Photography Lula Hyers

alunageorge's emotional new song is about finding true happiness

As the UK duo drops 'Superior Emotion' with Cautious Clay, singer Aluna Francis talks returning to AlunaGeorge's indie beginnings — and how music helped her through her own #MeToo moment.

by Ilana Kaplan
07 September 2018, 7:45pm

Photography Lula Hyers

Some artists are cursed by their second album. Aluna Francis knows that. But the frontwoman of alt-R&B duo AlunaGeorge wasn’t about to let it happen. AlunaGeorge, comprised of Francis and producer George Reid, has always been focused on releasing a high quality of music that is representative of their creative ethos. For their sophomore record, the duo signed to Island Records, where they released 2016’s I Remember. While Francis and Reid learned a lot being on a label, they wanted to go back to their indie roots and re-establish the fact that they were not just about EDM music — they were about great songs. “I don’t really have any regrets about being on the label as we did, and I don’t think I could have done it without being on a label,” Francis says. “But now, so much of the forward movement really has to come from the artistic perspective and the artistic angle because that’s the brand we are.”

Finally released from their record contract, Francis and Reid originally aimed to put out a record in June. Now, instead of an album, they’ll be releasing their Champagne Eyes EP next month — a body of work discussing love, infatuation, hedonism, and the sleaziness of the music industry. New single “Superior Emotion,” featuring R&B newcomer Cautious Clay, is a track that echoes the familiarity of AlunaGeorge’s 2013 debut album Body Music.

At The Bowery Hotel in New York City, Francis sat down with us to discuss going independent again, the new EP, and how Jameela Jamil got her through her own #MeToo experience.

I went to the studio with you over the summer and the songs on the Champagne Eyes EP were slated to be a record. Why did you decide to release an EP instead?
We’re not necessarily sure that albums are the medium we want to work in. I think me and George may have a difference of opinion in that. For me, an album still feels like a really excellent way to work, more the methodology of an album. Then we got free — we got free of our label and everybody — and we were just like, “Let’s do our first independent band release. Let’s do an EP, where we can concentrate on loving these few songs instead of concentrating on ‘we’ve gone independent and we’re releasing an album entirely ourselves.”

Did you separate from the label or were you dropped?
I requested to leave. I had an excellent moment -- it was an epiphany. I was like, “Why don’t I do some negotiation here?” I have a mouth, and I even have the head of the label’s number in my phone. I believe that people at certain times in their lives see sense. They don’t always see sense, but if you can catch a window and can feel it in the air, you can have a very sensible conversation you never thought you can have.

So the conversation went well?
It went very, very well. It wasn’t as easy as that conversation because obviously we’re too entities invested in each other. But it worked.

Do you have any regrets about your decision since?
Oh my god no. Because what I learned from being into a label I get to put into practice. There was a lot of support at a label. There are lots of ways you can work together to move forward at a label. I don’t really have any regrets about being on the label as we did, and I don’t think I could have done it without being on a label. But now, so much of the forward movement really has to come from the artistic perspective and the artistic angle because that’s the brand we are. We are a brand that enjoys high quality. Not everybody wants to do it and not everybody wants to invest in it. Labels want to invest in a product that is very reliable, stable, and geared towards big success. As a band, we have a different model… If we’re not being invested in, then we have to invest in ourselves.

Tell me about your new single with Cautious Clay, “Superior Emotion.”
I slid into his DMs. I had been told about him. I was obsessed with “Cold War.” I went to his house in deep Brooklyn and most of the time, honestly, we chatted. We tried to make some stuff but most of the time we were too busy getting to know each other. It was really nice to be in a space with someone you could really fuck with but didn’t have a pressure to do anything. When I was in New York again, I was like, “Do you want to see if you fuck with anything?” In my head I knew he was going to fuck with “Superior Emotion.” He was like, “That one.” I was like, “Yeah I know.”

What’s the song about?
It’s a moment when you’re kind of being honest with yourself about your habits. I think I was more inspired seeing that in other people because it’s easier to see it for what it is rather than see it for yourself. It’s about obsession, unrequited love, picking people you can’t have, and mixing it into this cocktail that creates one of the most maximum human emotions you can get and then calling it love. Because we want love to be like that. We think love is meant to be like that. I’ve since learned that it’s not, so I was looking at what all the rest of that is. A lot of the time for me it was about keeping myself busy and feeling like I was working hard so I could shy away from reaching my goals in life. It’s kind of tender, but sarcastic about that behavioral pattern. It’s an addiction: I was thinking about the idea of happiness as being a drug we’ve been sold for a really long time. The concentrated form of happiness we associate with a good life isn’t sustainable and it’s not good for your mental health. But it’s very addictive.

