Interview: 5 Minutes with Francine Belle
Take a passion for singing and writing, add crisp modern production and top this all off with exquisite natural Nigerian beauty, style and a fashion-forward sensibility and you have the innovative Francine Belle. Delightfully cosmopolitan, Francine Belle was born in Paris, raised in London and comes from Nigerian heritage; this colourful background and her diverse musical influences come through in her expertly layered pop sound design.
This talented star on the rise has just released her new single ‘Beautiful Heights’, along with a brand new music video that reflects all the shining sides of this multifaceted musician. Ed Boyer and Bill Hare, who have worked with world-renowned American acapella group Pentatonix, stepped in for the mixing and mastering of ‘Beautiful Heights’, as well as Grammy award-winning arranger, music director, producer, engineer Ben Bram, who arranges music for Pentatonix and helped with vocals and arrangement on Francine Belle’s single.
Watch Francine Belle’s brand new music video for ‘Beautiful Heights’, below.
We caught up with Francine Belle and chatted about underrated acapella music, Afrobeats and writing about life.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
It’s something that comes very naturally to me. I’ve always written songs, I’ve always sung. My heritage is Nigerian, so we’re a very musical culture, I grew up listening to Highlife music, I love harmony, acapella, percussion. And I really love orchestral music, as well.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Depends on the song. Sometimes it will come fully formed as a melody and lyrics. Sometimes I’ll have a lyric idea. Sometimes I will piece the song together, knowing exactly the style I want to achieve. There are songs that grew from all of these different techniques / phenomenons on my album.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
I’ve produced everything on my album in collaboration with my talented co-producer Matt, and have been lucky enough to work with acapella powerhouses like Ben Bram and Rob Dietz on a couple of tracks. Until the last decade or so acapella has been such an underrated area of pop music. Artists like Queen and Brandy play with polyphony and vocal layering in some of my favourite ever songs – I’ve always loved the power of voices together. When I discovered Pentatonix I was giddy. I didn’t actively seek out the genre for myself, but it’s such a large part of how I write and produce (I always make my demo “instrumentals” using vocals), so it makes sense that I would keep those original sounds for a couple of songs. The are a few moments like this on the album. ‘Beautiful Heights’ is one of them.
What’s on your current playlist?
Listening to a lot of SZA at the moment – ‘Drew Barrymore’ is just such a heartwarming song to me. I’m always discovering new Afrobeats songs – it’s a genre that’s close to my heart and is unparalleled for melody and percussion. It’s becoming a lot more mainstream now which I think was long overdue. And MJ. Always.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
In smaller shows, you can really connect with the audience and give them an insight into the meaning of a song. That’s something I really enjoy – it’s a different dynamic to a larger gig, where you’re more focused on the spectacle. I like to cultivate intimacy where I can.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
Lots of vocal layering and harmonies. I will try as many harmonies as I can on one phrase and select the top 3 at the end of it – or more if I can get away with it!
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
So I start with the instrumental and a demo vocal. I’ll literally sing a string sound in a syncopated way if I want it to sound staccato, or I’ll use “la”s for a legato string phrase. I’ll sing the bass by going as low as my range allows – everything. I would get this replicated using digital sounds before getting it scored and getting live instrumentalists in to play the parts for real. Live orchestra sessions are so moving and wonderful. You capture a special energy in that moment with the players that digital instruments can’t provide, no matter how advanced the sounds. I record all of my final vocals at home in my studio – I’ll just blitz them over a day or so and revisit them just before the mix if required. I try not to record any later than 6pm. It’s an old Victorian house and I’m mindful of my neighbours. It would drive them crazy hearing me repeat a phrase over and over well into the night.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
Well I was originally going to be a writer. I studied Music at The BRIT School because I loved it, but Media was actually my lead subject and I went to university to study English in pursuit of my journalistic dream. But while I was there I somehow wound up singing in 4 bands. It’s like music took over. Eventually it had to win.
Any emerging artists on your radar?
Victoria Monet‘s ‘Freak Remix ft. Bia’ made me feel some kind of way, and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Look it up, you’ll thank me later.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
I write about life. Something I’ve lived or dreamed. Sometimes a character in a film will inspire me. There’s no telling how my muse operates.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Just me, my condenser mic and my Laptop.
Any side projects you’re working on?
I’ve got a collaboration coming up with an Afrobeats producer I really admire. He hit me up on Insta and we’ve made some fire tracks. So exciting.
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
I’m much better at vocal production now (which is a pleasant surprise, since I’m entirely self taught). In general I’ve improved at the simple art of just crafting a song. Lyrics were always secondary to melody in my mind, and in the last few years I feel like I have balanced both elements out and come to understand how the right phrase and syllables can make a hook take flight.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
‘Beautiful Heights’ will be followed by at least one more single this year and the album release in 2019.
Listen to ‘Beautiful Heights’ on Spotify, below.