FEW people have as much drive and passion for music…
PHOTO CREDIT: JPBoardman
as Alex Francis. He has a series of festivals and dates throughout August – including one at Camden Assembly on 1st – and is showcasing his new single, The Last Time. I talk to him about his new track and what it is about; the E.P., These Words, and the origins and moments that went into it. Alex Francis has travelled and played across the U.S. and big British gigs like the Isle of Wight Festival.
I ask him about his music background and how he came to meet his live band; what dates he is especially looking forward to playing – and the albums that have defined and guided him as a person.
Hi, Alex. How are you? How has your week been?
Great, thanks - busy!
Prepping for next weekend’s festival show and I’ve got two friends’ weddings to fit in between those, too.
For those new to your work; can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Alex Francis; originally from Hertfordshire - and now residing in North London.
The Last Time is your newest track. What inspired the track and was it quite an easy one to write?
The Last Time was conceived a (some) time ago after a relationship that I had come out of; but my co-writer and I felt the theme for it was universal, so we analysed it again.
It follows the idea that it isn’t as easy as simply letting go of somebody once you’ve called it quits - even if you really want to.
Its video sees you travelling and playing around America. Which cities/areas did you film it and what was the experience in the U.S. like?
The U.S. footage in the video is from the time I spent in Brooklyn, New York - back in June. It was the second time I’d been over for music rather than leisure! (Although time was made for leisure).
It was a great trip and we got a whole load done. I’m back in Brooklyn in the autumn.
There is, in that video, clips of you playing the Isle of Wight Festival. What was that like? Is it a career highlight, so far, would you say?
Definitely a career highlight!
My live agent curates the festival so getting to perform on the bill this year was a massive treat. We couldn’t believe how well the set went down - and it was an amazing experience to perform two shows over the weekend in two pretty different settings.
The Last Time is from the E.P., These Words. How would you define the E.P. and were the songs inspired by relationships and friendships? What kind of aspects and people go into the music?
The songs are all inspired from experiences of my own; born out of themes that I feel are personal but also relatable.
I wanted the sound of things to give the listener an introduction to how I write and arrange my music - something more than just a demo. but not a fully-blown production either. The time will come around for that.
I love the idea of there being a genesis of each release. I feel as though I can take listeners along with me that way.
How did you come to meet the band you play with on the road? Do you bring in new musicians or keep the same players?
I’ve been with my core-band now for just over a year. Lucky logistics and a bunch of super passionate, incredibly talented people have meant we have been able to make it work for that long! I’m in a lucky position to have a bunch of guys working alongside me who are as invested in these songs as I am.
From time to time, things do clash and I do have a bank of like-minded individuals that I can call upon (which is a bonus in itself). However, now I have my guys and I’m so pleased with the way it’s going.
Come see a show!
You have dates in Hampshire and Hertfordshire coming up - Standon Calling (28th) among them. How excited are you about that gig – it seems like a pretty big one!
Can’t wait for Standon!
It’ll be awesome to come back to a festival in Hertfordshire: something that I haven’t done for a couple of years. We’ve got two shows on the Friday at Standon Calling - the first on the main stage at 14:00; then the BBC Introducing Stage at 17:50.
Starting life in Hitchin; you moved to Brighton and now live in North London. What was the reason for leaving Brighton and coming to London?
I was a student in Brighton at BIMM: an academy that has now expanded outward all over the U.K. and beyond.
Life got in the way after I finished studying and I actually went back home to Hertfordshire for eighteen months. It was during that time that I began to travel to London more and more often and I began collaborations with new songwriters.
Thankfully, home at the time wasn’t too far away - so I could make a regular thing out of that quickly.
Eventually, I got myself to a place where making a home out of London was the natural and logical next step for me and my career.
How influential is the city when it comes to your music and ambitions?
There are so many different things to draw upon from living in a city: life lessons, new experiences or tiny everyday details that stimulate the creative psyche. I love the diversity - it keeps me creative and motivated knowing that there are so many like-minded folks here all chasing stability and success in their own right.
It fuels me to know that a lot of the opportunities I used to fantasise about exist in the city I live in.
Do you feel the music you grew up listening has moulded the musician you are today? Can you remember your favourite artists and albums as a youngster?
I think that almost everybody’s love for music is sewn-in at a young age. Every music-lover I know says the same thing about their youth and how they knew pretty early on that music was going to be a feature in their life.
I grew up on a pretty contrasting diet of Rock and Soul music - very different, at times, but always with the same thing in common: real music that moved me in ways that I still can’t clearly describe.
What kind of live dates do you have coming up?
We’ve got a bunch more festival performances to see out - including one more show in Hertfordshire on 25th August at Goatfest; then a spot up-North (near Newcastle) in Gateshead on 26th August at Chase Park Festival.
I’ve also (just) announced another headline show in London at the Camden Assembly on 1st August partnering Oxjam - all proceeds on the night going to Oxfam!
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I’m really into the current Leif Vollebekk album, Twin Solitude. He’s totally his own thing but the album has got great little subtleties that remind me of Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks - which is one of my favourites ever.
Leif does so much with very little and that’s real power in songwriting as far as I’m concerned. He lets the space sing, too.
I’m also really enjoying Lianne La Havas’ Blood (Solo) E.P. - which is a selection of cuts from her latest album, Blood, performed stripped back with her electric guita.
She’s pretty mystical when she goes it alone.
IN THIS PHOTO: Lianne La Havas
If you had to select the albums that mean the most to you; which would they be and why?
Ray LaMontagne - Trouble (2004)
This album doesn’t have any particular sentiment for me more than the fact that it’s just so beautifully crafted in every measure.
I’m into so many artists that channel the organic and the soulful vibe. Not many deliver the kind of conviction and sincerity like Ray does on this album. Beautiful production from Ethan Johns.
The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main Street (1972)
My friends and I were completely obsessed with The Rolling Stones in our first couple of bands – totally immersed with everything from the music to the bravado. This is a particularly long album in general - eighteen tracks, I think.
It got A LOT of spin – mostly because it would survive most gig drives without us having to argue about the next thing to play! You can literally SMELL the damp in Keith’s basement studio when you listen to these songs.
Apparently, Jagger doesn’t dig the production on this record but I absolutely love it. It’s The Rolling Stones at their possible best - with every nuance of their amazing songwriting craft present on this record; whether it’s big ballads or total Rock ‘n’ Roll wrapped up in this ‘rough-and-ready’, sometimes-demo-sounding collection. It’s so visceral to me now - I’ll never stop listening to it.
It’s a great example of bottling up the magic you can get from the live recording: something that will never be fully recreated artificially.
What advice would you give to any new artists starting out right now?
I think; try and be as involved in everything as possible - definitely to begin with and even after you’ve begun to gather your team around you.
Everything from the performing to the digital marketing to the networking is as important as each other, I have discovered. There’s so much to grasp so quickly - whether or not you are professional - and I think it’s important to keep yourself aware of the mechanics of this industry so you can position - what it is you do best with the very best chance at every opportunity.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can name any song and I’ll play it here (not one of yours as I’ll do that).
Better go out on the raddest 'Stones tune you’ve never heard: Can’t You Hear Me Knocking!
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