Making music naturally takes time. Writing songs, finding time to record, and tweaking things during the mastering process add up, not to mention planning a proper press rollout. But sometimes, other factors enter the equation. Life happens. The ideal release date gets pushed back. Another year passes. In the case of Allston musician Gia Greene, the delay in releasing her debut full-length album, Unexpected Guest, continued to stretch on because of such and, for the most part, she had no choice in the matter. Until now.
Things look sunny in 2018 for Gia Greene. At 24 years old, she’s juggling work and music without breaking a sweat, or at least it looks that way from the outside. She surrounds herself with a supportive group of friends. She’s a friendly face in the local music scene. Over the last few years, she’s found a way to stabilize her life and figured out how to put energy into the areas she wants to grow. Greene has a newfound appreciation for the way her life looks because last year, right in January, she almost had that taken away.
In January of 2017, Greene discovered that she suffered from a retinal detachment in her left eye. She had to have emergency surgery. The process was scary and naturally raised questions from Greene. Would her eye suffer permanent damage? Would she be able to see the same way again? Would this impact her daily functioning and the times in which she needs help? It was a terrifying time that grew longer and longer. Greene had another follow-up surgery for her eye. A few months later, she had another follow-up surgery. Her time in the hospital was bookended by long stretches of recovery time, during which she was required to refrain from strenuous activity. Music had to wait, and in the grand scheme of things it seemed like a valid area of her life to sacrifice if it meant she could see clearly again. The experience took an extra toll on Greene, too, because of what it reminded her of: her pre-existing health condition, a genetic disorder called Stickler syndrome, that will continue to affect her for the rest of her life.
In addition to all this, in the same first six months of the year, she moved three times due to three separate unfortunate circumstances, her beloved family home was sold, and her dog of 17 years passed away. “It was an immensely tumultuous time that really only began to feel right during the last half of the year,” says Greene. “I truly would not have gotten through it all without the help of my family and friends, who were there to support me through a literal series of unfortunate events.”
Music was the one thing that was there for her even when she closed her eyes. She made a Kickstarter to create Unexpected Guest that was fully funded come June of 2016. She recorded the album the end half of the year and began working on its completion. When the emergency surgery happened, the album was put on hold—but it was waiting for her when she came back.
In a way, music never left her to begin with. It’s what Greene’s life has centered around ever since she was young. She began singing publicly at age two during her summer club’s lip sync night (“I was historically throughout the years the only child who actually preferred to sing and never lip-synced the words,” she laughs), which segued into her involvement in choirs, both in childhood and adulthood. Her involvement in Handel and Haydn choirs from ages 11 to 18 earned her a scholarship for private voice and piano lessons at New England Conservatory Preparatory School. In 2011, she received the program’s Achtmeyer Award.
While all of this was happening, Greene was simultaneously writing her own alt-rock music as an 11-year-old and formed a middle school band. She wrote material for herself and for the band, priming herself for multi-arrangement pieces down the line. Eventually, she got into Berklee College of Music as a voice principle. “I made it a point to study jazz voice and take as many vocal jazz improvisation classes as possible,” says Greene. “Despite my classical training, I was heavily interested in learning how to perform jazz and how to use jazz techniques and theory within my own music.” She soaked up everything the college had to offer. In 2016, she graduated with a bachelor’s in music education.
All this goes to say that Gia Greene isn’t just a musician in hobby, but in totality. Her body is brimming with music and her whole life has been a space in which she can share it. Every influence she’s absorbed over the years—Cocteau Twins, Esperanza Spaulding, Portishead, PJ Harvey, Joanna Newsom, Stevie Wonder, the list goes on so far as to include Hot Rats by Frank Zappa—has found its way to impact her music, turning her classical background into a springboard for modern twists and nontechnical flair. Her album reflects that. From its themes of self-doubt, affection, and assurance to its alternative bent within the indie rock realm, Unexpected Guest is everything Greene has been shaping it to be over the years, even if it took some extra time to finalize it.
“Despite my own personal desire to get the album out as quickly as possible, I am ultimately glad that I didn’t rush any of the process,” she says. “I think that going through the personal hellstorm that was 2017 was the universe’s way of slowing me down and getting me to do this album in a more deliberate and steady manner. I firmly believe in quality over quantity when it comes to music, and I believe [in] spending as much time as possible to produce a finished work that you yourself, as an artist, can be completely satisfied with. I always looked to Fiona Apple for this; she seldom puts out albums, but when she does, they are absolutely magnificent. I think this is a product of her making her art at her own pace, rather than at the pace of others.”
The plus side of the delay is that it gave Greene more time to feel the effects of living in Allston. The artists in Boston’s music community completely changed her approach to music, essentially giving Greene new ideas to push her music to new limits. She rattles off a long list of scene colleagues with genuine appreciation: Palehound, Puppy Problems, Dent, Dazey and the Scouts, Pile, DUMP HIM, Mini Dresses, Lady Pills, Gravel, Prior Panic, and more. Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz was particularly influential in the writing of this album, too.
“What all of these acts have in common is that their songwriting is true: true to their lived experiences, true to themselves, and none of it is formulaic or trying to ‘be’ any specific thing at all,” she says. “Getting to see these bands, almost all of whom are good friends of mine, perform their truth out on stage has been a wildly profound experience. It has given me the confidence to do the same, and to push my musical boundaries as much as I can.”
Gia Greene will likely join those ranks as a musician who will inspire those around her—though it’s also likely she already has. Her sheer perseverance and thoroughness have proven themselves to be pillars of her personality, even if she doesn’t address them literally. They help her love of music to shine with its own bright color. As she takes the stage this weekend for the long-awaited record release show for her album, a specific type of healing will take place for both her and those in the audience. It’s a type of spiritually uplifting aid that’s best felt in person, all the more authentic because of what she’s lived through.
“I continue to play music because it is my ritual. It is my therapy. It is my religion. It is my way of processing life as it comes in a manner that is not only incredibly cathartic, but that is a manifestation of my personal practice of witchcraft,” she says. “Writing music heals me, but it also heals others, which is quite possibly the greatest unintentional side effect of the practice. I write music to create beauty out of my pain, and others listen to music and get to interpret and personalize it in ways where they, too, can be healed.”
GIA GREENE, PUPPY PROBLEMS, KAL MARKS (SOLO). SAT 3.31. LILYPAD INMAN, 1353 CAMBRIDGE ST., CAMBRIDGE. 7PM/ALL AGES/$10. LILYPADINMAN.COM