Imagine being on stage with Beyonce as she headlines Coachella and shuts down The Formation Tour. Now imagine being her lead guitarist as the Beyhive swarms the main stage to see Queen Bey unleash another show-stopping performance. Insert Francesca Simone, a Bay Area native who is determined to keep the beautiful sounds of guitar alive and thriving. Read more…
Don’t let her sweet charm and bubbly personality fool you, underneath lies a killer rockstar alter ego that is very much embedded in her. Now residing in Los Angeles, the 22-year-old is officially ready to come into her own as a recording artist. With the release of her first visual called “Still,” Francesca showcases her ability to bring her art to life, inspired by the greats she performs with on stage.
For those who don’t know, who is Francesca Simone?
She is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer.
Where do you fit in the realm of R&B and hip-hop?
It’s really interesting. As a guitarist, you don’t hear a lot of solo guitar in hip-hop and R&B. What I’m trying to do is bring that back as a solo artist, to the forefront of pop, hip-hop, and R&B. You hear guitar in songs here and there, but you don’t know who’s playing. I’m trying to bring that back.
You’re from Bay Area, how does that play into your life and career?
The Bay is home to me. Coming from the Bay is really cool. I went to Boston for two years, and then I came back to California. The Bay is the coolest place in the world. [laughs] The Bay just has such a unique flavor, especially in music. Coming from the Bay, I want to bring that into my playing here.
How long have you been in LA now?
I’ve been in LA for about two to three years, on and off. Because I went on tour, I did the Formation Tour with Beyonce and Coachella, but I finally got a place in Pasadena in September. It’s super cool to actually settle down and have a place.
How important is it to come to LA as an up and coming artist?
It’s super important. Everybody is creative here. Moving to Pasadena, I have neighbors where one is a jazz saxophonist and the other is a painter. It’s super cool because you can find so many collaborations. Like the woman next door, Nevena Binney, she painted two of my guitars. I love collaborating with different artists of different genres from all different art forms. LA is just the epicenter of everything.
Can you talk about being Beyonce and Kehlani’s lead guitarist? Most people dream of that their entire lives.
It was crazy because I went from playing in front of 100 people to 100,000 people at Made in America in Philadelphia. That was my first show with Beyonce.
How did you get that role?
I had these guitar videos I put up on Instagram and one of them went viral. I received a DM from the music director. I sent in an audition tape and they flew me out to New York. I played Made in America, Global Citizen, and then I did the Formation Tour and Coachella. Then Kehlani, it’s super cool because she’s also from the Bay. Working with her is just super dope.
Honestly, Beyonce at Coachella is literally why people come. What is it like being her lead guitarist?
It’s amazing. The energy, her energy. Especially when you’re playing on stage, it’s just the most beautiful experience ever.
Do you talk to her?
Yeah, I can’t really go into depth. But it’s literally the most experience in the world. [laughs]
Do you get nervous?
You know what’s really interesting, I always get nervous and I have this pain in my hand right before a show. And then when I get on stage, it just disappears and goes away. So it’s always the anticipation of performing that gets me anxious.
When did you start playing guitar?
I started playing when I was 11, maybe 11 years ago. I fell in love with it right away. I was playing piano since I was 3, then I saw a Santana concert and knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Talk about transitioning to solo artist.
I’ve learned so much playing with these different artists, and I feel like I have so much to say as a human being. I have so many creative ideas that I feel if I don’t get out and share with the world, then I’d be stifled in a way. Being on stage with all those people was such an amazing experience because I got to see how a show is put together and everything. Now, I’m in the process of creating a studio and finding my sound. Like “Who is Simone?” as an artist, as a guitarist. Especially as a guitarist. As I said, you don’t really hear a lot of solo guitarists these days. I read a Huffington Post article that said “guitar is dying out,” I’m like, “No it’s not! We gotta bring it back.”
So Francesa the singer right?
