Athens artist Linqua Franqa wears a lot of different hats these days, whether it be the freshly earned PhD, their day job as a County Commisioner, or a new parent, but amdist all this, they found the time to finally release their sophomore album, Bellringer. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Linqua Franqa and DJ Reindeer games, who produced the album, after playing an album release show in Birmingham, where we talked about the music, mental health, the life changes, and letting everyone know that there is gayness afoot.
Linqua Franqa live at The Firehouse in Birmingham
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s just jump right in – you got the new album, Bellringer. Where did the title come from?
Linqua Franqa: So the title track came to me as “Bellringer.” I don’t know why. Why was it called that, Ben [DJ Reindeer Games]?
DJ Reindeer Games: I like the two words of it being a “bell ringer.” It made me think of the town crier, like the Simpsons episode where he wants to the be the town crier-
Linqua Franqa: “Here ye, Here ye!” And then I later learned that a bellringer is also a punch to the face in boxing, like you’re about to get knocked out so the referee rings the bell to be like, “New round!” So the idea of both alerting people or shouting the news, and also getting sucker punched to the ground. I want the album to do that, so let’s go! So that’s what the album ended up being called.
SV: Since DJ Reindeer Games is here, let’s talk about getting the production for the album. I know the first album, Model Minority, was a bit of a grab bag as you figured things out…
Linqua Franqa: Yes. Very Soundcloud culture – “Oh, you got beats? Great!” And not a lot of opportunity to make sure things are mixed or add instrumental elements to add complexity and depth to things, but like…I think there was a lot of room for us to toy in the studio and make it very specific to what the lyrics are trying to say, and the sonic narrative of the beats. Stuff like that.
SV: Going into this album, was it always like y’all were going to do this together?
Linqua Franqa: Oh yeah. Since 2019?
DJ Reindeer Games: Yeah, it was a long time. We had talked about how we loved when, especially hip hop albums, when an artist works with one producer. Just because it’s like all the Madlib collabs….
Linqua Franqa: Ben’s been my deejay since 2017. I’ve been getting wasted at his dance parties since I moved to Athens. Talking about, “Chasing dark and stormies ‘til the bar is closing at Little Kings,” that is how we know each other, right?
DJ Reindeer Games: Yes.
Linqua Franqa: And then we met up, I was about to open for Of Montreal, and he was like, “Do you want a deejay?” and I was like, “Yes, please, I’m playing my fucking tracks out of iTunes!” And we’ve been friends and doing this ever since. And now we made an album together.
DJ Reindeer Games: So we always wanted to do this, since we were already working…in a contained group like a band would. You go with the limitations of what the people within the band can do. And so it was the same with us. [Linqua] would tell me the type of sound to look for, and I would find it. Maybe not exactly what Linqua wanted, but something that was a little different. If Linqua were to shop for each beat individually, it could be a lot more specific, but it also wouldn’t have…
Linqua Franqa: I think it would be a lot less specific. Because putting the arc together, it was very intentional. Like songs like “Growth I & II” blend together because we were able to sit down and chop it up. That’s the one beat that is not Ben. It’s Stimulated Jones who made “Growth I,” but then Ben flipped it and made it “Growth II.”
DJ Reindeer Games: I remixed it and made it “Growth II.”
Linqua Franqa: Yeah, getting everything like a band, getting it to flow together. Less by force. More like a stream and less like a puzzle.
SV: Yeah, the feeling I got when I first listened to the album – not that Model Minority sounds scattered or anything – but this just felt very focused, like a very unified sound.
Linqua Franqa: Very intentional. Very unified throughout.
SV: You also have some guest artists on the album. Some are completely expected, like Wesdaruler and Dope Knife, you worked with them for years. But you’ve also got Of Montreal, Jeff Rosenstock, and the big one, Angela Davis.
Linqua Franqa: She’s on the fucking side of this shit! [editor’s note: there is a mural on the side of The Firehouse in Birmingham that includes Angela Davis] I meant to shout out, “Birmingham, yes!”
SV: How did you piece those guest spots together?
