Francesca Belmonte / Interview on HungerTV
Read it on HUNGER
Photography / Fabio Esposito
Location / Rough Luxe Hotel
For the past five years Francesca Belmonte has been the lead singer for trip hop legend Tricky, co-writing and performing on his latest album ‘False Idols’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Mixed Race’.
Born in London, to an Irish mother and Italian father, Francesca was raised in Ireland surrounded by music and poetry, elements that shaped her future approach to making music. ‘Anima’ (meaning ‘soul’ in Italian) is not only the working title of her album but also reflects her soulful, gentle, introspective and somehow esoteric music and persona. Entirely produced by Tricky and also featuring eclectic rapper Mykki Blanco on one track, the album fuses melancholia with electronic and, just like a poem by a poète maudit, it feels intense, layered and organic even when a heavy bass or a twisted 70s vibe kicks in. In Ahead of the release we caught up with Francesca to talk Patti Smith, Carl Jung and why creativity needs to be handled with care.
Listen + Free Download of ‘I Could’ here
WHEN ASKED ABOUT YOU, TRICKY ONCE SAID: “SHE’S VERY YOUNG BUT OLD SCHOOL. SHE MANAGES TO MAKE SOULFUL MUSIC IN HER OWN AUTHENTIC WAY. SHE’S A SOUL, BLUES SINGER”. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS STATEMENT?
That’s a wicked thing to have said about you by someone like Tricky who is one of the most authentic artists out there. I would say that I am a soul and blues singer but not necessarily in the style of music. It’s not the kind of Joss Stone’s modern soul for example but lots of my melodies are blues. I think he was referring to the way I deliver vocally. If you are not sharing something and if you haven’t got a bit of ‘soul’ then what is the point, right? Some singers out there have got the most incredible voice, technically very good, but sometimes you just can’t feel it, even though they are doing really well. I really believe you always have to go through something in life in order to be authentic.
HOW DIFFERENT WAS IT TO WORK WITH TRICKY AS A PRODUCER COMPARED TO WORKING FOR HIM AS A VOCALIST?
Tricky is Tricky whether you are on stage with him or in the studio. You can always feel a high level of energy just being around him. When I work with him I usually listen to the music and I write whatever he needs, from a verse to a chorus.
For my album I chose a lot of the instruments, the lyrics, melodies and the sound that I wanted, so in that respect I felt like I had more freedom. Tricky would still kind of have the last word though but it’s fine because we have a strong chemistry and we know how we work by now. It pretty much always starts with the music. I brought to him some tracks and he would ‘take them apart’ and put them back together kind of wrong. That’s what he does in a way but that’s how you get Tricky’s sound!
I love the album and I’m very proud of it, especially the lyrics. I wrote about real experiences and ideas I have about people and everything. I’ve started writing poetry when I was nine so I have lots of books where I wrote down many lyrics, poems or simply something in a stream of consciousness. Lyrics are already there somehow, and depending on the music or instrument I would be flicking through my books as a reference. A whole new song could come from a sentence so there are no set ways of working. Sometimes I think that all of the songs I have ever written were just floating in the ether, without sounding wanky, and I sort of channeled them. Tricky writes a lot like that, he pays attention to what the music is trying to tell him rather than thinking “what shall I put here?”
“I COULD” IS THE FIRST SONG THAT YOU ARE RELEASING. DOES IT HAVE ANY SPECIAL MEANING TO YOU?
I adore the music on it, every time I hear it the violins get me. It is quite airy and yet so strong. There is also a story behind the first verse of the song, it is actually Tricky’s lyrics. I’d only known him for about two months and we were on tour. Before a show in Estonia we started writing and making music when he told me “why don’t you try this over that?”. My answer was that I was not sure if that was going to work and the moment I said that the whole session stopped! “You completely killed the vibe, you have to try things out but do not bother now, it’s gone” I remember him saying. I thought that he hated me already and that I was going to lose my job because of my negative vibe. I didn’t see him anymore until half an hour before the show. He handed me a piece of paper with the first verse of ‘I Could’ written on it, “My Spirit hangs on a piece of thread, don’t wear me down with a heavy head” and to me it is about the fragility of his creativity and how it needs to be handled with care. I’ve learnt a lot from that and I realized I was just feeling the same. It was a turning point, I wish I wasn’t that emotional but I am.
DURING THE ALBUM LISTENING YOU SAID THAT ONE SONG WAS ABOUT “A SUBCONSCIOUS PLAY OF GETTING AWAY FROM TRICKY”. WHAT ARE YOU EXCITED AND SCARED ABOUT IN THIS VERY MOMENT?
I am really excited to go on my own after five years. I learned a lot from him spiritually, creatively and musically. It’s cool to perform with him but he’s my boss in the end of the day so I’m ready to call the shots for a little bit and grow as Francesca on stage. It is a great feeling to choose your own setlist and band. I suppose I’m a little scared, but not of failure, there is no such a thing, all the best people have failed. Failing for me would be not being able to keep touring and working on my music. I will be happy as long as I can do that.
THERE IS AN OVERALL MELANCHOLIC ATMOSPHERE IN YOUR MUSIC, WHY ARE YOU DRAWN TO THIS VIBE?
