Recently featured in Best of What’s Next section of Paste Music Mag:
Best of What’s Next: Robert Francis
Homepage photo by Mark Gabor. Main photo by David Kitz.
Robert Francis: Itâ€™s been pretty amazing. â€¦ For some reason, out of all places, itâ€™s taken off in France first. In Paris, Iâ€™m doing a co-headline with John Butler when I go back, and Iâ€™m doing like a 6,000-seater. If I do my own headline show, I can sell out like a 3,000-seater. So itâ€™s totally different than playing in the U.S. I donâ€™t know why itâ€™s taken off so much, but I think itâ€™s just because the market seems like itâ€™s not as over-saturated with so much music. I think in America, thereâ€™s so much all the time. And I think within like the mass majority of American culture thereâ€™s been a loss, maybe, of connecting with like roots music. â€¦ I think in France, thereâ€™s a huge appreciation for the blues and soul music, and I think the live show has those characteristics much more than the record, too.
Francis: No, actually the weird thing about the record is that we did it so quickly â€¦ at no point did I have the luxury â€¦ to go in and second guess certain things and try to make it sound like, â€œOh, this song is reminiscent of the â€™70s,â€ or whatnot. I think it just naturally happened because of the studio we were recording [in], Sunset Sound, where they did all those great recordsâ€”Janis Joplin and The Doors and stuff. Every single piece of â€¦ equipment we used was pretty much from the â€™60s or â€™70s.
Francis: I think itâ€™s just the sound of literally actually growing up. I was 19 when I put out that recordÂ One by One. â€¦ I totally had lots of faith in people and was just like totally crazy, too, just like a little monster â€¦ causing trouble all the time. All this stuff sort of happened within my lifeâ€”starting to tour a lot more, and starting to â€¦ recognize who I was a lot more. My voice just started changing and everything started changing [laughs], which is, like, pretty funny. When I did the new record I wanted to run the complete opposite direction fromÂ One by One. â€¦ The way I recordedÂ One by One, it took me so long, I wanted to do this record quickly. I wanted it to be a more confident record.
Francis: It took me a long time to let that whole thing go. â€¦ What happened was I started recording the record [but] I couldnâ€™t seem to get it done. Every song was down tempo, and they were really sad, sad songs. I went to the next studio â€¦ and I know the owner so I got to have free studio time there, and he started letting me record, and I still couldnâ€™t get it done. â€¦ Finally I was like, â€œFuck it, Iâ€™m going to go with a producer,â€ and [Dave] Sardy was like the first person I could think of. â€¦ I liked it not having to worry so much. You can sit in the studio and people will, like, bring you a coffee, and theyâ€™ll be engineering, making it sound good, and I donâ€™t have to be running back and forth freaking out all the time.
Francis: It was always like a scary thing I suppose. When I didÂ One by One and I put it out, I didnâ€™t want to look for any major label or even a proper indie label. Aeronaut was the smallest label I could really imagine putting the record out on. I just wanted to see the response. What happened was a lot of these labels started getting involved and becoming interested, indies and majors. I met with all of them and I had it narrowed down and finally Atlantic seemed the most steadfast in just like supporting the record and understanding the record.
Francis: Heâ€™s my sisterâ€™s husbandâ€™s father â€¦ so heâ€™s been in my life since I was about five years old. I would always find myself being around him and sort of watching him play. My fatherâ€™s only into classical music, so besides my sisters getting into rock and roll and giving me records, I really had no other way to find out about anything. My sisters loved Ryâ€™s records as well, so theyâ€™d give me those records and a few others. So I started listening to them a lot and then just watching him play. I think at one point it started becoming a little bit more serious. Iâ€™d just go in and literally just sit there and watch him. â€¦ Ry isnâ€™t the sort of person to say, â€œOkay, put your hand here and youâ€™re gonna do that.â€ I would sort of imbibe this sort of cosmic information. Thereâ€™s no way to learn it other than really listening deeply, and thatâ€™s how I developed my ear.
Francis: I think it was both. I mean, I was really fed up with school. I never did anything. I would wake up and just, like, cry. I hated school so much. Now, looking back on it, it may have been almost to a faultâ€”I had this unmitigated self-confidence that no matter what, things would fall into place, that I would make it and do what I love and it would work out for me. I think partially it was because I was a crazy kid and maybe in a delusional drunken haze all the time. I dropped out of school [when] I had just turned 17 and started touring with my sisterâ€™s band, Hello Stranger. I just felt like things would fall into place, but I was also very motivated. When I made my first record, no one thought I could actually ever finish it, but I did, and when I got that done, things just started happening. It hasnâ€™t been really fast for me, but itâ€™s a consistent build. If I wasnâ€™t doing this I wouldnâ€™t be happy.
Francis: Iâ€™d just like to put out a record consistently every year-and-a-half or so for the next ten years, to look back and have those records mark different points of my life so when I put on a song, it can take me back to this moment in time. My memory isnâ€™t so great, and I remember a lot of things in music. â€¦ Now, for the first time, I feel comfortable finally with what I want to create and my sound. I think Iâ€™m writing the best songs Iâ€™ve ever written that arenâ€™t focused on a relationship anymore, that are focused more on this, like, self-sort-of-realization. Now I know how to go to do something likeÂ One By One and something as different asÂ Before Nightfall and more, so I can finally combine everything into one record. I think the next one, if anything, will beÂ the one. If, hopefully I am remembered, it will be the one that does it.