Geo Wyeth - changing man
The New York musical performer doesn't stay still long
I remember the first time I saw Geo Wyeth perform - though I really mean 'heard' because the memory is of the sound of his voice from the back of the room, rich, reedy, soulful and voluminous, sailing out in a shanty, filling the air with tales of dreams, demons, mountains, fathers, strength and mischief. There was a jolt as his surprisingly boyish figure came into view, a mass of black hair above dark eyes set in a full face with a strong jaw, an accordion coddled by great arms out of a sleeveless collared shirt and black waistcoat. That night in Brooklyn there was also burlesque, drag and experimental performance - all of it good - but Wyeth stood out. He was talented, he was hot, he could hold a room.
He was performing as Novice Theory that night; later I learned that was one of several performance names used by Wyeth. I also learned he was an interracial female-to-male transsexual - surprising information that was helpful in interpreting the witty, haunting, fantastical songs about identity and experience, most of them written when he was 20, contained on his 2008 EP, 'At the End We Listen'.
Wyeth has a theatricality and an intense interest in environment that place him in a broader realm of performance than simply 'musician'; he's equally at home in a gig setting, cabaret line-up, theatre context or gallery space. And he keeps moving. The solo troubadour Novice Theory was succeeded by the nine-piece Jive Grave, in which Wyeth headed up a keyboard-sax-flute-trumpet-drum ensemble. 'It was almost like a manic episode,' he tells me. '“Yeah! I want everyone to be in my band!” It was great but it wasn't sustainable.' He went solo again, then developed a lengthy experimental ensemble piece called 'Haunts', and is now bringing his first full-length album, 'Alien Tapes', to the Soho Theatre.
It's not quite clear yet what form the shows will take. 'I don't identify as a cabaret performer but my solo performance often incorporates things other than music,' he says. 'I like creating a theatrical environment or world and I'm very inspired by certain performers, especially in London. I love Gateau Chocolat and Scottee - I identify with that dark, weird, Grand Guignol element, the spastic, scrappy, punk showmanship that says, “I don't have anything but here's a napkin and it's gonna be my set today!” I love that.'
In New York, the performer created installation work to accompany the 'Alien Tapes' songs. 'Many of them were inspired by working at the Apple store in SoHo for four years,' says Wyeth, who was born in Manhattan in 1984 to performer parents. 'My job was to teach people to use their computers and many of the customers were artists in their fifties and sixties who had been in the neighbourhood since the dawn of time - people who worked with their hands and didn't know anything about technology. We'd have these one-to-one sessions and when you work with someone's computer, you really get to know them. So there'd be these moments - in this enormous, weird, cold Apple architecture, me wearing this uniform - where we'd look in each other's eyes and have this intense connection, these two generations of artists.'
The sound of 'Alien Tapes' is, in places, more industrial and mechanical than Wyeth's early songs. 'Half the songs are recorded on tapes with a lot of acoustic instruments and the rest is recorded digitally,' he explains. 'There's a trajectory from one end of the spectrum to the other.' Wyeth keeps moving.