Revealing herself through mysterious lyrics, implicitly trusting mentor Tricky in producing her debut album, vocalist Francesca Belmonte unveils Anima. Capturing intense, charged moments of sensual passion, Belmonte's first independent body of work demonstrates her ability to experimentally express deep sonic feeling, finitely. Endeavouring to simultaneously connect with her audiences, whilst laying herself bare creatively and emotionally, the themes which run prevalently through the singer's 15-track LP draw directly on her last six years spent touring and collaborating with Tricky.
Playing backing singer and close friend to the trip-hop icon for a formative part of both artists' careers, deep respect, history, and chemistry runs through the electronic, jazz, and soul-infused album. Incomparable to any other female artist releasing right now, Francesca may receive strong acclaim from her burgeoning and building fanbase, but she remains a perfectionist; shy and humble with it. Blending smokey tones with Bulgarian pipes, strings, bass and keys, Anima is a psychosocial journey that explores the boundaries conjoining love, loss, sex and life. Complex UK meets the woman behind the (beautiful) music.
Interview by Milly McMahon (@MillyMcmahon)
Did you collaborate on lyrics with Tricky for the album or was that more exclusively your area?
Generally, that was the theme, but Tricky is a really good writer. I would come in with a guitar line or an instrumental, then if something came to him and it was cool, we just went with it. It just so happens that he's a brilliant writer. If he came up with something that he loved, I didn't let my pride get in the way—we made it together.
Is the music more about shared experiences between you and Tricky or more individual memories?
"Are You", for example: we wrote that together and it came from a shared experience. That song is special to both of us. I think it's a culmination of our experiences over the years that are all indirect. With a track like "Soul", in the lyrics and melody, you can hear that it's very much about a woman and is very personal to me. The shared element of the music is indirect, after having spent so much time together.
You came to decide on the name 'Anima' after reading more into psychology. Is your music about expressing yourself or more about connecting with other people?
It's a mixture of the two, really. I think everyone is born an artist: Picasso said it, Carl Jung said it. Tricky, I think, is one of the best artists in the world and he remains very childlike. And that's a good way to be. Children are very expressive; they aren't afraid to shove paint on a piece of paper and not be judgemental about it. And so I've discovered that, in order to understand things sometimes, I need to create. I'm not very good expressing myself in real life, and Tricky told me that's why I can write songs. It's all self-expression, but it's more than that—it's understanding yourself and the way you think about things. Which is why I'm interested in dreaming and psychology.
I think there's a huge importance in dreams, because they analyse your self-conscious. It's all connected with self-expression, and finding out who you are. It's also important that we human beings connect with each other and have compassion for one another, because we are all we've got. When I do a show, it's an exchange. It's not about me being on stage and I'm singing a song and your paying me money to do that—the fans give us as much as we give them. So having a connection to people is very, very important to me and should be for everyone. We all want to belong, and if you feel a bit more sane when you can connect with someone.
Has travel influenced your sound? The track "Your Sons"' has such beautiful instrumentals; the pipes work so well with your vocals.
Tricky and I travel around and we listen to a lot of different music.The pipes are actually traditional Bulgarian pipes that we sampled in. Tricky and I were listening to a lot of documentaries about war and the truth behind wars; I'd say I'm politically aware but I don't really want to get involved in politics. I'm more of a humanitarian kinda gal. That song has more of a political feel because the message is about the wars that the politicians in charge orchestrate. When Bill Hicks said, "I'm not into relation. I'm into us: humanity," I related to that. I had to write something with a bit of purpose. There's a message in all of my songs though, so don't expect anything wishy washy [laughs]. I heard the pipes and just thought of soldiers all dressed up; there was something noble and sad about them.
You've said you think it's important for an artist to go through something in order to become authentic. What significant experiences helped form the direction which gave rise to the feel of the sound you create today?
My brother had a horrible accident where he nearly died after getting hit by a police van. That changed me forever. It happened four years ago. The injustice of it all left me in an angry place. He was left for dead and nearly died! I was always very easy-going and, suddenly, I was very angry all the time. So that's an obvious one that I can say, and there's loads more; I just wear my heart on my sleeve and I can't hide it.
What single lyric or verse off the album do you feel the most attached to, and why?
I relate hugely to "Are You", because you could be waking down the street and you could see someone and they look like they have everything together. But everybody's suffering, one way or another. You could be from a rich background, a poor background, you could be a city worker or even be an orphan in the slums of India—everyone can relate to that song. [Sings] "Are you see-through? Me too. I see you." It's all about connecting with people.
Francesca Belmonte's 'Anima' LP is due out on June 1. Pre-order it right here.