For nearly ten years, George FitzGerald has called Berlin home. More recently, fatherhood has made the artist reconsider his life’s pace and so he made the decision to relocate, returning to his roots in London. That tension — between returning home years later, and moving on from a place where he’d set roots and established himself — is at the heart of FitzGerald’s latest album All That Must Be, his best, and most personal album to date.
FitzGerald made a name for himself with a slew of club-focused deep house singles and EPs from 2010 onward, eventually releasing his debut album Fading Love via Domino Records in 2015. It was his first direct attempt to use his music to express his own state of emotion, rather than writing songs in the service of other people on the dance floor. He cut samples out of his toolkit entirely, focusing instead on being the source of his own material, and forged ahead with a style that was a unique mix of post-dubstep and house — a sound all his own.
All That Must Be picks up on the introspective air of his debut while further blurring the stylistic lines of his sound. Much of that sound is informed by the major shift in FitzGerald’s life, and so the result is a record that has a strong sense of place, but establishes it so masterfully that it feels caught between several places at once, both in terms of geography and life periods. Like the singles we’ve heard so far, “Burns,” “Roll Back,” “Outgrown” and “Nobody But You,” the songs on All That Must Be are disoriented by change.
I talked to FitzGerald while he was on a recent stopover to the States about this record’s development, how leaving Berlin behind also meant changing the way he performed his music live, the importance of building trust with collaborators before stepping into a studio together, and, finally, the way club music still calls out to him.
How did your approach to recording change this time around?
Compared to the last album, it wasn’t a complete revolution in the way I approached things, I definitely don’t have a set way of starting things, or even have an absolute formula for making tracks. I often start in different ways. I started composing things on the piano at home though, more than I ever have done. Then I took some of those ideas into the studio. I used quite a lot of samples this time, while on the last record I deliberately stopped myself from using any samples. I don’t know why, but I got back into it this time around, just sampling little vocals and tiny little things, that kind of informed the sound a little bit. But equipment-wise I just tried to do more, and better, than I did on the last one. Bigger and better synths, and just trying to constantly refine that process.
As you started working on the songs, at what point did you bring in the different collaborators that we hear on the record, Lil Silva, Bonobo and Tracey Thorn?
It all happened really organically. Those three main collabs are quite a good example of the different ways in which you can work. With Bonobo, I was over in LA, we were just hanging out in the studio without any goal in sight. Then he was in London and we did a bit more, then when I was back out in LA, his thing ended up becoming the track you hear, but came from just us messing around in the room and seeing what happens.
With Tracey Thorn, I wrote the track and sent it to her because I wanted to collaborate. She recorded the vocal without me in the room, she was more comfortable working with her personal microphone and in a studio she was comfortable in. That really made sense for her to do that at arm’s length. Both approaches have their advantages. Obviously, when you’re in the room with somebody, there’s more of an immediate feedback process and more of a conversation. You hammer it out together. But how well you know each other also makes a difference.
Before recording, I’d hung out with Bonobo quite a lot. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you need to establish a trust, or just a general understanding before you start making music. The thing with Lil Silva’s the same. Me and him have been in the studio a lot and have written quite a lot of music. I needed to understand what he was about and vice versa before it could have worked.
These songs seem very strongly tied to life events, happening around the time you moved back from Berlin. Did you want to be able to look back on this album and see and feel what you were going through at the time?
Yeah, completely. I write mainly instrumental electronic music, so I’m not under any illusions or anything — this isn’t Bob Dylan. I’m sometimes slightly apprehensive about telling people about some of the biographical elements, because some of them are only audible to me. It is a little bit like a sounds-diary of my emotions across a certain period, but the way I’ve written music across the past two records, the big change with these records compared to what I’ve done before is that they are way more representations of my mood or experiences played out sonically. That’s always the aim when I go into the studio now. So for me, I can pinpoint with some of the tracks exactly when they were written, what I was thinking, and what it was about. But I know it’s not necessarily like a traditional “song lyric,” about something specific, it is more of a kind of emotion being conveyed.
Right, or a specific mood. One of the things I found watching the video for “Roll Back” was how well the song paired with those visuals of driving at night and the moodiness of that. I found this whole album has that nocturnal feel about it, like you’re soundtracking some serious nighttime introspection.
The video had a director and I went through the treatment with him, and obviously, I feel like it fits the mood. It’s certainly meant to be introspective music. It’s meant to hit that kind of post-club introspection witching-hour feeling, if that makes sense. It is music deliberately written for that kind of scenario.
Since most of the vocals are inaudible, or cut up, most of the clues we get about themes come via song titles. “Roll Back,” “Siren Calls,” and “The Echo Forgets” all seem rooted in memory or nostalgia.
I do name them quite carefully. I think on the last record it was a little bit on the nose, but here the titles are a bit more bleak. There are some throwaway titles, but they are chosen carefully to represent what the track was about and the time it happened in, like a kind of particular idea behind each one. So “Siren Calls” is for me, the most straight-up club track, and its meant to sound like it has this night time energy.
I play a lot in clubs still, but my life has moved on from being in clubs all the time, and that’s reflected in the music. In fact, I wrote this album with a live angle in mind. I very much wrote this to be performed as a three or four piece band. So this record’s very different from the last in that I’ll be DJ-ing half as much, and I’m quite excited about being able to present the record in that way. I found the last record quite difficult to present in a club, it was quite hard to actually play it to people I felt like a club wasn’t quite the right context. When you go into a live gig setting, you’re really more free to let the music on a record do the talking. It’s about that music, not it being juxtaposed with whatever other records you’re feeling at the time. The considerations aren’t quite as much about trying to keep the party dancing.
A lot of the rest of the record isn’t very clubby, it has reminiscences of club stuff, but it’s one foot in, one foot out. “Siren Calls” was about how that world still calls me back, that was the point of that name, but it also has to do with some of the sounds that are in there as well. It’s meant to be a track about late night partying calling you back.
About the filtered and cut up vocals you have on the record, it’s an effect that suggests a kind of haze, like not being able to remember something clearly. What was the inspiration for obscuring the words so much?
That was a big aesthetic decision. A lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve always loved that effect — that quite modern effect where there are vocals, but you can’t tell what they’re saying and it’s almost like it’s a new language. It removes you geographically and can make things feel quite uncanny. Those repeated vocal bits are meant to sound removed from the reality that you’re in, like being able to understand your surroundings but there’s also something new and slightly confusing about them.
The other thing to say about the lyrics is that there’s this trope of cut-up vocals in UK dance music through the years and I feel like another angle of that is being back in London again and being surrounded by more of that kind of music, I was just picking things from different sources, so making this patchwork approach to my music. I associate that style more with London than with Berlin, which takes more of a purist approach. London has this very melting pot attitude to music while Berlin stays in their own lane, but both are great.
It’s interesting that you talk about how much a place can influence your thought process when you’re creating because it seems like you’re also hinting at that in other ways throughout the album by book-ending it with those sampled field recordings.
Those just geographically position the record for me. They were recorded at different places along my walk to the studio and maybe outside the studio. Those sounds came from important places like Queen’s Road Station, which is where I’d get on the train to go to the studio every day for a year, year and a half. A part of the record was started in Berlin, but it felt important to me to position it in that particular area in London where it really came together for me.
A lot of the content is about leaving behind a city that I’d been in for nearly ten years, which was very much home for me. The slightly odd experience of coming back to somewhere and making sense of all of that. Things really came together for me around that studio, so I thought it was really important to include that as a natural sound in the record.
All That Must Be is out today, 3/9 via Double Six Records/Domino Records. Get it here.