Francesca Gonzales at Loch Hart Music Festival, 2019. Photographer: Ivy Emily Trim
Melbourne native and electronic pop queen Francesca Gonzales brings together soulful vocals and pulsing beats to tug at your heartstrings and your hips. On keytar and vocals for Cousin Tony's Brand New Firebird, 25-year-old Gonzales launched her solo career with debut single 'Hope' in 2016. In the wake of her most recent and incredibly funky single 'Dumb Boy' released earlier this year, we caught up with Francesca Gonzales at Loch Hart Music Festival to talk influential inspirations, the thrill of performing, and making a home in music.
"I think the world is in such a crazy time and [I have] these opportunities to bring people together, like community, and be able to share my experience and my life with other people."
When did you start gigging as a solo artist? Are your family big fans of your music?
Probably when I was about 19 or 20.
When I decided to do music, my Mum was like: 'Nah, I don't think this is the best idea' ... she wasn't super supportive. But now she is my biggest fan, it's hilarious. She's at every show with her phone in her face, filming everything.
What has been your experience of indie gig culture in Melbourne?
I was actually thinking this morning - would I be a musician if I didn't live in Melbourne? I feel like we're such a product of our environment. The fact that every night during the week, you can go see any sort of gig is amazing. It's a pretty amazing culture and super supportive of lots of different groups of people and minorities, supporting everyone in their creative way. I think we're very lucky.
Would you ever leave Melbourne?
I just think that the world that I've built here is very important to me, and my place within the music industry. That article came out saying that Melbourne is probably the best city of music in the world [Melbourne is the live music capital of the world, study says].
Even just money-wise. Being able to live in Melbourne, which is a really affordable city, funds my music in a way. I think that that's really important.
How do you manage to balance Cousin Tony's and your solo act? How does each complement the other?
I love being busy and I love taking a holistic approach to music, rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. Especially as a solo artist, there's so much pressure in that sense to promote yourself. Having another project that I can just do, almost like a sessional player, I can just be up on stage and have fun.
I was always doing a solo act in a way, but I think [the band] being a few steps ahead of me gave me the confidence to actually start putting out music. I met a friend through that crew who produced, so he did a kind of 'friends deal' with me. That's how I started recording and experimenting. It kind of all came hand in hand, in a way.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I notice that my brain puts myself out of my comfort zone a lot of the time to draw inspiration. My brain's always challenging me to go experience different things and not live in a day-to-day routine.
I'm very emotional and I have a lot of feels, and I think those experiences create a lot of ideas. I draw upon real life, and women especially. A big thing in my music is ‘women power’ and the importance of that - especially at this time.
When do you feel the most inspired to write?
Usually, it's heartbreak and moments where I feel anger or frustration - through being a woman, usually. I think that anger really bubbles inside me and I have to get it out. That's where I find my creative flow at its strongest.
About Dumb Boy: I realised you have to use your platform to say things, or at least I feel I want to say things. 'Dumb Boy' was a frustration of feeling rejected in a sense, but not taking that personally. Wanting to tell everyone that's a strength, rather than a weakness. I feel like the sass comes from the anger and the frustration of that, and I like that cheekiness.
Who are your major stylistic inspirations for your soulful vocals and neo-R&B-esque beats?
I feel like I draw upon old-school singers like Etta James and Aretha Franklin. Then I look towards Amy Winehouse, and there's an artist called Joy Crookes that I fucking love at the moment. Her beats are really amazing. I'm kind of trying to throw back to that old-school soul with female vocals, and then bring a contemporary beat feel.
How do you feel your sound has evolved from your debut single 'Hope' (2016) to 'Dumb Boy' (2019)?
I think the difference is definitely discovering different producers and developing my writing. When I was starting out, I had really no idea what I was doing and it was very experimental. Now, I feel like I'm definitely more measured and have more experience. I know what I want and I know what I like. Finding producers that I feel really understand me as an artist has been the most important journey in my music. I'm working with a producer called Moses Carr at the moment, and he's probably the best producer I've ever worked with.
What's the best part of performing, for you?
I just love singing in front of people, giving them a little bit of an escape from their real life. I think the world is in such a crazy time and [I have] these opportunities to bring people together, like community, and be able to share my experience and my life with other people. Try and take people out of their heads a little bit for the half an hour that I get to sing or perform.
What sort of atmosphere do you try to create when you are performing?
I think about this a lot. I really like to challenge the traditional gig venue. A lot of pubs, for example, people go there to drink and socialise. There's definitely something there that I want to challenge in terms of respecting the artist, coming to be there for the artist, and maybe if you want to talk, stepping outside. That kind of thing.
A gig venue like a festival where people are sitting on a hill and just having a really nice time, escaping from their real life, brings such a great energy. I think that energy is kind of collaborative, in a way, between the audience and the performer. That's the space I really want to provide.
What's the major difference in how a crowd responds to you between a music festival and a venue such as a pub?
My experience with festivals is selling yourself. At a lot of festivals, people don't know who I am. I really like the challenge of trying to warm people to what I do. I think that's the difference to somewhere in Melbourne where you have all your friends and family, or they're there for you. That definitely brings something different to the performance and the music. I like both.
What's your outlet?
My outlet is probably cooking. I love cooking, I find it's my happy place. Especially, like, I've turned everything I love into a job! So I find that cooking brings me a lot of peace, and takes me away from my thoughts.