The first time you hear Francesca Gonzales’ voice, you immediately wish you’d heard it before – there’s a real presence about it.
It is striking and strong and like so many soul singers of the past, there’s a confidence within it that rises above the music.
Francesca has been making music for several years with the band, Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird, but her solo music and live performances have been steadily growing an audience in parallel. A
After making her debut EP, Anywhere Boy, around two years ago during a break in studies, she finished a university degree and is now concentrating on new music, resulting in her second EP.
It is self-titled, as a way of starting afresh and representing the culmination of a tumultuous time in her personal life.
She explains: “It’s been very much about my personal journey over the last two years and it’s a journey from being in love and being in a relationship to coming out of that and learning to be by myself.”
Another thing you’ll notice about Francesca is the keytar. The instrument, synonymous with ‘80s funk, is Francesca’s instrument of choice.
After seeing British soul singer, Laura Mvula, playing one live, Francesca was inspired and determined to find her own! Not wanting to be restricted by a stand-up keyboard, she thought it was important, as a lead-singer and women, to play an instrument in front of the band and when it’s the Roland AX-Synth, there are not many cooler instruments to play!
Make My Life Slow Right Down
The first track on the EP is representative of the start of the aforementioned journey, one that included Francesca being in love.
“The song is about me being in love and being in a relationship for the first time and the whole idea of – because my brain is so crazy and always thinking of lots of different ideas – the idea that when you’re in a relationship, your mind slows down and you can look at everything around you.
“Especially when you’re with a partner, it’s all about looking at that one person and everything else around you falls away.”
The song starts with some gorgeous notes from the keytar before Francesca’s voice fills the void. The song itself makes you stop and listen and it’s something that the singer encourages as she looks forward to recording her debut album.
The second song takes a U-turn in turns of mood, as Francesca explains, “It’s not necessarily about a break-up but it’s about the feelings before that.
“It’s the idea of when doubt sinks in, it’s pretty hard to get rid of it from your mind. It was also in a period of feeling like I could stay with someone, but also knowing that I wasn’t happy and being terrified of the unknown.
“I really like the production in that song because it brings out that battle. The guitars are really hectic and the vocals are quite smooth. I wanted to represent what’s going on in my brain but by the end of that song, you’ve got more of the happier outro”.
The last third of the song changes tone completely, transforming into a trippy jam. “That was the representation of me realising that being alone and happy was ultimately the right decision. It also pushes towards the rest of the EP in terms of that kind of happier, more dancier stuff towards the later half of the EP.”
A groovy little three-four beat drives the rest of the song – “I was listening to a lot of Dido at the time!” That explains it.
“Hold me down and beat me, because I know who I am.“
It’s a powerful lyric from this song that bridges the EP and Francesca admits, “I think, of all of the songs I’ve ever written, Halfway Hall is probably my favourite, because with the whole song, the idea is learning to love yourself.
“I think – like in society – it’s a weird thing, because people try and push away from that a lot. It’s the battle between the egotistical side of loving yourself or just backing yourself. My relationship with being a single woman and how society kind of makes you feel like you should be in a relationship, so for me it’s about learning to not being afraid to show everyone that I do love myself and I care for myself and I have a great relationship with myself.”
The idea of a Halfway Hall represents how important it is to always be learning and Gonzales chuckles when I bring up the fact that it’s the perfect halfway track on the EP. “I didn’t even think of that!”
In a familiar theme for the EP, Gonzales delivers a song that marks the turning of an emotional corner.
This joyous, pop-infused track turns out to be influenced by another lover of pop-like folk, as Francesca elaborates, “This song was very much influenced by my love for Feist. I’m like, fully obsessed by Feist – always have been!”
This love of the Canadian pop-folk songstress brings out a story. “She covers a Bee Gees song called ‘One Evening’ and it has this really cool synth line that she uses just once in the song at the very end and I just couldn’t believe that she’d put this one line in there and it was so epic and she’s just put it in there just once. I’ve listened to that song a million times just so I can hear that one synth line! That kind of inspired the sound for Better Person.”
She sings the line to me and explains how they started the whole song with that one instrumental line. “Production-wise, [Better Person] is the most complicated song and it has lots of different changes.”
The song itself is all about being the best version of yourself and how a lot of our lives are about ramping up to those good points where you’re feeling like you’re peaking in life. “There are moments in the song that reflect that feeling. There’s a lot of up and down.”
Fran has found the song itself to be a favourite amongst fans; some absolutely loving it as an up-beat change-up to Gonzales’ usual sound. My suggestion that it should be a contender for a remix is met with an enthusiastic, “Absolutely!”
Baby Give It Up
The last track on the album, despite its ultra-smooth vibe, has an edgier tilt to the lyrics. “Take it, don’t leave it / It’s simple advice /If they don’t want it / No need to ask twice”.
The stories from women that are at festivals or gigs and are hounded or touched inappropriately by guys are countless and this song is Francesca’s own story.
“I was at Golden Plains a few years ago and, it was not a terrible experience, but it was just an experience of telling someone to leave me alone and them not respecting that space. Also, the fact that it was quite stressful that I did ask them so many times and they didn’t really listen… I ended up having to move away to a totally another part of the audience.”
It’s a common story and it highlights to lack of respect and personal space that people encounter in musical crowds regularly.
“Especially when I’ve been writing a lot of music about personal things, it was nice to write a song about something that meant a lot to me and had really stuck, that was a bit more outside of me and about a message that I wanted to portray. I think through writing the song and through putting it out, it’s quite interesting at how, with this #MeToo movement and everything, it was very much taken as ‘A Girl Gets Attacked By a Guy’ and I felt, not angry, but frustrated – I was very much trying to keep it non-gender because I think it’s something that happens to everyone and I wanted that to be a bit more explored, rather than me being like ‘I Don’t Like Men!’. That’s not really the person that I am.”
Releasing the song has been a really interesting journey for Francesca and she is happy to be able to say something more through her music. Messages aside though, the track also features a very funky saxophone part from Victor St Clair and a neo-soul vibe that brings the keytar sound to the fore.
As Francesca Gonzales works on her debut album, she is sure of take us on a journey through, not only her mind, but the world around her using a dab of the old, a sprinkling of the current and the excitement of the future.