AlunaGeorge is back and better than ever. Refusing to be boxed into any one genre, their blend of R&B, soul and EDM has helped them to be one of the most well-respected names in the industry. While Aluna Francis is the face of the musical duo, real fans know there’s a producer named George Reid tucked away in the studio where he’s most comfortable.
With the release of their 2012 breakout single “You Know You Like It,” which was later remixed by DJ Snake and featured in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, AlunaGeorge organically built a following and skyrocketed into the mainstream light. Fast-forward through years of testing the waters and major-label deals, and AlunaGeorge arrive poised, refreshed and eager to unleash new music with no distractions or restrictions.
On their new EP, Champagne Eyes, fans are treated to the original AlunaGeorge sound, reminiscent of their debut album, Body Music, in 2013. With these six tracks, Aluna showcases her ability to speak on socially conscious issues while flexing her vocals and crooning over a sonically soothing landscape.
L.A. WEEKLY: Where do you fit in the realm of R&B, EDM and hip-hop?
ALUNA FRANCIS: I would say alternative R&B. That's where we mostly reside, because if you look our discography, a lot of the dance music associated with us is actually collaborations with people within that genre. They’re not the core AlunaGeorge sound. The core AlunaGeorge sound is definitely alternative R&B.
You’re from the U.K. How does that play into your life and career?
I have a lot of reservation. I’m automatically polite and reserved. It’s harder to break through the “I don’t know you” to “I know you” barrier with me, but I’m also an introvert, which is a double collision. I’m not socially inept, which confuses the fuck out of people. I can be very social, especially at a house party. That’s like my favorite place to be. I’ll bounce around, but with groups of no more than four.
If I’m talking to a group of people at a house party, I’m not gonna be the one with the biggest group. I’ll definitely be that guy doing the long, in-depth conversation about something like space. It has to make perfect sense as well, in order for me to stick around. If you’re too away with the fucking fairies and planets, I’m like yawn-fest. “How does that relate to our present moment? Thank you very much.”
How important is it to come to L.A. as an up-and-coming artist?
Shit, I don’t know. I wasn’t here when I was an up-and-coming artist. My mom moved to New York, and I decided to not go to a bigger city than London. Any city is gonna have its set of doors and rules, where you begin and where you want to get to. It’s like an obstacle course. In my mind, the challenge of London was already huge for me. I was like, “Until I actually have gotten through to the end of that, I don’t need to start again from the bottom with a new city, with new people that I don’t know.”
I always really enjoy thinking about London as the place where I grafted the fuck out of everything I’ve now got in my achievements. I wouldn’t have wanted to swap it for any of the other challenges the other cities give you.
What are some of the challenges you faced in London?
I think that there’s a history of creativity where experimentation across genres is really important, but at the same time, you can’t just smash things together. You have to take the said elements and blend them really well. Because people’s ears are trained to accept newness but of a certain quality. I hate the idea of fusion music that sounds like its separate elements, like when people take Indian bhangra sounds and put it on a dance track. Ugh, make a new genre with that. That’s what me and George have always done. We may take elements of different genres but you're not just hearing them separate on one track. We are processing it through our perspective.
In terms of lyric writing, England has a really high threshold. They see lyrics as very important. [London is] a really fast-moving city. You have to develop your skills quick enough to keep up with the speed of how quickly people will forget you, and what your next move is gonna be.
You’ve been in L.A. for three years now. What’s your favorite part?
L.A. has opened up a health and well-being world within my creative process. First I thought it was a luxury, but then quickly it became essential. There gets to a point in the music industry as an artist where you see you could definitely fix a lot of the problems you have by really easily turning to drugs. Dealing physically and emotionally with the pressures, you could easily turn to unhealthy habits. You could just burn yourself out to achieve these goals, especially when some of those goals are yours and some of those goals are from a huge multibillion-dollar company. If you don’t start implementing health and wellness practices within your goal-setting, you might die. As I have seen from my peers, which is not fun. That’s not a fun way to live.
Are you talking about addiction?
Yeah. Just in the past two years, our musical peers are dying. A lot of the time, you don’t necessarily know why or what happened to somebody, but I feel like I do understand what they are going through. If there’s anything good that can come from those unfortunate situations, it’s to learn from those people. I’ve always been somebody who was fortunate enough to understand that mental health is something you have to invest in. You don’t just start life and decide to have it. You have to invest in it, with either time, money, both. Or intent, I guess.
