Written by Chris Osifchin
At the heart of every artist is a creative soul. Over the course of his career, Pete Francis has managed to mold his creative clay into many different shapes and styles. On Dragon Crest Collective, arguably his most ambitious project to date, Francis shows that he’s willing to go just about anywhere. Whether it’s rapping, or singing about what it’s like to be a grandma, Dragon Crest Collective is a compilation of fun, funky rhythm that manages to live in the moment.
We caught up with Pete by phone in advance of his show at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park to talk about Dragon Crest Collective, his favorite rappers and musicians, and his upcoming studio initiatives.
I really enjoyed the new record, Dragon Crest Collective. Where does that name come from?
Well, Dragon Crest is the name of my recording studio. Then the collective is just the idea of bringing a lot of people together to work on a musical project.
I read online that your studio is open to the public?
Not really. It’s not really open to the public. I work with people and bring them in — mostly who are friends of mine.
How do you like to choose someone? Is it someone you already know? Is it someone you heard of?
It’s usually someone I know, and then sometimes there’s someone maybe that. For instance, there was a rapper, J Swag General. I heard him up in Bridgeport, CT and then he came down and rapped on ‘King Kong’ and ‘You Say You Love Me’ and that just worked out.
Another collaboration that you’ve done is the Funky Dawgz Brass Band. How did that come about?
Actually, they’re also from Bridgeport. I heard those guys up there at The Acoustic. They’re just a great band. Love the horns. They just throw down a really good party and we collaborated on “We Are The Grandmaz.” One of the guys, Aaron, he rapped on it. That was a lot of fun.
Speaking of rap, a few years ago you did a Twitter chat with Dispatch and I actually tweeted at you who your favorite rapper was, and you mentioned Snoop Dogg.
I love the Snoop. I saw him at the Capitol Theatre [in Port Chester, NY]. I love his whole flow, I mean just the way he delivers a flow and his hooks and his whole style, is so cool. He’s definitely one of my favorites.
So how did you develop your own flow? Cause you do do some rapping on this album and it’s pretty good.
I love that some of my favorite bands are like the Beastie Boys, so I love that kind of rap. Wu Tang Clan can be really great, and I think they made some very artistic records. I like to borrow from their styles. And there’s this big bravado, that comes with being a rapper, but I like poking a little fun at that.
Interesting that you mention that because “God” is one of the most interesting songs on this album. It seems like you are poking holes in the bravado of the musician, but it’s – there’s so many layers to it. I love it. What inspired that?
I think that, you get a character like Kanye who I think almost maybe sees himself as a god. He’s a very interesting guy the way he seems pretty high on his horse. I think in some regard we get inspired by these god-like characters. [However] I think it’s also fun to have a little bit of a laugh about it and just, maybe in a friendly way poke fun of it a little bit because it just – I think it keeps it more real.
On the song “Dance, Dance, Dance” you go through so many different styles and sounds. Where does a song like that start for you and where do all those different sounds come in because I feel like almost it could be a couple separate songs in a way.
Yeah, that’s a good point. Well…that song started with the guitar chords and they’re kind of, do you play guitar?
I do, actually.
So they’re kind of unconventional chords in the sense of it goes from an F to a D, or what does it go? It goes like F minor. It goes from an F minor to a D major and they’re just fun to play together. It’s just got this rowdy feeling,when you play this big F minor chord to a D major. There’s just something that clashes about it, but in a way that I think is really fun. I was playing with that and then, so that the musicians I was playing with played that melody, “Daaa, dadadada daa da!” It reminds me of like a chase scene in a movie.
It’s just kind of got that chase scene sound. Then at the end I was with my buddy Bone, who I produced this record with, and we got into the Indian music and we put kind of an Indian riff at the very end of it. So, a lot of this record is just really dipping lots of different musical styles and playing with them.
There’s some really interesting ideas there and I’m hesitant to call this album experimental, but would you consider it as such?
That’s a good question. What do you think it is?
I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It does seem like you’re just trying out all these different styles and mixing and matching, but at the same time, there does seem to be a focus to it.
I think some of it, like you’re saying, is kind of like hip hop-inspired, but also it’s kind of got a groove and rock feel to it.
Definitely. So, I wanna talk a little bit about the video for ‘Grandmaz.’ So, what was that like to shoot that video with all those older women?
It was really fun, man, because, you know, the main star is my mother-in-law.
So my wife’s mom whose – her name’s Carol and she’s so cool – and she helped organize it and get the party together and we just had such a good time doing the video.
What was your favorite part of the video?
