How Georgia Harmer transforms her memories into music
The Toronto artist is gearing up for the release of her debut album, Stay in Touch
For Georgia Harmer, no detail is too small.
The Toronto singer-songwriter's music is full of keen observations, whether she's describing the crispness of the air or trying to find words to illustrate those magical, unspoken moments between two people. "Memories can only capture so much," she explains. "With music, you can literally materialize how something felt."
An example of this is on "Talamanca," the opening number of her upcoming debut album, Stay in Touch (out April 22 via Arts & Crafts). Over an acoustic guitar and soft drum beat, Harmer paints a vivid picture of a day she spent in Costa Rica — while she was on the road for her previous job, singing backup for Canadian pop star Alessia Cara — waiting for the sun to rise as she sat on a rooftop with a friend: "Speaking without words/ languages of seeing and being seen/ the feelings in the air/ a silence we both can read."
Harmer's songwriting comes fully formed on Stay in Touch, but it's a skill that's been developing for years thanks to a lifetime of being in close proximity to other musicians. If that last name feels familiar, it's because Georgia is the niece of renowned singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer, but Georgia's parents are also both musicians (her mother wasn't a full-time musician, but her father has been touring her whole life). "He's always just handed me guitars or been like, 'Here's a drum set,'" she says, of her father. By the time she was nine or 10 years old, she was performing gigs around Toronto with a band (made up of three sets of young siblings) called I Eat Kidz.
But even though she grew up in the world of music, Harmer didn't consider pursuing a career in music until she was at McGill University studying general arts. "They don't really tell you that you can be a songwriter," she notes, referring to civics classes and career tests that shy away from encouraging kids to become artists. "I was just always wanting to write songs all the time; that's the only way that I've ever been able to process my emotions in a productive way." So, she dropped out.
While Harmer notes her time touring with Cara as another detour similar to attending McGill, she is grateful for the valuable lessons that experience taught her. "It gave me an opportunity to see behind the curtain of what the music industry can be like and the level you can get to, and I feel like that was super educational for me and taught me about the way that I wanted my career to play out."
Now finally doing things on her own terms as a solo artist, Harmer has brought all her influences into one place, from the rock her parents played when she was growing up to the R&B and soul she listened to as a teenager. Most notably, though, she draws from the folk artists she admires such as Joni Mitchell, the Weather Station and Big Thief. And those memories and moments she's collected and reflected on over the years spill into her work, both in quiet, intimate songs like "Know You Forever," a sparse track that mostly features Harmer and a guitar, or bigger bursts like "All in my Mind" or "Top Down," which includes a fuller band setup. No matter the sound, Harmer's words are front and centre, transforming life's minutiae into gorgeous, moving melodies.
As Harmer explains it: "I'm looking for what is happening under the surface of a moment."
On Harmer's debut single, "Headrush," she mourns a moment that has passed while she's still in it. It's a message to herself and to her listeners to be more in the moment, to appreciate what's happening so you're not constantly looking back to analyze what happened.
"I was so aware of how temporary that day was, and generally that time of my life," she says, of that perfect summer day she captures in the song. When asked how she tries to stay more in the moment nowadays, she laughs and says she should take her own advice more often, but also notes that when you can be both aware and appreciative of a moment, it can be "kind of beautiful and amazing."
"I have always struggled with, 'How do we keep this? How do we stay in touch?'" she continues. "That's literally where the title of my record comes from. I'm still looking for the answer."