FRAN LOBO’s ‘WAR’ immediately brings to mind the “new Amy” sound, spearheaded by artists like Duffy and Paloma Faith in the late noughties. LOBO’s vocals have the same affecting resonance as the post-Winehouse soul train. Layered atop dark, subby beats and choral harmonies, the sound is deftly ushered into 2017.
The singer-songwriter hails from north-east London but has since moved south of the river. She has been sporadically releasing music for the past two years; while her songs undoubtedly have pop-appeal, they retain a haunting quality. “I’m trying to make my music cinematic and dramatic and quite dark,” she told me over a beer in a crowded Brixton pub. ‘WAR’ is LOBO’s first release since “Surround”, a synth-driven dance track that came out in late 2016.
The video for ‘WAR’, which premiered during this week’s “Random Acts” on Channel 4, is familiar in style and concept. LOBO occupies the stage of a dramatically lit dancehall, singing into a vintage microphone through rouge lips – it’s all very Lana. But the red motif, Indian jewellery and use of South Asian contemporary dancers create a distinctly desi feel. I ask if this was intentional: “Yeah it was” she answered, after a moment’s pause, “I just thought I’ve never seen in my whole life in a music video an Indian contemporary dancer.”
At first listen the song is a relatively uncomplicated pop anthem. LOBO belts the hook: “I’ve got this thing moving through me like woah oh oh, woah oh oh” – and I immediately assume said “thing” is music. Within minutes our conversation, this is proved untrue. “The lyrics ended up basically being about my mum. When I wrote it I was really depressed,” she said matter-of-factly, pausing for a sip. “I couldn’t handle her basically.” LOBO has a fraught relationship with her mother, who suffers from mental health issues. The pair have since lost all contact.
LOBO’s flippant comment gives the video a renewed context. The theatre represents her mind while the dancers, who writhe and contort their bodies in sharp, stabbing movements, signify an internal battle. “The theatre symbolises the idea of performance,” she explained, “Of what you’re trying to be.”
The video was primarily a collaboration between LOBO and the director, Charlotte Lowdell. Lowdell approached the singer as a fan (“that was the first time that’s happened to me,” LOBO mused) and they immediately connected. “We were both talking about David Lynch and the idea of having these different characters and different personas,” she said “this idea of you being at war with different parts of yourself. I think Charlotte was leading that idea.”
In the past LOBO has used songwriting to confront her own struggles with mental health. But for her, music is far from an antidote. “I’ll be going through this horrendous period and I’ll almost hold onto it, because it gives me something to write about,” she said, “I think I’m addicted to a sense of sadness.” This may explain the melancholy that underpins even her most upbeat tracks: ‘Surround’, for example, is electro-pop in its purest form. Despite this, it conveys a story of intense heartbreak, much like Robyn’s 2005 single ‘With Every Heartbeat’.
The visual for ‘WAR’ is a new take on a very classic aesthetic, but the song itself demonstrates a progression in LOBO’s sound. Pop, she will always be, but the singer continues to hone an intensity that gives her music a powerful edge.
FRAN LOBO is performing a headline show at Corsica Studios on 1 November, and plans to release a 3-track EP later this year.