THE intrepid and stunning Francois Klark…
is a South African-born, Canadian singer-songwriter and producer. I speak to the Toronto artist about his latest track, Spaceman, and what it feels like being compared to John Legend and Coldplay. He tells me about his upcoming and moving from South Africa to Canada; whether we can expect more music this year – and if there are plans cemented for next year.
Klark talks about being Universal Music Award winner and the artists that inspire him; when music first came into his life – and why every note and sentiment of his music resonates with emotion and meaning.
Hi, Francois. How are you? How has your week been?
Hey, Music Musings and Such! Pleasure chatting with you guys...
Things are pretty happening on this end. It feels a bit like I’m back in high-school: pulling all-nighters, left-right-and-centre - but things surrounding the release have been very exciting.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
Sure thing. I’m a small-town South African choirboy; graphic design drop-out; music graduate, now living in Toronto, Canada. I spend most of my time on mountains; anywhere that is close to trees and large bodies of water - and behind my baby grand piano writing songs. I’m a massive science fiction fan - which might explain my love for using big synths and vocoders. I’m also a romantic, so - recording music with just raw vocals, piano and a string section makes me very happy.
Growing up In South Africa instilled in me a deep love for World music and, as a result, I find that music from different cultures often bleed into my music production choices.
Spaceman is out now. Can you tell me about the song and the story behind it?
Some people believe that there is only one perfect person for you: others believe that a person could fall in love with anyone, and then, that person becomes the perfect person for you. Regardless of what you believe, odds are, if you're single, the person you'll, one day - choose to spend the rest of your life with - is somewhere out there right now at this very moment.
Spaceman explores this idea. The narrative in the song follows a space traveller who embarks on an almost dream-like journey covering extreme distances - and overcoming great obstacles in search of his one person.
In a sense, this song became a metaphor for my journey as I search for, and discover, my muse: music.
The song has been compared, in terms of sound, to John Legend and Coldplay. Are these artists you admire and are proud to be named alongside?
Very proud and humbled - I look up to them as artists quite a bit. I am deeply motivated and inspired by Coldplay. I very much admire how creative and imaginative they are. I once, briefly, met John Legend as he passed by me backstage at a gig. He was doing a few last-minute warm-ups before going on stage and I remember thinking: ‘Wow - his voice is even richer and bigger in real life’.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Merzetti
It seems like you explore every note and make every line count! Is music a place where you can channel all your emotions and pour your heart out?
Songwriting has definitely given me the chance to explore - and better understand - the things that I think about; that bother me or feel passionate about. It is during the writing process when I sit all alone behind the piano that I feel most like myself: alive and happy.
Recording and performing these songs are incredibly liberating and freeing - and something that I am very thankful for.
Can we expect to see any more music this/next year?
Keep an eye on the digital music stores and streaming platforms this coming Monday, October 23rd. The acoustic version of Spaceman, recorded live at Harris Institute (Toronto) - featuring Kibwe Thomas on the grand piano - will be available to stream and download. There are also two Spaceman remixes, courtesy of Bus Up Shop and Giordash, coming your way in January (pretty stoked with what these guys did with Spaceman). The album is also ready and slated for release in early-2018.
I picked a couple more songs off of the album that will be released as singles prior to the release of the full album.
Were you always interested in music? When did it come into your life, would you say?
Yes. I’ve always been interested in music...
Maybe not always on a very conscious level. Music is so closely tied to family for me. I remember music being part of our household for as long as I can remember - it was just another way of living everyday life. It was light-hearted, silly; beautiful - it was something we did together in our house. We could jump behind the piano anytime. Music was in the church pews as we would harmonize with mom; it was at school in the choir; it was at barbecues with friends…it was everywhere.
Did your parents’ tastes influence you or did you explore your own avenues as a child?
My parents listened to a lot of ABBA (I still know the lyrics to most of their songs), BZN and Classical music well…at least those are the ones burnt into my mind...FOREVER. It was, more so, when my sister went to high-school and came home with all kinds of artist and song suggestions that my world of music expanded exponentially. I have my sister to thank for my unquenchable thirst for new songs and artists I’ve never heard of.
