After a captivating performance at our sell-out event, Bridging the Gap: Women in Music, there were more than a few of us keen to hear more about the eccentric, keytar-wielding Fran Lobo.
The Edmonton-raised, singer-songwriter and producer has already caught the attention of music heads, with her first EP Beautiful Blood, receiving press from the likes of Noisey, Wonderland, CRACK magazine and Radio 1Xtra veteran Charlie Sloth. The attraction is immediate and lies in her intoxicating vocals and haunting bassline. Yet, despite consuming the listener almost entirely, Lobo still manages to retain an edge that could soon catapult her into the mainstream.
NME magazine has hailed her sound as, “A heady mix of The Eurythmics, Amy Winehouse and Brandy” and we couldn’t have put it better ourselves. It’s exactly this mish-mash of eclectic influences that lends Lobo a style that simply cannot be defined – it’s her own version of everything she loves – with an added sprinkling of pure joy for what she does.
We had a chat with the recently converted south Londoner, over a cup of tea (and then some dumplings) to find out just how she managed to navigate the land of a very male-dominated music industry and about her love of choral music.
gal-dem: So, your recent performance for gal-dem was wicked – you really got the crowd involved with the sing-along.
Fran Lobo: I was doing it semi-ironically!
No really, banter aside – how did you find the event?
I thought it was really important because I haven’t seen many publications focused on women but also women of colour. When I was at that age, (I feel so old) there were things like talks for young people but no-one from the industry to tell you that it wasn’t that complicated to do things. I mean you can’t be something you can’t see – you need to first break down the barriers in creative industry. In the panel discussion, I felt like I had stepped out of my body; it was strange for me because it wasn’t too long ago that I was attending events and wondering how the hell I was going to navigate this land.
So, how did you get your foot in the door?
A lot of it is to do with joining the Roundhouse. Post university, I got slightly depressed and it was joining them that got me out of the slump. I enrolled on every course: production, singing and, through that, I became mates with many people in the industry – I hate the word networking! I met my dream collaborators Pascal and Steve, who made my music possible. Pascal actually produced my first single, ‘Is This Love’.
And did you ever have any sour experiences trying to find your niche?
At 19, it was a power trip with my producer – he was always at the desk and I would always be in the background – even spatially there was always such a distance. Even though I was always making music, I had never gone to a professional studio so I was quite naïve. I wanted my break in the music industry and he kind of just veered me towards the Paloma Faith and Amy Winehouse vibe.
And was that what you wanted to do?
I was just confused I think. I wanted to succeed in the industry and wasn’t sure of my style yet so I just let him dictate. Gender definitely came into it as well because I didn’t feel confident enough to speak up. I remember playing him Rage Against the Machine, Thin Lizzie and Amy Winehouse; and asking him to make it sound like a mash-up of them and he just didn’t get it. But now, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
So, what would you say is your genre now? Your music takes me back to that 90s, 2000s R‘n’B vibe that artists rarely seem to pin down anymore – but you’ve still got an electronic feel with the keytar.
I listen to everything. I’m really into noisy, angry music but also ambient guitar bands. My absolute favourite band has to be Massive Attack – I’m dead. I love The Savages out now, My Bloody Valentine and the Dublin band – Girl Band – but still mixing those indie vibes with Brandy and Monica.
Yes, although the violence in the ‘Is This Love’ video is striking – for example the scene of the troops, I can still see it topping the charts. Do you feel like it’s quite relevant for our current time?
I love David Lynch and ominous music. It was John’s (Price) idea for that darkness, taking the idea relating to a relationship and applying it to the wider world: like our aggression towards nature and global warming. How do we love each other? – It’s a rhetorical question. I added the Bollywood dancers myself – I’m obsessed with the cyclical imagery and it relates to my Indian childhood and heritage
Your music is quite hypnotic and trance-like – it really consumes you. You don’t just have an amazing voice but you use it very distinctly. What advice would you give to young women trying to find their voice?
It’s taken time to perfect my style – I could have given up a long time ago. I would say to everyone, like some of the girls at the gal-dem event who I’d mentored at the Roundhouse: don’t put too much pressure on yourself. ESKA is a prime example – she released an amazing debut album last year and won a Mercury Prize at 40. What I hate in the industry is how obsessed everyone is with age.
It’s a dark bit of advice but keep your wits about you and don’t be naïve, like one of my tracks – ‘Keep Yourself’. Know who you are and if you don’t yet don’t get stressed about it. Music’s aim is enjoyment so don’t compromise anything whether it’s your style or morals.
Yes, you’re proof that you can find your niche with support rather than restrictive management. Financially, you’ve been backed by the PRS Foundation, #womenmakemusicfund?
Yes, PRS [Foundation] have an open fund for individuals who can apply for up to £5,000 for anything within your music or arts project, and it’s really kept me afloat. Yet, it’s annoying that we need that extra support; women are still a minority in the music industry. The funding is essential but every year the amount is declining.
Yes – that’s why gal-dem produced Bridging the Gap: Women in Music. The statistics of women and WoC particularly in all industries are still so shocking that the inequalities need to be continuously highlighted.
And what have you got stored for the future?
I had a choir in south London connected to the Blues Kitchen, but now I’m starting my own south London choir. I already conduct choirs, doing arrangements for Lips choir – an all-female Islington based choir, but now I want my own team! I also work with the movement, Girls Rock London doing music workshops at camps for women and girls of all ages in the Hackney area. I just love working with communities – that’s what gives me the energy for my own music.
Music making has a lot of potential to change lives; it’s not just about the charts but about how music affects people socially. I’m living to make music for everyone.