If George Stanford ever decides he no longer wants a career in music, he can always fall back on his ability to fluff and fold--a skill he learned at the 10th Street Laundromat in South Philly.
"I had a great landlord who owned the laundromat and the apartments upstairs," he recalls. "When I wasn't recording in my home studio-- which was difficult because of the constant hum of the dryers-- I was downstairs, folding and cleaning people's laundry."
However, one listen to Stanford's Smash/Mercury five-song set, simply titled "The EP," leaves no doubt that it will be a long time before the artist asks if someone wants their shirts starched.
And for good reason. Stanford's EP shows a songwriter following in the tradition of such greats as Paul Simon through to Chris Martin. It also displays his immense range of talent: With his unique and definable voice, Stanford also plays all instruments except drums on the EP.
Stanford's full-length CD, produced by Stanford along with, John Alagia, Dave Tozer, Eric Ivan Rosse and Brian Malouf, will come in 2008, but he felt it was important for listeners to get a taste of what lies ahead. "The songs on the EP are largely my own rough mixes and one song is completely bare bones, just me singing in a room, really stripped down. It's kind of how the label heard me first and what attracted them to me."
Growing up outside of Philadelphia, Stanford was surrounded by song. "Music was always there," Stanford says. His parents' love of classic country and bluegrass by such legendary artists as Ralph Stanley, Hank Williams and Merle Haggard taught him the value of taking the listener on an adventure through song. "I love hearing people tell a story. That's probably why I like old country records so much," he says. "Then with people like Paul Simon, there's the first listen where you hear the story and there are so many layers where you can go back and pick out so many lyrical or sonic elements every time."
Stanford first picked up a trombone--or as he calls it, his "gateway" instrument-- when he was a kid. Bass, guitar and piano followed. His love for music led him to study at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. However, he ultimately abandoned his studies. "I realized that a degree in jazz performance really won't get you a hot cup of jack squat," he says with a laugh. "In examining all the artists that inspire me and get my blood pumping, like Bob Marley, I realized school wasn't necessarily a big part of where any of them came from. I decided the only way to really school myself in music is to play music."
But his schooling did provide one career path; he and several of his fellow students formed a band called Townhall. In their few years together, they became something of a regional sensation, playing in front of up to 2,000 people.
"I learned about being on the road and about the craft of songwriting and the craft of entertaining," he says of his days in Townhall. "Even if it's just a six-inch platform, as soon as you step up on stage, just give them a show. When people buy a ticket, they want a piece of you in a sense and there's also something just in terms of respecting the tradition of all the great people who inspired me, like Tom Petty, who was the first artist I saw live."
Eventually, the members of Townhall grew apart and Stanford decided to go solo: "I found I was reaching people in a fundamentally deeper and more effective way when I would just play my songs with my guitar," he says.
Confirmation of that fact quickly came when, through a little help from a fellow Philadelphian, Stanford landed his record deal. Stanford wrote "Heartbeat," a tune also featured on "The EP," with the aforementioned Tozer, another Philly boy best known for his work with multi-platinum sensation John Legend.
The set opens with "My Own Worst Enemy," a mission statement of sorts about Stanford's relationship with an alternately loving and harsh mistress: music. "It's given me the greatest things. It's about the struggle of trying to make a life out of it," he says. "When I was struggling, I'd start to think about my options and I really couldn't think of any so it always came back to music for me."
The EP's emotional center is "Downriver," a stripped-down song highlighting his ringing guitar work that was recorded live at Los Angeles' taste-making Hotel CafÃ© shortly after his arrival in the City of Angels, where he currently lives.
"That's a real important song for me," he says. "It sums up that feeling of surrender, when I decided if I never make a dime from my music, I have to be okay with that because this is the path I've chosen. It was very liberating in a lot of ways. There's going to be rapids and obstacles, but the only way to reach the other side is to throw away your fears and go with the flow."