Do you have your own battles with mental health?
I think of mental health as two strings. One is unhealthiness, which is things like depression, anxiety and worse, when you’ve actually been diagnosed with something. But I also think mental health has a wellness aspect. Basically, you can start with being functional and you can improve from there. Where you can use your mind to actually run your business or get more out of yourself than you were already getting. Simple stuff like being able to run faster is a mind-over-matter type thing. That’s what I think is also mental health.
How has music been a form of therapy for you?
I used to think that it was the pathway that saved my life, and that’s certainly true. What I saw is that people here who are treated “creative,” and take the path of a corporate life, run the risk of getting to a certain point in their life where nothing makes any sense to them. I was really scared of that because I had a member of my family really struggle to the point of it being very dangerous for them. I realized that it’s not a question of “Am I good enough to be an artist that can make it?” It was more “What’s the alternative?” Can I make it as someone with a desk job, and not turn around at one point and just be like “I want to end this.” Then I was like “No, I don’t think I can sustain this corporate lifestyle at all. I have to be a musician. I have no other option but to create.” Because that’s my true nature.
What corporate job were you working?
It was a shitty job at a university, just doing admin. It was an unskilled job. I mean, there’s not many choices when you don’t have qualifications. You just do data entry, answer the phone, crap like that. You have to be somebody who functions well within a corporate structure or having a boss, and there are absolutely people like that. I used to feel like a terrible person because I wasn’t able to do that kind of job. I literally wished I was a normal person: Go in at 9 a.m., take these calls about this thing, put this information into this computer,and then do that until I go home. I really was like, “What’s wrong with me? Why couldn’t I do that without wanting to kill myself?”
At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?
I don’t know if I maybe took it more seriously than it was before it was serious, so I knew it was real when I decided to make it real. Because I don’t think music becomes real until that point, honestly. I don’t know if you can “accident” into music, it’s just too hard. You just decide and then you get accolades to give other people evidence. Most artists, I would imagine, think it’s real before anyone else believes them.
I recently went back to your record “You Know You Like It.” How has your sound evolved since?
“You Know You Like It” was a song that was created in different moments. I know that George was testing himself to see if he could come up with something without a kick drum. He was trying to make the kick with a bass line.
I had this one repetitive thing that I had written to his beat, which was “You know you like it, but it drives you insane.” I came back to our session like, “George, I’m really sorry, all I have is this really annoying thing.” He’s like, “It’s not annoying, just put it down.” I just put this other song’s verses into the verses. It was so early in my songwriting process. It was definitely more about a feeling than it was a story, so now I can write stories more. I can write more literally about something.
You just dropped your Champagne Eyes EP. I know you mention wanting to be more socially conscious with your music; what inspired you want to stand for female empowerment?
Well, it’s more about being a little more obvious. On I Remember, I have a song called “Mean What I Mean,” which was my first response to a #MeToo story that I hadn’t told. I wanted to make an anthem for myself. If I find myself in a situation again where those lines are all blurry, and you think you are saying what you mean and the person is not listening to you — just something encouraging.
I don’t know if it’s even a goal to have a song where I’m like, “You take your hands off me, you can’t touch my vagina if I don’t ask you to!” I don’t know if you need to be that overt. Personally, I love to weave in my messages with great melody, catchiness, danciness or beauty. Maybe there is a touch of mystery in there, but I don’t think you can be as blunt as you might be in a conference about sexual consent. Or else we wouldn’t have music, and we wouldn’t have conferences.
I just wrote “Famous,” which is a celebration of the women who actually came out in the #MeToo movement and have gotten some form of justice. Even though, of course, we’ll have work to do forever. It’s important to celebrate when you get whatever wins you get.
Talk about the visual for “Superior Emotion.” What was the dynamic working with Cautious Clay?
We actually scraped a lot of ideas, because I have always wanted a touch of comedy with the beauty. We always get these treatments: “AlunaGeorge is in a beautiful landscape and it’s really, really stylish. It’s so stylish.” I’m like, “All right, what is this stylishness about?” They’re like, “It’s about you being really amazing and cool.” I’m like, “Nope, boring!” I am not amazing and cool, I am pretty sarcastic. When I wrote “Superior Emotion,” guess what? I was being sarcastic, OK?
