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Empty Pockets, Full Heart: George VILLA on the Journey to His Debut EP

Having moved from Hamilton to Auckland to properly pursue music, George VILLA isn’t taking his first record for granted

George VILLA

George VILLA knows what he likes. When asked why he adores surf rock so much, he answers with a straight shot. “It just feels very authentic,” he states. “It’s never got that super polished sound. [Surf rock] has always been on that underground.”

The fledgling artist certainly embodies the spirit of his favourite genre: sporting a vintage tee and long hair, George slouches on a bench comfortably as he speaks to Rolling Stone AU/NZ, breezily chatting with a laidback drawl.

Hailing from Hamilton but now in Auckland, the singer-songwriter is in the midst of a big year. His debut EP, Empty Pockets, just dropped for one thing, and the record features a fusion of influences ranging from his parent’s playlists to contemporary indie favourites.

There are nods to everyone from Bob Dylan to Ocean Alley, the Beatles to King Krule, and listeners can find elements of indie rock, soul, reggae, pop, and so much more. Smooth-voiced and coolly mellow, George’s personality shines through every confidently delivered lyric.

The music may be laidback and groovy, but the words are about subjects as big as coming-of-age, finding love in life, and just making ends meet. Swapping Waikato for the big smoke is also a major theme, and leaving home actually inspired George to make his debut EP.

“[I was] trying to get some sessions going and put a project together, but was living on the minimum. Trying to get cheap food going and everything, it was sort of a struggle,” he explains.

“That definitely weighed into [the EP] a lot, but I think overall, it was just [about] being a young guy and getting out there in the world for the first time. There was a lot of excitement.”

Alongside his newfound independence, many tracks also explore George’s long-distance relationship.

“One of my favourite tracks is about a time my girlfriend was staying with me. We’re kind of just chilling out, but she was real zoned into this new book that she got, and I was just wanting to go out. She wasn’t really giving me much time and I was getting a bit jealous of the book. 

“I was like, alright, I’m gonna sit down and just write something, kind of as a joke, but then it turned out to be “Think About”,” he laughs.

Keeping things tongue-in-cheek is a recurring theme in George’s music, yet his EP is as suited to accompanying a sun-drenched beer as it is for cheering up a sombre weep; his sound uplifts as much as it grounds, in other words.

George isn’t taking his move to Auckland, or his first record, for granted. From his days as a busker to his teen years in a band, he knows the value of hard work. Before that time in his life, he was raised in a home that loved music and made music. His mother was a guitarist, he reveals, and his father had “good taste.”

“I definitely loved Hamilton,” George reflects. “There were gigs and stuff growing up… jamming with heaps of mates… heaps of little farmers markets, and my uncle ran a community centre so I played a few events.

“But getting up to Auckland and Wellington later on just kind of opened my eyes up to so many venues and heaps of local talent and stuff, it was just awesome and super inspiring to see that.”

When he finally arrived in Auckland, it didn’t take long for George to catch the attention of well-known producers Dave Hammer (Lime Cordiale, Baker Boy) and Neil Macleod (Drax Project). His good friend Rhys Rich, a local producer, rapper, and R&B artist, eventually joined him on the EP tracks “Addicted” and “Denim Jeans”, too. “I love what [Dave, Neil, and Rhys] bring to it,” George gushes. “They added so much.”

As evidenced by the title Empty Pockets, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the young musician. Hoping to soon make music his full-time job, for the moment he’s also selling vintage clothes on the side – but he feels confident that making it is possible one day. 

“It’s definitely a hard one, there’s so many people out there trying to crack it. The rush from playing my first shows and putting the first couple of songs out there, it’s what made me get a day job out of my head and be like, ‘I really want to get into this and try and make it work.'”

That’s why his advice to other artists is to keep pushing it. “If you put in as much time as you can, push it, and keep driving it. [It will] keep getting bigger,” he says.

George VILLA’s Empty Pockets is out now.