There’s something quite calming about talking with Paul George. It seems no matter how frantic tour-life is, he always delivers a zen kinda attitude, which makes for a change when you’re sitting on the journalist end of the phone.
When we chat, Paul is basking in the glow of the previous night’s show – at Junk Bar in Brisbane. While he’s used to playing to tens of thousands of people across the globe with Tijuana Cartel, last night’s show saw more like 70-80, close to the venue’s capacity. He describes Junk Bar as a cross between a log cabin and an opium den, before quickly telling me he hadn’t actually been in any opium dens to compare.
“It’s all in my imagination,” he says, reassuringly.
He’s talking to me from Sawtell, near Coffs Harbour. Destination: Bellingen. And he has with him Adam Felton (Ash Grunwald) and OJ Newcombe (Band of Frequencies, Xavier Rudd) – his new recruits to his band. It’s the first time they’ve toured together as Black Rabbit George, but obviously not the first time they’ve each spent long periods on the road.
“You can tell they’ve been doing it a long time,” Paul says, of his travel companions. And he’s not just talking about life on the road, but their adaptability as touring musicians.
“They know the songs well, it just sounds really good,” he said, adding that their diverse musical backgrounds makes for an interesting sound.
“OJ has a bit of a jazz feel– he can take things in a new direction and Adam has a rock drummer approach – between the two of them it makes things really interesting,” Paul said. “And it sort of means we can go different places – flamenco, Latin, quite a few solo folk ones, to jazz even.”
“It’s been really hard to find the right musicians to play with. I tried out a lot,” Paul said. “These guys got it from the start. Both of them are easy to tour with and great musicians, they also take the music in a new direction. It’s been a real blast so far playing with these guys.”
Black Rabbit George, in its new three-piece format will perform at BIGSOUND this September as part of the Gold Coast showcase, a project of the Gold Coast Music Awards. At the 2018 Awards, Paul was named five times as a finalist, across Black Rabbit George and Tijuana Cartel projects.
“At the moment everything’s happening at once and I’m being thrown from one thing to the other,” he says, of juggling both projects.
“Last week we were in Sydney [with Tijuana Cartel], had full crowds, nearly a rave kind of feel, then I was in Brisbane last night playing to a small sit-down crowd.”
“I haven’t been home for more than two days and I was in Europe as well for June / July, nonstop touring with Wild Marmalade. That was fun too, but at some point, everything seems like a bit of a blur. The music’s good, but life…”
It’s not the first time Paul’s showcased at BIGSOUND, so he knows the lay of the land.
“It’s interesting those kind of things, because you don’t know what to expect or who’s going to like it,” he said. “We’re concentrating on the live show so if we get some kind of hookup, whether Australian or international, that’d be awesome.”
“We’re not looking for some kind of big record deal, rather looking for agents and ways to get the music out. For us, it’s about meeting other musicians and meeting people booking bands, that’s where we’re at,” he said.
Despite Paul’s creativity getting in his own way (“one day I want to write a reggae song and the next day a flamenco tune”) he reckons he’s finally found the sound he imagined Black Rabbit George would deliver.
“I’ve finally hit what it should be,” he said. “It’s a balance between guitar work and folk song writing.”
“People at the shows like the guitar element of it – so I’ve kind of been showing off more in the new stuff. It’s a bit more instrumental.”
And believe me, this man was born to play guitar (and despite his near genius ability he continues to push the envelope with ongoing lessons). He’s never been able to do any other job but be a guitar player. He got fired from Crazy Clarks and managed to set himself on fire working at a smelter. But that’s nothing compared to being sacked from a London sex text line.
“Guys would text in and I had to pretend I was a 25 year old blonde, I did this job for a couple of months and I was the best at it, because I kind of knew what everyone wanted, but it was totally boring and I found a program called Quick Keys, and you’d have a paragraph and press one key and it’d copy and paste text.”
That efficiency didn’t impress his managers though. He thought he was texting a caller some erotic passages, but it was his managers telling him not to copy and paste and he just kept pressing random keys. Needless to say, that career didn’t last long either.
While Black Rabbit George continues to bubble away with heaps of new songs and talk of hitting studio for an album early next year, Tijuana Cartel is also still kicking major goals. While touring the world with that project, he says he still genuinely loves playing to his hometown fans – something that only happens a couple of times a year.
“Gold Coast is always home,” he said. “All our friends are there, and families, but it’s just the way the touring goes that we don’t get to play more often.”
Tijuana Cartel plays one of those rare hometown shows this October, when Flavours of Metro takes place in the Chinatown mall and Southport CBD. It’s a feast of food, music and all things SoPo. They’ve also got a new live album about to drop. Recorded at Hotel Brunswick, the band picked their best songs, recorded over two live shows and whacked it all together for fans who’ve been begging for a live CD.
Ever the creative artist, Paul also has a new book. But you have to get to one of those Black Rabbit George shows to get your hands on the very limited edition run.
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Black Rabbit George performs at the BIGSOUND Gold Coast showcase, Wednesday 5 September, 12.30 – 2.00pm at The Valley Drive Inn. RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org.