Linqua Franqa: So let’s start with what I would consider the obvious ones - Kishi Bashi and Kevin Barnes (from Of Montreal) are both from Athens, so I’ve played shows with both of them. K and I had an Athfest grant to go and perform together at local elementary and middle schools. We collaborated some in that regard before. So Athens-grown friends. Jeff [Rosenstock] used to play in a band called Pegasuses-XL with the sound engineer Joel Hatstat. And so Jeff and I had pretty much only interacted through commissioned raps for Cartoon Network. He writes music for Craig of the Creek. And then I was like, “Oh yo, homie, I’ve been rapping on this cartoon thing, you wanna jump on this album?” He sent over a ton of stuff for the album! We sent him the whole album and were like, “Do some things!” Cause COVID times…
DJ Reindeer Games: Like on “Bellringer,” he added a little shaker. So when we say he sent stuff back, sometimes it was just minor like that, like a Rhodes chord every once in a while.
Linqua Franqa: And so we heard a lot, and there were strategic contributions that made it on. Dr. Davis and I were co-keynote speakers at conference in 2020. So like the headlining talk was a conversation between me and her. And we work with the same company that sets that stuff up, so we had an opportunity to coordinate through them. Getting some of that on the album.
SV: So what’s on the album is from that talk?
Linqua Franqa: Yes. It was kind of co-constructed in that way that she’s asking me questions, I’m asking her questions, etc.
SV: Getting into the subject matter of the album, obviously, you mentioned it on stage earlier, a lot has happened since the last album. You’re within days of your PhD, you have a baby…all these things have happened. Going into the album, were you like, “This is too much,” or was it a situation where it was so much that it just came pouring out?
Linqua Franqa: Well, so we’ve been working on it for like three years. And then…why did we start talking to Pete?
DJ Reindeer Games: Joel.
Linqua Franqa: So Pete D’Angelo, you may have met him at SXSW, because that’s where he met me. And he’s been hounding me for four fucking years since then to put out a record with him [at Ernest Jenning Record Co.]. And I had just been ignoring him, ‘cause my life was in shambles and I couldn’t keep track of all the shit. I’d just be like, “Yeah, sure, man,” and then life would move on. And so finally, Joel was like, “Get back to Pete. FOR. REAL.” So Ben and I sat down with Pete, and he was like, “I want to put the record out,” and Ben and I were like, “OK, cool,” and Pete just set a deadline – let’s get it shipped to be mixed in July. So that put a hard deadline on us to actually finish it, after all these stops and starts. You know, you can noodle around forever…but sometimes you just have to let it go and live. And so I think the deadline helped to just let it go live.
SV: On the album, you touch on some big stuff that’s part of your public life, like organizing, abolition, that kind of stuff. But you also go pretty deep on some personal stuff, whether it be mental health, or talking about-
Linqua Franqa: Being a ho!
SV: That, yes, but also you give some pretty real talk about the prospect of giving birth, and how it’s not all magical, and just full of love.
Linqua Franqa: Yeah, bro, all you see is cute baby pictures. And we did that…we had a baby shower and all that, but shit’s also kind of terrible. It’s called labor because it’s work, bro! I just feel that with all this music, it’s about adding nuance. Like here’s a different way things could be that we don’t talk about enough. ‘Cause, yeah, even what we tell each other would mislead you to believe a lot of things about our health, relationships, etc. Particularly in the age of social media.
SV: To that end, you touch on the toll on your mental health that working in public office takes on you. ‘Cause I feel like some people see it from a distance, and they’re like, “Oh, what are they complaining about? There are a few people that are rude on Twitter. That’s fine.” But as you get into on the album, it goes much deeper than that.
Linqua Franqa: I mean there was a fucking white van parked outside of our house at 3 a.m. on Saturday. That like circled the block, and was seen with it’s headlights on, just in the middle of the night. Yeah, people are mean to me on Twitter, but it’s like real shit that is very scary that is also not talked about enough. Politicians can seem nice and normal, but it’s much more complex than that.
