Progressing from backing singer to lead can be a daunting challenge, but Francesca Belmonte is facing that challenge head on. A backing singer for the legendary experimental artist Tricky, Belmonte steps to the forefront with the release of her debut album Anima which she just released on Tricky's False Idols label. The heart of the album features genuine pop sensibilities, but there's flourishes of R&B, soul, electronic and a whole lot more. There's a fair bit of experimentation with her sound and coming from touring the world with Tricky, it makes sense to take those risks and try something that's a little out of the ordinary.

Following our recent 'Record Shopping with...' photoshoot with Francesca, we had the opportunity to talk to her in more depth about the creation of the record, musical influences and what prompted her to pick the records she did.


You recently did a photoshoot with The 405 at Rough Trade. How did it go for you?

I was quite early actually, which is quite unusual for me so I had picked a lot of the records already. I think there was a Muddy Waters track, Bikini Kill, Nirvana - a couple of classics like Tapestry [Carole King], To Bring You My Love by Polly Harvey... It was cool, it was really nice, it was chilled. I don't really like the visual side of things that is imperative with releasing an album. I love going to galleries and I enjoy visuals of other people's work but when it comes to me, I just don't like pictures. It's not even a vain thing, it just makes me a bit uncomfortable. But the photographer was really cool, he made me very relaxed, we had a coffee. They do good coffee in there actually.

Touching on what you said about not particularly enjoying the visual aspect of releasing album; have you found that to be a hindrance of sorts in your career?

I think it's so young, my career, I've just started out really. Obviously I've been on the road with Tricky for six years and I've collaborated with him on his last three albums but the visual side hasn't mattered so much because he's the star. I feel like I could have just stayed there very comfortably for a long, long time because I'm able to go out on stage every night and sing, make a living and not be in the spotlight; I can remain in the shadows. As much as I feel ready now, I feel this has been a long time coming and I'm very ready for it. I think why it's uncomfortable is because I'm quite an honest person and creating an illusion seems to be such a big part of musicians that I'm coming across and seeing around me at the moment. FKA twigs is a great musician but her visuals are just as important as her music and that's not really the case for me. I'm an alright looking girl but it's not really something that comes as easily; the visual side of things and I get very, very fussy. The 'Stole' video for example, yeah it's great but because I've got this jarring thing that I'm still coming to terms with on the visual aspect. I'm tending not to be that lucky with the collaborators that I end up with. The 'Stole' video, we were kind of going backwards and forwards to the point where I was just like "Fuck it, let's just put it out!" I don't know if it matters. I don't know if it doesn't, I'm so early on but I'm very proud of the album and the music and I can tell you that if you came to my live show, I can rock you out but the visual side of things I'm still learning. A lot of the pictures I'm holding records out away from my face. I'm right at the very beginning and I'm still finding my feet. I don't know how I feel about it all yet. It's something that I'm still refining.

It is so different from a few years ago because obviously now, everything is so visual-driven. Before it wasn't so important, it was probably more about the music...

Yeah. Years ago you wouldn't see a picture of the artist for month or years or ever. You'd hear their song on the radio, maybe you'd have a TV, maybe you wouldn't and you'd never see them. If you did, it was on a Friday night on some TV show, it's a completely different thing. The music's sorted, I'm very happy with the music, I'm continuing to write, I'm confident in that but the visual side I'm just starting to get a hang of.

You releases your album via Tricky's label False Idols. How did you come to meet him and start working together?

He needed a new singer, it was October 2008 and he put an ad in the paper for a new singer and that's basically the bottom line. It's not that interesting! I went along to the audition and I was definitely the least experienced. He wasn't actually at the audition, it was his keyboard player and he said "You're the best; I like you the most out of everyone I've seen but you're the one with the least experience so we'll just see how it goes when I show Tricky." A few hours later I got a call from Tricky and he said he really liked what I did and wanted me to come on the road.

The weird story is, at the time I was living at my Godmother's house a couple of months before I even came across this audition, Jools Holland was on, my mother was over and Tricky was singing 'Council Estate' on Jools. She said "Oh my God, who is this guy? Fran, you've got to come in and see this guy, who is he? He's incredible!" He had all this white paint on his chest, he was shaking his head in this Native American vibe. I said "Oh, that's Tricky, he's a legend, he's been around for years!" Two months later, I was on the road with him around Europe. It's funny how these little things happen in life; these little clues. When you're on the right path, everything seems to resonate, doesn't it?

You don't really hear of people placing ads in the paper anymore, I quite like that!

