Squinting at the Sun Through Pollen-Heavy Lids:
Georgiana Starlington’s Brooding Beauty
They might be New Yorkers right now, but Julie and Jack Hines are southerners at heart. The pair, who married and left Georgia in 2007, are steeped in the Brooklyn psych scene as permanent players in the noisy, dirty psych outfit K-Holes. But their own project, the gloomy, country-rooted Georgiana Starlington, is very much a product of their raising.
To be clear, neither Jack nor Julie grew up on a farm. They mostly grew up in the ’burbs of metro Atlanta. But any Southerner with even a modicum of respect for music can’t help but be touched by country classics to some degree. For the Hines, the effect was profound.
Georgiana Starlington singles date back to shortly before the pair was hitched, but Paper Moon, released in late March, serves as the first full-length. Like squinting at a setting sun through pollen-heavy lids, the sound is hazy and melancholy. A traditional country influence looms over the LP taller than a Georgia pine, but leans more toward the darker side of rural life. Paper Moon is no fireside hoedown. It’s a long stretch of a single-lane dirt road, deserted save for an abandoned shack that, maybe 40 years ago, was someone’s home. There’s something beautiful about the isolation – but it’s kind of frightening, too.
Somewhere around Mobile and Montgomery, in fact, is where Julie found the name Georgiana Starlington. Driving to New Orleans to see a friend, Julie noticed a cross-section of two towns: Georgiana and Starlington. She thought the combination sounded like a country star. The former, she notes, is actually where Hank Williams grew up, and is now a museum.
“There’s some of his old stage clothes, music and music equipment,” Julie says. “It’s really cute, this little old lady runs it and she’ll give you milk and cookies and, like, you can watch a movie. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a nice stop on a highway trip.”
Anyone can find a love for country, of course, southern or not. Really, the Hines’ weren’t exactly raised in the country. They met at Dunwoody High School, where members of the Black Lips and several other Atlanta bands also attended. Jack is a former Black Lips member, and, like Jared Swilley, comes from a musical family.
“His grandpa is actually in the country musical scene,” Julie explains. “His family was a real Christian singing, not gospel really, well I guess gospel…they have family records kind of like Jared’s family has the Swilley family records. It’s that kind of background, very Appalachian country background. His family is really good at singing together and harmonizing.”
They mostly take turns carrying entire songs, but Jack and Julie also meld their vocals, which are quite different, on a few songs, like the midtempo “Gust.” Julie’s tone is sluggish and airy; Jack’s drawl is a bit throaty, and typically much deeper. On “Louise Louise,” Julie breathes “oohs” in the background. And while the western twangs and pedal steel comprise the country focus, gentle shoegaze nuances can be heard, particularly in instrumentals interspersed throughout the album. There’s a little psych nod here and there, even.
“Every time we recorded, I was like, ‘It’s not shoegazey enough or psychedelic enough. I would push it more next time because that’s the kind of stuff that I like,” Julie says. “I like to mix it up, like have a kind of psychedelic western feel.”
Maybe, for Julie at least, it’s the spaced-out tendencies of the K-Holes slipping in. After all it’s been their main gig for several years.
“Once that last [K-Holes] record came out on Hardly Art, we were touring almost half of all last year. And the year before too, we were touring pretty hard,” she points out. “We just didn’t have a steady band, and it was time-consuming to work full-time in New York and do K-Holes and get another band going. They’re kind of like our more personal songs and, I don’t know, we played out a little bit up here but we just didn’t…K-Holes was just our main priority.”
The timing now, as far as releasing the first Georgiana Starlington album, is still a little off. The couple is expecting their first child in just a few months. The typical release-then-tour plan simply won’t work. They’ll be performing early this month, but not as Georgiana Starlington. The K-Holes, along with pals like the Black Lips and King Khan and the Shrines, were handpicked to play the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ curated show at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in London.
“It’s only five days. It’ll be fine,” she reassures. “The only thing is I hope I don’t get too nervous. Whatever, it will be fun. We couldn’t really turn that down.”
Something they are considering, however, is heading back to the south.
“I think we’re still going to play music and I think we will eventually, once our baby is due August 1, we’ll probably take about a year off,” Julie says. “We’re probably going to play the next Hozac Blackout Festival, so that will be a good incentive for us to get back on the road and play.”
Jack has family in South Carolina, so they might move there. Georgia is an option too – they’re still not sure. But it doesn’t sound they’ll take too long of a break.
“We still record. We’ve been making demos for a new Georgiana thing. We’ve been working on stuff for K-Holes, so we’ll see what happens. We’ve been doing it a while now, a couple years, so it might be good to take a break for a little bit and see what happens.”
In New York, both Julie and Jack work on a freelance basis, the former as a stylist, the latter as an art handler. She knows the work they get there won’t be like what they’ll find in the south.
“It’s really weird, I couldn’t move to Atlanta and make what I make…maybe I could,” she ponders. “It’s just different. I never really had [this work] in mind when I moved here but you kind of fall into jobs like that when you meet people.”
Considering the demanding tour schedule and (I’m assuming) the number of side-jobs necessary to maintain a decent standard of living in New York, it’s a wonder Paper Moon sounds as well-crafted as it does. It was several years in the making, sure, but gems like the brooding “Bravewolf” aren’t written overnight. The sullen chant, “Bad news, bad news/ I’m gone forever,” is harder to shake than a rainy funeral, but somehow it’s lovely, too. Julie’s haunting vocals drag the faster tempo of “Dry as a Bone” to an emotional dreariness so dark it’s beyond country noir. Their earlier singles aren’t so focused, but somewhere in these past few years they’ve found the time to finesse Paper Moon into an offshoot of classic country that’s delicately arresting, shadowy and sultry.
A move to the south might enhance that, but there’s another tie to New York they might have trouble cutting free from: They fell in love there. They were together as teenagers, but only briefly, and but hadn’t really been in touch for years before reuniting in the city after the passing of a mutual friend.
“It was really weird, that was like 10 years ago. We dated in high school for a second but we’re not those people who’ve stayed together our whole lives,” she clarifies. “It’s kind of nice that we did other stuff before we decided to fall in love and get married.”
Relocating, however, could somewhat mitigate a lingering problem: the other Brooklyn-based Georgiana Starlington. As unique a name as that is, Jack and Julie have been dealing with a quiet “standoff,” as Julie calls it, with a country-pop singer who goes by the same name.
“It kind of sucks because she’ll play and people will be like, ‘You guys are playing tonight? That’s awesome,’ and it’s the other girl. Blogs and reviewers have gotten confused, like put up her picture and review the record…I don’t know why she’d want to keep [using the name]. We put out records in 2005 and 2007…So we’ve had records before. She knew about us. She contacted us on Myspace – that’s how long ago it was – and was like, ‘I’m the real Georgiana!’” she says, as if mimicking a cartoon witch. “I was like, ‘Whatever.’ I just didn’t write her back or anything.”
But when the time came to debut Paper Moon, Julie mentioned the issue to Hozac, and they opted to send her a cease and desist letter.
“And then she sent us one back!” she laughs. But now it appears the standoff has come to an injury-free close. Just in the past couple of weeks, their challenger has officially changed the name of her act to Dear Georgiana. And that’s only right. It’s really Jack and Julie who deserve the name – they chose it first, and it’s too fitting to let it go. It represents bits of what makes their whole: the South, the traditional country music it has birthed and the sepulchral charm its sleepiest towns often exude.