There’s something undoubtedly terrifying about being tipped as the buzz act for a year of music.
The weight of expectation, and subsequent pressure to live up to it, has been known to push artists into putting out records that they aren’t ready – or happy – to release (Little Boots), bring on crippling panic attacks (Ellie Goulding) or simply force an artist to retreat into the studio, seemingly never to return to the public domain (Michael Kiwanuka, Daley, Jamie Woon, Clare Maguire etc. etc.)
Having been tipped in both the BBC Sound of 2013 poll, and the BRITs Critics Choice list, it’s therefore no surprise that vocalist Aluna Francis and producer George Reid, known to us all as quirky electro-pop twosome AlunaGeorge, are feeling a huge sense of relief now that their debut album Body Music has been released to widespread critical acclaim. “It’s actually taken a lot of the pressure off,” Aluna laughs. “I’m not very good with waiting for some kind of epic day to happen. I feel pretty lucky that people have been so supportive.”
One point of praise that has recurred throughout early reviews is the consistency of the album, not only in the standard of tracks (there’s a total deficit of skippable numbers) but also in the maintenance of the pair’s synonymous futuristic-R&B-electro-left of centre-wonky-pop aural blend. This is no coincidence – having met on MySpace back in 2009 the duo have since spent time honing and refining their sound to what it is now. “When we started working together we were just writing for the sake of it being fun and it sounding good,” George explains. “In our first year of writing together we really tried everything out to end up with the sound we’re working with at the moment.”
Then in January of least year, everything changed. “Up until that point we had both made a lot of sacrifices as to how we led our lives. It was all just music for music’s sake – which is absolutely essential but after a while you realise you need something more sustainable,” Aluna cautiously recalls. Signing to major label Island Records, having been housed on Brooklyn indie label Tri Angle previously, the pair were given a Hammersmith recording studio to work out of, full time. “Rather than just two days a week, we got to spend every day in the studio. We were there any time of day, as many days as we wanted,” Aluna gushes. “The fact that this was going to sustain us both creatively and as a lifestyle choice was just phenomenal. It’s such an honour to be able to live off what we’re doing.”
In the studio, it’s George who comes up with the “silly noises and random chords,” and Aluna who writes the lyrics, which generally revolve around Aluna’s reactions to other peoples’ life stories and how she relates to them. “When I was starting out, I wrote lyrics just from my own perspective. It was very introverted,” she recounts. “When you’re inside your head too much your viewpoint is so narrow. You can’t play with lyrics, language or get to the true nature of the subject. It’s much easier to give somebody else advice.” Asked whether they had to make any musical compromises after signing to a major, Aluna positively recounts “they’ve put a lot of good pressure on us to do what we are doing to the best of our ability. What they wanted from us was what we had to bring. They wanted more of that.”
The pair has somewhat unwittingly accumulated a fan base of international proportions, through the release of a series of blog-friendly singles including ‘You Know You Like It’, ‘Your Drums, your Love’ and ‘Attracting Flies’. “Playing at international festivals has been such a nice surprise for us,” George reminiscences. “We had no idea what our music had been doing in other countries. We played at Sonar Festival in Barcelona and I couldn’t have been more shocked by people’s reactions to our music. It was the nicest feeling.”
“Glastonbury also really blew us away,” Aluna continues. “There’s so much competition and bands are all playing at the same time. You don’t know who’s going to come to your tent when you’re a new band. So seeing that people couldn’t fit into the tent when we got there we were like, “Oh…My…God! It was incredible.” In fact it is these festival memories that Aluna would consider to be her career highlight so far: “When you’re at a festival and everything is wrong… it’s freezing rain, wind, I’m like, “You really should be indoors,” and these people are still there watching you.” It is quite astonishing how genuinely grateful both Aluna and George are for their success within every answer to my questions. George’s “huge career highlight” was performing on Jools Holland. “It was a moment where we realised how far we had come from where we started… It was frightening as hell.” “I was absolutely beside myself with fear,” Aluna laughs.
Production-wise, George’s beats are most often compared to producers like Timbaland and The Neptunes. The latter isn’t lost on the pair, who cite Pharrell Williams as their ultimate dream collaborator. “We’re going to keep saying Pharrell and hopefully one day he will read it and he’ll say, “who’s this?” And we can all hang out and just have a great time”, George chuckles.
Coming up the group are primarily going to be “slamming out the live shows” which they “held back quite a lot” when writing the album (although to anyone else, it would appear that the pair have been touring almost incessantly). They have the American tour coming up, followed by a stint in Japan and Australia with their ‘White Noise”’collaborators, equally buzzed about production-duo Disclosure, ending with a European and British tour, proving that this is a twosome that no doubt managed to live up to their hype.
Body Music is available now through Island. Article written for The Line Of Best Fit.