I have been singing inside of Tricky’s music and atmosphere for so long and it definitely influenced me. He can also be hugely uplifting at times but always with a dark and sad under edge. I think I’ve also been subconsciously influenced by Martina Topley-Bird and Costanza Francavilla because they were there before me and I’ve been singing their words on stage. I had to find my own voice. I have always been drawn to sad music or extremely hard music with a rumbling base, in fact a few tracks on my album feature strong drums. I suppose I can’t stand the middle of the road because it doesn’t make me feel anything. The album is also quite melancholic because many sad things happened in my life. My brother nearly died in a horrible accident and that put a huge strain on my family. He’s fine now but after three years I still feel the repercussions of it so I haven’t really been in a constant happy mood, let’s say.
DO YOU HAVE A DIFFERENT APPROACH WHEN WRITING MORE UPLIFTING TRACKS?
No, not at all. I never sit down and think about what I’m going to write. I am not a planner who tries to get the most out of a day in the studio. If I can’t write something to an instrumental then I’ll just move on and come back to it, I never really change my writing style. I do feel like I have to work harder though when I’m writing more uplifting stuff, definitely. It doesn’t come as naturally but that happens to everyone who doesn’t plan like me. Everything has to be fluid for me, in fact it took only four weeks to have the album done. I’m really looking forward to the next one already!
MYKKI BLANCO AND YOUR 10-YEAR-OLD GODDAUGHTER MAKE AN APPEARANCE ON YOUR ALBUM, TELL US ABOUT IT!
We were playing in Berlin and Mykki was supporting us. I was in my dressing room doing my makeup and this six foot black guy came in wearing a mini skirt and blue lipstick. Let’s say he doesn’t go unnoticed! We watched the show and it blew us away, he’s incredible. Tricky was really taken by him as well, we started watching his videos and they ended up talking about a collaboration in the dressing room, it was a mutual thing. When asked about doing something on my record, Mykki was up for it and so it happened.
My granddaughter Daisy sings in one of my favourite tracks, it is very haunting and moving. She spoke to Tricky over the phone to thank him for a pair of trainers he gave her as a present and he was so impressed by her husky voice with that thick cockney accent. We brought her to the studio one day to sing a little rap and the result was fantastic. She sings “Look at you shop, look at you spend. Watch them rob, look at you lend. Love me now and I will grow. I’ll let you swim, you’ll let me row” and it has a lot of sense when sung from a child because you think that maybe her generation will look like that. It will be left picking up the pieces or at least continuing to deal with all the shit going on in the world.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE ALBUM TITLE ‘ANIMA’?
It is only a working title but it came to me because I’ve just started reading more into psychology and what people think, why they behave in certain ways and their body language. I came across the word ‘anima’ while I was reading the work of Carl Jung. Everyone has a male and female part in their psyche, within their brain, and Jung basically refers to the female psyche within a male brain as ‘anima’. I was intrigued by this concept since I have been a singer for a male artist, it just felt right and there is also the Italian connection.
YOU GREW UP IN A VERY CREATIVE FAMILY, I GUESS THIS SHAPED YOUR ARTISTIC VISION?
I had a very chilled environment back home and there were always materials to paint, draw and sculpt. My dad loves music and he is also a photographer while my mother had a modeling career for many years. It is difficult to talk about artistic vision because it goes across many boards. My vision at the moment is to be very natural but at the same time I definitely want to experiment with the character within me. I think you need to keep exercising your brain more than your image and think about what you want to say. Nevertheless the ‘character’ has the right to do what she feels like doing and believes in artistically. In the end it comes down to the individual. Who can say what art is? It is hard to define. I see it as a growing process but I know myself well enough to say that you are never going to see me on stage wearing a thong and a foam finger for example.
WHAT’S AN ALBUM, A BOOK, AND A FILM THAT YOU’LL ALWAYS GO BACK TO…
Angel-A by Luc Besson is a beautiful black and white film I always love to watch. The music is amazing and every time I see it I notice something new. Also the visual is everything in that film.
A book would be The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis. Bowie played in the film adaptation but I thought it was crap because the relationship between the alien and the girl in the book is not sexual at all, and for a specific reason. There is a lot of significance into that and this is why the film pissed me off. I don’t think I even watched the end.
An album would have to be Patti Smith’s “Horses”, I simply love her. I always strive and look up to her because I know I’ll never be like Patti! As a little girl I was more interested in the voices rather than the sound or style of music. Mary Weiss from The Shangri-Las, Carole King, Ronnie from The Ronettes, but also Van Morrison, Roy Orbison and all of those really thick soulful vocals. I wasn’t really into Patti Smith for the voice at first but now I love it. It was more about the lyrics and that fuck off attitude she has. Listening to her makes you feel free, she kind of gives you the permission to relax and that is strange, at least that’s what it does to me. Her lyrics are beautiful and cryptic at times, I still don’t know what she’s banging on about on most of them!
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
I suppose I’m hungry for everything that’s happening, I really am! I am hungry for saying something and using this opportunity to make a bit of a difference. I know how it comes across when people read these things but I suppose that making a difference is what all artists hope for. I’m hungry to keep working, learning and also for a glass of Merlot right now!