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May 2, 2011

IconExclusive interview: we talk to Pride favourites Greymatter

For the past decade, Greymatter have been entertaining audiences with their gentle yet upbeat brand of folk rock, writes Ruth Pearce. The all-girl band have gained a particularly strong following on the gay scene, having performed at numerous Pride festivals and LGBT events. In June they will play alongside Betty and Heather Peace on the main stage at Gogo Festival in Kent.

In an exclusive interview with Lesbilicious, multi-instrumentalist Georgey and lead singer Emma enthusiastically share their thoughts on having an international audience, promoting a band independently and meeting lesbilicious celebrities.

Origins

Greymatter was founded by Georgey and Emma in 2001, when the pair were performing as a duo. They were forced to choose a name for their act shortly before a gig at a bistro restaurant. “The owner said that we need to have a name and fast for their billing as we were just known as ‘Georgey & Emma’ and it wasn’t very original,” explains Georgey.

“So we went back to my place, emptied lots of CDs all over the bed looking at title tracks of favourite songs I liked as we were in a hurry! We both came across ‘Jewel’, one of my favourite artists. She had a live version of one of her songs called ‘GreyMatter’: we both looked at it and said yes!”

At the time, the duo were hardly expecting to be performing with a whole band under the same name come 2011. “We never knew then that the name would be sticking with us… but it grew on us and as we developed lots of fans over the years after, it’s now kind of hard to change.”

Georgey now associates the group’s name with the emotions evoked by their songs. “Grey matter is the part of your brain that controls your thought process. The music and lyrics I write for the band in the songs we play always have a story, they are always written for someone I know or a situation I’ve seen happen to someone… this requires me to think a lot about how that person must be feeling, what they want to happen and believe”.

International fans

The group have gone from strength to strength over the past ten years. Georgey attributes a great deal of their success to the enabling power of the internet: it’s “just perfect” for music lovers, she exclaims. “One person can hear you in Australia and then send the link to their friend in Japan. We have performed out in France, Germany and Greece which also helps but honestly it’ll be the internet that spreads the word!”

Word of mouth has contributed a great deal to the band’s success, but as an unsigned group they also work extremely hard to advertise and sell their own gigs and albums. “We do very well for a self managed and promoted band,” says Emma, but she admits that Greymatter would welcome the chance to sign to a record label that offered a good promotional deal. “We would like the opportunity to reach more people to spread the word about us.”

A major consequence of the band’s web-based, word of mouth success has been a string of gigs around the world, from France’s International Fete de la Musique to the International Women’s festival in Lesbos. “We just love gigging and aren’t fussy if its here or abroad,” enthuses Emma.

“I think all of us have been overwhelmed at the support we seem to get when we are overseas and get a real buzz from having an impact in a foreign country. The best thing about a language barrier is that the music has to do the talking, so we can’t rely on any other aspect of our set to give a good show. When you walk off stage and people have had a good time and have enjoyed what you are doing then it doesn’t matter where in the world you are, its an amazing feeling.”

“Don’t pigeonhole us as a lesbian band”

Keen-eyed observers may have noticed that Greymatter tend to play a great deal of LGBT events. Emma describes the gay scene as the band’s “comfort zone” but would prefer for Greymatter not to be pigeonholed as a gay band. “I think we will always play and it doesn’t matter if the venue or event is predominantly gay or straight,” she insists. Indeed, the band’s love for playing live in any context is emphasised throughout the interview. “We do well in other venues, as an all girl band is quite rare on your average music line up.”

With GOGO Festival taking place next month, I ask if Greymatter prefer to play festival crowds or smaller events. “That’s such a difficult question!” says Emma. “I think we love a massive crowd – who wouldn’t? The buzz that you get from playing to a large audience is like no other. But we also have a soft spot for smaller intimate gigs in a more relaxed atmosphere as that’s how your fans get to know you a bit better.”

Best gig, worst gig

Georgey’s favourite performance of all time was played to a gay festival audience. She says that Greymatter’s best gig was “without any doubt” L Beach 2011 in Germany. “Such a well organised and excellent event and the crowds were amazing!” Playing to 200,000 people at London Pride 2010 comes a close second: “what a buzz!”

Greymatter gigs haven’t always been so exciting. Georgey describes a “hilarious” disaster from the band’s earlier days, when “a certain Pride up north” attempted a two-day line-up with minimal advertising. “We were playing on a Sunday to NO crowd – only three people,” she says. “It wasn’t that people didn’t like us, they just didn’t even know the event was on. Everyone had already celebrated Pride the day before, there were five other bands all with no audience. Even the sound guy bobbed off, leading every band to sort out their own sound.”

The group rose to the challenge however, and “rocked out to a completely empty Pride day whilst a guy was sweeping the floor in front of the stage”. Despite (or perhaps because of!) the four hour drive up to the event, Greymatter saw the funny side of their predicament. “It was so funny!” laughs Georgey, “even more so that gig had crash barriers at the front to stop people getting hurt!”

Most lesbilicious stage-mates

As the interview draws to a close, I ask a final question: of all the bands and artists Greymatter have performed alongside, who was the most lesbilicious? Georgey offers a bonus answer, relating how the group met Rachel Shelley, who played Helena Peabody in the L Word: the “hottest presenter” the band have met. “She interviewed Emma and I back stage and then introduced the band on stage at L Beach 2011 in Germany,” she explains.

“But the nicest artist so far who we have a laugh with is Heather Peace,” says Georgey. “I’ve fixed it that Emma is going to be Heather’s body double in the new Lip Service, haha!”

Greymatter are playing at GOGO Festival on Sunday 19 June 2011. Weekend tickets for the festival are £95+bf.

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Milly Shaw

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