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AlunaGeorge Loves R. Kelly and America

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By Eric Sundermann

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Aluna Francis and George Reid must not be very good at coming up with band names. However, lucky for them (and us), they are very good at coming up with music.

The artists, who make up the cleverly named electro R&B group AlunaGeorge, spent the past year slowly building a fanbase after their debut single, "You Know You Like It," caught a bit of blog buzz. On first listen, the bouncy, sassy track might seem like it acts as a nice primer on the band's sound, but since its release, the duo spent the past year and a half refining what exactly AlunaGeorge is. And this past week, they showed exactly what that is to the world with their debut full-length, Body Music.

This album could possibly be the most 2013 sounding record to release this year. It's full of slippery, catchy beats and wordplay that recalls music of the '90s—from R. Kelly to Daft Punk—but still, somehow, feels extremely forward thinking. Last week, I Skyped in with the band and talked about everything, from Body Music to their stereotypes of America, while they went ahead and did the most British thing ever: drank tea.

Noisey: How do you feel about the record?
George Reid: Well, I am tremendously proud of the album. It is an amazing achievement to get it released and it's something I’ve been dreaming of doing for many, many years. So that, alone, is a great achievement. On top of that, we have really taken our time with a record and there is a lot of us that has been put into it.

Aluna Francis: Yeah, I think that's the thing that we take for granted. We did this all ourselves. George did all of the production on the album. I sung the entire choir. We only had help on mixing and we co-wrote one song with Sam Frank and that is it.

How long was the process?
G: Well, it's been since as long as we’ve known each other because the day we met we started writing music together. We've been doing it for ages, but it terms of actually to putting together an album with 14 songs it was about a year and half, they became apparent that they have the opportunity to actually write songs. Writing songs and practicing songs because that is what we are actually doing. We came the realization that okay these songs have to make sense together and you’ve got to be able to listen to it without feeling beaten or skipping a track or you know jump between them. So when we started really thinking about what we wanted to put across musically, that is what we’ve done. We wanted to put out something that gives everything that we are about.

What are you about?
G: To be honest, it is hard to put it to words mate. It is just music at the end of the day and I guess the words and the songs say more than anything I can say. I’m always been wanting to try and make songs out of what is interesting on my end at least—beats and rhythms. I’ve listened to a lot of instrumental music, mainly electronic-based stuff, and wanted to hear those amazing beats and soundscapes. Those are the songs that I remember at the end of the day. I try to pair that with a melody or a lyric I think I could relate to. It is a goal but it’s also just something that we do. 

What's the perception of your band like in the UK versus the US?
A: Well, in the UK, we are seeing a few artists who are doing something a little bit different getting into the charts. And I think that is because a lot of the kind of listeners we want are getting you involved in what they want to hear. Our radio stations are really responding to that, supporting newer and up and coming artist. You start with the specialist radio stations and then you do get your chance to get into the mainstream radio play, even if you are not Taylor Swift. That is what has happened here. Bands like us, and, say, Disclosure, have all had early support and it is great.

G: We’ve never been to America as a band, too, so I guess that might have something to do with it. I have no idea.

Do you think that culture makes it somewhat easier to be a musician in the UK?
G: I’d like to think so. It shows that it is a very possible thing to do, if that is what you want to do with your life. If you believe in it, then it is a possibility—because at the end of the day, it is a little hard to believe. This is just the two of us writing music on the piano and a computer. It is crazy how far it has come in this country. I think it just shows what you can do these days off your own back. And obviously there are people you need, and a lot of luck as well.

Are people recognizing you on the street?
G: Oh, yeah, we are not famous at all. I’ve had like two or three people recognize me. But it happens a lot in airports. People seem to spot us better at airports, maybe because it is just a confined space with lots of people banging around for a along time.

Airports are weird. They are a great equalizer of everybody.
A: It so is.

G: Unless you are in that lounge, you are all in it together.

Is it being weird being recognized?
A: That is weird. Every time somebody has recognized me outside of the context of music I find it very strange.

G: I had a very awkward situation when a girl came up to me yesterday and I was just in a shopping center in London. She was like, "Are you George from AlunaGeorge?" And she just let it hang for a little bit. Like, wicked, okay. She didn’t know what to say as much as I didn’t know what to do.