I know! And you wouldn't expect Tricky to audition people or put an ad in the paper. Plus I don't normally do that kind of stuff. I'd never been to an audition in my life. I was working in a shop... obviously I had a manager, I was gigging, I was writing music and everything, I was having meetings about getting deals etc. but I was working full time in a shop and I was just miserable thinking "Oh my God, I need to change this but how am I going to do my music seriously?" I just picked up a copy and I thought "Well, what could be in here? I've never gone down this path before..." Two months later I'm on a European tour, three months later I'm in America... the key of life I think is just doing, just trying. [Laughs]

How did you come up with the title for the album?

The title... I've been reading a lot more into union psychology, I'm very into psychology, dreams, the way the unconscious functions and how it affects your behaviour therefore your environment in everyday life. I was reading a book called A Man and his Symbols which is a collected writing of Carl Young's work. A lot of his work is... well I personally find it very heavy going, he doesn't write for the laymen. But this book is particularly good, he was encouraged to do it by four or five of his very close companions who said "Before you leave, it's important that you get your work out in laymen's terms." This book is a lot easier to understand. I came across this word 'Anima' and at first it just stood out to me as a word. I thought it looked cool and sounded cool. 'Anima' means Soul in Italian, my Dad is Neapolitan; I'm half Italian, It means all kinds of things but basically every man has a female element in their mind and every woman has a male element. 'Anima' is the female element of the male psyche and I felt that was quite fitting being that I had been on the road and in such an intense working relationship with Tricky. The fact that he's always got a woman with him, writing with him, inspiring each other, it just resonated with me. I could talk for hours and hours about it. It's quite a big word - that's the main thing. But there's even more ancient texts that my guitarist sent me a few snippets of whereby it kind of means everything. It's an idea that everything is living, everything is breathing, if you go up to a mountain and there's a rock there, the rock is living. All of this sounds quite "hippy" and "airy-fairy" but it's quite a big word. Ultimately, I just thought it looked really cool written down, I liked the feminine quality of it. It was simple, it was strong but it's an Italian word in its roots.

How long have you been working on the album, roughly?

It was quite quick really. Some of the songs are a couple years old, some are brand new. With albums you finish them and then it takes months for everything to go though. It's like anything in business, like the same of a house, there's a set up etc. Half the album was recorded in London and half recorded in Paris and I reckon all together it was two to three weeks maximum, all quite sporadically; two weeks here, two weeks there, couple of ideas written on the road, a couple were a little bit older, some were born right there in the studio.

You released your EP An Introduction before the album. Is there much of a difference in the two projects musically and in the way you work?

Not really. To be honest, the EP was born in the same sessions as the album. The EP was an introduction to show people that I'm... solo now, I suppose. I'm doing a few gigs with Tricky in the lead up to the album because I think it makes sense but the EP was born in the same sessions so not really. It's all the same kind of ideas and same process but for the next album. I'm already thinking about the next album, it's going to be a very different process. I've got lots of different ideas. I'm not exactly sure what exactly yet but I'm going to try lots of different things.

You're already thinking ahead to the next album?

Yeah! Who knows what this album is going to do. Fingers crossed it does well enough where I can be on the road all the time, you never know what's going to happen. I'll always be singing and writing music whether it's with shiny Grammy's under my arm with glitzy award ceremonies or in a pub in front of 20 people in the middle of Ireland or something. This is what I do so I'll always be thinking about the next thing; it's that blessed unrest. If you like to create things, you're always thinking of the next bit.

Do you have any passions outside of music?

I really love going to art galleries and looking at paintings. I like going to the Tate. I find artwork very inspiring. I do quite a lot of yoga, that's quite a big passion of mine. I go through phases with things. I haven't really got any other solid hobbies which is probably a little bit unhealthy. I think my two other things are artwork in any form. I love Picasso, Matiz, Marline Dumas, I like all the Chinese styles of paintings. I went to an exhibition recently that was quite inspiring. I'm quite into history. I like reading up on history, I like watching documentaries and films.

The records that you picked out in Rough Trade, would you say those are your biggest inspirations or records that you've enjoyed over time?

I'd say it's a bit of both. I tried to pick out records that I keep coming back to or have been very influential throughout my life. Muddy Waters, my brother used to play Muddy Waters in his teenage years; he's a blue musician (Pepe Belmonte) and a lot of people say I sound like an alternative blues singer so I suppose that was born from listening to Muddy Waters' records and Billie Holliday records. Polly Harvey and To Bring in My Love - she was the first person I really identified with in terms of rawness and courage. She's absolutely fearless and I always strive to be a little bit more like that because it's early on and I'm a little bit nervous about everything but it's cool to be nervous because it means you still care. If I was just roaming around like Mrs. Cocky, it'd probably be a bad sign. I suppose Polly just always reminds me to be honest, be true to yourself and fearless; she's absolutely fearless, she's going to make what she wants to make and if you don't like it, that's fine and if you do, that's great as well - that's the kind of feeling I get from her. Tapestry is just an old childhood record; me and my mum used to listen to it all the time, at Christmas we'd sing along to it. It's an old memory and something that I always try to go back to. Obviously she's one of the most incredible songwriters to ever live and I think she's quite spiritual in her approach but also technical so that's quite a good thing to remember.

