It was a bit of a shock, frankly, when Tri Angle Records released London duo AlunaGeorge's debut EP in April this year. Not only was the 'You Know You Like It' EP the experimental label's most melodic release to date, but it was also the sound of modern British R'n'B being redefined, from the noodly, addictive beat of 'Just A Touch' to the iridescent, seductive title track. Everyone from Grimes to Lauren Pope (of The Only Way Is Essex) tweeted their appreciation. The band's collaboration with Rustie was all over Radio One this summer, and surely it's only a matter of time before their own material is, too.
"I've been treading water for your love", Aluna sings on the pair's fantastic new single 'Your Drums, Your Love' amidst a slow-burn, clattering beat and dreamy spa-like FX. With her understated vocal style and brilliant knack for condensing emotion into a minute enunciation, you think of the late, great Aaliyah - the master of switching from 'holding it together' to 'falling apart' in the space between beats.
Today, Dazed Digital exclusively premieres the Friendly Fires remix of 'Your Drums, Your Love', which may well be remembered as AlunaGeorge's Crossover Moment. It's the duo's first release on Island Records, a label that knows a thing or two about nurturing underground talent after their artist Jessie Ware blew up this year. We took a trip to the 'are-they-or-aren't-they' duo's studio to find out more about 'Your Drums, Your Love', their forthcoming debut album, and why it's PJ Harvey rather than any RnB chanteuse that inspires Aluna's approach to singing.
Dazed Digital: What's 'Your Drums, Your Love' about?
Aluna: Most people say it's about unrequited love. But to me it's about when you revel in that feeling, and you know you shouldn't hold onto this person.
DD: You talk about "treading water for your love".
Aluna: Yeah. But it's also defiant. In that first line I say, "you can't say that I'm going nowhere/ When you don't know where I'm coming from." It's kind of like, "don't overlook me because you think you're all that." [smiles at George] "Cause you don't know what I've done in life."
DD: What are the 'drums'?
Aluna: The heartbeat of someone.
DD: It's not a metaphor for testicles?
Aluna: Oooh! WELL. I think the heart and the testicles are pretty linked to be honest! [puts on boorish 'male' voice] "I love you! I mean… I want to have sex with you!"
DD: You must have been surprised when Tri Angle wanted to put out your EP.
Aluna: We were. I mean, I can hear what Robin [Carolan, founder of Tri Angle] was hearing in our music, but funnily enough, we didn't got to him with our most Tri Angle-type tracks. It just so happened that he was looking to go a little bit more pop.
George: It's funny how that label's got its own fan base, in a slightly old school sense. I think Robin was taking quite a risk with it, because we're something different to everything else on that label.
DD: Did you see when Lauren Pope from TOWIE tweeted: "you know you like it but it drives you insane"?
George: [My manager] Stars told me about that! But I've never watched the programme!
DD: I think it was her way of being a 'cocktease' or something.
George: That's so jokes.
Aluna: That's amazing!
DD: Who are you working with on your album?
George: We're getting Mark Rankin to mix it. He's worked with Paul Epworth for the last seven years or so, so did loads of stuff with him, the left side of pop.
Aluna: He's pretty good at bringing the bass out, and he also lets us go there as well, which is a massive bonus.
DD: Aluna, I heard you wrote 'Just A Touch' about George's relationship.
Aluna: Well, George wrote the chorus of it, and then I wrote the rest of the song around when I thought he was on about.
George: I thought she did a bloody brilliant job on. I had a very simple emotion that I got out in about six notes, and then I gave Aluna the gist of what was going on at that time, and she just sat down with her notepad. And when she finished, I was like, 'nice one!' [A laughs]
DD: Are you still with the person?
George: No, no! Oh god.
DD: Are you two a couple?
Aluna: No… We got asked that yesterday. We make music together, don't we George?
Aluna: Sweet-ass music. We spend more more time with each other than we do with anyone else.
DD: People are tipping you for the BBC Sound of 2013 poll.
Aluna: Ugh, I just want those things to be real. Like, real people coming to your gigs and stuff.
George: I think the BBC does such a good job. I think the fact we have all these non-commercial stations nationwide is a bit of a blessing, especially with the digital ones and the ones they do in the evening - a lot of it is weird music going nationwide. It's amazing. I guess if we do get on that it's no bad thing to be associated with.
DD: If you got to go on Fearne Cotton's Live Lounge to do a cover of a chart hit, what would you choose?
George: [deadpanning] Oh my god, we'd have to do 'Whistle' by Flo Rida! [laughs]
A: I might go for that Alex Clare song 'Too Close'. He's not a bad songwriter, we might actually be able to do something with it.
DD: People always talk about you as indebted to R'n'B, but how accurate is that really?
George: Half and half. We just kind of grew up around it. My parents were really into Motown stuff, so it's just ingrained.
Aluna: I think my influence is less active. I think that it's just naturally that I have it. [George laughs] I've always actively rejected it and moved away from R'n'B, apart from Aaliyah and some of the classics.
George: Aluna sings over Hip Hop beats, but I think that is just one of the equations of modern R'n'B.
Aluna: In the early stages of a lot of the tracks, I take more of a 'rock' vocal for the melodies, like PJ Harvey. Otherwise I find I can't get anything new or surprising out. We have a track called 'Body Music', and when I was coming up with the melodies and vocals for that, it was a guitar song in my mind. All the sounds were very straight, and then you let a touch of embellishment come in.
AlunaGeorge play The Warehouse Project in Manchester on September 28. They are touring the UK in November.
Photo by Leonn Ward