Isolation and Inspiration: The Wide Reach of Carla Geneve

Words by Dom Buckham

There is no hint of exaggeration in my tone when I say that Carla Geneve is this country’s next big thing.

She quickly made a name for herself in Perth’s music scene, being nominated for a brag-worthy number of Western Australian Music Awards, including Most Popular New Act and taking the gong for Best Regional Act, and has since gone on to receive praise from everyone from triple j to beats 1.In 2018, she landed support slots for her heroes Gareth Lidiard and Kurt Vile and signed with Dot Dash/Remote Control – one of the biggest indie labels in the country.  She has just released her debut self-titled EP and is about to embark on a tour of the US supporting San Cisco. Carla Geneve isn’t just showing no sign of slowing down, she’s taking the whole dang road with her.

Taking a break from Melbourne’s wet and dreary 13 degree weather, I meet Carla in Fremantle. Easygoing and geographically removed from most of the east coast commotion, her life here is a stark contrast to her thunderous industry momentum. 

Sitting at a quaint local cafe on a sunny Saturday morning, I wonder what a day is like for Carla Geneve.

“Depends if I’m working or being a uni-bot. If not I wake up, have some eggs. I take care of my two pet rats, Malcolm and Lemon, and give them a cuddle, walk into Freo, see a friend and then if I feel like it, I’ll sit down and write.” 

Although, this writing process isn’t a Nick Cave-style 9am-5pm abuse of the muse. 

“I don’t allocate time in the day to write music. But if I’m procrastinating doing a uni assignment and I write a song then I feel good that that time hasn’t been completely wasted.”

Having moved from Albany, some 400kms south of Fremantle, slotting into the small Perth music scene came easy. “It’s been really lovely. It’s such a small music community but it’s such a supportive place because it’s so isolated. People really take care of each other, like quite fiercely.” 

That small community has given Australia a sizeable proportion of its musical exports including Tame Impala, Pond, Stella Donnelly and Carla’s tour buddies San Cisco whom she knows “from around.” It gets me thinking I should move to Fremantle to make some connections to which she laughs and says, “it’ll take you like a week and you’ll know everyone!”

Her debut EP is simply called Carla Geneve – a good choice because it’s one hell of an introduction. It’s full of swirly, crunchy guitars and a rich live band sound, the EP not only showcases her powerful voice and songwriting skill – it sounds like you’re in the room with them playing. 

“Production wise, I didn’t want to do too much to it. We’ve been playing those songs for so long now and it was the right time to record them in that way. I wanted to keep it live and raw,” she says. She has always felt most comfortable when playing live shows, saying that she loves “the vulnerability in imperfection.” 

The EP showcases Carla’s gift for writing lyrics. Each song has a beautiful vignette, she has a have a wonderful eye for detail about the human condition. It feels like she’s been inspired by literature. But she tells me she’s “not super into poetry.” It’s mainly other musicians that inspire her lyrics. 

“I’ll always listen to the lyrics first in any song. People like Lucinda Williams and Gareth Lidiard are big influences on my writing. I spend way, way, way more time on lyrics than any other part of my songs.”

On opener, ‘Empty Stomach’, Carla wails “I don’t want to be nobody, all I ever wanna do is be”. You would think that as a young person with industry hype there must be a lot of pressure on her to be something, but (ever the imperfect artist) she says, “the most pressure I feel is from myself to do a good job.”

There lies a certain drive underneath her calm demeanour. The latest single ‘Yesterday’s Clothes’ was born out of burning the candle at both ends. “We were playing so many gigs. We were driving all the time, staying up late and drinking. Musician life is a great life for the most part, but you do get tired. I’m not very good at taking it easy just yet, but I’ll hopefully learn to control myself.” 

Nevertheless, she relishes the idea of travelling long distances across the United States. “We’re doing 10 dates and I have a bit of time either side in New York and L.A. to explore, but the rest of the time will be on a bus driving across the country which is sick. I love driving. I’m just gonna be looking out the window the whole time.” 

Carla’s recent ‘2001’ tour saw her travel 3,500kms across the country to audiences hungry to see her and the band perform. The power of streaming sites has made it possible for artists like Carla to reach further than ever before (Greg’s Discount Chemist has been streamed on Spotify almost half a million times) and her music is really resonating with people. There were reports from her Melbourne show that people just didn’t stop clapping and cheering in-between songs.

I tell her that my partner is a nurse and whenever she has a particularly hectic shift she puts on Greg’s Discount Chemist on the drive home and yells the ‘I wish I could kill time, but time’s killing me’ line. It’s a real release for her. But Carla doesn’t exactly set out to write like that.  

“When I connect with it, it’s much easier for people to connect with it. I find that the songs that you think the least about are always the best ones. Greg’s Discount Chemist was kind of a joke. I just thought it was a dumb song and I would show my housemates once and then never play it again. I spent ten minutes writing that song and that was the one that did so well! Damn it! But in the right moments, the best bits come out. And that’s not to say it won’t take time. Editing and making the song the most concise story it can be is hard work. But it’s fun to put something like Greg’s Discount Chemist out there and not have to think about it too much.”

Of course, the cliche that haunts the Perth music scene is that all the musicians eventually move to Melbourne (as parodied by Perth band Boat Show in ‘The Big Smoke’ – members of which, ironically, now live in Melbourne), but Carla won’t cave just yet. 

“I think for a lot of people that’s what you do after a year making music in Perth. But because I grew up in Albany, I feel like I’ve already done a big move,” she says. “I just really like it here. It’s so peaceful. I might move one day, it’s certainly not off the cards. I’m just having such a nice time.” 

Check out Carla Geneve’s debut EP Carla Geneve.