Billabout catches up with LA-based musician George Byrne to chat about his primary school rock band, touring with Missy Higgins, American girls and how his songs ended up on the Jersey Shore.
How long have you lived in LA?
About a year now. I got an O1 Visa in Australia through a company called Timizdat, which help facilitate touring musicians. I can only work in music and it runs out in October, so I’m applying for a Greencard.
I have no idea – it just sort of happened. I’ve wanted to live overseas for a long time and the USA was the only visa that I could apply for…+ I have lots of contacts here and my sister Rose lives in NY. I first stayed in NY for six weeks, and then went to visit LA and never left; it grew on me. At first the sense of space and light here reminded me a bit of Sydney, but then I think that I was seduced by its underdog status and the sheer scale and diversity of what goes on here. LA is easy to hate on, it can be a battle, but all of these things make the people that live here a unique breed. Cary McMilliams wrote in 1946 that living in LA was like having a ‘ringside seat at the circus.’ I think that’s spot-on…it’s a crazy town!
What was touring with Missy Higgins like?
Really exciting. Missy is a lovely lass.
How did you get into music?
I started playing guitar at nine years old and a year later my best friend’s mother introduced me to Led
Zeppelin and Jimmy etc…from that point it was all over.
What’s the deal with MTV and Hype Music?
I recently signed to MTV USA under the banner of a new company called HYPE. This means my music now gets played in a lot of TV shows created by MTV Networks. It’s been a great way for me to get exposure over here. For example, 4.5 million people watch the Jersey Shore and see my name on screen whenever a song of mine is played.
You were in a TV On The Radio music video. What was it like working with them?
They are amazing guys and I love the song so much. I’ve never done much acting, so it was really interesting jumping into that world. Rest assured: no one was injured during filming.
What’s your favorite music venue in LA?
The Greek Theatre is an outdoor coliseum style venue perched high up in the Hollywood Hills surrounded by massive pine trees. It’s the best venue in the world (in my humble opinion).
Who are you listening at the moment?
The last three records I played were Martha Wainwright’s debut album, Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” and Ryan Adams’ “Ashes and Fire.”
How would you describe your music?
Wide screen, symphonic, sentient folk rock built on emotional themes and melodic guitar parts.
Do you want to be known as Aussie singer?
Not really, but I’d never shy away from being Australian. I think that I’m the patriotic type but without being nationalistic, if that makes sense. I’m not interested in ramming down anyone’s throat how great Australia is, but if I’m around some snobby expat or Englishman trying to tell me that Australia is a provincial backwater…I’ll go in and fight! I love Australia and Australian people; I’m proud to be Australian. I miss it.
What are your circle of friends like in LA?
A motley crew. I’ve tried to make an effort to meet the locals, but it’s rare to meet people actually born in LA; it’s more of a melting pot of the rest of America and the world. I’ve dated a few American girls and that’s a great way of diving in and connecting with the local culture – it’s so fascinating sitting in a strange house with a bunch of people that you don’t know, in a suburb that you never knew existed on the otherside of the world. I love it!
What are the differences between Aussie and America women?
I haven’t been able to pinpoint any physical differences, but they, like their male counterparts, are definitely different and shaped by different forces. I am a big fan of American people and they are an extremely welcoming, open and supportive lot, however there are some key differences in dating behaviour over here. For example, it’s acceptable for girls and guys to have multiple partners; it’s a strange grey area that I am still coming to grips with.
Then you start “going steady”, right?
Apparently yes. Although, how you juggle more than two or three people is beyond me. I don’t have enough emotional and physical energy, or money, to take out three girls at once!? Do you know how much dating here costs? There should be a warning on the Australian/USA Embassy website about the financial perils of dating in America.
Best date place?
Covell, on Hollywood Blvd. Good lighting. Red wine. Very fancy.
What are your favorite haunts in Los Feliz?
El Chavito for Mexican food, Bru for Coffee and the tracks up at Griffith Park are lovely too. I like walking around the back streets at night – it’s very peaceful. For drinks, I like the old bar at El Chavito and the Thirsty Crow.
Interview by Angela Ledgerwood