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Ahead of her visit to SummerSalt festival in Cottesloe, 16-year-old musician George Alice had a chat with Grok about winning Unearthed High, her inspirations, and her debut single Circles.

You won Triple J’s Unearthed High this year. Could you walk us through the day you won the competition?

I just went to school. We knew the day that the winner was going to get announced but I just had no hope for it at all. I told my teachers not to worry about it because nothing was going to happen. I was just sitting in my classroom all day and people were being a little bit odd with me. Then, we went out for our school photos which I thought was weird because we already had our individual photos done. They asked me to do my individual photo and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s fair enough.’ So, I sat down on the chair and everyone started looking at me and my school started coming out on the balconies across the oval. Then, all of a sudden, the boys [Triple J’s Ben and Liam] came out and I tried my hardest not to pass out and cry.

I understand you started busking at quite an early age. What musical background do you have and how does that inform your music?

My dad taught me how to play guitar when I was about five. Ever since then, I just picked up a new instrument every year and always had music around the house. My parents always listened to music. There was just something musical happening around me, so I didn’t get a choice either way. I just started busking and playing pub gigs, wineries and cafés when I was 10 or 11, and just kept doing it until right before Unearthed High.

Ten is a bit young to be going to the pub isn’t it?

[Laughs] that’s what people think but my parents were really good with it. I was kind of scared to go to the front bar, so I’d play the restaurant, which is the cleaner version.

What was some of the music your parents listened to?

My dad’s from Manchester so he listens to The Stone Roses, The Smiths, Joy Division—all those kind of bands.

How much has your life changed since winning Unearthed High?

Definitely, it’s been flipped on its head. Four months ago, I was in my classroom worrying about my exams and how I’m going to get all my assignments done while making music, and panicking about friendship groups. Now, I’m worrying about playing my first festival for 10,000 people. Everything…went from one night just sitting at home, to being in LA with my favourite artists or hanging out with my favourite bands. Everything’s just been totally insane, but I’m super grateful for the whole process.

Speaking of some of your favourite artists, who inspires your music?

I’d say the biggest inspiration would have to be Finneas—Billie Eilish’s brother. I think the way he produces his music and the way that he writes is very similar to what I do, and I think there’s a really cool connection there. Who else do I love? There’s a Manchester band called James and they were, like, my dad’s favourite band. They were always being played when I was growing up and I didn’t really realise until I was in America that they’re probably one of my biggest inspirations for everything. Also, I Iove all the pop artists like Dua Lipa, Wafia, those sorts of artists.

I’ve read you talking about Maggie Rogers before and you’ve named some successful female artists. How do these artists inspire you as a young female musician?

I love Maggie. Everybody loves Maggie. She’s amazing. I’m not one of those people who chooses sides or anything. I wouldn’t consider myself to be really down the line about who I listen to, but with female artists, I didn’t realise the struggle of being a young female artist in the industry until I was completely thrown into it. So, I look at artists like Dua Lipa, Mallrat and Maggie Rogers. I think the more powerful they are, the more successful they are, the more I look up to them because I know how hard it must have been getting to that point and having to stand and have a voice for yourself. A lot of the time, people can dictate what you do and how you sound, but I look especially at Maggie Rogers and just see such a powerful, soulful person.

Moving on to your debut single Circles. It’s a song about confusion in relationships and friendships. I think it’s presented with a lot of confidence. Could you elaborate on what inspired the song and the process of writing and recording it?

I’d written songs before, but just songs in my bedroom that I play on my guitar. I had never every recorded a song before. I had a manager at the time and she put me forward and was like, “Hey, come work with my friend Maribelle and see how it goes—she’s a really good writer and she’s a super young female, so it would be a really good team.” So, I went to Melbourne, did a week of sessions. The second session I’d ever done was with Maribelle, and in one day—it was a couple of hours—we wrote Circles. The demo pretty much sounds exactly the same as the version you guys hear. Then we also wrote my next release that day. Everything just fell together. It was, like, the coolest, most organic process that it could be. The song itself is just about the typical confused 15-year-old. Nobody every knows what’s happening in their life when they’re in high school. I feel like everything was on repeat. I guess Maribelle felt the same in her life at that point and mashed it all together and came up with Circles.

You’re 16—what’s your message to young aspiring musicians?

Be whatever you want to be. Make whatever you want to make. Make the music that feels right for you. Don’t do anything that doesn’t feel right. I’m really big on peoples’ energy and peoples’ souls and I think if your soul’s happy and your energy’s happy, then everyone around is you, so your team’s just going to be an unstoppable team. So, take the organic steps and the organic process to make good things happen and everything will work out. Just take a deep breath and don’t panic about stuff.

Circles is out now through Ditto Music.