Up Top since 2010
George Byrne clearly isn’t one to sit on his bum, waiting for the world to come to him. Since moving to Los Angeles three years ago, he’s kept himself mighty busy playing and making music, taking photos and doing the acting thing. All this could have turned him into one of those slightly unhinged Hollywood types, but George is just the opposite, fulfilling all those oft-heard clichés of Aussies as laidback and easygoing.
I met George for our interview at the Palihouse Holloway hotel, deep in the heart of the Aussie in LA territory West Hollywood, although neither of us actually lives in the scene-y neighbourhood. George is firmly ensconced in Los Feliz, a part of town he clearly loves, although the same could be said for his new city as a whole. “LA immediately felt very welcoming – it’s just a gear shift down in intensity here. The appeal of LA initially is that it’s this big, immense, epic, unknown city.” It’s that unknowability that is most intriguing to so many of us who arrive in Los Angeles and George is no exception. “There is no way to sum this place up. It’s not a one week, easy, clean tourist destination. It’s a broader life experience city, it grows on you, it gets under your skin.”
For George, there’s clearly a freedom in the (somewhat smoggy) air of Los Angeles as he pursues his many passions. He arrived as a touring musician, having gigged around Melbourne and doing some acting in his hometown of Sydney. While he hasn’t made a record since he arrived, he’s been doing a lot of work in commercial music, an industry that is tiny in Australia. He’s sold music to MTV, which uses it on their TV shows. But he certainly hasn’t abandoned his artistic ambition. “I’m working on a record now with some guys and that’s just a slow process, it’s chipping away. When I’ve got a bunch of songs I’ll see, I might do a little tour or… Depends how much I like it, I’ll see how it feels.”
This seems to be the George Byrne philosophy – seeing how it feels. He’s been doing commercials, auditioning and acting, and taking lots of photographs. He’s garnered a strong following on Instagram (find him: @george_byrne) with an approach that eschews the selfies and food shots most of us are guilty of for brilliantly composed alternative views of Los Angeles that have a minimalist feel. He’s got a show of his Instagram shots organised for October and is working towards a show of his larger scale photography.
“This town, it offers you lots of different carrots if you’re open,” says George of LA. “And sometimes it’s a curse and sometimes it’s great. It’s exciting because it’s a very encouraging city and everyone’s working on lots of different things. I think it works as long as you’re disciplined and able to follow the things that are working for you.” He seems to find it a nice change from New York City, where he initially landed, “If you stay in New York for a long time and you don’t have much money or much direction, it’s kind of overwhelming and can feel a bit like you’re at the world’s best fun park and you don’t have any money to go on the rides.”
His time Up Top has also given George a new perspective on his home country. “You grow up having concrete views on your own country and I didn’t foresee my impressions of Australia changing much at all when I left. But I think we’ve got extremes in Australia that are ugly and brilliant, like everywhere.”
He also relishes the almost overwhelming, and certainly irrational, love Americans seem to have for every Australian they meet. “I think there’s a really great cultural exchange between Australia and America. They do love us. I’m not exaggerating, they really, really do. And it’s very hard not to like a country where you are universally loved for absolutely no reason. It’s incredible.
While he misses his family, the Sydney beach culture and the food – “We’ve got the best food in the world” – George also seems totally open to whatever America throws his way. He exudes an earnest but low-key curiosity, taking things on as they come. “It feels like America’s just a big mad swirling sum of lots of different parts the brush up against each other,” he says. I got the feeling he wants to experience each and every one.