Music Interviews
2:37 pm
Sun July 28, 2013

AlunaGeorge Finds A Natural Groove, By Accident

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 1:54 pm

If it weren't for a MySpace message three years ago, singer Aluna Francis and producer George Reid might never have joined to form AlunaGeorge.

"I sent Aluna's old band a message on MySpace, asking if they'd let me do a remix for them. I was just looking for things to do, to be honest," Reid says. "They liked what I did, and beyond that, it was sort of suggested that we should write together."

The two musicians met, hoping to generate material for Francis' band. Instead, they found that they had a chemistry all their own. In the last year, the electro-soul duo has become a powerhouse of the outdoor festival circuit and was ranked second on the BBC's Sound of 2013 list — all before even releasing an album.

Francis and Reid spoke with NPR's Jacki Lyden about their full-length debut, Body Music.


Interview Highlights

On listening to Massive Attack and Portishead as kids

Francis: "They had a huge impact. They were pretty much pop music at the time."

Reid: "I guess it's because it was all in the U.K.; we got exposed to a lot of it when we were younger. And it had such a — this a horrible thing to say — but, like, an otherworldly quality to it. It had all these amazing samples that were put in this new light. And it was hearing that alongside stuff like Air and Bjork, listening to that kind of music when I was a teenager, [that made me say,] 'How do they do that? I want to learn that.' "

On learning from other big-voiced singers

Francis: "I am often on the lookout for inspiring vocals, and I think the thing that inspires me most about a female vocal is if I can really feel their character coming through. Obviously, that was something that really happened when you were listening to Amy Winehouse. But artists like PJ Harvey, The Knife, CocoRosie, Robyn — I love all those quite honest voices where you get a lot of character behind the voice. It's not just about powerful or sultry or those kind of elements. I like something to be striking and interesting, and that's what inspires me."

On covering Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It"

Reid: "Well, we both adored the song. And because we were doing some festivals last year, and this year we're doing loads of them — this is all without us having an album out — so we're expecting a lot of people to listen to an awful lot of songs that they've never heard before. It was a case of having something that people would recognize in our set."

Francis: "A feel-good anthem that we could make our own."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

It's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR DRUMS, YOUR LOVE")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) You can't say that I'm going no where, 'cause you don't know where I'm coming from.

LYDEN: That's "Your Drums, Your Love," a single that climbed the UK Charts by the British Duo AlunaGeorge. Their debut album, "Body Music," comes out tomorrow. Separately, these young 20-somethings are Aluna Francis on vocals and George Reid on beats. We've got them both in the studio.

ALUNA FRANCIS: Hi.

GEORGE REID: Hi.

LYDEN: Oh, we're so glad to have you here. This has been really great fun listening to your music. So how did Aluna Francis and George Reid become AlunaGeorge?

REID: Well, a little over three years ago, I sent Aluna's old band a message on MySpace, asking if they'd let me do a remix for them. I was just looking for things to do, to be honest, and they very kindly to let me do that. And they liked what I did, and so beyond that, it was sort of suggested that we should write together, to maybe do something for her band's second album.

So it didn't come around, and we spent about two - what, maybe two, three hours trying to write something for her old band. And it was very awkward and rubbish because we just couldn't do that. So we thought, never mind, let's just write some music for the hell of it. You're here now, let's just have some fun.

So we just started writing from scratch. And it was really good fun, and the music sounded good, and we carried on doing that. And then after a few months, it sort of...

FRANCIS: We sort of realized we had a few songs in the bag.

LYDEN: Wow. There must have been some kind of a trust factor there, Aluna, you know, something about George's style that you believed in.

FRANCIS: It was just this kind of initial meeting that we had where, you know, we were just chopped in and interwoven together. We literally didn't know anything about each other. And being able to write something that was good, surprising, good quality and finished by the end of the day at the same time is having fun with someone was just too much. It was too much to kind of overlook.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD IDEA")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) You, you, you, pardon me...

LYDEN: You know, your sound remind some people of a style that was popular probably when the two of you were kids, trip hop. I'm sure you have heard of that. Were bands like Massive Attack and Portishead on your radar when you were growing up?

FRANCIS: Yeah.

REID: For sure, yeah.

FRANCIS: Definitely.

REID: It was...

FRANCIS: They've had a huge impact. They were pretty much, you know, pop music at the time.

