Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit
Tiberius B October 2023 Brennan Bucannan 04

On the Rise
Tiberius b

02 October 2023, 09:00
Words by Alex Rigotti
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

From their remote beginnings on a small Canadian island to the bustling chaos of London, producer and singer Tiberius b is learning how to open up their world through pop music.

Being frank is exactly what the music of Tiberius b promises. For over a decade, 29-year-old London-based singer-songwriter – born Frank Belcourt – has chronicled everything from silly songs about uncertain lovers to being run over by a van shortly after a breakup. On recent EP DIN, they’re embracing life in London on their own terms and revelling in the mess.

It’s taken four cities to help create the music Tiberius b makes. With steely blue eyes and a buzzcut, Belcourt’s wheeled their bike into Deptford, which they now call home, for our interview. They’re warm and wry, speaking with a level-head about their past. It’s hard to imagine this is the same person who rolls around in bird shit and uncontrollably pisses in their music videos, but such is the contradiction of being Frank Belcourt.

Perhaps it’s even harder to imagine their grungey, urbane aesthetic given the rural idyll they were raised in. Belcourt hails from Cortes Island, located among the Discovery Islands archipelago on British Columbia coast in Canada. It’s a fifth of the size of London, and holds just over a thousand permanent residents. It was thus deeply isolated, and music was difficult to find: “My world here couldn’t resemble the world I grew up in any less in some ways,” Belcourt tells me. Luckily their parents were originally from England and Radiohead, Massive Attack, Portishead, and Blur were all routinely played in the Belcourt household.


Tourists who reach Cortes island via multiple ferries are greeted with gorgeous weather, beaches, and plenty of forestry – perfect for teenage antics – and living on the island also sparked another interest in the young Belcourt: dance. “My love of music coincides with loving to dance,” they explain. “When I was a teenager, I used to dance at the community hall where they put on bands on my island or at music festivals. There were forest raves and I loved to dance in that context.”

It was a high-school music teacher that encouraged Belcourt to start making music, and soon after graduating, they moved to Vancouver and began putting out their first records under their birthname. Possibly the most entrancing album of that era was a brutal record detailing life after being broken up with, then run over by a van – all set to delicate, shimmering indietronic pop. “It was horrible,” they laugh, “but it was nice to have this physical manifestation of my pain, even though it was awful.”

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Naturally, this prompted a change in both location and name for Belcourt. After attending a cousin’s wedding in London, they decided to stay permanently in the city, a much faster pace of life compared to Cortes Island. They also started exploring their nonbinary identity, and decided to change their name to Frank and created a new artistic persona: Tiberius b, the name their parents were originally going to designate them.

“The Tiberius project came at the same time as trying to more openly explore that part of who I am,” they explain. “It’s a character, but it's not really a character. It's just my journey, and they're congruent with each other. It's kind of scary to put something out there that never goes away when you're on that path, and that there's a never ending backlog of moments in your history because I don't know what is going to happen with me and how I can express my gender. But I think that's also kind of cool.”


Their stay in London was short-lived: the pandemic forced them to flee to Wales, where they stayed with their grandmother and made the Stains EP. The sound of Tiberius b got got heavier and woozier; you can hear remnants of Thom Yorke’s restrained croon in Belcourt’s voice as they sing in frustration: “Why can't I silence all the alarm bells sounding?/There’s no smoke, no fire”.

The pandemic proved to be a blessing in disguise; "No Smoke" caught the attention of Mark Ronson, who signed Belcourt to his record label Zelig Records. Ronson has remained a fierce supporter of Belcourt, even asking them to write a song for Barbie's car chase scene. It ultimately went to Charli XCX, though Belcourt isn’t too dismayed: “in the end, I think it’s for the best”, they joke. “She’s the queen of the car song.”

Instead, Ronson helped Belcourt in other smaller but significant ways: “He's very much left me to my own devices, which I really appreciate,” they explain. “He can back me up, which is very cool because he's obviously so musically knowledgeable, which is sometimes rare in the music industry when you're working with business people. But for the most part, he just gasses me up when something's finished.”