“Superior Emotion” is an idiotic description of a behavior pattern most of us love to indulge in: a total waste of time and we call it love. Then five years down the line, we are literally laughing at ourselves, like, “I can’t believe I thought I was in love with that person.” Especially the fact that it was unrequited, that really turned me on. It was a huge waste of my time while I was hiding from my goals, because I’m too scared of failure. It felt very deep and emotional, and I just felt really validated for being a really emotional human sometimes. “Superior Emotion,” hello? Courtney Brookes came up with this sarcastic treatment for a video and I was in heaven.
It sounds like it was inspired by a relationship?
Oh, hell yeah. How many? Also, people love to tell me about their relationships where they will describe the situation, then they’re like, “Do you think I should text them again?” I’m like, “Are you kidding me? That guy is not into you! Do I have to say this out loud?” Because you are gonna cry when I say it, but it’s obvious. How many times have I been there?
I interviewed SG Lewis not too long ago. Talk about the producers you choose to work with and why. I know you said you were picky.
Awww. Sound design and taste is really important, because you can’t tell me about what somebody's done, then show me music that I don't like, and convince me to work with this person.
You get that a lot, I’m guessing?
It does happen pretty regularly. I have to be the crazy one, like, “OMG, you would be crazy not to do that collaboration with that artist!” I’m like, “Really?” Because one thing I do know is that us artists, as successful as we might be, make a hell of a lot of shit. Then at some point, we accidentally make something good, and then a bunch of other people tell us it’s good, and that is what you end up hearing. It’s like, don’t send me the B-side options like I’m gonna make it. I can’t make shit into gold, come on. Then again, it’s also just purely down to taste. That’s why we have different genres, really. I happened to particularly like SG Lewis’ sound design and his taste in beats. Then I know we can kind of do anything.
This EP is your first independent release. Talk about your journey in the music industry.
The jungle … wow. We began at the starting point of things not only changing but changing really, really quickly, and lots of times. For example, in the short window that we’ve made music, we were ahead of our time at the time and then everything kind of caught up with us. We released our first tracks on SoundCloud, so we were sort of a SoundCloud band. We are also a MySpace band, because we connected on MySpace. But we also went through a traditional label experience, and that’s how we saw high-level pop industry stuff.
There was a weird straddling moment where as indie R&B artists, being pulled into this EDM, pop, dance world through a single, was very trying as a time. We found it kind of fun as a musical challenge, and when that became something that could be detrimental to our own career and development, that’s when I went into full protective mother mode for the music. I got us the fuck out of our label deal. We were signed with Island in the U.K. and Interscope in America.
What are some of your goals as an artist at this point of your career?
I have really high ambitions for my live show, which is why I have stripped it all the way back to a solo show. I had a point where everyone else was doing everything for me, I was just singing. I wanted to know what it’s like to have complete autonomy over the set, and also to be the only person to blame if it goes wrong. All of that interesting stuff you get when you are doing much more of an electronic set.
At the same time, I didn’t want it to be purely electronic. I am learning instruments to play live. I only knew how to use instruments for writing, but performance is a whole different thing. Because playing and singing is crazy for me. For my live show, it’s the visual and it being a 360[-degree] immersive experience. Next year, obviously I just want to increase the musical output. Now that we’re independent, we can move a lot faster and share the music that we know we can make — that nobody else has heard. When I say we are alternative R&B, if you haven’t heard the first album, you would think I was nuts. We need to get that music that we’ve been sitting on out.
I want to be helping a lot more young women of color and different sexual preference to access the industry. The thing that is fun for guys is the amount of choice. There is just more guys to work with, so there just needs to be more girls. So you gotta work with that girl whether you get along with them or not? That’s ridiculous.
What can we expect from your show at the Troubadour at the end of the month?
That is gonna be a very intimate solo show. You are gonna see me in probably the most vulnerable state that I can be in. I wanted to get back to my roots, which is I used to sing at open mic nights with no accompaniment whatsoever. This is one step up from that.
AlunaGeorge plays with Amber Lucid at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the Troubadour.