AlunaGeorge: In control
Aluna Francis is determined not to get eaten by the pop machine: on the new AlunaGeorge album, she’s more herself than ever before.
Published: 12:35 pm, September 19, 2016
“It’s interesting,” ponders Aluna Francis. “You come to the music industry and think of it as an entity in itself and that it has a very fixed end point. The story goes that you go in it and this is going to happen and success means X, Y and Z. But you start to realise that any point where you can exercise influence - this music industry will respond.”
Influence and control are certainly the main ingredients for chapter two of the AlunaGeorge story, one that sees their nuanced electro-beats and potent pop harmonies morph into a denser and more immediate record, drawing in the underground vibes of late-night city life. It’s a record that’s true origins can be traced back to 2013, and the hypnotic opening foray of their debut ‘Body Music’.
“I think I look back in a way that anyone does who has a fabric of their history and their journey. You can see where you’ve retained something that is true to what you want to do, and other areas that have developed,” explains Aluna. Sitting in a top floor apartment in Shoreditch after a globe-trotting run around the US and Europe, there’s a palpable sense of excitement that the duo - Aluna alongside producer George Reid - are on the brink of global recognition.
‘I Remember’ is a full-throttle collection of undeniable dance floor bangers, charting the darkest recesses of 2am memories and late night wanders through smudged neon streets. Unlike ‘Body Music’, it’s a daring glimpse into the personal world of Aluna Francis, made up of intimate experiences and turning points that make this record a much beefier and bolder animal.
Learning how to write and turn those tales into invigorating sounds in her music was at the forefront of Aluna’s mind, and one that pressed heavy. “If I didn’t know how to do it, I didn’t really attempt it so there aren’t a scattering of failed attempts at being personal on that first record. There was really only one track on ‘Body Music’ that was from my perspective,” she explains.
That struggle and expansion in songwriting ability found Aluna exploring her own role within society, within the lives of those around her and what sort of responsibilities those friends and family place within her. Often seen as a welcoming ear, it’s those tales which helped to open up and dismiss the nerves and feelings of self-doubt that previously held her back from writing - resulting in a record that lives and breathes in the intimate moments of the human world.
“I thought about what I’m good at, and that’s definitely listening,” Aluna expands. “There’s rarely a time when a friend doesn’t eventually come to me with a very personal or very complicated issue that they think that I would understand, and I thought, ‘Well, I can get perspective on stories that may not even necessarily be my own’.
“It’s been nice to see or take the opportunity to use the studio as a real cathartic space for myself. There are songs on the record that if I hadn’t of written them, I would never have dealt with the issues that they talk about. They would of been situations and emotions that I would never of got over and would of just swept under the carpet.”
That time since ‘Body Music’ has clearly been momentous, not only allowing Aluna to delve deeper within herself but also to expand the duo’s horizons when it comes to collaborations - a move that can be traced again right back to that era, and the chart-smashing partnership involved in Disclosure’s ‘White Noise’. Since then, there’s been hit after hit with the likes of Kaytranada, Baauer and Jack U, as dance music royalty have tipped their hats to the soothing vocals and dark beats that the duo have called their own. Everything that these entailed helped to feed into that ‘I Remember’ process, showing Aluna a different approach to sounds and songwriting that previously she thought twice about.
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“Ahead of working with [Disclosure], I was moaning to George about doing it - I didn’t know the guys and was worried about not producing or delivering anything good, and it was George who really encouraged me to go for it,” remembers Aluna. “It’s a very different attitude you have between a collaboration when working on someone else’s track and your own - it’s completely different, even with ‘White Noise’. As it wasn’t on the record it doesn’t feel like our song - but it was from my own experiences.
“If I’m going to do a feature for somebody, I see myself as an instrument in some sense, but if it’s for my own songs then you have the final say on everything. Most of the time people try not to get involved so much when we’re working, as they see that me and George bring so much to the table already. We didn’t realise that we had got to that level, which was really great fun because we didn’t need to worry about other people’s input affecting how we sounded.”