Belcourt finally managed to move back to London and formed a tight-knit community around their old love of dancing. They had never formally trained, but meeting experimental musician Bianca Scout at a bar job led to joining a ballet class she was teaching: “It's always the shitty job that comes through with the people who are also doing something interesting. I've met so many sick musicians at my shitty jobs.”

You can hear and see the results of that one dance class in Belcourt’s recent EP, DIN, which is an even grottier, messier insight into their world. In class, they met Hamish Wirgman, who would become Belcourt’s right-hand man and creative director. He came up with the idea of pigeons as the emblem for DIN, representing the urban freedom Belcourt was beginning to experience. “I didn't really have a cosmic relationship to them prior, but now I have a really newfound respect,” they acquiesce. “They're quite misunderstood – they're really fast, intelligent, and I feel like people don't think of them in that way. I think that's funny.”

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Wirgman would often ask Belcourt on photoshoots, and it was there that they formed a friendship with Scottish director and photographer Aidan Zamiri, who has helped shape the unique aesthetic eras of Charli XCX, Caroline Polachek and FKA Twigs. You can see his hallmarks in the cold, flat, muted palettes of the photography and music videos for DIN, perfectly mirroring the matte concrete surroundings of Belcourt's home. “The reason why we chose him is not only because he's fucking sick, but it suited the music of this project,” Belcourt explains. “Hamish and I wanted it to be more fun and exposed and have this horniness. The first project was quite innocent. We wanted to go in a different gear.”

They certainly jacked it up a notch when they released ‘HHB’, which explores gender dysphoria by tracking Belcourt dancing through the London night. They stop to piss on the curb, reaching down and seeing their face reflected in the puddle as they whimsically sing: “weeee, weeeeee!”. For this, Belcourt recruited cousin Lydia Walker to choreograph the dance scenes, taking inspiration from the film Beau Travail and Eurythmics’ "Beethoven": “We were trying to straddle masculine and feminine energy through the movement and the discomfort of either expression of energy.”

It reaches its peak with the "Jetski" music video, which celebrates some good old homoerotic tension with Belcourt singing and thrusting to the camera, surrounded by a flock of pigeons. “I don’t really know how to put it”, they muse deadpan at the beginning of the song; by verse two, they put it rather plainly: “You take me home/Make me come/Over and over.”

“It is visceral,” they admit. “When I was reading the lyrics back to myself, I was like, the lyrics are really explicit. That was a factor in choosing to actually lean into that visually. And I never, ever questioned any of it. Didn't even think it was that over the top. Now that it's been out for a little while, I'm like, damn. This shit is actually a little crazy.”

The result was Belcourt, sat in a room full of pigeons, having a mixture of “flour, water, chia seeds and matcha” being poured over them by production designer Jack Appleyard: “He had a giant turkey baster, and he was squeezing it all over. It was really hysterical.”

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The pigeon shit wasn’t just a self-inflicted torture exercise; it was also crucial for infusing comedy into their artistry. “In my music, I'm often writing a joke for myself,” they explain. “I use humour to relate to my own experience, to express what I'm going through. It's important in my work to use humour in visual language as well, and there is just something a bit funny about pigeon shit."

DIN was also important in documenting Frank’s emotional growth, which you can hear in the quietly devastating meditation on loss and grief, "Delicate People". “The way that I understand things feels more nuanced,” they tell me. “When I listen to the song 'Stains', for instance, it feels like a really rudimentary, black and white way of thinking about a situation. That's not to say that it's not smart or not important, it's just different. As I keep writing, I'm asking a lot more questions than trying to define things that have already happened.”

Belcourt is focused on playing more live shows, and is currently working with the likes of Belfast songwriter Piglet. “I'm trying to evolve the way that I make music,” they say. “I'm inviting collaborators to make it less of an isolated, insular experience. Over the winter I went to the studio once a week and tried to write something every week. I’m trying to be more inviting and make it more of a group effort.”

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