Multi-talented music master Fran Lobo has found time to write her own EP, lead choral choirs and host her own radio show.
With dark, soulfully powerful vocals, south London-based singer songwriter Fran Lobo entrances you with sounds full of haunting harmonies, synth hooks and vintage keytars which rock your soul and are completely hypnotic. Melancholic and dramatic, Lobo’s sound, influenced by the Queen tracks she listened to when she was younger, as well as Bjork and PJ Harvey, shows it’s dynamism in her new “Surround” EP. Full of growling basslines, warped double vocals and her exploration of dance and electronica, it’s a complete channelling of emotion that takes you through the twists and turns of her life and provides a beautifully cathartic listening experience.
Not satisfied with just creating beautifully haunting and irresistible music, Lobo’s talents extend far beyond the realm of writing and recording her own music. Involving herself with the all-female LIPS choir, whose repertoire is far from your usual choir material (think rock/punk/garage), and spending her time leading choral workshops, providing life changing experiences and opportunities, Lobo spends a lot of her time spreading the power of music and sharing her passion through both teaching and sharing. If this still wasn’t enough, Lobo also hosts a radio show on Balamii and new club night at Rye Wax, SCALM. Fran Lobo is a force unto herself.
Sum up your sound in five words?
Melancholic. Dancey. Dark. Dramatic. Choral.
What’s your earliest music memory?
Listening to Queen and Creedence Clearwater Revival cassette tapes in the car with my Dad.
When did you first begin to make music and what drew you to it?
I wrote my first song when I was 17 about a boy I had a big crush on. I was studying A-Level music and we had to make our own composition as part of the course. I was listening to various things I had found for the first time like The Smiths, The Police, Eva Cassidy and various jazz singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald and I wrote a jazz inspired tune on the piano and performed it an after school music concert. After that, I thought I’d that I would quite like to carry on writing music because it made me feel alive and I realized that it had touched people who heard it.
Your latest EP is a celebration of incredible work created by women in the industry – who did you look to for inspiration and why do they inspire you?
Over the past few years I have been involved in a lot of community and workshop projects championing women in the music industry and women making music. These have included talks/events and projects at places like The Roundhouse, Southbank Centre, All Change Arts and Girls Rock London. Many of the women I looked to for inspiration/collaborations were actually women I worked with and I am now lucky to call dear friends. In the wider picture artists that I admire and look up to are people like Bjork, Jessy Lanza, PJ Harvey and Anna Meredith because they have never let themselves be confined into boxes. Many of these artists, sing, song write, produce, create art in all it’s many forms and are explorative of all it’s possibilities.
Who features on the EP and what themes does it explore?
I collaborated with Auclair and Hannah Holland who both did incredible remixes of my single. Auclair is a close friend and someone who I look up to a lot. She has always been involved with a wide variety of projects not only releasing music but also most recently writing and producing music for an opera inspired by the life cycle of bees amongst a whole host of other projects. I also really loved the remix she did for Anna Meredith’s “R-Type”. I love what she did with “Surround” : the growling bass synths, unpredictable tuned percussion and warped double vocal really tap into the pain and turmoil at the heart of the song. I also wanted to work with Hannah Holland as I admire her greatly again for the wide range of work that she does: for her work as a DJ, producer and bass player in her band Black Gold Buffalo. She is also a committed workshop leader and great advocate for the LGBT community. She has taken the track to the dance floor with a 90s influence. My aim for this EP was to further explore the dance and electronic realm, that which I have completely fallen in love with over the past year. I wanted the track ‘Surround’ to be re imagined by women, showcasing it from different perspectives. I also wanted to celebrate artists that I love and to collaborate with female artists, something that I think doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it to. The main themes of the work are pain, loss and confusion-emotions that I have experienced in various situations over the past year. I have often found that the only way to exorcise and process these emotions is through moving to music, dancing through it. This is a spiritual and deeply visceral ritual for me. Having experienced hearing music in some of the best clubs in the world, I wanted the EP to be a representation of this influence in my music and life.
“Music changes lives. Music can help a person suffering from mental illness express everything going on in their brain and help them externalize what they are suffering or feeling on the inside.”
Tell us about your work with the all-female LIPS choir?
I fell in love with LIPS choir two years ago when I saw them perform at The Southbank and at Shoreditch Church as part of the Spitalfields Music Festival. I saw them do a garage medley and “Bizness” by tUnE-yArDs and they completely blew me away. They are an all women non conventional choir whose repertoire includes Pop/Alt/Rock/Punk and more. They are everything I love about choirs and they are also a real community putting on their own club nights and going away on residential trips during the year. I looked up to them so much and thought that it would be so great to lead my own choir and to even work with them. Now, 2 years are on I have been collaborating with them and composing work for them. Over the summer they asked me to lead an all day workshop where we improvised our own short pieces together and we workshopped an arrangement one of my songs. It was a really rewarding day which has then led to me arranging more music for them which is totally exciting. This Christmas I will be conducting and performing my next single which I have arranged especially for LIPS.
How has the South London music scene affected your sound?
I wouldn’t say that the South London music scene has affected my sound immensely, there is definitely a really inspiring and exciting music scene happening here with lots of young musicians being inspired by jazz and fusion music. I think my newest track ‘Push and Pull’ has a blues inspired feel which may have been inspired by this scene but overall I don’t think it has had a direct influence on my sound. It is definitely a very exciting time to be putting music out though.