REID: I guess because that it was from - in the UK, and we got exposed to a lot of it when we were younger. And they had such a - this is a horrible thing to say - but like an otherworldly quality to it and had all these amazing samples that were put in this new light. And it was kind of hearing that alongside stuff like Air and Bjork and stuff. It was kind of listening to all that kind of music when I was a teenager. So I wanted - how did they do that? How did they do that? I want to learn that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD IDEA")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) Do-bado do do bado, keep giving me a new excuse.

LYDEN: Aluna, I just want to ask you. You know, there's been so many really powerful singers coming out of the UK. And, of course, we've had the tragic passing of Amy Winehouse, certainly a very different style from yours, but is there anything you take away from some of these really big vocalists?

FRANCIS: I am often on the lookout for inspiring vocals. And I think the thing that inspires me most about a female vocal is if I can really feel their character coming through. And obviously, that was something that really happened when you are listening to Amy Winehouse.

But, like, artists like, you know, PJ Harvey, The Knife, CocoRosie, Robyn, you know, I love all those kind of quite honest voices where you get a lot of character behind the voice. It's not just about powerful or sultry or, you know, those kind of elements. I just like - I like something to be striking and interesting, and that's really what inspires me.

LYDEN: So this album includes a great bonus track that's a remake of Montell Jordan's "This is How We Do it" released in the '90's.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS HOW WE DO IT")

MONTELL JORDAN: (Singing) This is how we do it. This is how we do it.

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) This is how we do it. This is how we do it. La-la-la-da-da. This is how we do it.

LYDEN: Why that song? Is it a favorite?

REID: Well, we both adore the song. And we were - originally, were looking to - because we were doing some festivals last year - and this year we're doing loads of them, and this is all without us having an album out. So we were expecting an awful lot of people to listen to an awful lot of songs that they've never heard before. And it was a case of like having something that people would recognize in our set and...

FRANCIS: Yeah, kind of feel-good anthem that we could make our own.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS HOW WE DO IT")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) I'm kinda buzzed and it's all because, this is how we do it, so London does it like nobody does, this is how we do it...

LYDEN: You both said this is kind of an anthem. And it is extraordinary, George, how much you guys are touring in Europe this summer, one outdoor festival after another, and here you've made this transition from the studio to these live shows.

FRANCIS: Yeah. It's been quite a journey getting that music out into the live setting. It's - it was something we worked, you know, on and off. Whilst we were writing the album, we would do some spot shows here and there and test out different ways of doing this live show. And we had to tweak a lot from the, you know, from where we very first started up until kind of this year when we feel a lot more comfortable with it. George is on keys.

REID: Yeah. I'm playing some keys. And we got a sampler, we got a live drummer with us, as well. And he's got another sound (unintelligible) so he can trigger sounds from the album. I got a live bassist, as well, and it really adds a fantastic dynamic which you just can't get across from a computer. You know, simply having a hard crash cymbal piercing your eardrum just reminds you that, oh, yeah, we're making music in a band. It's great.

FRANCIS: And just the idea of having to be tight, you know, with your band. Like, there's a moment in the Montell Jordan song where our drummer, Trude (ph), has to do this kind of fill, and we're always hoping that we get it right on the second.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS HOW YOU DO IT")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) ...then you would know that I gotta get mine...

FRANCIS: And almost, you know, kick back in at that exact same moment. And that's just what, you know, get it going on stage and you're like, yeah, did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS HOW WE DO IT")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) This is how we do it.

LYDEN: Maybe you could tell me what you think you've learned from each other - given to each other.

(LAUGHTER)

REID: Loads of things, obviously, by the silence.

FRANCIS: How to make a good cup of tea?

REID: No. Nope. She can't make it right.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU KNOW YOU LIKE IT")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) Some people want me to be heads or tails...

LYDEN: That's Aluna Francis and George Reid. Together, they are AlunaGeorge, and their debut album is called "Body Music." Their music videos are definitely worth your time, and you can watch them at nprmusic.org. Aluna, George, have a great summer. And thank you so much.

REID: Thank you.

FRANCIS: You too. Bye.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU KNOW YOU LIKE IT")

ALUNAGEORGE: (Singing) I'm no fool, no, I'm not a follower. I don't take things as they come, if they bring me down. Life can be cruel... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Related Program