"Yeah, man, there's a lot of competition tonight--Jay-Z, Rihanna, Grizzly Bear--but it looks like he's is still drawing a big crowd," we overheard the bouncer remark out front of S.O.B.'s on Thursday night. We were waiting to see Francis and the Lights, an up-and-coming band who play a kind of minimalist funk which immediately brings to mind Prince and Michael Jackson, to those of us with no real music knowledge at least. The band has a very cultivated, reserved aesthetic that stands in stark contrast to their 80's influenced sound. They are also somewhat of an anomaly in that they have all the usual trappings of an indie artist without the derivative, trend following-sound, and have at least a foot in the door of actual pop music (Francis has production credits for the recent Drake single Karaoke). Something about this lack of a 'scene' makes them still feel like a secret, even though they apparently have pretty large fan-base.
These fans showed up in good numbers on Thursday, packing the small venue wall to wall. The crowd was about half hipster, half yuppie, and was literally buzzing by the time Francis reached the stage and took position in the corner with his back to the audience. The band quickly launched into "Knees to the Floor", and he strode over to the mic in all his double-popped-collar, blown out, vampiric glory. Watching his music videos had somewhat prepared us for his stage presence, but seeing it live was, well, something else. The way he snaps and spins and contorts himself around the 8 feet of stage available to him is incredible to watch. It's as if he has the ability to perform Michal Jackson caliber dance moves, but lacks any of the training. When you look into his eyes you can see his total concentration and devotion-- he's 100% invested in what he is doing, completely in the moment. The band moved almost immediately from song to song, which seemed necessary to sustain the intensity he was performing with. By the time the show reached its glorious climax with "The Top", he had really gone all in, flickering all across the stage and freaking out in unison with the flashing lights. He made me feel something I haven't felt since I walked out the door of the last Bar-Mitzvah I attended--"Man, I wish I could dance."
We luckily had come with our friend, Francis expert, and actual journalist Dave, who generously agreed to conduct an interview for us after the show.
By David Simpson
Whether or not he intended it, Francis came across as warm and genuinely polite. He speaks with his body, hands and face; therefore much emphasis is lost in this transcript. His Willy Wonkaness, which is evident on stage, is even more compelling in person. And most certainly, Starlite is not a commuter artist; he brings his work everywhere. It's an endless performance.
Dave Simpson We noticed on your first album cover you're lying down, on the second one you're sitting, on the third one you're standing.
Francis Starlite [Smiling] That is true.
DS Is there any purpose to that, are you going to be flying in the next one?
FS Yes. Yes there was purpose to it. Absolutely.
DS Can you talk a little about it?
FS It's a very direct literal symbolic metaphor. I wanted to be aware that things would progress.
DS Have you given any thought to the next cover?
FS I have but I don't talk about things that I haven't done yet.
DS Aaron Lammer, he appears in a lot of the liner notes as having written various songs, what exactly does he do? I wasn't sure if he played any instruments or anything.
FS Aaron Lammer is probably one of the most important people to Francis and the Lights. He is my friend and my confidant, and also my collaborator. He is one of the only people that I collaborate with. True collaboration. On the music. On everything, everything. But more specifically he has written some of the lyrics and some of the melodies to almost all of my work.
DS So even more than what he appears in the liner notes for?
FS That's not true, what he's on the liner notes for is what he's worked on.
DS Pitchfork Media, which tends to review bands like yours, hasn't really mentioned you yet. We read in the...
FS These are great questions by the way.
DS Thank you, that means a lot to me. So in the newest review of the Drake album, it mentions all the producers, it mentions the production, it mentions 'Karaoke' and they love it, but it doesn't mention your name, is there some kind of beef there?
FS [Smiling] I have no idea. I hope they never mention my name.
DS, BW & JS [Cheers]
DS Do think there's some kind of conscious effort there?
FS [Smiling] I have absolutely no idea, no idea.
DS But you've noticed it?
DS You've talked a lot about trying to restrict yourself, holding back, leaving more for people to be interested in. Does that ever get emotionally tiring or just in general tiring, constantly having to restrict yourself? Are there periods of time where you want to stop restricting yourself and you want to say something but you are actively forcing yourself to stop?
FS [Pauses, head in hand, for 21 seconds] Um. No.
DS It just comes naturally for you to hold back.
FS It does not come naturally. But I don't ever wish for it to stop. In fact, if anything I wish to stop failing at that endeavor.
DS That holding back, does that cause you to let yourself out more on stage?
FS Stage is different I think.
DS So in a lot of your music you seem to reference athletics,
FS [Strange look]
DS Well I think I heard you say "swing for the fences" tonight in the new song,
FS I think that might be the first time, have I referenced it before?
DS Ok, how about this, opening for the Drake shows you guys called yourselves the underdogs.
FS Oh yes.
DS and I think a lot of the dance actually looks like boxing.
DS I have no idea if that's true, I'm just opining. Do you follow professional sports?
FS Not really, no.
DS Is there a competitive aspect to performing, is performing like an athletic event to you?
FS I don't know if it's like an athletic event. But [pauses for 25 seconds]
FS I like that part in 'There Will Be Blood' where he says, 'There is a competition in me.' And then does he say 'I hate most people' or 'I don't like most people'?
DS It's one of those.
FS Well I don't know about that but... There is a competition in me.
DS So that guy is kind of sociopath. At the end of the movie did respect him? Or did you think 'I don't really want to be that guy?'
FS I like the last scene where he's just shooting things.
DS The last scene? I thought that was kind of cheesy,
FS Where he's just sitting in his mansion with a shotgun, and he's just shooting things in his house.
DS Oh, I was thinking of the scene where he beats the guy over the head with a bowling pin.
FS That was a crazy scene.
DS So did you admire that man at the end?
FS I don't know how to answer that question. It's kind of a weird question.
DS Do you prefer 'and' or the ampersand?
FS And. A-n-d. Yes. Absolutely.
DS Have you ever used the ampersand? 'Cause I find it all the time and it's frustrating with search engines.
FS I only did it once. For space reasons. On a poster that didn't even get printed. It was a poster for the Drake show in Toronto. And I made my own version of it. And I think I did it mostly because that's what they did so I kept it. But I much prefer the 'and' because the band name is 'Francis And The Lights." Not 'Francis'...and something else. One idea.
DS The Striking concert footage. I remember you posted a still from that. Is anything going on with that?
FS Good question. At Zebulon.
DS Yes, and I think a 'Lime' video?
FS No, we did a live video for 'LIME' (he spells it out). It wasn't very successful. I think the Zebulon concert film is a good example of why I shouldn't talk about things before they happen. I worked on it very hard and I determined that it wasn't good enough. I think it will come out some time in the future along with something else. Now I have to be very careful about what I confidently release. It just wasn't good enough.
DS In the [Time Out New York interview], you were expressing some ambivalence about the newest record.
DS Does that ever happen with your older stuff? Is there stuff that you can't even listen to now because it makes you mad? Do you look at it like a learning process?
FS I think on the whole, I will stand by the things I've done.
DS For many of your songs there are a ton of different versions of them. Do you write something to sound different on record than it does live? Is there a process where you say to yourself how can I make this more variable?
FS I think that ideally they should equalize.
DS You work with a lot of techy, computer savvy people and you've been on the cutting edge of a lot of technology, Do you see technology as an art form? Do you see marketing art form?
FS I think they both are. And they are both art forms...
[Aaron Lammer walks by]
FS We we're just talking about you.
AL Talkin' Shit!
FS ...that I need other people to work on. So yes.