Bikini Kill because I just love Kathleen Hannah and that energy similar to Polly Harvey, you've got to keep that edgy rawness. I feel that way a lot of the time and I think there's a lot of people that feel that way so to maintain that is wicked. Roy Orbison - he's someone that I always come back to. I'm a really big fan of big voices and this record, apart from maybe 'Joker' It doesn't really illustrate big vocals. First and foremost, I am a singer and my first influences were people like Roy Orbison, the Shangri La's, Shirley Bassey - all of those artists have huge voice and big walls of sound. That record 'Crying' he actually sounds like he's crying, it's such a cliché to say that but it's true. Sometimes clichés are clichés because it's an authentic expression of something. Nirvana is an obvious choice but it was a big influence of mine through my brother. I've rarely put on a Nirvana record myself, they're just a band that I know. Their songs come on and I know all the words to them just through second-hand listening through my brother's bedroom walls. I suppose a lot of the records that I picked have a lot of nostalgic qualities.

With that in mind, what are you listening to at the moment?

I'm actually revisiting a lot of Fiona Apple. I was into her years ago. I think every young girl was. I've been listening to a lot of her recently and starting from the beginning again, listening to 'When The Pool' and 'I'll Know' has been on repeat constantly. I've been thinking about doing a little cover of it. There's an amazing performance with her and Elvis Costello singing his 'I Want You' song. I put it on my Facebook and it's really beautiful - it's so imperfect, she's coming out of key sometimes, it's raw and it's just out there. She's so overcome with emotion that she can barely contain it. I just love that when someone can just out themselves out there. Tricky does that - every night he goes out on stage and just lays himself bare for you. Reviewers will say "He didn't play the hits!" but what you're seeing is an artist, not a popstar. I've been listening to Marianne Faithfull... I went to Soho recently to have a little look at some vinyl which I haven't done in years and I got the Slider album, which was really cool. That was quite a good find and I've been listening to him a lot. Fiona Apple is my main one at the moment. I tend to listen to just one person for a couple of weeks then I move on.

Would you say you're a vinyl collector?

No, I wouldn't. I would love to say I am but I've only got like 50 or 60. Slowly I am... but things get in the way. Whenever I go vinyl shopping when I've got some spare cash, I always thinking "Why do I not do this every weekend?" I do love it but it's not something that I've ever really committed to. Slowly I'm getting more into it. An ex-boyfriend bought me an incredible record player, it's an old '70s Hacker record player and he only paid around £100 for it. That's what got me into it - having an incredible piece of machine that's going to make vinyl sound incredible is a good incentive to get out there and buy some.

I love the idea of vinyl but I don't have a record player so it's a little redundant for me unfortunately, but I do love physical records.

I don't think physical will ever go. I think they underestimate the number of "muse-os" in the world. I do download some of my music, not illegally. Take Polly Harvey - I'm always going to go out and buy the physical, I want to see it, I want to hold it, I want to smell the paper and flick through it. Some I just download on iTunes but others you just have to have them.

With that being said, are you a fan of streaming sites?

Not massively. We're at a very strange point. It's a very potentially exciting point in music - the way music is shared etc. I think for me, I'm a brand new artist, I'm at the very beginning, I need all the promotion I can get but at the same time I don't think it's right for the amount of music that is being played through Spotify for people to just get paid next to nothing for it. I'm still making my mind up about all of this, I think it's quite complicated. People are downloading music illegally anyway. The majority of musicians' income comes from live work now but I feel as though big sites such as Spotify and YouTube are kind of taking the piss a little bit but then they're huge businesses, they can so why wouldn't they? I suppose a simple answer to your question is I'm not too sure yet. I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about the whole thing. Because I'm still at the beginning I haven't experienced what it's like first hand to... I'm not sure how my record is going to do. I'm still trying to make up my mind. Streaming is positive, it's getting more music out to more people and that's great but there's some winners and losers in the whole thing and it's not necessarily the right people in each way. It'll be interesting to see how it all develops over the next few years but for me, it makes me want to get out there even more and just play live all the time.

What would you like your musical legacy to be?

Simply that I made really good albums that stand up in 10, 20, 30 years' time. I want my albums to... you know, put it on in 2070 and for them to still be good. I suppose I want to be remembered for saying something with worth, if I can and just moving people. That's the main thing; that's what I want to be remembered for, just really strong, good music that you can rely on in 20 years' time. Everyone wants to make a bit of a difference with their music. I'd love to get in a position where I'm able to use the platform in positive ways to help people.


Francesca Belmonte's debut album, Anima, is out now on Tricky's False Idols label.