ALUNAGEORGE are the future of electronic music. A bold statement no doubt, but the British duo seamlessly blend electrifying polyrhythmic beats and soulful R&B hooks that feature the likes of dancehall king Popcaan and the golden boy of electropop production, Flume. Aluna Francis has been described as having a “sugar sweet” voice and a personality to match, and while the former may be true, don’t get it twisted; the one half of the electronic duo exudes a sharp attitude and Beyoncé-caliber wit that shines through on their anticipated sophomore album I Remember.
The follow-up to 2013’s Body Music has seen Francis step up and take over the spotlight as the face of the group, using her collection of sassy tracks to speak on emotional and difficult “coming-of-age” moments. On songs like “My Blood”, Francis distinguishes that speaking out isn’t always easy but that it is worth it: “I think it is difficult, but it’s a beautiful challenge”, she explains. “I really wrote some songs that could actually help me to find my voice, create my boundaries, and make my statements, and feel good about those.”
The difference in Francis’ message is she leaves it open to interpretation, letting her listeners play a game of fill in the blank(s) with their own thoughts and opinions. Even when touching on heavier topics on the title track “I Remember” and songs such as “Automatic”, Francis’ co-writer and producer George Reid injects his signature shots of addictive synth-pop — rattling your speakers with Major Lazer-meets-Flying Lotus ambiance that helps to create tracks that are not only catchy and addictive but also emotionally resonant. While in the midst of a festival run, we caught up with Francis and spoke about what it’s like balancing the personal with political and finding strength through the act of creation.
The last time you performed in Toronto was back in October 2015 on Halloween, so how would you compare it to your set from this afternoon at WayHome?
You know what, we consistently have a great time in Toronto. I think it was only the very first time we came — it was like three years ago — that we didn’t really have a full crowd and I was like “Oh no, nobody likes us in Canada”. That’s not the case now (laughs) but today was certainly a highlight. The audience and this festival were very open to feeling the lyrics of the songs as well just enjoying the music and the kind of emotional roller coaster that I take them on. You know, it might be EDM-lit kind of stuff and then I’ll drop it right back down to a ballad or something like that.
You gotta concentrate to be like “Okay, we’re not dancing now. We’re listening” and they dealt with that really, really well. They were really engaged and it was just beautiful. There’s probably something about the melting pot of cultures in Toronto and the access to what is happening now. You could see a lot of different banners and political statements going on, and people are very switched on in Toronto so I feel like what I had to say was coming across pretty straightforward to them. Like “Oh yeah, I get you”.
I feel like people are very open to anything in Toronto so it’s nice to be able to tap into that. Was there a time in your life where you found it difficult to speak up for yourself?
Absolutely. I think that I’m not a strongly opinionated person vocally so when I think about things and have feelings about them, I’m not confident enough to really put myself on the line a lot of the time. That kind of runs through a lot of different situations and not just social-political spaces but also in my personal life. With this album [I Remember], I really wrote some songs that could actually help me to find my voice, so songs like “Mean What I Mean” and “I’m In Control” were really designed for if I was in a difficult situation once more, which I’m sure I will be, and I would be able to find my voice in that and create my boundaries and make my statements, and feel good about those and feel confident about those and feel secure in what I think.
When writing songs, is it difficult to find a balance between speaking out about important topics that you feel passionately about while keeping your music entertaining and approachable to a larger audience?
It is difficult, but it’s a beautiful challenge. The nearest I got to it was “My Blood”, I feel. I wove my quite social-political statements into that song and it does take a little bit of an explanation from me to kind of get what I’m saying. But that’s okay because I think if you listen to the lyrics, it’ll at least make you think or wonder about what I might be trying to say and you can fill in the gaps with your own thoughts and feelings which are equally valid.
Do you think musicians should feel responsible to use their platform to speak out and advocate for causes they believe in?
I think music should reflect what’s going on around the writer. So if you’re going to stand up in front of people and sing a song then you better know what’s going on with your audience and what they might be going through. Otherwise you’re not really relating to anyone.
So you and George will be releasing your second full-length album called I Remember; do you think your lyricism has become more personal compared to Body Music?
It certainly has, yeah. It’s hard to do because getting perspective on your own life is hard. It’s like taking your own advice on something. So over the years I’ve developed my songwriting enough to be able to look back on a situation I’ve gone through and then take from it what I needed to learn and weave that into the lyrics.
Why did you take your time releasing your second record when you were able to put out Body Music within less than a year?
There were a few, sort of behind-the-scenes sort of technical problems with it and we were touring a lot and then we started to be asked to come out to America, and in a way that brought about some new songs. And then once we heard those songs, we wanted to do a whole new set of songs (laughs). So what would happen is we would write one song and it would come out as a “higher level” or something, and then we’d go “Well, now we need more of those”. We basically wrote three albums, so it was all writing. We were just waiting until we had the right album.
It hasn’t really. Doing those features is just like a fun day out. When George and I write a song, it’s a whole process that we go through. It’s a much more in-depth creative process, I feel. Like when I’m working with producers or people that are purely just producers, there’s a little less creativity going on, on the writing front. You might sometimes find that song doesn’t stand alone without the production behind it. Like “To Ü” from Jack Ü — that hasn’t got a huge amount of songwriting in it. I also think it depends on how much they’re getting involved. For example, Flume just did production after George and I wrote “I Remember”, and he sort of added his flavour to it.
So what’s the most valuable thing artists can learn from collabs?
Well, I say they’re easy and fun but that’s just because I know how to create a space with somebody where you’ve put your egos aside and created a safe middle area where you can experiment and be free. Like be free-thinking but also have a system, like a writing system. We’ve collaborated with a couple of people like Baauer and Flume, where they were working with a vocalist for the first time when they were working with me whereas before they were working with samples.
So it was very interesting to show them my method, which is kind of a process of co-production where I helped to create the bed for the vocals to go inside of. It’s not the sort of dance music process where you just get a vocal and plop it on top of some production. That’s surprising for some people but I get so heavily involved with the production because that’s the only way to do it.
What’s the biggest thing you hope your audience takes away from I Remember?
That some of the things they’re thinking and feeling, they’re not alone with and that there’s something within them that’s going to help them move forward in life. And hopefully while they’re listening to the album, it gives them the time and the space and the encouragement to start some of the seeds, or if they’re already on their journey, for it to be the soundtrack to their journey through life, you know?
What advice would you give to anyone that’s starting out in the music industry?
That every time you hit a wall, just remember the walls are a part of the journey and the process. It doesn’t mean you have to give it all up and turn around. It means up your game and learn a new skill and get over the wall with that.