Noah Georgeson of The Pleased on songwriting, San Francisco and self-sufficiency
Noah Georgeson (second from left) and The Pleased
The Pleased, a five-piece band based out of San Francisco, write and perform songs about horses, soldiers, doctors, financial hardships, and even Canada. The songs on their debut album, Don’t Make Things, are rich with wind-swept pop melodies that are warm with lush keyboard, drum, bass and guitar parts. With Noah Georgeson’s deep and resonating vocals, they also exude a bit of sadness and a touch of romance.
The result is a full-length album that is stylized without being pretentious, and that also serves as an honest commentary on the ennui and frustration of twentysomethings and the hectic, politically-charged world in which they live. The message behind the album title, Don’t Make Things, isn’t negative. The Pleased aren’t telling you to cease being creative. In fact, it’s the the exact opposite. "There’s something about the word ‘things’ that sort of has a useless connotation," Noah said. "Thus, don’t waste your time on the useless. Know exactly what you’re doing, and make everything you do count." Noah recently talked to Playback's Jin Moon about his songwriting process, the state of the San Francisco music scene and the importance of self-sufficiency.
I saw you guys play at this year’s SXSW Music Festival, and you sounded amazing. How was the whole SXSW experience for you?
It was chaotic. I almost got sick of rock bands. By the last night I never needed to see another rock band. I’ve since come to my senses. You wanna go there and find new bands you haven’t heard, but it’s too hectic. You end up going to see a band that you already like anyway. I saw the Walkmen show. They’re always awesome. I did sound for Joanna Newsom, my girlfriend who’s sometimes in the Pleased, for her show with Devendra Banhart. That was probably the best show I saw.
Tell me a little bit about how your band formed?
We were all friends, but it was a loosely knit thing. I knew Rich from one set of people and I knew Lucky from another set of people. I went to high school with Gennaro but I never knew him. I’ve played with Rich Good (guitarist) from before. He’s from England. When I went and visited some family in England, I stayed with him and we played some music together. When he moved to the [States], we decided to start a band.
Did you always know that you wanted to be in music?
Yeah, in one capacity or another. I just got my master’s degree in music composition last year, which is a very different focus than the band, but one informs the other. I studied a whole bunch of composition and music theory. I think sonically it affected our music. I think all of us pay attention to particular sounds that aren’t necessarily typical rock sounds.
What are some of your earliest memories of music?
My mom played folk guitar and sang. I have vague memories of her playing and singing when I was really young. My parents always listened to music. My grandfather was from Greece and had recorded himself playing Bouzouki, which is kind of like this long neck Greek lute thing. I played piano for a little bit, but I didn’t like it. Then I started playing classical guitar when I was around 12, and I did that for a long time. I actually studied it at college. You would never know it from my guitar playing on this record. I used to do competitions and all this weird stuff, but I hated it. It’s a very strange little world.
What would you say inspires you to write music?
A lot of the inspiration is the music itself – writing for its own sake. I mean I have a lot of outside muses or whatever, but I think to write music is something on its own. It doesn’t really require an outside source of inspiration.
Do you find that you can write songs anywhere?
I think the band has a certain process. None of us bring a completely written song. We all have to be there to really flesh out and arrange a song.
How did the band write "We Are the Doctor?"
I think that one actually did start with a melody, and it was quite different. There were three different vocal parts. It ended up quite different. No matter how a song starts, when we bring it to the rest of the band, it completely changes to something else. We are completely collaborative when it comes to the writing. None of us get too attached -- or at least we try not to get too attached to a particular part or idea.
What’s the San Francisco music scene like?
It’s really kind of splintered and fragmented. There’s not a real cohesive scene. And it’s not entirely supportive. It feels kind of competitive. It just feels like you’re at a disadvantage starting in San Francisco as opposed to other city. I think just a lot of it just has to do with the arts suffering so horribly. The rents were too high to live there. It’s getting better. I feel like things are building and it could be good.
You’ve been touring with the Psychedelic Furs. Have they offered you some words of advice?
They said that when they were doing it at our stage, their egos were out of control. Not that they were horrible people...They see us driving ourselves and carrying our own stuff. That’s just a function of the fact that we can’t afford to have anyone else do it, even if they wanted to. They said that they wished they had been self-sufficient.
What is the most personal song on the album to you?
I feel like a lot of songs are kind of written outside of my perspective. For so many bands, lyrics seem so secondary. They’re just kind of placeholders in music. If you’re gonna be using words, you might as well do something interesting or clever or tells a story, even if it’s another love song -- though I don’t know if we have any love songs.