SV: You’ve got that, you’ve got the anthems for organizing-
Linqua Franqa: Yes! Bezos we coming for dat ass! We’re gonna slap it!
SV: But I feel like one of the most unique songs on the album, in terms of the music and the tone that you strike on it-
Linqua Franqa: Oh! What’s he gonna say?! What’s it gonna be?!
SV: “Oh Fxck.” Musically it’s interesting, but also you get this queer celebration, but also the radical politics…
Linqua Franqa: Someone on Instagram said, “No flute has gone this hard since Jethro Tull,” and I just thought about that – it just stays with me. But the flute was y’all’s idea.
DJ Reindeer Games: It was mine…I remember for a while Joel and I were talking about getting someone to play saxophone on it. I think we didn’t go that route…at one point there were a lot of white straight men involved with the album, and Mariah - rightfully so – said that maybe we should find some other people. And we knew Pip the Pansy just through other artists, so we reached out to them. We definitely wanted live instrumentation.
SV: How did you come up with the video treatment for that song?
Linqua Franqa: I just knew that I wanted it to be super gay. Just because, I was married to the love of my life who is a man. But, you know, bisexuality is treated as a myth, and as a gender-nonconforming person who just had a baby, there is just a lot of femininity that is pushed onto you. It’s kind of constraining, so I was just like, “Fuck all that!” Let’s reinforce that there is gayness afoot. I just want to make sure everyone knows. Sound the alarms, there is gayness afoot! So I just wanted to make this as gay as possible. And just celebratory, and not just gay as possible, but we have folks in there of all different ages and genders and colors and sexualities…just wanting to rep and flaunt all the many ways you can love who you are.
DJ Reindeer Games: Musically, that one, the “Oh Fxck” beat, “Bellringer,” “Sometimes I Hate This Town,” and “Love Tap,” were all beats that I had made and didn’t know what to do with. So I was like, “I’ll show each one of these to Mariah, and see whichever ones she wants. If she doesn’t want them, I’ll self-release it.” She ended up wanting all of them, and those were like the first ones that – everything grew from that. But those were not made with the intention of making the album with Mariah. I wanted to make a more fun, clubby song, but this is what ended up working.
Linqua Franqa: You should check out Ben’s mixtape from…2020?
DJ Reindeer Games: I think it was 2020. Maybe the end of 2019.
Linqua Franqa: It’s got a bunch of Athens rappers on it, or Athens-adjacent.
SV: You’ve had a couple of chances to perform in Georgia, now here in Birmingham. I know you’re playing D.C., and then you mentioned a West Coast run?
Linqua Franqa: Yes.
SV: Anything beyond that?
Linqua Franqa: Athfest, at the Georgia Theater on June 24th. I don’t know the exact date, but I know that I’m playing the RWDSU Convention in Atlanta, end of July I think. They were involved with the Amazon union efforts in Bessemer.
SV: Where do people find the dates?
Linqua Franqa: linquafranqa.bandcamp.com. All the dates should be there.
SV: Anything else people should be on the lookout for?
Linqua: I have a special collab with VSEIU and potentially Sing in Solidarity, which is a DSA Choir in New York, coming out soon. I’ll just say that for now.
SV: Finally, if there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Linqua Franqa: If I could get Noam Chomsky on a beat before he dies, that would be sick. Let me swap that out for Cornell West. Immortal Technique! I interviewed Immortal Technique for our podcast, and he was so nice and cool and gracious. It was like an hour and twenty minutes in and I was like, “Bro, do you need to leave?” and he was like, “No, I’m good! Let’s keep talking!” In addition to appreciating what he does with his music. Sammus! Also recently interviewed her for the podcase, we’ve been mutual fans for some time. Would love to work with her someday…
DJ Reindeer Games: Oh boy, I don’t know. I would love to work with murk daddy flex, they make incredible beats. I want to do a thing with Wesdaruler, ‘cause he makes great beats, and then maybe…somebody who plays guitar. I think that would be fun. Anyone who plays guitar.
*For more information, visit: https://linquafranqa.bandcamp.com/album/bellringer