I sing too. It’s really interesting because I’m exploring this space of instrumentals with super aesthetically pleasing visuals. In my music video, “Still,” I just wanted to see how people would react to it. Everybody has given me positive feedback. It feels good to share my voice and sing, and share what’s on my heart vocally.
What’s been the most difficult part?
Probably just being honest with myself, as far as who I am. I feel like as an artist, you have to be really authentic. You have to find what makes you unique and amplify that. Sometimes it’s really hard, to go out there and play in front of a bunch of people with an open heart. That’s what I’m trying to push myself to do as an artist, is me being super vulnerable. Because people know me as the guitarist, but who is she?
You released your “Still” music video. Talk about the making of the visual and your mental state in preparing.
I made that music video when I was in rehearsals for Coachella. After rehearsals, we would get out at around 11pm. One time, we did an all-night shoot. Especially for the underwater scene where I took my guitar underwater, that was at like 3 in the morning.
I was going to say, rehearsals must have drained you enough! And you’re shooting a music video?
But it was super exciting. It was super tiring, but it was like, “Yo, this my first music video ever, and I’m here in rehearsals with Beyonce.” It was super cool. I feel like there’s been a part of guitar history that hasn’t been tapped into, which is that feminine side of the guitar. If you think about it, there’s curves to the guitar. There’s a part of that that hasn’t been touched on. With “Still,” I was trying to touch on that softer side. People usually attach the guitar with rock and roll, but I think there’s another side that comes very natural to me.
Music-wise, what can we expect?
I’m releasing some stripped down versions of certain songs. I work with different artists, it’s called my Blue Jay Sessions. I already released one with Melanie Faye, Otieno Terry, and Victoria Monet. We’re also doing one with MGK that’s about to be released, and Kalin White. And I’m working on some new music.
What do you want fans to get from your story?
In terms of the guitar, I feel there’s a part of it that has a human connection to it. With all the technology and the way music is being produced right now, I think there’s a loss of human element. With hip-hop and pop, I want to be able to put that human connection element over these tracks. I also produce too, so I’m kind of going in that direction. I just want guitar to come back.
How important is social media for your career?
Social media is super important. That’s how I ended up getting the Beyonce gig, is through social media. I think for any artist who is trying to make it or be seen, it’s a great tool because you’re connecting with people. You can get people’s feedback on how you’re doing, if people like it or don’t like it.
What is your take on the music industry?
The music industry is a game of chess. It’s super, super crazy. I’m still understanding it myself. There’s so many sides to the music industry. There’s playing as a musician and there’s being an artist and there’s signing to labels. I’m still trying to find my grounding in terms of that space. Right now, I’m just really focused on the creating aspect of it. Once I feel I have a body of work that I’m ready to share, then I think I’ll be in the music industry more. It’s about finding the people you vibe with. I’ve found an incredible team. People who are really good in general. It’s kind of like “how do you like LA?” There’s a lot of people here, but you have to find your own group of people that will support you.
3 things you need in the studio?
My guitar, snacks [laughs], and candles. I love candles or lights. I love Christmas lights. I just love creating a space that’s super vibe-y. Good vibes.
What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.
I usually get up and then I write. I kind of do a brain drain to get started. I usually go to the gym. Then I come back and just start working on FL or Logic. I just see what comes out in terms of production, then I’ll write a melody over it. Or whatever comes to mind, I’ll just start working on it. Within four or five hours, I’ll usually have an idea or song. It’s interesting because a lot of artist go into the studio with producers, but because I can do it all on my own, I’m kind of using all those muscles. It’s really cool to see how my creative process has been developing. It’s super fun.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
[gasps] I don’t know! There’s nothing else I would doing, I have to do music! [laughs] I’m super into psychology, like the way humans work. Maybe sociology and how people interact, that’s super interesting to me. But I can’t imagine not having music in my life.
Who’s the most played artist on your phone?
It changes. I go through phases. Right now, it’s Bon Iver. I love them.
Rihanna. I love her so much!
Is there anything else you want to let us know?
I’m just super excited to share my music with the world. I really can’t wait.