Broods on the bridge to stardom
Former Garin College students Georgia, 19, and Caleb Nott, 21, aka Broods, are making waves worldwide. Naomi Arnold meets the fast-rising stars.
Eighteen months ago, Georgia Nott was at Auckland University studying for a bachelor of music degree - and was pretty sure she'd made the wrong decision.
She hated all the rules and having to sit in one place and listen - and why study music when she could be creating and performing it?
Six months later, nearly a year ago today, a new band called Broods - Georgia and older brother Caleb - joined Facebook. Their first post: "Studio on thursday/friday! Whoop whoop! Shikashikaaah!"
That spring, Broods created a Twitter profile, a YouTube channel and an Instagram account. In early October, their first single Bridges was ready, and they released it online. Moody and shimmering, sadness had never sounded so good.
It skyrocketed so quickly that just a few months later, the duo had signed with two record companies and sold out shows in Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, Montreal and Melbourne. At their first American gig, in jam-packed Hollywood club Bardot, they finished their set to the crowd screaming and chanting, "One more song!".
They toured with Ellie Goulding and Haim, and at Capitol Studios, Georgia sang into the same microphone Frank Sinatra once use, and they played Nat King Cole's piano. In London, in Abbey Road's famous Studio Two, they were stunned to be recording in the place that the Beatles once had.
The sudden sense of fame, of being part of a rich musical history, was new and overwhelming; everything, in fact, was new and overwhelming.
Georgia wrote in her tour diary: "To have fans almost in tears with excitement to meet us and singing our lyrics back to us is incredibly humbling. We are very lucky indeed . . . The privilege of seeing first-hand the impact you can have on a stranger's life is, hands down, the most humbling feeling ever."
At Garin College several years ago, when they first started speaking to the Nelson Mail, Georgia and Caleb were unassuming, pleasant and down-to-earth. Nothing has changed in that respect, but in the past 18 months they have developed into a highly polished and professional act, with drummer Jimmy Mataio from The Good Fun turning them into a three-piece for live shows.
"You have to go out there and perform with confidence or you look like an idiot," Georgia told the Mail in the early days. However, in the beginning they moved around little on stage.
But last week at Nelson's Theatre Royal, it was obvious that they had metamorphosed into pros, with remarkable charisma - grabbing, thrusting, closing their eyes, shaking their hair, losing themselves in the music.
Both talk about the necessity of letting loose on stage and donning a "character" - it's the feel of the music taking over. Before a show, Georgia says, she tries to get into the mood of the first song she'll be singing - whether it's angry, brooding or gentle.
She joked in one interview that after seeing the energetic Australian singer Asta live, she thought she'd try going all out, too. She went a bit nuts, she admitted to the reporter.
"It's original," Caleb deadpanned.
If all this - Sinatra, Capitol, screaming fans, interviews - seems breathlessly sudden, it's less so when you look back on the body of work Georgia and Caleb have done to get where they are - first within their family, then with The Peasants.
The Nott family, including younger sisters Olivia and Tegan, have always been into music. Georgia and Caleb speak frequently about their childhood wish to have a family band, like The Corrs.
Georgia says she has always been obsessed with singing and performing, and has been writing songs since age 10. Music has been a form of catharsis for anything she's felt bad about, dramatising and exaggerating her feelings for the sake of the song.
Broods began making music together as children, appearing on stage as a duo for the first time when Georgia was 8 and Caleb 10. They entered a talent quest at primary school, performing Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, and won.
In one interview, Georgia recalled: "I'd get up in front of everyone in the family all the time, super-serious, at age 4, telling them, ‘Don't laugh'."
Their mother Paulette taught music at primary school, and used to take Georgia's recorder class, as well as the choir.
Georgia joked to George FM last year that her mother "guilt-tripped" her into never leaving the choir. She tried to escape every lunchtime to play outside, but her mum would say: "Georgia, what do you think all those famous singers used to do at primary school?"