How did you start your own radio show on Balamii in Peckham? What can we expect from it?
My friend introduced me to James who founded Balamii and he gave me a regular show on there. I love doing my show there and what you can expect is always an ambient/chill sound (because it’s a late morning/early afternoon show), which then moves on to whatever mood I’m feeling on the day. My first few shows were very ambient and modern classical, my next few shows moved on to old hip hop and my latest show was a collaboration with my best mate and we started in Debussy and Ravel and journeyed via Aged in Harmony through to Madlib ending in Andres and full on house. I love creating a story through the tracks and finding a common thread between them. It’s another way for me to tell stories through music and to share my love of music from all different genres. It also keeps me on my toes, discovering new music to play each show, constantly keeping the inspiration flowing.
What’s your live show like?
I am lucky to be in a band of my best mates and housemate which makes the chemistry onstage really special, we all love each other. The live show has different moods: it starts quite moody with minimal electronics, loops and warped sounds and moves on to high energy, exuberant, crowd participation with the audience singing along. I love to involve the audience and for us all to be part of something together. This involves a lot of dancing and movement on my part onstage and jumping around the place which I just can’t help. My band includes Ben on synths and samples, Rowan on bass guitar and microkorg, Tomo on drumkit and SPDS samples, Theo on guitar and effects and me and my vocal effects and keytar.
How did you get involved with leading choral workshops?
I enrolled as a member of the Roundhouse which meant that I got to use their amazing facilities such as rehearsal spaces and recording suites for as little as 50p an hour! I then also enrolled on lots of fantastic courses there including music production and one on workshop leading led by various workshop leaders including two inspirational women Osnat Schmool and Rahel Debebe Desselagne. I had always been told that I should keep my music making life and day job separate from each other in order to maintain focus but I was craving more fulfilment from my work and felt that if I could incorporate music making into my life full time then that would be really inspiring besides financially beneficial! I felt that if I could break away from a 9-5 role that I would also have a bit more freedom and time to make music. These two women made me feel that I could do it too and gave me the confidence to go for it. I applied for the Spitalfields Music Trainee Workshop Leader’s scheme which was a paid part-time scheme where I received a bursary to assist and co-lead with some of the most experienced leaders on really incredible projects. Throughout that year I worked with choirs for the first time, conducting and arranging music. I was also able to be part of some incredible projects including for eg. the ‘Takeover Project’ where I worked at a special school for boys of primary school age who had been taken out of mainstream school due to behavioural and emotional issues. This was one of the most intense environments I had been in, seeing boys so young going through so much and dealing with a lot of anger, frustration and upset. The aim of this project was for them to curate their own festival at their school for a day and the journey they went on was completely life-changing for both the workshop team and for the boys. I worked on a huge amount of other projects too where I learnt a lot and met amazing people. After this traineeship, I started getting calls for work pretty much immediately! Over the past two years I have led Goldsmiths Vocal Ensemble including conducting the album launch for Floating Points, Some Voices, Southbank’s Voicelab Choir, Blues Kitchen Choir, LIPS Choir, collaborated and sung with Roundhouse Choir and now recently set up my own choir SCALM Choir.
Why do you think it’s important for people to be involved in music? You do a lot of work to bring music into communities.
Music changes lives. Music can help a person suffering from mental illness express everything going on in their brain and help them externalize what they are suffering or feeling on the inside. You can see examples of this at the Wellcome Collection right now! Their exhibition ‘Bedlam: the asylum and beyond’ showcases work with Core Arts, a music charity working with people suffering from mental illness. It is also clinically proven that singing improves your health and wellbeing. Singing in a group of people creates a feeling of community, belonging and is somewhere people can even feel safe, somewhere they can escape to. I am going to include a link here below to the work that the incredible ‘Choir With No Name’, a choir working with those who have had experiences with homelessness, do as I feel that this video explains the urgent importance of music in communities better than any words I could ever put on here. I dare you not to be moved:
Tell us about your video for “Surround.” What’s the idea behind it?
I am a very big fan of physical theatre and movement and couldn’t think of a more perfect person to work with than Sabina Netherclift from Filament Theatre. Her movement is often influenced by the elements and the natural forces of wind, sea and even volcanic eruption. Having worked with the company as both a performer at The Southbank and also a workshop leader, I wanted to take these influences as well as those from contemporary dance and performance art to create a video that was just based on the movement of the body and nothing else. Heavily inspired by Pina Bausch, Wim Vandekeybus and the inherent work of Filament Theatre, I had a very strong idea that the movement should be twisted. Sabina and I discussed a feeling of longing and pain and a fight between a force pulling your body in different directions and yourself trying to regain control and flirt sensually with it’s slow destruction of yourself. It is inspired by feelings of torment in love where you want something so much even though it is hurting you, like a drug that takes control leaving your body at it’s mercy. I shot the video wit my ex-boyfriend and best friend Brian Doherty who has a beautiful eye for locations and framing. We shot the video in Homerton, just where we used to live. I worked on the edit with my musical collaborator Pascal Bideau and we took loops of movement, editing it all in Ableton working with the movement like musical loops creating a serial, hypnotic quality.
Next is my live show on the 9 November at Pickle Factory! I have also been working with LIPS Choir arranging and conducting a choral arrangement of my next single due early next year. You can see it live at The Coronet on 16 and 17 December. Other than that I am finishing my album for release next year.