You’d likely never know it to meet her in passing, but Savannah resident Neva Geoffrey is a shockingly talented singer-songwriter.
Born in Syria and raised in Saudi Arabia, this seemingly reserved and rather bewitching young woman studied first in the Arabic school system, and later matriculated under British and American supervision during what she terms her “desert years.” She openly allows that it’s hard for her to say just how much —or in what ways— this slightly unorthodox upbringing influenced the keyboard and guitar-based songs she composes today. Yet, says Geoffrey, growing up in a gated compound was a “bittersweet” experience that “shaped me beyond words, and that must have translated musically one way or another.”
Over the past few years, the recent transplant to Savannah (she moved here specifically to study Sound Design at SCAD, after becoming intrigued with acclaimed producer/engineer/musician Jon Brion’s film scoring work) has ever-so-quietly made inroads into the national underground rock scene, primarily with the release of The Days Are Rolling, her full-length professional debut album, which appeared in 2007 on the respected indie label Alias Records.
Although Geoffrey had previously experimented with low-fi home recording (including cutting demos which would ultimately serve as rough drafts for the fully realized versions on The Days Are Rolling), she describes that CD —tracked at Lexington, Ky.’s Shangri-La Studios as her “first baby.” While decidedly under-the-radar of most mainstream press outlets and radio stations, that sleeper gem of a disc earned gushing praise from a few handfuls of critics and may hold the potential to make her a secret hero to like-minded souls worldwide — much like the work of some of her own avowed influences, such as Harry Nilsson, Big Star, Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, Aimee Mann and Irma Thomas.
On that internationally distributed album, as well as (to a lesser extent) her more recent home-recorded and handmade eponymous CD-R EP, Geoffrey’s highly melodic sound is rooted in a languorous and beguiling approach to sparse and confessional balladry that blends a sultry, highly controlled vocal delivery (at times reminiscent of Natalie Merchant and at others the late Billie Holiday) with dreamy, jazzy, Brit-pop influenced Americana-lite.
Think Norah Jones feting Chris Bell (of “I Am The Comsos” semi-fame) with backing from Calexico or Midlake, and you’ll come close to the lush, intimate and organic vibe that practically oozes from these captivating releases.
Forced piano lessons (from the age of five) provided Geoffrey with the chops and musical know-how required to compose her own material later in life — although she admits that an overseas move in her youth prompted an extended (and longed-for) break from formal instruction.
“It’s still thrilling to play classical music,” she offers. “But I see instruments as tools for songwriting more than anything else. What really gets me is finding the right arrangement, or the best four-part (vocal) harmonies.”
When composing and recording, she also draws on a stint as trumpeter in her high school marching band, and “formal studies” on guitar that Geoffrey says start and end with a single pawn shop purchase and actively soaking up “the sounds of the British Invasion.”
Meanwhile, she resides in Savannah, while feeling somewhat removed from our original music community. Though she played in both Athens and Atlanta around the time of The Days Are Rolling’s release, she has only performed locally a couple of times since moving here, and those have been under-promoted, low-profile gigs.
“I’m using this time to focus on maturing my songwriting more than anything,” she explains, adding, “I think the only people (here) that know I play music are friends I’ve shared my music with.”
This smoke and alcohol-free show opening for up-and-coming Athens jam-band The Incredible Sandwich just may change all that.
The Listening Room presents: Neva Geoffrey
When: Fri., 8 pm - ALL-AGES
Where: The Black Box @ S.P.A.C.E. (9 W. Henry St.)
Cost: $8 adv. online / $10 at door