Aluna Francis has found her voice, and she’s not letting it go.
Getting her start with experimental indie bands in the mid-2000's, she later teamed up with producer George Reid to form the eponymous AlunaGeorge — a formidable combo of dancehall, pop, R&B and electronica. For the now sought-after artist and performer, this year has brought a brand-new album, an invite to the White House, and a tour supporting R&B virtuoso Miguel and pop titan Sia.
Francis met Reid in 2009 through MySpace. He reached out about remixing a song by her band My Toys Like Me, and their musical chemistry was too good to ignore. “I did a lot of experimental stuff with my bands previously, and I found my voice by really pushing the boundaries of the kind of musical interests that I had,” she tells us. “AlunaGeorge is coming at the end of a whole process of learning that I wanted to do that before I committed myself to anything in a serious way.” As far as musical bonds go, this one feels pretty serious, it also feels like just the beginning.
The pair’s second and latest album, I Remember, which came out on Island Records in September, is sonically ambitious and emotionally brazen, with themes of female sexuality and empowerment at the forefront. Take for example, 'Mean What I Mean', featuring the lyrical jabs of Chicago rapper Dreezy, and New York’s Leikeli47. The song tackles consent, driving home the message that ‘no means no,’ with lyrics like, “I know you've seen the signs, don't wanna read them it's not fine, it's not okay / All you gotta do right now is listen.”
“I think it’s always an important time for a song that speaks about encouraging young women to believe in their own mind. We all need reminders, and encouragement,” Francis says. Despite its heavy theme, though, the track is still danceable, true to AlunaGeorge form.
“I think that me and George have a natural drive to be ambitious all the time, because that’s what excites us about music — striving to get to the sweet spot between the different interests we have, and putting that together so it sounds new, but also so that [it] connects lyrically and emotionally, and is also fun,” Francis says. With fans getting down to their songs at the Hollywood Bowl to the Barclays Center and beyond, it’s clear their sound is all of the above.
The tracks are also what Francis refers to as her “way out,” giving a positive spin to difficult times. The album’s opening line, “dropping all that dead weight,” is also its raison d'être — a precursor to the sex-positive banger, 'I’m in Control', and the humbling but powerful break-up anthem, 'Not Above Love.'
“I’m not the kind of person that shoves something under the carpet,” she tells us about writing the tracks. “I embrace the opportunity to process feelings and things that happened in my life.”
But it’s not just personal. “I have really good access to lots of different stories of humanity, and that’s really great for songwriting. If I’m trying to get a full perspective on things, it’s important to see people’s individual experiences also related to society,” Francis says. Her empathy and ability to connect with her audience comes from moving around a lot during her childhood. “I’m really good at understanding people quite quickly, and I’m not surprised by people from different walks of life.”
Stopping in Houston, Texas, for the second to last show of the #NostalgicForThePresent tour, Francis gives us a quick rundown of what it’s been like on the road. She says Miguel has been her “big brother,” and lets us in on Sia’s #FOMO-inducing backstage rituals: “She gets everyone to do this dance party every day, where you’re supposed to dance however you want - just get into it.”
Francis also spends a chunk of time on tour studying up on legendary female artists she admires. “I like to explore the history of how women have come to learn about the process of performance. I was recently reading about Eleanora Duse, who was the most accessible actress in the 19th century. She was always striving to learn and to serve as an artist that showed her audience about humanity, and I really like those goals.” Considering Francis’s spellbinding live shows and loyal, ever-growing fan base, we think she’s already achieved them.
Written by Rachael Roth
Photography by Lloyd Parsal