Saturday 24 February 2018

By George, it’s Aluna

Sultry beauty Aluna Francis and nerdy muso George Reid may seem like an odd couple, but as AlunaGeorge they’re going global

Aluna Francis and George Reid are the odd couple that form AlunaGeorge.
Aluna Francis and George Reid are the odd couple that form AlunaGeorge.
Ed Power

Ed Power

A striking pop singer with legs stretching into next week and a pasty dude in a hoodie, Aluna Francis and George Reid are the quintessential musical odd couple. She's an RnB warbler with a voice like hot, bubbling honey, he's a nerdy bedroom tinkerer straight from the casting department. Maybe it's the dim lighting but Day & Night could swear we once sat opposite him at a Dungeons & Dragons tournament.

“I remember one meeting we had with a publisher and Aluna couldn't make it,” says Reid with a self-conscious smile.

“So it was  me and our manager and the guy opposite the table was looking me up and down, obviously thinking ‘who is this?' I had to tell him that, actually, I was in the band too. The meeting didn't last very long.

“The music and the people in front of him didn't add up. Looking back, it was hilarious.”

Introduced through mutual acquaintances, Reid's first assumption was that Francis was already a famous performer. She certainly looked like one. Carried herself like one too.

Aluna, to his mind, was imperious and distant and Reid was initially put off. His second assumption, after the bit about her being a celeb had been debunked, was that she would be stuck up, difficult to work with. However, a musician chum sensed they might have creative chemistry and insisted they hook up for coffee. They spent an awkward 20 minutes swapping small talk. Thus was born AlunaGeorge.

“We sort of sat there and said nothing to one another,” laughs Aluna, “We were total strangers. Still, something told us we should persist.

“After that we met in the studio. We literally had no expectations.

“Neither of us had much experience of working with other people. It was quite strange in the beginning. It's a happy coincidence that we get on. We don't really need to be buddies. The fact that we are is a bonus.”

Eighteen months later, all is changed utterly. Signed to a major and with a fairly whopping promotional budget at their back, AlunaGeorge are being built up as one of the big new things in pop. They've certainly got the tunes to turn underground credibility into mainstream triumph, though you sense they're somewhat conflicted about the concessions they will have to make if they wish to step whole heartedly into the commercial zone.

This comes up early in the conversation when they are quizzed about the  steamy video to the recent single Catching Flies.

While it has arty overtones — Little Red Riding Hood is a loose theme — the promo features a lot of lingering shots of a scantily attired Francis giving it the full Rihanna as she walks down a red-lit street.

Edit the glitchy, twitchy music out and she could be a random  r'n b diva mugging for the benefit of any 14 year old boys who happened to be watching.

“I might not do it again,” she says. “It is fun to get involved in somebody else's  vision, to have a hand in realising that.

“Ultimately there was a bit of acting involved. Too much acting maybe. Perhaps we will opt out of doing something like that next time. The song is very story based. We felt it needed a sort of narrative. The idea was put to us and we decided we would run with it.”

That's not to suggest they lack ambition. They aren't the sort of musicians who glamorise obscurity for obscurity's sake. If you can't convince people to care about your music, what's the point of making it?

In the formative stages of their partnership, they reached a consensus: if the opportunity to be successful presented itself, they would seize it with arms outstretched. Nothing that has happened since has changed their minds.

“As you are writing something, you do have an awareness that you need to have a destination,” says Francis.

“If we carry on making music in our bedroom, then . . . we're going to carry on making music in our bedroom. Eventually you have to get a job. So it [being successful] is actually a survival mechanism in some ways. If your music isn't heard, soon it won't exist.”

Seated together on a couch in a shabby-chic Dublin hotel, the pair are good humoured but tired. They've arrived from Belfast, where they played a sell-out show the previous evening.

Tonight, they headline a student shindig. It is news to them that they will be performing to hundreds of boozed-up undergrads rather than the discerning early adaptors who, at the moment, comprise the majority of their following.

“I like the stage,” says Francis. “George is a background type. That said, he came to my rescue last night. We had a mishap.

“Our equipment went ‘boom!' and broke down. So he played a piano solo for five minutes. Thank God for that.”

Early on, they were assumed to be a couple. In their early promo shots, they were almost — if not quite — in a romantic clinch and AlunaGeorge has a whiff of the ‘Brangelina' celeb couple portmanteau about it.

But when you meet them it is absurd to think they could ever be involved in that way. While obviously extremely close, they don't have that kind of chemistry. The suggestion that the friendship might go beyond the strictly professional seems to leave them simultaneously amused and exasperated.

“Initially, there was possibly a bit of it [thinking they were a couple],” says Reid. “The first or second press shot we did, we were properly right next to each other. I think people were asking themselves . . .  maybe?”

Though Francis has a fondness for abstract lyrics — they tie up neatly with Reid's blurred beats — she does put in the occasional autobiographical fragment.

Chillingly, forthcoming single You Know You Like It is about an online stalker.

“He kept going on and on in this one-sided argument,” she says. “I hadn't respond to any of the emails. He continued sending them, I continued ignoring them. It was one of those situations where a person was coming on really strong and you wanted them to go away. I put it all into the song.”

In the UK, AlunaGeorge have been trumpeted as saviours of pop. With their sophisticated grooves and subtle melodies, the theory is that they represent an overdue fightback against the toxically cheesy pop promulgated by David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia et al.

“I don't think our material is a reaction to anyone else's music,” says Reid.

“That music is so far off our radar that it isn't even relevant, it doesn't register with us. I'm not sure how much fun it would be to use your music as a way to rebel against another person's music. That would be sort of weird.

“We hear it sometimes from journalists. It doesn't feel very logical. Even if David Guetta wasn't making music, we'd still be doing our thing.”

You Know You Like It is released on July 5. AlunaGeorge play Longitude Festival on Friday, July 19

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