‘RITUAL-POP’ ARTIST FRANCINE THIRTEEN ON HEALING HERSELF AND HER AUDIENCE THROUGH EXPERIENTIAL MUSIC
story / Catherine Santino
When I connect with Francine Thirteen on the phone, she’s sitting backstage before performing in the One-Minute Play Festival in Dallas, Texas. She tells me that while she was trained in the theater, she hasn’t done it in a long time. I might disagree.
Francine Thirteen creates what she calls “ritual pop” – an ambient, hypnotic sound that’s more an experience than anything else. Her stage performances reflect whatever themes she’s currently exploring in her songs, incorporating costumes, projections, and other design elements intended to bring the audience into the “world” of the music.
“Every single show is a ritual that I channel beforehand,” Thirteen tells me. “And those rituals are generally going to be based in maybe something going on astrologically…it’s hard to describe. Right now I’m very fascinated with the concept of the underworld and the self. I use a lot of things from nature as a part of my stage show, a lot of sacred clay, a lot of wands, crystals, and fine art is incorporated into the show to communicate a meaning to the audience that’s hopefully a healing vibe. I also don’t want to sound boring; I mean, the shows are good. [Laughs]”
As a director in the theater would, Francine Thirteen works with designers and artists to bring her visions to life. She frequently collaborates with mixed media artist Dior Divine, who constructed a reinterpretation of the Garden of Eden for the stage performances of Thirteen’s recent EP, Lust Heals Give Me My Sin Again. “I write my own treatments and my own scripts for unique projections that I do at certain shows, and she’ll go in and shoot those and help me to edit them. She’s been a big part of what I do,” says Thirteen.
“I always describe [my shows] as a moment away from time, as odd as that sounds. Like time doesn’t exist and [the audience] is able to really explore and delve into these archetypes that I’m bringing to the stage and what they may mean for them…the complicated part is for the audience to take what they will and use something universal to heal themselves, essentially.”
While the themes of her performances may change, there always remains an undercurrent of religion, ritual, and spirituality.
Francine Thirteen was raised in a “traditional Southern black family” in Dallas, Texas and educated in Catholic schools from an early age (although she says, her family was Baptist and attended Baptist churches).
But, she adds, “My great grandmother was a midwife…there was definitely something other than Christianity going on there. But it was something done or spoken of in hushed tones, not necessarily something that I was encouraged to explore. Those things eventually get out of the bag though, so [laughs].”
The contrast between the values she was taught growing up and those that she aligned herself with of course had a massive impact on her personal and, eventually, musical journey.
Her newest single Communion is a continuation of the themes from her EP, Lust Heals, Give Me My Sin Again. “The whole emphasis for [the EP] was exploring the shadow self, our deeper, hidden urges that we’re taught are bad or dirty, particularly in a religious context, and kind of confronting them or looking at them,” she explains. “And then Communion kind of marks the transition into actually acting upon them and allowing them to heal you. So it’s really the process of integrating the self, so to speak, if we put them together.”
I can’t help but ask Thirteen what her family thinks of her music and performance style. “I think that you know, they love me,” she says. “And I think that they’d much rather I be a nurse or a teacher [laughs].”
But despite any familial tension that might exist, Thirteen had an early instinct for performance and continues to follow it. “I’ve always done it. I grew up singing in church,” she tells me. “I started in some really bad bands [laughs] that we won’t elaborate on, and then really started to form the performance practice for Francine Thirteen. I guess it coincides with a spiritual awakening to be honest. And wanting to bring ritual elements to the stage and my own spirituality to the stage.”
Thirteen is certainly not the first person to deviate from her family’s values, but she’s one of the few people to manifest her experiences into a provocative stage show. It’s a brave thing to declare yourself and your desires so openly, especially when you’ve been taught to be ashamed of them.
“There are so many schools of thought out there that tell us to be afraid even of our urge for beauty, which is something that I battle with,” says Thirteen when I ask her what she would tell other women or girls who feel smothered by society’s incessant guilt trip.
“I wanted to be beautiful in a particular way, but it was something I was told not to be. Not to be the stereotypical version of the feminine because it’s a very broad thing, but I always liked and preferred short skirts or lots of jewelry and was told that ‘Well maybe that’s not so elegant or that’s not so appropriate.’ Those are the things I was drawn to because of my own particular path and what I was meant to do.
So, my greatest piece of advice would be not to fear your own journey regardless of what people tell you or want to program you with.
CONNECT WITH FRANCINE THIRTEEN