Having opened for the likes of Stereophonics and with a number of as yet unannounced festival dates for the summer coming up, singer-songwriter and guitarist Alex Francis is starting to make waves. While supporting US music YouTuber Megan Davies on her first headline UK tour, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with him after the first night show in Manchester to chat favourite songs, future plans and his admiration for Ed Sheeran.
TITL: Guitarists have long since been a staple of the music industry, but what is it about the instrument that makes you connect with it so strongly?
Alex Francis: That’s a great question. When it comes to outside my voice, it’s my instrument. Guitar playing has always been a vehicle of sorts for me I guess. I didn’t go into music just to play guitar – my brother plays really well and he’s developed an amazing style – but I came into guitar playing later on. I like it and I was interested by it, but I was never on a quest to learn “Stairway To Heaven” or anything like that. I started singing from a young age and I decided that I needed an instrument to be a vehicle for that. It could have been the piano; I’m trying to chase that path as well at the moment. My sort of genesis of guitar playing, stylistically…I like the idea that I have a feel for how I do it. I don’t really know how best to describe what that is. I just use it as a vehicle to carry what I’m doing.
TITL: There’s a very Ed Sheeran-esque sound and tone to your voice, particularly when it comes to certain songs in your set…
AF: I love Ed Sheeran..
TITL: Given how he’s, I’d say, easily the most modern, successful guitar player in the world right now, do you ever feel any pressure to sort of live up to that and find yourself maybe one day selling out a stadium like Wembley or the Etihad, like he has?
AF: I think what Ed Sheeran is doing is phenomenal. Being able to do that – sell out shows at Wembley and here in Manchester as you mentioned – is incredible. What makes him so admirable, when I think about it is the fact that he’s presenting those songs in their most basic format. Now I’m all for production, I love all that stuff and I do it with my own records, but that guy can present his music in such a bare bones kind of way and it’s the truth and the power of a strong melody and great lyrics. When I think about him, it fills me with great hope that you can be a great songwriter with your lyrics and your narratives, your melodies and it’s still strong enough to connect with people on that scale. I’m a great admirer of Ed Sheeran; I think he’s doing a great thing not even just for a genre but music as a whole; the way he writes such great songs that people are receptive to – there’s a power in that.
TITL: I’m assuming you’ve played bigger shows than the one you did tonight, so taking that into account, how do you personally feel about playing smaller, more intimate venues like this one?
AF: I’ve been very lucky to play some really big theatres and arenas and to go out with other acts that are doing that but to be truthful, I get a kick out of every single version of a venue. Like tonight, for example, it doesn’t and didn’t matter to me how many people were here; we had a cool crowd tonight. I’m just want to connect with people, like I have with you. We hadn’t met each other until tonight, but we connected, and I’m glad to be able to talk to you about this. For me, I guess I’m looking for connection. There was a fella I was talking to just now and he asked me what it was I wanted from this and what I wanted to do…I’m just happy to give my art out to people. I want to be able to connect; that’s the only thing I really want. I like to give this out, I want it to be public and I just want to connect with people..on any level.
TITL: It’s been said over time that many things can bring people together and connect them with one another, but I guess music is a key part of that. Music has stood the test of time whereas many other things and ‘ideas’ per se haven’t..
AF: You can trace music back…it’s primitive. You can go back to a caveman hitting a club against the side of a wall because it meant something and people responded to that. I believe in the power of music. I’ll say this as well, sometimes playing in front of a really, really big crowd is sometimes much, much easier than playing in front of a small one because you don’t have such a level of attention that maybe you’d hope for, when compared to large audiences. We’re stripping these songs really far back, and as you were saying about Ed Sheeran earlier, you give people the bare essence and if that’s strong enough, then hopefully you’ve got something good. I wouldn’t speak for Megan but I’m sure she would come from the same place.
TITL: Megan mentioned earlier that it’s the connection to her music that she cares about most when it comes to people’s reactions, and that she once got a message from a soldier overseas who listened to her songs to help him sleep.
AF: Oh wow. People respond to the power and the connection, primitiveness of music.
TITL: Speaking of the connection so many of us have to and with music, which song do you personally feel most emotionally connected to?
AF: That’s a great question. Do I only get one?
AF: You can’t do that to me!
TITL: I can…I did it to Megan earlier…
AF: I tell you what, I’ll give you one song but it won’t be the only one I can think of. I would say…maybe “Case Of You”. Actually, let me scratch that one. Let me think…I love “Man In The Mirror” by Michael Jackson. I love that song – there’s something really ethereal about that song. It puts the hairs on my arms up every time I think about it. He accesses something in that track. I’m not talking about him…I mean he was an artist, but there’s something in that song…a message. It’s a message that people try and do a lot; it’s been tried in other songs and been done well, but I think the message in that track is incredible.
TITL: Just in case you wanted to know, Megan chose “River” by Joni Mitchell..
AF: Ah! And yours?
TITL: “Everybody Hurts” by REM.
