THE amazing Francine Belle…
has been telling me about her debut single, Beautiful Heights, and how it came to her. I learn about her musical influences and what we can expect next; what it was like performing alongside Sir Elton John – she discusses moving from Paris to South London and whether she gets time to chill away from music.
The songwriter talks about Solange and a few albums that are important to her; whether there are any rising artists we need to get behind; what she would say to emerging songwriters; if there are any tour dates coming along – Francine Belle ends the interview by selecting a cool song.
Hi, Francine. How are you? How has your week been?
I’ve had a great week. Seeing the response to the Beautiful Heights has been so wonderful. For a long time, it’s been just me tinkering away in my studio like a mad scientist so releasing the music finally is like dusting off the cobwebs…stepping out into the world…getting some sun…getting some air...Communicating with fans of my music - it’s been transformative!
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m a London-based singer, songwriter and producer. I’ve been singing, writing and performing for years but the producing happened more recently. Through recording vocals and compositions at my home studio, I taught myself how to make the music I want to hear and have wound up with a debut album, which I’m in the process of finishing now.
Beautiful Heights is your debut single. What is the story behind the song?
It came to me in a dream. It was more of a feeling rather than anything intellectual and that’s what I wanted to invoke with the production. I think that’s why I kept it as voice. A lot of my songs start that way, with vocal layering, and the vocal compositions get replaced with whichever instrument I was trying to emulate but, with Beautiful Heights, I wanted it to remain ethereal. It started as vocals and handclaps and ended as vocals and drums. Even the bassline is vocals.
The male vocals are by acapella arranger Ben Bram, who thankfully agreed to work on the song after I sent it to him. That was such an honour – I’m a huge fan of his. The dream version was majestic and soaring and I spent months and months trying to capture what I heard and make it real.
Is there going to be more material coming next year?
Yes - and maybe even before! My album, Myths & Legends, is almost complete and due in 2019, but I hope to release more singles ahead of that.
I understand you have performed backing vocals for Sir Elton John! What was that like?!
It was great! I was doing B.V.s with him and Bright Light Bright Light. Elton is down-to-earth and took the time to shake everyone’s hand and say hello. He has some astonishing diamond rings. Astonishing.
You were born in Paris but raised in London. Was there a reason for relocating to London?
My parents are academics and so were in Paris for their studies. I was a baby, so I don’t know the reason, but wagering a guess I’d say my parents decided Paris wasn’t glamourous enough for their baby girl and picked South London instead.
I hear shades of artists like Solange in your music. Who do you count as musical influences?
What a compliment! A lot of my songs were written and produced before A Seat at The Table came out but I do love that record. I’d say it makes sense you hear shades of Solange in my music because I think we both cite Minnie Riperton as a great influence (those whistle vocals and harmonies do it for me). I really like Lana Del Rey’s Born to Die album because I love cinematic and epic sounds and live orchestration which you’ll hear more of in my other songs. Quincy Jones is an ultimate influence, because he wasn’t afraid to play with orchestral and majestic sounds in Pop.
He did all of that and kept the soul in the music too. It’s wasn’t just production; it was alchemy. It was magic. The M.J. albums he did are the greatest works of all-time in my opinion. I love Patrice Rushen for the same reason; that epic orchestration - and because she wrote and produced as well. Disco is sometimes discounted as a musical genre but some of the production can really give you goosebumps. Haven’t You Heard by Patrice is one of the best songs ever. I’ve got a Disco song on my record and if I’ve captured even a tenth of that joy and energy I’ll be happy.
How important were your family and your Nigerian heritage regarding your approach to music and how you write?
Very important. My brother Leo is a singer and I cut my teeth performing backing vocals for him. I grew up around music, so the concept of being ‘talented’ didn’t really occur to me as a kid. One of my teachers took me to one side after I sang in front of the class one time and told me I was very talented. Before that, I thought singing was something everybody could do. Everybody did it at home. It wasn’t until I got a bit older that I realised what I had and also the depths of my need to create, as well as sing.
I think Nigerian music is very much about melody, harmony and beats. Although it’s not a conscious effort on my part, I find that everything I write always comes back to that. I want to feel driven by the drums and moved by the melodies. Afrobeat and Highlife music do that and my music tends to do that too, in a different way.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
One more single and a much wider audience to share my art with.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
I’ve had some great times touring with different bands, whether as a front person or a backing vocalist. Touring is such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never the same each time. Even when I’ve been sick, homesick or heartbroken; I always think of touring as some of the best times of my life. I can’t wait to tour with my music soon.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
Such a difficult question! I’ll probably pick something different on a different day but, at the moment, it’s Sade’s greatest hits; George Michael’s greatest hits and any album by Michael Jackson (except the posthumous ones he didn’t sign off on) because they’re all just masterclasses of songwriting, emotion; narrative and voice.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
Honey and lemon on my rider is a must. Beyond that, I’m pretty easy-going. I’m there to perform, not to move in.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
I think the advice would change depending on the artist and what they want to achieve. There are some universal truths, though and, even though it sounds trite…staying true to yourself is the best advice I can give. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in music but that’s always seen me through and kept me grounded.
Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?
I’m preparing for a live showcase in October that I’m doing in collaboration with this exciting new artist platform that I can’t wait to talk more about! Hopefully, a few more before the New Year.
IN THIS PHOTO: Stanaj
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I really love The Way I Love Her by Stanaj. I heard it online randomly and his voice is incredible. There’s an acoustic version which is sublime too. The Chloe x Halle record is fire. And Azealia Banks is an artistic tour de force. I’m a proud Kunt t.b.h.
IN THIS PHOTO: Azealia Banks
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
Music doesn’t feel like work to me, so chilling is usually when I find time to sign off on mixes and masters my producer sends me. Otherwise, I walk the dogs and will watch some Game of Thrones when it’s on. Winter is here!
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Don’t Play It Safe by Cassie. It’s a bop and it’s relatable
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