As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Wednesday, November 14

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


Transmission
« SXSW 2008 Tour Diary, #8 Stop Watching TV!: The Boredoms' Circular Logic »

Interview Mon Mar 17 2008

GB Interview: Indie-Folk Singer-Songwriter Robert Francis

RobertFrancis-large.jpg

Robert Francis's Debut Album, One By One.


Robert Francis, a 20 year-old indie-folk singer songwriter from L.A., recently opened at the Park West for Australian singer Missy Higgins. He’s on his first national tour and attracting attention from a myriad of music journalists who believe that he’s on the verge of a big break (and probably all want to claim that they “broke” him), and I wouldn’t disagree.


His songs are deeply personal and possess a sort of haunted country twang caused by a myriad of folk instruments, many of which he plays himself. He loves Townes Van Zandt, is frequently compared to Bob Dylan and has been described as a young guy with an “old soul.” In fact, he’s much nicer (I imagine) than Bob Dylan and I sensed a very youthful passion for his music.


I sat down with Francis before his Park West gig and asked him about touring nationally for the first time, getting along with his band in a small van and his very musical family. When I entered the theatre, his manager and band mates were frantically trying to repair a set of amps that had just exploded, but he sat calmly in one of the booths and we talked with 80’s music blaring in the background.

GapersBlock: Is this your first tour?

Robert Francis: First national tour. We’ve done a lot of strange tours that we could afford, like up Montana and back down and crazy places like bowling alleys and bars and grills. Yesterday, we made our drive from Denver here and we left at 7 in the morning and got here at 5 pm.

GB: You probably have a lot of crazy stories. Any bar fights?

RF: Almost. People want you to play a lot faster and at that time I didn’t necessarily have that many fast songs.

GB: Did you write any fast songs specifically for those kinds of situations?

RF: We would spontaneously cover “Smoke on the Water” and other strange songs by Deep Purple to, you know, make people happy.

GB: I read that you have quite the musical family.

RF: My father is a classical record producer and my mother’s from Mexico, so I had those two sides of music growing up. And then my sisters introduced me to the Pixies when I was young.

GB: I noticed on your MySpace page that you don’t list any classical influences. Wasn’t classical music around the house?

RF: It was around so much…when you grow up with something and you hear it all the time…my dad would be blasting classical music from the second he woke up to the time he went so sleep at like 4AM under bright florescent lights working. So there was never any time that I wanted to sit down and listen to it on my own. But I’m fond of it.

GB: So you grew up with two things that young people have a hard time coming to terms with: classical music and a foreign parent.

RF: What’s sad is that I could speak [Spanish] perfectly when I was really young and then something happened and I stopped speaking it and I forgot it, almost. It’d sad when things like that happen.

GB: What are you listening to right now?

RF: Dylan, a lot of Infidels Bob Dylan and Planet Waves Dylan. And I like a few songs off the Neil Young Chrome Dreams record. And then a lot of Neko Case, I think she’s really amazing. And still listening to Townes all the time.

GB: What do you like about Townes so much?

RF: No one can touch him. I feel like people are always saying that people can touch Dylan, which is kind of true, but I feel like [Townes] is a completely different level. And like when Steve Earl said that he’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in his cowboy boots and scream at the top of his lungs saying that Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the world, I don’t know if I’d go that far, but he’s pretty phenomenal.

GB: Your debut album feels very personal, is it autographical?

RF: Definitely, yes. I made it over the span of 2 years. [Starting] toward the end of being 17. The first song I wrote on it was “Little Girl,” and then everything sort of came after that.

GB: You play a lot of instruments on it. If you were a school, you’d be the Old Town School of Folk Music. Ever been there?

RF: I haven’t.

GB: Which instrument did you start on?

RF: When I was an infant my dad would lay me across his lap and play piano for hours. So by the time I could actually understand what it meant to play the piano I could do it okay and then I started taking lessons with someone and I stopped playing because it really turned me off. And then I picked it up I think 10 years later. So I think I started when I was 5 and didn’t get into it until 15.

GB: Are you touring by yourself?

RF: No, I’ve got a 6 piece band and then our new tour manager, so that’s 7 people in a 1993 conversion GMC van. 3 in the back, then 2 in the captains chairs and 2 in the front. It’s a tight squeeze.

GB: What do you do during the long drives? Try to kill each other?

RF: I try to write, but it’s not the right atmosphere to start righting music. I just lay on top of peoples' feet in the back.

GB: You’re opening for [Australian] singer Missy Higgins. What are the audiences like?

RF: They’ve been good audiences…it’s just weird because the music is so different that I don’t think people know what to do at first, and then slowly we kind of win them over, maybe.

GB: Is that nerve wrecking when you first get on stage?

RF: A little bit, especially when they say “we want Missy!” But then [in Denver] someone was like “no, we love you!” and it was ok.

 
GB store
GB store

Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »

Blogroll

  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
BackStage
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
ChicagoMusic.org
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
CHIRP
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
Daytrotter
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Do312
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
Gridface
The Hood Internet
Innerview
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pitchfork
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Songs:Illinois
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock

  Venues:

Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
B.L.U.E.S
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Constellation
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
FitzGerald's
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Martyrs'
Mayne Stage
Metro
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Rosa's
Schubas
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Smartbar
Subterranean
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Township
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Atavistic
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Hozac
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store

Events

Featured Series














 

Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.


About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks, sarah@gapersblock.com
Transmission staff inbox: transmission@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15