it is, is you need a good old thrill in your life.