Making it big in music was an audacious goal, but one the siblings basically visualised into being.
They worked on their music for years, missing out on activities such as after-school jobs. Every lunchtime, Georgia and her friends would sit in the school studios and sing.
It was a bit nerdy, she admits. But that's what you do to succeed - keep writing, refining, learning, being obsessed with your work.
"If you convince yourself that's what you're meant to be doing, you'll find a way to do it," she says.
Like it has for so many New Zealand musicians, Smokefreerockquest provided the opportunity for them to shine while still at high school.
"Georgia will probably go on to be a famous rock star," fellow Peasants member Chris Phillips told the Nelson Leader back in 2011 - a prescient quote.
The band finished second at the Rockquest national final in 2010, and when they won the following year they broke a 20-year drought for Nelson bands.
Georgia was praised for her singular voice, with New Zealand On Air's Tania Dean calling it "totally different from any other New Zealand singer".
"It is powerful, emotional and dynamic - she actually left me speechless."
Producer Joel Little, who would later work with The Peasants and, of course, Lorde, said she was "mesmerising".
The Edge's Sharyn Wakefield said Georgia was "one of the best female singers I have heard in New Zealand".
Rockquest didn't just expose the Notts to Little, their manager Ashley Page, and other leading industry players. It also gave them experience, confidence and mentoring, including advice from OpShop, Shihad, and Salmonella Dub's Andrew Penman.
It gave them a sense that they could make it as professional musicians, and people started to take them seriously.
So when the pair met Little again at Dryden Street Studios in Auckland, they were prepared for a bit of a play-around. They
perfected Bridges, a song that had come to Georgia while lying in bed one night.
She'd knocked out a demo on the family's old, out-of-tune piano and sent it to Caleb via her phone. He said it was the best song she'd ever written.
With Little, they started experimenting with Broods' sound, canvassing punk, blues, R'n'B, downbeat, upbeat - and the sonic shimmer they've developed with Little is a good fit with their lyrics. Sparse and ethereal, it builds from depression to soar into euphoria. It's miles away from their acoustic roots and the seven-piece band sound they developed with The Peasants.
The pair say they don't have a set process for writing songs. One of them might start with an idea and take it to the other, refining it and adding new thoughts.
The process is different every time, which Georgia says is good because it makes for different structures. Sometimes they collaborate, starting with lyrics and melodies together.
She jokes that her forte is being depressed, whereas Caleb tends to be a little more upbeat. Though they get grumpy with each other occasionally, they make a good team.
Georgia describes Little as "an amazing talent".
"He aided us in finding our voice, and definitely nurtured us as songwriters," she told Ireland's Independent. "He brings out the best in you, for sure. Joel has a way of making you feel you can do anything."
They wrote the songs for their self-titled debut EP over six months in 2013, going into the studio during breaks from work and uni. When release time came, they took a similar path to Lorde, sharing a free single via Soundcloud before releasing the full EP.
Though Bridges initially went up for friends and family to listen to, it took off with an immediate, dizzying impact. Lorde tweeted them, saying it was "so so lovely" and "is there MORE please say yes".
Perez Hilton went gaga for it. Billboard praised it as "stunning" and "startlingly good", comparing Georgia's voice to a more fragile Imogen Heap.
It was unprecedented praise for an unsigned, unknown New Zealand group, but Little has such standing in the industry that Billboard interviewed Broods for an article.
In November, venerable British music magazine NME included Broods in its list of the very best in independent music.
Bridges made Spotify's Top 10 Most Viral Hits and was US iTunes' number one single of the week. HypeMachine described the duo as future international stars.
During that summer, every day was bringing fresh excitement, especially when the EP was released in February. Caleb told George FM, in the duo's first radio interview, that new things were happening constantly.
"[Page] will tell us something every day that knocks us for six as well, and we just kind of go home and just sit there."