Do you feel like this EP is different from work you put out before?
I do feel like it might be different from the album before this one, I Remember.

So is it a return to your first record?
Yes it is. I think I Remember is the classic second album that some artists don’t return from. It nearly pulled us under in some ways. There are parts of that record I really like, but there are definitely songs on there that I would say had too much external influence in the process. Me and George decided we were going back to doing what we do. We love our downtempo and although we’ve become known for our dance music, which is also a very genuine part of our musical soul, it’s not who we are. We love a good song. I love a good dance as well. This EP is really just to say, “Don’t worry. We are who we say we are. Just because we lost our way doesn’t mean we’ve given up. This EP is also a thank you to all of our fans for sticking with us. Just forget the [songs] you didn’t like.”

Are you worried that maybe you lost fans in the process?
No. You know what I worry about? My ability to accept that we have fans. The idea of losing fans is like, “Hold on a minute. I need to understand that we have them in the first part.” It’s my own personal journey. I think it’s a great disservice to my relationship with my fans — I don’t feel good about not allowing that close relationship and I’m putting all my effort into rectifying that.

I know Disclosure has been releasing new music. Would you guys collaborate again?
No. I’m not particularly attracted to doing collaborations with the same people. I think doing a collaboration with someone is like having a fresh perspective. Sometimes I think if that collaboration was successful, there’s a desire to try and do that again. I know from our process that trying to do a good thing twice doesn’t work.

What's your plan after this EP comes out? Will you put out singles or an album next?
Maybe an album. A new batch [of songs]. Some of the songs we wrote during the EP will be on there.

I heard one of your songs on the EP addresses the #MeToo movement. Can you elaborate?
At the time I was seeing some women be really brave [and] share their stories. I can't tell my story because I'm not sure I'm ready to blow up my story in my face. It got me stuck in this weird place. But then I was like, “I'm going to celebrate these women who can [tell their stories].” I’m just hoping that [#MeToo] can move into the music industry more and towards black women more. “Famous” doesn't necessarily sound like a song about anything but it is.

I'm sorry you went through that.
Very educational. Wasn't extreme enough to leave scars, but it was extreme enough to give me something to think about. I think it's a really interesting topic. Jameela Jamil is doing a really interesting show on sexual consent on BBC, and I really want to see it because she was a pivotal person in my situation. We met properly stuck at the airport trying to get somewhere. She was in a onesie.

In this climate, I don't know any woman who hasn't had a traumatic experience like this.
Jameela is the one who stopped me in my tracks and was like, "Aluna, that's sexual harassment." I was like, “Oh shit, now I have to do something about it. At least realize what it is.” For me one of the challenges was, how do you move forward when you really want somebody to pay for what they did and acknowledge what they did and see that what they did was wrong? I think those sisterhood moments are so important. She also maintained a complete neutrality about what I did. She wasn’t like, “You have to tell everyone or you have to tell him or you have to do this or do that.” She was like, “I’m here and I just need you to know what happened to you and do some processing.” She remained neutral and gave unconditional love as a sister.

They may never even understand it then.
They may never. Ultimately, what does that do for my forward movement? There was a disconnect. I was like,” I don't understand. Am I supposed to let it go? I can't let it go. It's not possible. So then what do I do with all that stuff?” For me it's been trying lots of different things. Just do anything to try and when something doesn't work, just do something else. I’ve gone at this thing so many different days. I went for writing a letter, speaking face-to-face, talking to other people to writing a song about it. "Mean What I Mean" is about that. Imagining becoming Kill Bill or becoming so super sad about it.

How have you been able to move forward?
I am working through so many philosophies about what justice is and what is helpful to humanity. Does it help us to condemn when this person is still going to be on the planet? Every negative thing you do to a human is always going to come back. There’s so much healing to be done. Just punishing one of those people doesn’t seem to serve or heal either of them. I’m trying to figure out, how do you get justice from healing? Staying a victim is a really interesting conversation to be had. How long does one stay a victim? How long am I a victim of this sexual harassment situation? When do I move into the part where I’m a survivor and I don’t give this person the power to affect my life?

Aluna Francis