With the likes of Flume and ZHU contributing on production, and a range of guest appearances from US underground MCs such as Pell, Dreezy and Leikeli47 alongside the iconic Jamaican superstar Popcaan, ‘I Remember’ may find AlunaGeorge collaborating more than ever, but ultimately it all comes back to Aluna and George, bouncing ideas off of each other. And despite George’s decision to move slowly into the background when it comes to the live shows, it’s a bond that means no matter who gets involved on a track, the signature AlunaGeorge sound remains.
“We have such a working relationship and as a singer that’s very comforting, because solo artists can definitely be affected by the whims of every producer they work with and you end up with all this completely different music which is really hard to follow. I don’t think we suffer from that, or fall into that category - everything we do has our stamp on it.”
That spirit of individuality is an underrated characteristic of AlunaGeorge, truly stepping out into a realm of their own, and with that comes an added sense of confidence. Throughout ‘I Remember’, this new found level of songwriting, while highlighting the deeply felt personal situations that run through all of us, continues to touch on the idea of empowerment, urging listeners to take control, stand apart from the crowd and take a sense of power onto yourself. For Aluna, this again was a simple mirror of the sort of emotions and discussions she’s been having for a while now.
“I think as a musician, I found it difficult to reconcile the idea of having something very strongly to say that can get involved in political debate with the role of the entertainer, so in the end it just has to come from a genuine place. It just so happens that, in my own time, I talk about social issues and have opinions and amongst my nearest and dearest I’m very strongly opinionated and discuss and think about things very deeply. Once I’d created that space within the writing process to get nearer to myself, then those things automatically came out.”
Giving some form of resolution is vital for Aluna, the idea of putting out a track that seems ambiguous or empty would be a waste of time in her eyes, and the desire to see a journey right through to the end is a key reason why ‘I Remember’ is such a vital release. “I talk about problems that I have, but I know that other people have the same problems,” notes Aluna. “There ’s a motivation there that if I do share my honest experiences with a certain situation and how I feel after getting through it, that it could really do some good!
“If someone comes to me with a problem, I’m never going to leave that person with no solution - it’s just an instinctive need to help somebody and so the same thing comes out in my lyrics.”
For Aluna Francis, ‘I Remember’ is much more than a second album. It’s the moment where she takes a step onto the global stage, the moment where AlunaGeorge becomes a player at the top end of festival bills and in the beating hearts of thousands. Above it all, it’s come from discovering and talking about the concerns, fears and beliefs that live within her - and forming it around a delectable cocktail of some of the most infectious and throbbing dance sounds of the year. It’s a defiant two fingers to a commercialised pop world longing for beige personalities and easy fix choruses, where “pop stars” feel that they need to erase parts of their history and culture. For Aluna, she’s aimed squarely at doing the opposite.
“I wanted to embrace my culture more as a black female in the music industry just at the point where normally you’d find that people go the other way,” explains Aluna. “The more pop and the more commercial and successful people get, I’ve seen that if they’re from an ethnic background, they start to erase the visual elements of that and I thought, ‘Well, I’m already appropriated from my teenage years - so I’ll do the complete opposite and see what happens’.
“I’m not trying to be better than anyone else don’t get me wrong, but I’ve seen that it’s not completely benefited me. Yes I’ve slipped through the gaps and boundaries that may have held me back but I still need to be myself. So I’m doing it in the reverse way if you will, becoming more me and people aren’t kicking me out of the industry, and people are interested in it and they like it so I think that’s surprising for me.
“I thought I’d wake up one day, addicted to prescription pills and not knowing who I was - but I’m becoming more myself as I go forward, which I didn’t expect to happen.”
Aluna Francis is well and truly in control, and it’s all on her terms.
AlunaGeorge’s album ‘I Remember’ is out 16th September.