For Hoagy Carmichael it was a woman, a state, and a state of mind. Midnight trains and devils went down there, but getting to Georgia on this wintry day means a short trek to Chinatown, where, for the past five years, the open-ended duo of Brian Close and Justin Tripp has been a low-key player on the vanishingly small yet persistently interconnected downtown scene. Here they’ve worked with musicians, artists, and designers while operating out of a studio in which they both recorded songs and staged intimate shows, a place next door to a Chinese opera house overlooking the Manhattan Bridge. Their own private Factory.
“Justin was doing a video project about music and he wanted me to collaborate,” Close explains of how the duo began working together in the space. “And then we just kept collaborating. It became more dimensional creatively, though it always has a visual base to it. We’re not coming from a real musical compositional traditional point of view.” Sounds from next door often bled into their tracks; now that they’ve moved to quieter environs just a few blocks north, the men of Georgia say their music has grown noisier as a result. Released in November, their third album, All Kind Music (on the Palto Flats label), balances between such extremes, full of clatter and calm, blips and hums, New Age and jazz’s New Thing. Hand drums and drum machines sputter together while exotic strings and digital bass get thrummed, though it’s impossible to parse which member does what.
For that matter, it’s facile to call Georgia a band when “creative agency” might be more appropriate. Their website, ggeeoorrggiiaa.com, presents the pair as “Audio Visual Storytellers,” and their client list ranges from Cibo Matto to Cole Haan, Kate Spade to internet radio station Know Wave. They do music, but also video, editing, animation, and design work.
Georgia’s new studio (which doubles as Close’s apartment) is testament to their catholic tastes. Guinean singer M’Mah Sylla murmurs on the stereo; a Ronald Reagan record sits nearby. Wind chimes, congas, and a ballaphon — gifted to Close from a friend in Ghana — are strewn around the white space. And while Close is dressed all in white, Tripp offsets his own white sweater with a pair of blue jeans.
For as much as music informs their work, Tripp and Close tend to discuss almost anything but. Talk wanders from architecture to film to the sillage of their latest album, which Close appraises as “lavender and rose, a female plant smell.” Slowly, they explain the process of improvising together, then cutting it all up in the studio and adding layers of other instrumentation. Exuberant in a way that reveals his Jersey roots, Close suggests that the music the duo makes is more like cooking than being a band that writes and rehearses songs.
That loose-knit, improvisatory sensibility was evident in the recording of All Kind Music, during which guests would drop by and add something to the pot. Wednesday Knudsen’s saxophone emerges amid the world beat of “Time Feel”; harpist Mary Lattimore plucks amid the digital plinks of “No One Person Can Ever Be the Center”; Chairlift’s Caroline Polachek offers wordless coos to “Ama Yes Uzume,” all blending effortlessly into the musical stew.
“I don’t have the thought process anymore of ‘Is it going to be good?’ or ‘Are we going to impress people?’ ” Tripp says of the process of Georgia’s recording sessions and live show. “It’s about trying stuff, being open and seeing what happens.” Having played in innumerable fuzz-pop guitar bands (and more recently handling bass for Steve Gunn), Tripp no longer harbors delusions of achieving music stardom — and bristles at the thought. “Any time I’ve been anywhere close to a record label or a manager or venue, it’s like hell,” he says. “You can’t make free music unless you’re making it on your own terms.”
On All Kind Music, Georgia’s crazed patterns can come across as conflicted hybrids: a New Age crystal shop overrun with mice, world music from a bustling night market, spa music after downing espresso. It’s weird — that is, until the tandem cue up some of their ad work on a laptop. Now synced to thirty-second spots for Refinery29 and the ABC Freeform channel, the manic-ness of their music makes perfect sense.
“We get assignments where the notes are ‘We need cowboy psychedelic and it’s ten seconds long,’ ” Close explains. “The technique that’s being cultivated with our day jobs, we can then tap into with our music. This record is our studio’s expression.”