Francesca Simone is making a splash

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"Longer Than Summer" Cover Artwork

AS SEEN IN GUITAR GIRL MAGAZINE ISSUE 6

Recognized as Beyonce’s guitarist (no big deal, right?), Francesca Simone has accomplished quite a bit in her 22 years. Not only does she play lead guitar for Queen Bey, but she also plays lead guitar for Kehlani, and has garnered endorsements from PRS Guitars and Orange Amps. A native of San Francisco, she is currently based out of Los Angeles. Simone has independently breached into her own realm of creativity and musical output. In May of this year, she released a music video for her first single, the beautiful guitar instrumental “Still”. In October, her second single “Longer Than Summer” was released which showcases Simone’s vocals on top of lots of guitar. Expanding into art and fashion, this singer-songwriter has jumped headfirst into a multitude of industries. Bringing her own unique style and guitar skills, there’s no doubt she’s making a splash. Simone chatted with us about the filming of “Still,” her guitars, her beginnings, her new music video, and more. 

Your video for “Still” is amazing. The underwater scenes were fantastic. Were you worried about taking your guitar underwater? 

I was definitely worried about it, but the cool thing was PRS sent me a guitar specifically for the video. After it went in the water for about three hours, it was 3:00 a.m. in the morning, and it was dark, and it took me so long to get the guitar in the water because I kept saying, “this does not feel right.” But after it dried, I plugged it in, and it worked.  

How did they shoot the guitar playing to fit the video sound? 

I wasn’t plugged in or anything. It’s really hard to play underwater because the water is weighing your fingers down. I played a kind of quick solo, and we got a lot of the slow-motion shots. We just ended up doing some really elegant, quality, ethereal shots. 

Tell us about your new single “Still.”  

I recorded “Still” during the Coachella rehearsal for Beyoncé. I think we got out that night around 11:00 pm or so, and then I jetted off to the house where we shot the video which had a pool. We tarped the pool, put a spotlight on it, and that’s where the underwater scenes were filmed. And then for the bathtub scene, that was shot on a different night. It was really crazy because the rehearsals were super long, and I pulled these all-nighters to get this video done. 

It’s my first single. I kind of wanted to see how people would react in this day and age to an instrumental. For me, it was kind of like this really feels true to who I am, but also, I wondered how our generation would react to an instrumental with really modern visuals. I was super interested in that. And people seem to really like it. People were like, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” So, I’m excited to share more of my music. 

How did you approach the songwriting process? 

I went to Berklee for two years, then I ended up moving to L.A. and living on my cousin’s couch for four months before I got the Beyoncé gig. When I was at my cousin’s, I was creating these different voice memos, recording ideas into Logic, and the basis of that guitar melody that you hear in “Still” – the chordal guitar melody, just the beginning, I just kept it for a couple of years and didn’t do anything with it, but I’ve always loved that idea.  

A couple of years later, I came back to it. I really wanted to do something with it. I have a friend, JV the Producer, and I said to him, “Let’s turn this into something!” We were studying pop songs and really melodic songs. I wanted the song to feel like it could be singable. So, we co-produced it. We kind of just bounced ideas off of each other and finally ended up with “Still.” I really love how the melody flows throughout the piece. We co-produced it, and I would send him a couple of melodic ideas, and he would be like, “That works.” 

Let’s talk about your start in music. Did you come from a family with a musical background?? 

My dad’s not musical at all. My mom studied classical. She went to college for classical performance, but then she decided that she really loved playing the piano, but she hated the performance part. So, she became a writer. She’s still in the arts, but she decided she wasn’t into the performance. She really got me into piano when I was really young, and I was always around music. I studied the Suzuki method since I was three 

When did you pick up the guitar?  

When I was about 11. My parents took me to see a Santana concert, and I was in the eighth row, and he came on stage, and he played one long sustained note, and I just started balling. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I wanna do, I wanna play the guitar. And I wanna be on that stage.” And at that point in my life, I’d never even touched a guitar, so I didn’t know what it was. I was just like, “I have to play guitar.” I begged my parents for a guitar for Christmas, and they got it for me, and I just became a nerd and practiced all day, every day. All night, every night. 

How did you approach the songwriting process? 