Beyond that, our city’s local university radio station - and the cover band that played at the local pub we used to sneak into - were largely responsible for my early music education.
You are a Universal Music Award winner and collected a number of awards. You have shared the stage with some great artists. What has been your proudest moment from your time in music?
A really big turning point for me came during my second year of Graphic Design studies at the university in my home-town, Potchefstroom. I entered a song into the university’s songwriting competition. The winner got the opportunity to perform their song in the Sanlam Auditorium in front of nearly one-thousand people. My song was selected as that year’s best original composition which, in turn, meant that, well…somewhere I had to get the courage to play that big venue.
Up until that point, I have never sung in front of such a large audience - and only ever played piano in front of my parents and siblings. I suffered from a fair bit of stage-fright for most of my life but, somehow, had the courage to step out on the stage by myself and play the song that night - definitely the most formative and proudest moment of my life.
The performance went well and I believe that that was the pivotal moment that changed the course of my life - and that has led me to where I am today.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Merzetti
Born in South Africa; you are now in Toronto. Why did you move from South Africa and is there a bigger music scene in Canada?
My dad moved to Canada for work during my first year at uni in South Africa. He heard good things about a music school, Humber College, in Toronto. Well aware that music plays such a major role in my life; he asked whether I wanted to come check out the school. Up until that point, I only ever thought of music as something that I enjoyed doing for myself - and not as a career. At the time, in South Africa, it also didn't quite seem like a viable option. I jumped at the chance not only to make music my life - but also to travel and live in a place from which the rest of the world could be more easily accessed.
The music scene in S.A. is very much alive, booming and producing incredible artists at the present time. I don't know whether the music scene in Canada is bigger than in S.A. but, in my experience, the music scene here in Canada is more connected to the music industry in Europe, the U.S.; Central and South America - something that excites me very much - as a musician that loves traveling and collaborating with artists from different cultural backgrounds.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Merzetti
It seems like a part of the world with more than its fair share of great artists! Is there a reason for this, do you reckon?!
Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area is bursting with incredible talent.
It might be because Canada has a reputation of being very inclusive and accepting of all people regardless of their cultural background, religion; beliefs etc. This is likely one of the reasons why people from all over the world move to Canada. Since Toronto is considered the most attractive city in Canada for music, all the creatives flock here once they get to Canada - the result: a high concentration of very motivated and talented musicians in one city.
We are also very lucky to have a government and organizations like FACTOR - that invest in sustaining and developing a vibrant music scene in Canada.
IN THIS PHOTO: Celia Palli
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Crash - Dave Matthews Band
D.M.B. made me fall in love with painting pictures with words and telling stories with songs. I have a high-school buddy to thank for passing this album on to me and introducing me to D.M.B. (thanks, Dirk!).
This album is, pretty much, the soundtrack to some of my favourite memories.
Cloudburst and Other Choral Works - Eric Whitacre, Polyphony and Stephen Layton
This is, hands-down my favourite album of all time. Turn off all the lights; lie down in your favourite place; put on some really good headphones and have your mind blown.
If we could hear the universe sing, this is what I think it would sound like.
Phase (Deluxe) - Jack Garratt
From the first to the last song - a masterpiece of songwriting, musicianship and the most imaginative and creative production
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
Write all the time.
Surround yourself with truly genuine and good people.
Make true friends, not contacts.
Don't follow trends - trends will pass by the time you're ready to release your music.
Be true to what comes naturally to you.
Find a purpose for your music - it wasn't given to you to serve you.
PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Merzetti
Christmas is not too far away. Do you all have plans already or will you be busy working?
My siblings are coming to Canada for a white Christmas. We'll set up the barbecue in the garage and have a traditional South African 'Braai' in -30*C weather.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name a song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Both Sides Now - Joni Mitchel
I’m in awe of how beautifully this song is written. Just a true gem!
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