This has continued throughout autumn and winter - and will only get bigger with the release of Broods' first album, Evergreen, in September.
Asked how the reality of being rising stars differs from the expectations, the siblings say touring is "brutal". Lots of early mornings and long waits in airports.
"It's hard work, and we were never really fully prepared for such an intense schedule," Georgia has said. "Some mornings we were up and on our way to the airport as early as 2.30am, after finishing a show at midnight."
Talking to Idolator in May, Georgia said they were still getting the hang of performing live. They still get nervous beforehand, but they're OK with that - it means they're valuing what they're about to do.
While touring, Caleb got the flu and passed it on to everyone else - although Georgia, "mainlining" vitamin C, missed out.
Though he's comfortable away from home, she admits that she gets homesick. They struggled to get enough rest on tour, going to bed as soon as they could and getting up as early as 3.30am to catch flights.
"It's such hard work. You're doing it because you love it," Georgia says. "You have to really make the most of the things you like about it."
With such sudden success and a harsh touring schedule - last week, they flew to London for a single gig before their date at the Theatre Royal - comes the uncomfortable question of commercial exploitation.
Music companies are often accused of milking talented, attractive young people for as long as they last, and touring is where the money is these days.
But Georgia says they fielded many offers, signed with who they liked and trusted. Both say they're in charge of the music - and besides, it's not in musicians' natures to focus on the nitty-gritty of marketing and touring.
"I don't care what hotel I stay in," Georgia says.
They feel extremely lucky to have a chance to focus on their music and to reach people worldwide. Indeed, in every interview, the pair say they're stunned, grateful and humbled.
They say Evergreen is going to be more upbeat than the emotive, darker EP, as they take the opportunity to show off more of what they can do.
All this has been quite good timing. Thanks to Lorde, overseas eyes have been swinging towards New Zealand to see what other talent this country might be hiding.
Georgia says Lorde's confidence has helped other New Zealand artists shed their humility.
She told Pigeons and Planes that Kiwis had "too humble a mentality" before Lorde.
"They didn't wanna seem like they were too confident, and it kind of held them back a little bit. But she's just kind of come and said, ‘I know exactly who I am, I know exactly what I wanna do', and she's just done it.
"It kind of gives you belief in yourself, like, ‘Oh yeah, actually, I know who I am, too'.
"I think she's built a bridge to the rest of the world, and we're gonna go and cross it and capitalise on the fact that people are looking to New Zealand for new music at the moment.
"It's time for New Zealand music to put itself out there. We believe in ourselves a lot more knowing that it's possible."
Because of the Joel Little connection, overseas media inevitably compare Broods to Lorde, often in the first breath.
Back in November, Georgia told Billboard it was a natural comparison, working with Little "and being a girl that's from New Zealand".
"That kind of meets the criteria of a Lorde impersonator," she joked.
The Little connection may have won them immediate attention, but they still have to deliver - and now their new single Mother and Father is making the same worldwide impression Bridges did.
It's a marching, beautiful, punchy lament about growing up, moving away from home and finding your way outside the parental safety net.
"Ever since I left my mother, it's much harder to know how to make my own life here, how to make my own home," Georgia sings.
Upon its release, Lorde tweeted: "georgia/caleb/joel once again delivering the power chorus/crying tummy butterfly feels/second verse switchups i love."
"It made Mum cry," Georgia says.
It's no surprise, really, that she would write about the difficulty of leaving their close-knit home. "Broods" has a dual meaning, referencing family as well as the often melancholic air that permeates many of their songs.
On their Facebook page, there's a picture of them opening for Ellie Goulding. It sums up their dynamic, Georgia wrote beneath.
"Caleb knows exactly what's going on and I am what he and mum like to call ‘away with the fairies' most of the time."
In the picture, Caleb's looking down seriously, intent on the music.
Georgia, dancing nearby with her arms raised, has her face turned up to the gods.
- The Nelson Mail