TITL: I can come back to that song at any time, no matter what mood I’m in, but especially when I’m feeling a little low, and the message of that song – the reminder that I’m not alone, really touches me. And I think it does for a lot of people.
AF: It’s a beautiful song. Michael Stipe has such a beautiful turn of phrase to his lyrics. It’s such a relatable lyric, isn’t it? It’s one of those songs…kinda like one of those Motown tracks from back in the day when they were so simple but so profound.
TITL: It’s proof that you don’t need heavy instrumentation or production to get a message across or make a song connect with an audience. If the lyrics are honest and heartfelt enough..
AF: I’m really into those kinds of songs. I feel like we’ve got a common thread here; we’ve been talking about Ed Sheeran, “Man In The Mirror” and now “Everybody Hurts”…they’re songs that just give you the message straight up and down.
TITL: There’s something almost therapeutic about the message in those songs..
AF: Exactly and we understand what it means to have a connection to a song in that way. Some people do, some people don’t. It’s like that Bob Marley quote: “The greatest thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain.” It’s a great way of putting it.
TITL: So how did this run with Megan come about?
AF: I have a great agency who work wonders for me in the UK and do the same with Megan. I met Megan for the first time tonight. We’ve been talking and conversing via social music. I listened to her music and my agent pitched it in, saying he thought it’d be a really cool fit. For the last few months, I’ve been going out with artists who are trying or starting to break through over here, which is very much what we’ve been trying to do with my music. I love what she’s doing and I love the way she approaches her own music, the songs that she covers. She’s got a really individual style of doing that. It’s really cool, the way she blends all the music and the rest of it. I was like “yeah, let’s do it..let’s get on board.” Any opportunity to tour. I was just talking to Kelsea (Megan’s manager) earlier and saying the same thing. I love being on the road, wherever I am and the same goes for Gee my guitar player.
TITL: How have you found audiences to be different or similar when playing shows here and elsewhere in Europe or in the States?
AF: As far as the US is concerned, I’ve done literally a handful of shows over there. I haven’t done a massive amount. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Europe in the last 18 months. One thing I have found is that in my experience, being a relatively new act to a lot of people, I tend to feel like, especially in Northern Europe, they’re very receptive to music that isn’t perhaps on their radar. In the UK, I think we’re quite choosy about what we like, but I’m the same. I was born in Hampstead; I’m as English as it gets. You kind of have to ‘earn’ it a bit more over here – don’t get me wrong, I haven’t got a problem with doing that, and that’s part of the path we’re on. I feel like people can get on board with your music for a little bit less in Europe, but at the end of the day, I just want people to connect with the songs. As for the US; I’m dipping my toe in…I’m going to be in Austin next month playing SXSW. Excuse my French but it’s a bit of a clusterfuck of opportunity…so I’m gonna try and be in as many places, meet as many people as I can.
TITL: So aside from this tour and SXSW, what does the rest of 2019 have in store for you?
AF: We’ve got some pretty tasty ones in the diary for the summer festival circuit. Some of it’s still unconfirmed and I’ve been sworn to secrecy, so if you’re sniffing for an exclusive, I’m hard pressed to let the cat out of the bag. There’s going to be festivals all summer and then I’m going back to Germany in September; doing a little run of headline dates there. We actually rejigged the dates because the Megan opportunity came up, so I’ll be there in September and then I’ll be in New York that month too. I should probably mention too that I’ve got a single out right now called “Whatever Happened..”
TITL: Go on, give it a plug..
AF: It’s out now on Apple Music, Spotify. We played it tonight. And, we have another one dropping on May 3rd so keep a look out for that. There’s a video dropping in a few weeks. Social media is AlexFrancisMusic..check it out.
TITL: Looking further ahead, and given, as you’ve said, that you’re a relatively new artist, what’s the long term goal? What’s the big ambition?
AF: It’s actually really hard to know. It’s kind of tricky to pin down quite what that should be or what that is. All I can really say is that I’m going to try and keep developing what I’m doing. I want to try and become more familiar to people. I’m not trying to conquer the world, I’m not trying to get 10 million listeners on Spotify…I just wanna keep playing shows and have people connect with the music. This is so cool because you didn’t know me from Adam today and I just met you, and you were like “I wanna hear what he has to say”…sometimes I ramble and talk crap, but this is so much of the reason I want and wanted to come out and do this kind of tour with Megan and again, I don’t want to speak for her, but I think she would vibe on this as well. You want to access people, you want to meet people and talk to people. I got a really lucky opportunity to go out with Gee and the rest of my group and open for Stereophonics in Europe. This time last year we were still out…and it was cool. Sometimes it felt like a film…being whisked around all sorts of places, and it was so exciting to do it. We had such a blast every night and we got to get my music out there to people, hoping they’d connect with it.
TITL: I asked Megan the same question and she said, very much as you have, that her ambition is to get her music out there and have it connect with people.
AF: Exactly – for me, the connection is what matters. And, if I’ve got an end goal, it’ll be to do this until I can’t do it anymore.