I went to Berklee for two years, then I ended up moving to L.A. and living on my cousin’s couch for four months before I got the Beyoncé gig. When I was at my cousin’s, I was creating these different voice memos, recording ideas into Logic, and the basis of that guitar melody that you hear in “Still” – the chordal guitar melody, just the beginning, I just kept it for a couple of years and didn’t do anything with it, but I’ve always loved that idea.  

A couple of years later, I came back to it. I really wanted to do something with it. I have a friend, JV the Producer, and I said to him, “Let’s turn this into something!” We were studying pop songs and really melodic songs. I wanted the song to feel like it could be singable. So, we co-produced it. We kind of just bounced ideas off of each other and finally ended up with “Still.” I really love how the melody flows throughout the piece. We co-produced it, and I would send him a couple of melodic ideas, and he would be like, “That works.” 

Let’s talk about your start in music. Did you come from a family with a musical background??

My dad’s not musical at all. My mom studied classical. She went to college for classical performance, but then she decided that she really loved playing the piano, but she hated the performance part. So, she became a writer. She’s still in the arts, but she decided she wasn’t into the performance. She really got me into piano when I was really young, and I was always around music. I studied the Suzuki method since I was three.

When did you pick up the guitar?  

When I was about 11. My parents took me to see a Santana concert, and I was in the eighth row, and he came on stage, and he played one long sustained note, and I just started balling. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is what I wanna do, I wanna play the guitar. And I wanna be on that stage.” And at that point in my life, I’d never even touched a guitar, so I didn’t know what it was. I was just like, “I have to play guitar.” I begged my parents for a guitar for Christmas, and they got it for me, and I just became a nerd and practiced all day, every day. All night, every night. 

Did you take lessons?

When I got the guitar, my mom told me not to use any books, and instead, to do everything by ear. So, I would just listen to as many songs as I could and transcribe. I learned by ear for the first couple of years, and when I got into high school, I started taking Jazz really seriously. After high school, I went to Berklee. While there, I decided I didn’t want to be a Jazz musician, I wanted to explore Pop and Funk, and R&B and a lot of other genres. I felt like I wasn’t getting what I wanted at Berklee, so I decided to move to L.A., and just immerse myself in the music industry, and it was really difficult because I only knew one person – my cousin, Brian. I lived on his couch for three or four months. I was putting up these Instagram videos when Instagram used to do 15-second clips. One went viral, and it was the one where I was playing a cover of “Treasure” by Bruno Mars. Beyoncé’s music director hit me up, and I sent him a little audition video. Then they flew me out to New York to prepare for the Made in America and Global Citizen tours. My first two shows would be out there.

Has performing in front of audiences the size of Coachella, as well as working in a professional environment helped in advancing your solo career?

Oh, it’s been amazing because I get to see how different teams work, and it’s good to see how everybody interacts and how each team functions, it’s really insightful for that. And as I’m developing my team now, I have certain pieces of knowledge that I can use and apply to how I choose to go about things. Also, I used to have so much stage fright. It’s funny because when I started playing guitar, I didn’t have any stage fright. Then I got to my shy phase that came in high school, you know everybody is trying to find themselves and super self-conscious and all that. I started getting super bad stage fright and then when I joined Beyoncé, obviously I couldn’t have stage fright. You have to be a performer. I got up every morning before rehearsal, and I just practiced in front of a mirror. Like every single day before anyone got to rehearsal or anything, I just practiced and watched Michael Jackson videos. I can obviously pray, but I needed to work on my stage fright, so I worked on it. It paid off because on the Formation Tour she gave me my own solo while she had her costume change. I just played a whole minute solo!

I got over my stage fright. It used to be that every time before I went on stage, I would always get this really weird anxiety. My hands hurt, it’s like this weird pain that goes all the way through my body, but then when I get on stage it’s like it completely disappears. Then something takes over, and I’m just like a Rockstar. You know?

What’s your favorite part about touring?

I love performing. I think that’s my best part about touring. I also love the community that develops. It becomes a family and the people on tour become your family because you’re with them and traveling with them. You’re on the buses with them, you live basically with them, and so I just love the experience of being with so many people, and then getting to perform with them every single night.

What was it that was your first guitar?

