Mark W. Georgsson: musician, craftsman, and storyteller extraordinaire
I meet Mark W. Georgsson in the low-ceilinged, warm wooden setting of the Curler’s Rest in Glasgow’s West End. Mark restores antique furniture, which explains why we dive into a conversation about craft, woodworking and architecture. Mark demonstrates what at first seems like a surface-level fascination – and I do not mean this in a pejorative, but rather, in a literal sense – in his surroundings, which goes on to reveal itself to be a keen interest in the fabric of our environment.
He points to the wall: “Those mouldings, who made them? Imagine the skill level necessary to do that. And if you look at the stonework outside, that’s crazy! Probably done mostly by hand, which is madness. To think that somebody was just sitting up there, gently carving away…” This attention to detail – however small – and curiosity extends beyond physical space and encompasses people, their stories and their livelihoods. It’s something we return to frequently.
There are certain similarities to be found between craft and folk: a sense of tradition, of slowing down, and an intense focus that accompanies manual labour that is easily left behind in our digital, or rather, virtual society. There are without a doubt some elements romanticism and nostalgia woven into these activities, both real and the imagined.
I wonder out loud whether this interest in craft and skill comes to the fore in his approach to music. “Taking a week to finish the polish on a table – you can really tell the difference between that and spraying it on – there’s a richness to it that you otherwise just can’t get. I would probably say that gets into the music, yes.”
Having trained as a luthier (i.e.: making string instruments) for a year, and built the acoustic guitar he still uses to this day. Has having an intimate knowledge of an instrument’s structure impacted how Mark then plays music?
“…working to such fine margins when making or repairing stringed instruments, you realise how something so delicate can sound so big and powerful.”
“In a strange way yes. But not directly or consciously,” he responds, “in hindsight, when working with such fine, exotic and expensive hardwoods, and working to such fine margins when making or repairing stringed instruments, you realise how something so delicate can sound so big and powerful. At the same time, it can be played so subtly and be just as dramatic, if not more so. I suppose my appreciation of how stringed instruments in particular are made probably means I’ve thought more about how my acoustics are played and sound, without even really knowing it at the time of writing a song or recording it.”
“…my appreciation of how stringed instruments in particular are made probably means I’ve thought more about how my acoustics are played…”
Mark demonstrates an openness towards learning from others that is quite remarkable, and it seems to provide him with a clear, and thoroughly enjoyable, source of creative inspiration. The two teachers running his luthier course, had “more skill in two fingers than I’ll ever have” and when it comes to music, he professed: “I love to sit, play and record with lots of different people because there’s so much to learn. Even if I’m writing the songs, in order to get a sound, or a certain vibe, I’ll just sit down and say: ‘this is the track, this is the structure, these are the lyrics, but give it your own feel.’”
It’s “the human element” that Mark relishes tapping into, the human element behind history, architecture and craft. It’s this same element that makes a place worth visiting. “Coatbridge is my home, but Glasgow is my city, and I feel like the same way about Reykjavik*” he says.
Is it because of the pubs? “Definitely! But mind how you quote me on that” – he eyes me mischievously – “it’s not just because they’re pubs. It’s a very open city. The stories are there and the people will gladly tell you them. There’s a definite quality here, if you’re honest and sincere, then you’ll get it back. I’ve never once asked a question in a pub and been told to fuck off. I even heard something about someone jamming with Jimi Hendrix once… Are they telling the truth? You don’t know! You’ll never know!”
“ The stories are there and the people will gladly tell you them […] if you’re honest and sincere, then you’ll get it back.”
The notion of storytelling lies at the heart of the first album Mark released with LNFG, and indeed, at the heart of how he lives: “It’s not just the concept behind the album, it’s an ongoing thing, a life thing. And I just kind of connected it. I’ve been to all the places I reference in the music, I’m not going to write about Nashville if I’ve never been there. California, Stockholm, Reykjavík… these are all places I’ve been. It’s got to be honest […] What people talk about, or rather what they don’t. Nobody talks about heartbreak, relationships or death that much, but these are recurring life themes. And maybe it’s also the subjects in between.”
“…I don’t pick up the guitar unless I have something to write about, a person, a place, or a situation to write about.”
Although “folk music in Scotland and Ireland has always seemed kind of naff… Jigs and reels, traditional dancing, that was our experience growing up. It was never really explained in terms of storytelling” folk music, to Mark, is all about storytelling. That said, “Rock’n’roll is telling stories, and so is pop music. It’s what you get out of it.” In any case, he affirms, “I don’t write songs just for the sake of writing songs. I’m not a prolific songwriter, I don’t pick up the guitar unless I have something to write about, a person, a place, or a situation to write about.”
“You always need that element of… something weird could happen here.”
“I like having people on that I know, that I don’t know. I never really know what’s going to happen. I mean it’s thought out, I don’t want to sell myself short, but you always need that element of… something weird could happen here. The magic happens in the weirdness. At 3 in the morning, after 2 bottles of wine and a couple cans of lager. What happens then? The weird shit!”
Looking forward to it.