A: That is so funny because it is like you said, "Yes, I am him." And it's like, well, good!

G: Good.

A: I’ve seen that you are you.

I am happy that you are you.
A: That is a good question though. "Are you, you?" People keep asking you if you are you. I think I am?

With creating R&B music, do you ever deal with problematic perceptions, since you might be perceived as an outsider of the culture?
A: The totally honest answer is that it doesn’t become an actual thing to think about. Maybe because we haven’t been in another country where they have issues surrounding that. And we don’t so we don’t know how to answer the question.

G: Honestly, it has never been a consideration or a thought. For me, anyways, it is music, end of the day, it is. That is all it is.

Absolutely.
G: This is just sort of the generation who heard that music when they were younger. And I guess in our formative years growing up shaping our tastes. It was around the right age where it surrounded an era.

R. Kelly recently headlined Pitchfork Festival in Chicago and it launched a discussion of irony in music.
A: We actually got shock faces right now. That's like our Beatles. We actually had an R. Kelly day for one of our drives. We got an R. Kelly CD and inside of it was a poster, so we have the poster up in the van and we had it playing.

G: Basically what happened was my girlfriend bought me a R. Kelly disc, the one with "Sex in the Kitchen" on it.

A: Towards the end of that album, he is just having a chat with all of these melodies to himself, forever.

*begins to sing like R. Kelly*

“There was a door and there was a cat on the other side and he said meow, so I gave him some food. And then I went to the kitchen and there was no more food left, so I had to get some.”

That man can make a song about anything. At Pitchfork, he sang about a towel.
G: See, whether that choice is ironic or not, I bet everyone had a good time.

You guys are coming to the States for the first time soon. Excited?
G: I’m so excited because I’ve never been to America, even as a tourist. So I don’t know mate. Like, this is such a huge influential culture.

A: I want to see how the other cities have other cities differ from one another. Because it feels like we are entering like five different countries really. I’ve only been to New York and I know that San Francisco is totally different. Chicago is totally different. LA is totally different. I am just like well what are those differences going to be that’ll be a really trip to see.

Do you have any stereotypes about the states?
A: Chicago: pizza. LA: no sugar, no wheat, no meat, no alcohol and people on rollerblades in bikinis.

I’ve never been to England and I have a lot of stereotypes. Like I imagine you guys are all wearing pea coats and kicking a soccer ball and smoking pipes.
A: Yes, that is all true.

G: To confirm any of the stereotypes, we have been drinking cups of tea today.

A: And eating Victoria sponge cake.

All I ever want is a British person to offer me tea.
A: We will. When I was in America with my mum, in New York. We tried to drive from New York to Boston, and my mom has to stop for a cup of tea wherever she is, in any country. So she chose, like, a trucker stop. She drives in there, walks in, and she is like, “Hello! Can we have a cup of tea please?” And the silence ensued the entire place was just deafening. And I ordered an "I am an American Trucker" t-Shirt just to be on the safe side.

Does it have an American flag on it?
A: No it has a face and truck and.

G: The thing is Eric, you have to understand, we are talking to you on Skype and we’ve got this iPad up and we are not seeing your face—we’ve just got this American bald eagle looking at us.

I am proud of my country. We won the war.
A: Touché.

We should probably talk about your music more. Is there anything about which you feel misunderstood?
G: I think our singles that are our there is not completely representative of everything that we want to do musically, but we are solving that issue with releasing the full album. Oh, and that we are very tall. Don’t get surprised when you meet us and stand next to us and we are taller than you.

How tall are you?
G: I’m 6’4.

Wow, that is tall.
A: Just imagine, and you can't even see him. I’m 5’11ish.

You guys are really tall. You are too tall to play instruments? Has your height ever affect your ability to play music?
G: Pretty much every festival. I have an issue with keyboard stands and them not being high enough without being too wobbly for me. So, general neck pain is the only hindrance.

A: Often people filming stuff have difficulty fitting their legs in and not cropping the top of my head off.

G: That is true. With photo shoots we need to start telling people to bring a crate or something to stand on. While they are filming, they are like, oh, right, you are tall. 

 

Eric Sundermann is average height. He's on Twitter @ericsundy

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