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Franchelle Lucas


Franchelle Lucas
THE HOUSTON-RAISED SINGER-SONGWRITER ON ART AS A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, FINDING TIME TO BE HUMAN, AND EMBRACING SLOWNESS IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS

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Franchelle Lucas


Franchelle Lucas
THE HOUSTON-RAISED SINGER-SONGWRITER ON ART AS A SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY, FINDING TIME TO BE HUMAN, AND EMBRACING SLOWNESS IN THE CREATIVE PROCESS

By Vivian Ludford
Photographs by Enmi Yang

 

Chances are you’ve seen a clip of one of the now-iconic performances from Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table tour.

Dressed in strikingly designed, color-coordinated ensembles, their hair framing them like halos, Knowles, alongside Isadora Mendez, and Franchelle Lucas—her backup dancers and vocalists—move and sing in perfectly choreographed harmony, evoking a cross between the three Fates and the Supremes.

When I speak to Lucas, she’s just returned from a four-night stint of these performances at Sydney Opera House. It’s a balmy afternoon in early June, and we are talking by phone: I, in New York, she, in Houston, where she grew up alongside Knowles and is now based.

I ask Lucas what she’s up to now that she has a break from tour, and she laughs: “In my usual Gemini fashion, too many things at one time,” she says. “I operate that way; that’s what makes me feel most alive.”

Lucas is up to “many things,” indeed. While she’s been an integral part of Solange’s live band since 2016, Lucas, who performs under the artist moniker Fre Wuhn,  has two of her own albums on the way: a solo EP called Stupid Carnival, as well as a project with longtime collaborator Denis Cisneros under the name Nativ Symphony. Along the way, Lucas has also earned a master’s degree in theology, religion, and art; worked as an educator and minister; and founded the Fre Wuhn Artist’s Collective, an organization that provides a platform for artists to share their work while also giving back to their communities. And this past February, Lucas published a book of poetry.  

On the page, it’s a lot. But for Lucas, each endeavor is central to her creative life. “I operate in different extremes,” she explains. “I don’t want to get caught in just one form of expression.”

 
There’s a mysterious element to being an artist. You’re creating alchemy. You’re taking something that’s in one form or no form to begin with, and by the time you process it and put it through your filtration system, you now have a whole new thing.
 
 

Stupid Carnival, Lucas’s debut EP, is deeply personal, blending Lucas’s own narrative with other stories to evoke “a journey into womanhood via love and loss—all those themes you go through when you emerge from relationships, and who we become as a result of those things.” The Nativ Symphony project, too, is also intimate, drawing on Lucas’s Native American-French-African heritage and Cisneros’s El Salvadorian background. “It’s a little more political,” she says.“We’re focused on telling the stories of people that come from the indigenous space, and the music lends itself to the folk tradition in that regard.” 

I ask Lucas about the process of offering something so deeply personal for public consumption. She likens the act of creation to a kind of magic, driven by a responsibility she feels to make things that resonate with people. “There’s a mysterious element to being an artist,” she tells me. “You’re creating alchemy. You’re taking something that’s in one form or no form to begin with, and by the time you process it and put it through your filtration system, you now have a whole new thing.” She continues, “A lot of the work comes from ‘I have to get this off my heart,’” she says. “If I don’t do it, either somebody else will, or somebody won’t be reached. There won’t be a connection made that I was designed to make.”

That responsibility is rooted in her upbringing in the American South, and, in particular, the church. “I grew up in very religious environments,” Lucas says. But as a teenager, she began to reconsider many aspects of organized religion. “I felt like all the boxes—the right and wrong, the black and white of it—was very constraining, confusing, and suffocating,” she says. “I think that was the beginning of me [asking] questions like, ‘Well if there is this God, this source, then why would we be so limited? Why would we be put here with all this stuff to do and then have these tiny, box-like experiences?’”

Through her exploration, she discovered The Awakenings Movement, a Houston-based, nondenominational church founded in 2005 that emphasizes worship through original art and song. “I heard the music and was sold on that instantly,” Lucas recalls. She emailed pastor and founder Marlon Hall and asked how she could be a part of it, and Hall became a mentor. From that point on, Lucas became “totally engrained” in the church, where she was encouraged to perform and write music for the first time.

 
 
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I’m constantly trying to figure out how to navigate all of my interests—how to be a creative person full time while still finding time to engage with life and with people.
 

“It changed the course of my creative life,” Lucas says. “The way we worshipped, the way we served, was through art. We couldn’t borrow other people’s creative expressions—we had to squeeze them out of ourselves, week after week.” It was here that she first began to feel the responsibility to create. “You want to rest on other people’s laurels, you want to sing hymns, you want to be normal,” Lucas explains. “But you’re not normal. So push.”

The balance between sustaining her creative drive while also finding time to be “human” still proves a struggle for Lucas. “I’m constantly trying to figure out how to navigate all of my interests—how to be a creative person full time while still finding time to engage with life and with people,” she says. “Sometimes, I can get too caught up in my introverted side...But when I do interact with people, it fills me up, and I’m like, ‘Why haven’t I been doing this?’”

Slow is sometimes necessary. Slow is sometimes good.

I ask Lucas about how she grapples with shaping the narrative of her creative identity in a world that is quick to label people, especially women, as just singer, or, writer, or theologian. “It’s taken me a while to get here,” she explains, “but my identity now is the same whether I’m creating something or not.” She elaborates, “I sometimes get to sing, sometimes get to teach, sometimes get to write, sometimes get to perform. Assignments change; but I’m still the same person no matter what I’m doing. And that’s being creative.”

Lucas has learned to accept other things, too, including her southern roots, which she admits she spent many years trying to escape. “I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of the world, but at the end of the day, you just want to come back to a place where you feel you can be nurtured,” she says. “That’s what the south is to me.”

She also acknowledges that, beyond her roots in the region, the southern approach to life and creativity proves a welcome and necessary respite from the fast-moving creative hubs on the coasts. “I used to think, if I move to NY or LA, I’ll make it. Now, it’s like, no: I can create space where I am. Or wherever I try to be.” She pauses. “[The south] has an ugly past, but also very beautiful fruit. I’m glad I’ve gotten to come back and be able to enjoy it. Just the pace of life, even. It’s different. It’s slower. Slow is sometimes necessary. Slow is sometimes good.” ★