Two years ago, Hannah Georgas was playing a show in New York to a virtually empty room. This is standard fare for an emerging young artist, especially one performing in a massive city that is not their own. But she played the set and afterward, a music supervisor for Wal-Mart said he liked her set and asked if she would like to write a jingle for the company's fall campaign.
At the time, she was taking a break from recording her album This Is Good - which a year and a half later would earn her all kinds of praise - so she sat down with her producer/Mother Mother frontman Ryan Guldemond to write 30 seconds of music. It earned Georgas, the modest singer/songwriter from Vancouver, heavy rotation on network television throughout the fall of 2009 and international exposure.
"The funny thing was... it wasn't a full length song," Georgas says. "People reacted to it and asked, 'Where's the song?' So we went back and wrote a full song out of it."
The product is three of the most wistful, glockenspiel-charged minutes a Canadian artist has ever produced and was just a taste of what was to come. This Is Good , released in 2010 is a mature and beautifully crafted flash of indie-roots radiance. It earned Georgas a spot on the 2010 Polaris Prize long list and, earlier this year, a 2011 Juno nomination for Best New Artist of the Year - an honour she was "thrilled" about.
But it was a lot of hard work getting to that path. She says it's like any career path, really - the harder one works, the greater the pay-offs. Over the last 12 months, Georgas' hard work has paid off.
"If you breathe it, sleep it, then someone is going to know who you are and what you're doing. If you're good then there's a bit of luck that someone's going to see it, but it's bound to happen if you're constantly all about it," she says.
She moved from Newmarket, Ont. to Victoria to study psychology but it was music that held most of attention. She couldn't shake the feeling that she was wasting her time, involving herself with peers geared more toward patterns of human behaviour than musical experience. She quit school, packed up and fled to Vancouver.
"It was after making that decision where I was like, 'I'm doing this with all my heart and soul and nothing's going to get in my way of that.' I felt really positive about that," she says.
After working days at a childcare facility, she'd take her guitar to any open mic night she could find, to surround herself with like-minded people. She recorded her debut EP, The Beat Stuff , which earned her steady airplay on CBC Radio 3, which later named her the winner of their 2009 Bucky Award for Best New Artist. It was during that fated show in New York when, to those on the outside looking in at least, things took off.
But it was during her time shuffling to and from the scattered open mic nights where she developed a skin thick enough to work through the highs and incredible lows of the music industry.
"To keep that fire within yourself and just trusting your own instincts and not getting swayed by industry stuff is really important," she says. "The ones that you still see going, there's a reason behind it. It's because they're so confident in what they're doing and there's nothing that's going to sway them," she says.
Georgas is playing Saturday night, before Victoria's Vince Vaccaro, as part of Whistler's Canada Day celebrations at the Whistler Olympic Plaza. Also playing throughout the weekend are Ashley MacIsaac and Qristina & Quinn Bachand (Friday); Fred Penner, High Bar Gang, Matthew Barber and Wil (Sunday); and Watasun and the Human Statues (all weekend).