As one half of the Tijuana Cartel Paul George has built a sustained following over many years through the band’s impressively energized live performances. At a Tijuana Cartel gig you know you’re guaranteed a good time. Two years ago Paul began a side project that couldn’t have been further from that scene. Black Rabbit George was created as an opportunity for Paul to explore more personal and introspective themes. Sometimes those songs can take on a darker tone, but with his new musical entity being named after the grim reaper of the rabbit world from Watership Down it’s no surprise these songs reflect the idea that life is a journey that all of us must take from birth to death. His latest track is Pray, taken from The Cause, an EP to be released later this year.
For anyone who doesn’t know you it might seem a strange move for a bloke who has built his musical reputation on the sonic club grooves as a member of the Tijuana Cartel to branch out with the earthy roots music of Black Rabbit George. Has this musical incarnation been long on your agenda?
It’s been in the background for a long time. I’ve always loved folk music and so I’ve always wanted to do it. With the Tijuana Cartel we put a lot of different genres into one thing and so to do something more specific I really needed to branch out. Also it’s the first time in ages that I’ve had the time to sit down and write for a project like this so it was the perfect opportunity.
There’s always been an organic element to the music of the Tijuana Cartel – whether it was Spanish guitar, reggae or world music, but was there a frustration within you that the Tijuana Cartel didn’t allow for you to express yourself in this way?
Not really. Tijuana Cartel has always been really satisfying in that we really can explore a lot of different things. It’s just that I got more into a more personal style of songwriting. Everything about the Tijuana Cartel involves getting people to move in an uplifting way. The nature of the new lyrics I was writing was never going to work with another music form like reggae or electronic although it ended up being a lot harder than I thought.
In what way?
Well sitting in my room with a guitar and trying to figure the whole thing out rather than being a part of something bigger with my Cartel partner Carey O’Sullivan. It’s a completely different process from working with Carey where it’s a layered process of creating different textures, whereas when you strip back to an acoustic form you’re trying to find the more subtle elements that will make the song stand out and resonate with people. In the past I’ve been used to playing guitar really loud and fast but this is the complete opposite.
Does that suggest that you feel a little more vulnerable or exposed going down this path?
I do feel more exposed definitely. It’s like I’m starting out all over again. The whole thing feels very naked and raw and new.
Is it more the revelation of a personal truth in the lyrics or being alone on stage where every aspect of the song and the performance rests on you?
Both. Particularly live because it’s a different way of connecting with people. I’m trying to find those intimate venues where people have a chance to listen to the lyrics, which wasn’t so essential with the Tijuana Cartel where we could play to much bigger rooms. It’s also about trying to ensure that the audience is listening to those lyrics. It’s scary, but it’s really starting to come together now.
Pray is a stunning song with a cleaner sound in the production than your earlier recordings. There’s a greater clarity in your vocal and the guitar. Was that an intentional result you were looking for this time around?
Particularly in the vocals it was. On the earlier stuff I felt I was mumbling a bit and because I really wanted the lyrics to cut through it was important to make them clearer. The guitar probably sounds better because I got Carey to record and mix this one and he’s just better then me when it comes to that.
I’m trying to do something that’s timeless and not just popular this year.
I love that haunting tone in the lyric. While earlier songs like Black Dog explored the darker side of our selves there’s something about Pray that really cuts through. Maybe it’s the juxtaposition of that lyrical tone over the beautiful melody – was that something you were aware of during the recording of the song?
Not really, although it’s one of those songs that came out really quickly. I do spend a lot of time on these songs so this one was a bit of a surprise as to how quickly it came together. I did want it to have a haunting feel though, because I wanted it to encapsulate a mood I was going through. I guess it must have worked.
When you’re working on Black Rabbit George material do you find your listening habits change from what you might listen to when working on the Cartel’s music in terms of the source material that inspires you?
Yes and no. Lately I’ve found that I’ve been listening to a lot of 60s and 70s folk anyway. I’ve been killing a lot of Ry Cooder at home too so there’s been plenty of inspiration there. With the Tijuana Cartel I’ll be listening to what’s new and what’s out there so it’s definitely a different headspace. The thing about folk music is that you never have to question whether it’s relevant or now for instance. I’m trying to do something that’s timeless and not just popular this year. In that sense I’ve felt much more free to create this music.
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Black Rabbit George hits NightQuarter on 10 March to celebrate the release of new single Play.