Aluna Francis, one half of the U.K.-based duo, AlunaGeorge, has been busy, to say the least. It’s been just over a year since AlunaGeorge’s last studio release—I Remember, their sophomore album featuring the lush Popcaan-assisted hit, “I’m In Control”—but they’ve been working, all the same. When we spoke with Francis for a candid quickie over the phone, the singer-songwriter had just landed in Toronto and was prepping for night one of two sold-out shows with Coldplay, who she’s set to accompany on the North American and European legs of their world tour.
During our chat, it was clear that Aluna was not about the games: she’s calm, thoughtful, and strikingly serious about her craft and vision. A true hands-on artist’s artist. We talked to Francis about the intuition of dance, her songwriting, and what’s next for the genre-defying duo after the jump.
A.SIDE: How are you? How’s the tour been treating you so far?
AlunaGeorge: Well, we’re towards the kind of end part, so it’s sad, a little bit, to know that you’re about to finish doing it. You get attached to a kind of routine and the people that you’re on tour with.
How have the shows been? I know that you’re opening for Coldplay; are you feeling a continuity from your crowd to their crowd?
It’s been very up-and-down, internally, in terms of like, “Okay. How do really you walk on a stadium floor and entertain 20 000 of somebody else’s fan base without any production?” You have to warm up the stage; that’s your job. Just get people kind of connected and feeling good, really. In my mind, that’s what I pitch myself every night. I’m not trying to put on a stadium show. That’s what I [say to myself] everyday to get myself on stage and make my way through the sort of strange circumstances.
Your music has been called futuristic pop, electronic in past interviews, but it seems like you don’t subscribe to those classifications. How would you describe your music to newer fans and to older fans, who maybe are having a hard time catching up, or are still caught up in confining you to a given genre or subgenre?
I don’t know. It’s not really my job to do that. My job is to make the music, and people who write about genres decide which genre we’re in. It’s arbitrary, me coming up with it, because people say whatever they want about what the music is once they’ve heard it. All I can say about the content is that I think there’s always been truth in the songs I’m writing; just not like, every single song. There’s always a meaning behind the lyrics. Even if it is a pop song or something like that, it’s still meaningful and sourced from a kind of healing experience.
How do really you walk on a stadium floor and entertain 20 000 of somebody else’s fan base without any production?
What does your writing process look like?
It’s always different. If I’m on my own, I write first; some of the melodies and the chords on the piano, the guitar. But if I’m in the studio and someone’s working on something, then we can start from scratch. These days, I have these kind of half-finished, bare bones songs that are waiting for somebody to tinker around with them and make something that I feel is its home.
And then you just go from there?
Yeah. Sometimes, you know, it does work, taking what I’ve written and building the production around that. But not always.
Yeah, I can imagine it differs from song to song, project to project. So, do you do all your own songwriting?
Yeah! I do all my own songwriting. Sometimes, I collaborate with people, but the core part of the songwriting has always been me. I do find it quite hard to take somebody else’s song and do something with it. I’m not that strain of artist. I find it really difficult. [Laughs] Even if its one word I wouldn’t use, I’m like, “Ohhh, no!”
Can you tell me about your own background? Where are you from?
I grew up in the suburbs, outside London. It was a commuter sort of city where people don’t really do a lot. They go and work in London, and then they come home again. It was quite a kind of… cultureless vacuum with very white, middle-class families. I was pretty much the only black person in the city. Definitely the only one in my school. Culturally, I’m half Jamaican, half Indian.
How did those experiences inform your approach to music? How does your background — cultural, geographical — influence the way you create, musically?
I think, probably, the fact that I can pull from quite different sources. Like, I can be inspired by Jeff Buckley, or I can be inspired by Etta James or Radiohead or Bob Marley. So that’s in my cultural background. I think that, being half Jamaican, and actually, Indian, too — both those cultures are very beat-based in their music. And so, I kind of have a natural dance-o-meter, I call it, when we’re writing music where it’s like, the beat has to have a certain feel to it to make me dance. And if it doesn’t have that feel, I just won’t. So when I’m in the studio, I usually try and make myself dance.
Listening to your songs, each one sounds different from the last, and I think, what really holds it together is that you have a really strong pen. You’ve collaborated with so many people like GoldLink, Flume and Popcaan, to name a few. How do you maintain your voice and assert yourself in these spaces across styles?
What tends to be my hope is that we’ll go in the studio and people will leave their egos behind. I think that’s the mark of a great artist. Like, for example, I’ve worked from with anybody from Flume to Pharrell and the main kind of—I choose to work with somebody because I get the sense that they will be that way when we go into the studio. On the whole, I’ve been pretty much right. And so, then, its just a case of applying the same method that I apply with George, to be honest. I give feedback and I don’t close off options if somebody’s doing something that I don’t understand. I let them work through it until they’ve got to a point where they’re showing me what they meant, then we come up with new ideas. I’ve always been involved on the production side of things too, which is why every feature that I do has a consistency to it. [Collaborators] have to be ready to allow me to get right into the track, if its already started, and make the changes I need to be comfortable with the music.
What’s next for you? What are some milestones you’re trying to hit?
I feel like even though the album format is almost completely dead, we still haven’t done a concept album and I’d really like to do something with that kind of structure to it. Hopefully, me and George can get back in the studio and get to writing again, soon.