Song writer George Holliday gave up the traditional lifestyle to embrace #vanlife with his own studio on wheels. We recently sat down with George to discuss his lifestyle, inspiration and much more.
AJ – What was life like for you before the Made on the Road Project?
GH – I was a performing artist for 8 and half years. Starting at 15 years old. I was doing all sorts of gigs from weddings, which was my bread and butter, right through to 8 thousand person venues supporting artists like Lionel Ritchie which was really cool. I spent the majority of my life on the road, very much travelling around, lots of motorway miles but I really wanted to transition into song-writing. I was trying to cut through the noise in the industry and find out how many people were song writing and figure out my game plan of how to transition. There were so many avenues to go down with song writing and I struggled to pick one. Do I write for TV and Film? Do I write pop music? I was basically juggling the two but I knew that I didn’t want to perform for the rest of my life and I really enjoyed the behind the scenes aspect of song writing. Trying to work out what was next for me was probably around two years before we started the Made on the Road project.
AJ – What inspired you to pack up and set out on the open road?
GH – Initially, when I started really getting into the song writing and producing, I had a lot of friends who were either singers or guitarists and they were able to travel the world whilst doing their writing. They carried their craft with them and had all the tools they needed with them. I’m a piano player and I never had that. I struggled to see a way that I could travel and still write songs. Even when I write lyrics, I’m sat behind a piano. It made it hard to travel and write at the same time.
I’d been following this trend online, on instagram – hashtag vanlife. I saw that and thought that is really cool and I would love to just hit the road and do that. I was always restrained with my gigs etc, having to be in certain places at certain times. I wasn’t able to just go away for a long period of time. Then I thought what if I combine it with the songwriting. Maybe build a small setup in something like a Ford Transit. Just my keyboard, a few speakers and I’d probably be on the floor in a sleeping bag. Then it evolved and grew as an idea but I really loved the van-life idea. I wasn’t planning on really living in it. It was just for when I had sessions or if someone wanted to go writing for a weekend, I could say “yeah lets take the van”. I spent ages on Instagram looking at these beautiful vans and really wanted to get involved. It was affordable too. One of my biggest expenses at the time was living in the centre of Leeds. Making the change to living and working in the van allowed me to be able to afford that travelling lifestyle.
AJ – What have been your biggest challenges living the van life?
GH – One of the biggest challenges I’ve found in the UK is parking up. There’s this huge stigma around travelling and I struggled to find places I could just pitch up and not be stared at the whole time. So then I started to look at planning a route into countries where that wasn’t really a thing and you are able to wild camp. It removes that concern. The bus I’ve got is ten metres long so finding somewhere to park it is a huge challenge. These days I’m more than accustomed to it and there’s some great apps too.
When I started, I had the opportunity to just look at Google maps and think, that’s pretty, I’ll go there. You just don’t think about if you can just rock up though. Now I’m used to the difficulties and it’s just become a way of life really.
The UK stigma around ‘travellers and travelling’ is really quite daunting at times. I’ve been lucky really and haven’t experienced too much negative backlash from people but a few times people have come up to me and they really want to know why you’re there. I do understand the stigma too. As a country we’ve experienced a lot of negative situations with people on the road, neglecting the system and the land. I’m very careful to make sure that even though I’m permanently on the road, I find a way to pay my taxes and ways to continue to contribute to the country and pay my way so to speak.
AJ – Does the freedom of your lifestyle translate in creative freedom?
GH – Definitely. My favourite part of it all is that because I’m always out on the road, people want to, sort of, host me in different locations and different countries. Last year, when I set out to write an album, one of the songs, the one that’s being released today, the song that I see as the title track of the album – that song was written in five different countries with five different musicians. That in itself, the inspiration that it brings to different elements, the writing of the music, the lyrics etc. is amazing. The different cultures and communities have really been the biggest inspiration so far.
For example, last year I was in France, around the Normandy area and I was passing through on my way from Belgium. I really wanted to stop off at all the old battle of the Somme grounds. I’d never seen them and I was literally passing through so I scheduled some extra to go and do that. That turned into one of the songs that’s on the album. It’s called Ghosts and it’s about society… it sort of opened my eyes up to the people that gave me the life I currently have by giving up their own life. Then I thought about the people now that do so much so we can live ours lives. People in the NHS, people who clean the streets, even the people who make the beer that’s in my glass when we go to the pub. When do we actually think about those people and that trip helped me connect the dots. Ghosts is about those people in society and I have so many other stories like that. Stories where I visited places, explored them and found inspiration that I certainly wouldn’t get locked away in a traditional studio.
AJ – I listened to Young & Free this morning. Did you really create that in an old Library van?
GH – Yes and I’m glad you’re surprised. That’s been one of my major goals to have people sort of go “wait!? this was recorded in a bus!?” I think that’s great and it also shows the advance in technology too. I’ve got solar panels on the roof so the whole thing is literally powered by the sun. The whole album was made using the power of the sun. When you’re in a smaller space it forces you to be more creative in how you record things but ultimately you want to get quite a unique sound. It forces you to pay attention to the details and that’s what gives that high quality product. Because you’ve been forced in accepting that this guitar isn’t being recorded in a perfect environment, you start to think “how can we make this sound good?”. It forces you to experiment a bit more and it’s a process I’ve really enjoyed. Trying to trick people into thinking it hasn’t been made in a van without mains electricity has been really fun!
AJ – How do the people you collaborate with react to the studio on wheels?
GH – Urm, it kinda turns people into children. Haha. They get onto this thing and they’re so excited. You can see their brain going “wait… you can take this thing anywhere. You could leave in an hour and just go on an adventure”. It’s exactly where Young & Free came from. It’s that inner road-trip, bohemian approach to adventure that you see is all over their faces.
To begin with they’re really keen to have the conversation and then they want to see the bus and then when they’re on it, it’s just like putting a child in playground. It really is an enjoyable thing to watch as they react to everything around them and think of questions like “where do you get your water from?” and “where do you get your power from?” and “how do you do all the things that I take for granted?”. These things that we don’t really think about on a daily basis has become a new norm for me. I have to think about getting fresh water on a weekly basis and where does the used sink water go for example. Things we just take for granted.
AJ – Looks like you’ve seen some stunning places on your travels. Is there anywhere that sticks in your mind?
GH – Yeah, I think Austria for me. As soon as you said that question, Austria popped straight into my head. I hadn’t planned to go but I was on my way to Croatia which is equally as stunning. On the way there we went through Austria and I was driving thinking damn I wish this was our destination.
There’s lots of challenges to a beautiful place like that. A 7.5 ton vehicle going down a mountainside is tricky. The brakes can actually catch fire which I found out quite early on. So you have that real, nature throwing itself at you feeling in various ways but the reward is this incredible mountainous scenery.
AJ – Do you ever escape from the van life or are you on the road 365 days a year?
GH – Yeah pretty much all the time. The only time I don’t is if I’m staying with friends or at a particular host that wants to put us up. Some of them will invite friends over and make a proper event of it. For example there’s a Castle in Bruges that a family owns and we’ve ended up staying there quite a few times when passing through en route to the EuroTunnel. So rather than stay in the van there, you take the opportunity to stay in a castle! It’s quite an incredible opportunity that you don’t want to miss.
But I do consider the van my home. Anyone who travels a lot and stays in lots of hotels still goes back their roots, their house. For me the van is my base, my home.