My first guitar was an electric and it was an Ibanez. I still have it at home in San Jose. Now, I have about four Paul Reed Smiths. I’m endorsed by them. As I mentioned earlier, I have two painted guitars. Jupiter was born first. I have a next-door neighbor, Tabitha Nedenadinney, who is a beautiful painter, and she actually just started doing tattoos. We just became really close when I moved into my place in September after tour. We became really close, and we were just always coming up with creative ideas. One day I said, ‘why don’t you paint my guitar, wouldn’t that be so cool?’ So, we got a piece of cardboard and cut out a life-size shape of the guitar, and she painted in it. Then we got it printed on vinyl, and I had this company basically stick it on to my guitar. So, that’s how Jupiter came about. Then with Venus, we got the guitar and then literally painted the guitar within one day. She actually painted on Venus, and it was crazy because we didn’t know if Venus was actually dry before we took her in the water. It was really kind of stressful, but it was really cool because it was dry, and it turned out amazing.

What about the other PRS guitars?

Those are the ones that I use on tour, and one of them is super, super beat up because I had this huge red jacket with these huge studs all over it. So, I was playing the guitar every night with my solo. It was really cool, and thankfully, my guitar – she survived.

What about that Gallo Guitar you play on Instagram?

It was the first prototype ever made from that series. Jose from Gallo gave it to me to test it out and it has my name on it, it was super customized. It was a huge surprise, I thought he was coming over to show me his guitars, but he gave it to me. It’s from their Constellation series. It plays really well. It’s really difficult to make a guitar that lights up because of all the electronics, but he did a really good job.

What amps and pedals do you use?

I use Orange Amps, and for pedals, I use EarthQuaker. It’s really interesting because, on the Formation Tour, I used an Fx pedalboard. We didn’t have amps, we didn’t have anything like a toe touch pedalboard. We basically just dialed in the tones. If I needed more distortion or more delay or reverb or anything, he would just add it. Now I’m on this journey of exploring my pedals and my tones and everything which is really cool, but I’m just kind of looking, still kind of in the discovery process of like, “Okay what do I actually sound like? What’s my signature sound?”

What do you look for when you’re looking for tone and comfort in a guitar?

I love a warm, kind of like a warm solo tone that’ll come through. I love using the PRS 305 which is kind of like the stock model of PRS. Before I played PRS, I was using an American Strat, and when I came to PRS before the tour, I said, ‘hey guys I want a guitar that is the closest to the Strat.’ It was really cool because PRS was able to give me that one solo tone that I was looking for.

Tell us about being painted into a wall mural by the artist TouShai. That was extremely creative. How did that collaboration come about?

Her manager reached out to me and said they would love to paint me into a mural or figure something out, a way that we could collaborate using the guitar. TouShai and I were trying to figure out how to paint that guitar, Jupiter, into a mural and we came across the idea of having something super black and white, so the colors could just stand out and almost like playing itself. TouShai is super cool and amazing to work with. I always love working with artists from different backgrounds that aren’t just music. I love collaborating with different artists and art forms.

Tell us about your interest in fashion and modeling.

Right now, I’m really focused on promoting my music. So, music first, and then after that, I’d kind of like to get more into the fashion and modeling arena because I am super interested in that. I have friends that have gone down that route as well as music. I just think it’s super cool that models nowadays can be anything really, instead of being the typical 6-foot-tall, size 0 model. As long as you embrace yourself and can be comfortable in your skin, that’s kind of what it takes, and I’m super about that.

Your new single “Longer Than Summer” just dropped, and you debuted your vocals.

Yes, and I’m super, super excited about that. It’s been really a journey with how I feel people see me as a guitarist, an artist, and a performer. For me, being an artist isn’t just about singing songs and trying to perform. I wanted to take time to get in the studio, even outside of the studio. I wanted to take a step back from that and discover who I was – what were my fears, what were my strengths, my weaknesses. I felt like I had to really be honest with myself and be willing to be vulnerable about that and my art. I have taken the time to do that, and so I’m really excited because I feel like this piece is super true to who I am, and I’m really excited to see how people react to it.

What advice would you offer to a young girl wanting to pursue a music career? Picture your 11-year-old self at that Santana concert!

I would say just always, always follow your heart, even if your heart leads you into a direction that isn’t popular or cool or whatever it is. Always follow your heart because you’ll always find your happiness within that. I think that that’s the most important thing. Even if your parents disagree with one of your choices or your friends are like “Yo, what are you doing?” It’s like “I have to do this,” and sometimes you don’t even know why you have to do something, but your intuition is telling you that you have to do this, and then when you look back on it, you’re like “I’m so glad I made that choice.”

Photo: “Longer Than Summer” cover

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