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Arts and Entertainment

LAist Interview: Robert Francis

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Photo by Julia Brokaw via Robert Francis' MySpace profile

Note: Robert Francis plays tonight at The Troubadour.

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You don't hear Robert Francis' name mentioned around Los Angeles that often, but when you meet a fan of his, they are not just a cheerleading friend of his, they're a true die-hard fan of his musicianship, his words and the hauntingly beautiful art he creates. NPR took notice last Fall and called him a "a young man with an old soul." And Marc Vera at Entertainment Weekly said "his songs are both depressing and uplifting. In my little world, that's better than perfect. So perfect, in fact, that I've listened to this record at least 10 times over the past two days." The same happened to us when we picked up the his first and only album, "One By One."

Listen while you read

"One by One" -- Robert Francis

Francis is 20 years old and grew up among a family of musicians. "My dad is a classical music producer. He's collected some 20, 30,000 clasical vinyls. He used to play piano with me sleeping across his lap when I was about a year old. My mother is from Mexico and her nine sisters and one brother would come over and sing Ranchero songs. And my two sisters play. Both of them are on the album." His sister Juliette also dated Ry Cooder's son, Joaquim. Ry gave Francis a steel guitar when he was nine, something which he is just starting to play.

One By One came out last year and was a product of a failed relationship (a year before) and probably some young teen angst. "I never left my house for like a year. I pretty much did it all myself," he explained. "I guess I didn't want to find a label to pitch it too and my friend had this Aeronaut Records and we put it on that and everything was put in place."

Francis says the record wrote itself. Nothing was forced and perhaps that's why it took him a year or so to perfect the 10 songs. "I can't neccsarily write unless I feel compelled to. [The failed relationship] kinda helped me start. it started everything seriously for me."

When asked about his composing process, he says it's all about a certain mood. "I will be able to maybe sit down and something will come fairly easily. When I try to write music, it never happens as easily, it doesn't happen. 'One by One' was written on a weird rusty string 1920s banjo with like three strings. Things just sort fall into place."

"'Little Girl' happened the same way, kinda. The song and the lyrics come to me, everything flows through, it takes place naturally. The more heartfelt song, the more natural."

How did some of the other songs just fall into place?

Everything is weird, "All Of My Trains", that song, it's like being at different places with my two best friends. When we were in Topanga, they fell in love, they went off and did their own thing. I passed out and woke up at 5 a.m. outside of their house and I wrote that song.

Were you drinking much after the breakup?

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During that summer, two years ago, there was a long time where I wasn't doing much. We were drinking fairly heavily and it threw off my time schedule. You pass out at noon, wake up at four. It's a strange thing, I couldn't wake up past 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. When you wake up that early, enough time goes by, you start feeling comfortable drinking at 8:00 a.m.

"All of My Trains" -- Robert Francis

Your month-long residency earlier this year was cancelled due to pneumonia. Will we get a chance to hear you consistently soon?

That was terrible. It got really bad, I was throwing up a dixie cup full of blood a day. Then I went to the hospital and they put me on a morphine drip and they said it was one of the worst cases they had seen. I thought I had a really bad hangover, but I was really sick."

Where did you grow up?

My parents bought a pretty big log cabin house in '68 for $200K in Brentwood. It's the last house in the neighborhood that hasn't been torn down and it's a weird little street with a lot of little 70's houses. It's not the typical Santa Monica/Brentwood yuppie affluent block.

What local bands to Los Angeles do you recommend?

I would say Dawes (his bass player is in it), Darren Weiss (drummer of Wired on Fired), Juliette Commagere [his sister], Parson Red Heads and the Chapin Sisters.

What are you listening to these days?

I listen to a lot of Karen Dalton and Dino Valente. My only new record is the new My Morning Jackets -- it is pretty mind blowing. It reminds me of Tusk, the Fleetwood Mac record from the 70's. And I will never stop listening Townes Van Zandt.

How about Classical?

Chopin's noctunes are beautiful. I love those, I can always listen those.

Best places for food in LA?

Monte Alban on Santa Monica Blvd. has the best Mexican food. Snug Harbor is my favorite place. It's on Wilshire.

Finally, what instruments can expect to see you play on stage?

I sing and play guitar, my main instrument. I also play drums, bass, mandolin, banjo, piano, trumpet, clarinet. I've picked up a lot of things and learned how to do it.

Francis is currently working on his second album. The release date is unknown.

"The Devil's Mountains" -- Robert Francis