Portraits are a Newcastle Neo-Soul band with a strong Jazz and Hip-hop influence. Georgia, the vocalist and Jamie the guitarist of the band have grown from writing music as a Duo into a full band with a Drummer, Ben, Double bass player, Adam and Saxophonist, Thomas.
This interview is based on the vocalists, Georgia’s prespective.
Tell us a bit about the band, how did you start off?
We met through a combination of Studying at the Sage Gateshead and via mutual friends, on the music scene. We all get on so well musically and socially, the lads are all hilarious and make the experience of working together such great crack as well as being amazingly talented musicians and creating material we’re so excited about.
What’s your background in singing?
I’m pretty much a self-taught musician, I’ve never done singing grades or many private lessons but I did study music in school then onto college. I am now at University on the Sage Community Music degree.
I’ve been singing professionally since the age of fifteen when I started out with a world music/function band called Soznak, they often busk in Newcastle City Centre. When I was singing with them we played at Mouth of the Tyne Festival, Durham Brass Festival and other local gigs as well as busking every weekend – this was great experience to kick start my career.
Since then I progressed into writing my own material, lyrics and chords. I would play acoustic guitar and sing as a solo act and also in a couple of bands and with accompaniment along the way. Generator were very helpful in supporting my musicianship I made it onto their Urban Music Training: VOX course where I worked with a producer and wrote a track which became my first proper release across platforms. Since then of course we’ve established Portraits and now my songwriting is developing and I can share the process of composing ideas with my band mates.
Photo by Matt Flynn
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What would you class your sound as?
This is always a tough question, probably for most artists, but we’ve settled with branding as Neo-Soul for those who don’t know, Neo-Soul contains ‘elements ranging from jazz, funk, hip hop and electronic to pop, fusion, and African music.
It has been noted by music writers for its traditional R&B influences, conscious-driven lyrics, and strong female presence’ – Wikipedia definition.
I think what is interesting about our band’s performing sound is that the main focal point isn’t always me (Vocalist) all of us write the music together and we want to not only tell stories with our music but also create delicious and interesting instrumentation. So there are a lot of layers of sounds, as well as the 5 main instruments (Voice, Guitar, Sax, Kit and Bass) we also feature Jamie (Guitarist) on Linnstrument, me on Piano, Thomas (Sax) on Percussion and Sample Pads and the Guitar and Sax both go through pedal boards which adds to our sound and brings the electronic/trip-hop element.
When sitting down to write, what’s your starting point or do you usually already have an idea?
As the lyricist, for me words tend to come first then melodies develop over time with support from the bands instrumental input. My lyrics are fairly personal about experiences that happen to me and I know from feedback that people can really relate to the stories. Whether it’s struggles with my mental health, or feelings post break up or even just love for my best friend. The lyrics seem to flow naturally once I get started, often I’ll be driving home listening to tunes then just think of a hook line about the way I’m feeling or a passing thought then I’ll repeat the lines to remember them and write them down when I get home. Sometimes lyrics have stemmed from writing letters to friends or exes about situations we’ve fallen into and I sing lyrics of things I find would be hard to say directly to someone it’s easier to make it in a song and hope maybe they’ll hear it someday.
What influenced your sound? Does this have anything to with where you’re from?
I guess we’re heavily influenced by the music we love to listen to. I grew up listening to a lot of 90s Hip Hop and R&B, my favourite MC is Guru from Gangstarr. I love his gravelly raw vocal and Gangstarr’s lofi beats have such a chill vibe, listening to their music takes me back to being in primary school with a minidisk player and huge headphones listening to Above the Clouds ‘…where the sounds are original’.
I haven’t found many artists who we necessarily sound like and we really do want our sounds to be original in a world full of all sorts of music. I do take inspiration from loads of vocalists, particularly strong black female singers who I look up to, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and India Arie who I listened to growing up… when I got into Jazz I admired Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. That’s only touching on my vocal influences, the band sound is also inspired heavily by the likes of D’angelo, Kamasi Washington, Nate Smith, Badu and again many more.
The Neo-Soul scene in Newcastle is kind of in a progressive stage and we are hoping to increase it, which inspires us to cary on doing what we do and add to it and support it. With local venues like Hoochie Coochie showcasing similar artists and bands to us and helping the scene grow, with a love for good music!
Name some artists who you couldn’t go without?
I mentioned earlier the artist we are inspired by so all of those names are relevant, also I love to listen to Haitus Kayote, The Internet, Amy Winehouse, Fatoumata Diawara, Mura Masa, Loyle Carner, and loads more I could mention but they’re who came to mind.
What should we watch out for/expect from you? Any future project ideas?
Watch out for our upcoming releases, follow us on Spotify and Subscribe to our Youtube channel and mailing list to get the latest updates but basically we’re planning to release the rest of the tracks we recorded in January at Loft Studios, keep gigging and expanding our networks and tour all over UK, hopefully further. Next year I’ll be in my third year of Uni and organising an event, which Portraits will definitely be playing.
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Portraits are very excited to be playing debut gig in London on 15th June, at Pizza Express, Holborn, which is renowned Jazz Venue hosting amazing talent. This will hopefully be a stepping-stone for them to play and tour further in future sharing their music.
https://www.pizzaexpresslive.com/whats-on/portraits – Tickets are available now online.
Their next gig in the diary in Newcastle is the local stage at Americana Summertyne festival at the Sage Gateshead on 20th July. They currently have 3 tracks released on Spotify and all other platforms and the leading track is available on Youtube.
They’re almost ready to drop their next 3 tracks along with another video that they’re in the process of arranging and shooting but this should be available next month – keep an eye out.
“For anyone reading who hasn’t heard us already, please listen to our music, to put this all into context and I hope you enjoy it..”
Portraits Website: http://portraitsmusic.com/
My personal favourite track – Siren
Georgia May – Vocals
Jamie Jingles – Guitar
Ben Fitzgerald – Kit
Thomas Dixon – Saxophone
Adam Cornell – Double Bass