Having all of those old people there at the party and, playing the song and getting down with them. We were jamming as a band and they were kind of rocking along with us. I just feel like, ‘How cool it is at any age how you can kind of still get down.’
So, there’s also a monologue at the end of that song.
That’s Carol talking on the phone. I tape recorded the phone conversation of her talking about what it’s like to be a grandma.
It seems like that captures a lot of the feeling that you were going for on these songs.
Yes, definitely. I think that there’s something about capturing the fun in life, that we can experience and even experience with people who you might not think you would, like your Grandma.
So another thing you’ve mentioned in various places online is that one of your favorite things is when a concert feels like a party. So how do you capture that on recorded music? There’s plenty of bands that you go see them live and it’s like a party, but then you listen to it on the album and you’re like, “Where is that magical, mystical feeling?”
That’s a really good point. I think it’s a hard balance, and maybe as performers sometimes we get a concert that feels more like a party as opposed to something that just feels like “OK, this is just a show and this is pretty good.” When I’m working on my records I like there to be something that feels like if you were in the car you would, you’d wanna rock along to that or even put it on at a party. A song like “Nosedive” — turn it up loud and dance to it. I felt like, you know [it’s like] when I hear Snoop Dogg’s stuff like, “Drop It Like It’s Hott.” The track is just simple in a way, but it’s also just so funky and groovy and I feel like it just makes you wanna get down.
You have a long history in the business and this music is definitely different than anything you’ve made with Dispatch. What do you get out of something like this that you don’t get out of when you play with Dispatch, or that’s different from what you get out of playing with Dispatch?
When you get to open up creativity and just say ‘let’s try anything’ — I think that has been a really cool exercise in that for me. Like, I love, I love hip hop. I love the Beastie Boys. I love the Chili Peppers and I think that there was part of me that really wanted to make a record that kind of expressed that love for that kind of music.
Did any Dispatch members contribute to this album?
They didn’t, no. But they’ve all heard it and, we all support each others work, so they’ve been really cool. They dug it.
You’re going back to the Garden in July with Dispatch. What does that feel like to be going back there for two nights, considering the success of Zimbabwe.
That feels amazing, man. Playing at the Garden is essentially being shot in a rocket into space. It’s one of the coolest experiences ever. So I’m thrilled. I feel honored that people are coming out to support us again. I love playing with my old friends. I’ve been in the band with these guys 20 years and we’re still playing, so it’s just a great experience.
And you guys are doing that in support of the Hunger Initiative. Can you expand on that a little bit?
I think it’s just important that people understand that there’s still people that are hungry out there, even in our country. I think the campaign reaches to groups and to people to understand that there can be better food to eat. We’re trying to build an understanding that people can grow their own food, or where they get their own food. It’s a combination of helping people to understand that there are people even in our country that are still hungry, not having the right food to eat. And then also educating kids about where they get their food and how they can get their food. So that’s part, the main reason behind the concert.
Awesome. And it’s your only dates in the US, right?
Yep. Our next plan is we’re gonna start working on a new album.
So, you’re coming down to Asbury on the 25th of June. So what do you remember about Asbury? Do you have any good stories about the scene down there that you’ve been?
I always think it’s just a really special place to come and play because I love the boardwalk. I haven’t played the Wonder Bar, but I’ve played the Stone Pony. I think The Stone Pony is just kind of a historic venue. It has this whole vibe when you walk in there, the way it looks, smells. You know, everything. That’s one of the best parts about traveling around the country and playing different venues is because, some really stick with you, with a memory. I like the sea being right there by the venue. I always thought the people were cool that ran the venue and it just is one of those places that has a history to it. I feel honored, in a way, to be able to play there.
So do you have any special surprises lined up for us in Asbury?
I feel like me playing with The Funky Dawgz Brass Band is a special surprise because not many people have seen them and, I gotta tell you, they’re an awesome band.
So, besides The Funky Dawgz, are there any new young musicians that you’re working with, or that you’re planning to work with that we should be looking out for?
I just wanted to mention some of the guys that worked on this record. J Swag, he is the rapper that worked on “King Kong” and “You Say You Love Me.” The rapper on “You Say You Love Me,” his name is Seamus. I don’t know what his rapping name is, I forget, but he was my producer’s, my co-producer’s brother. He’s really good. Then this guitar player from Bridgeport, Darien Cumming. He’s a great guitarist. So those are the guys other than the Dawgz that people should look out for.
Your studio seems like it’s kind of a place where you can create and explore your own vibes. But, you can also allow other people to express what they’re feeling there. So as a producer there, what do you like to bring to the table and how is it different from being the band in the studio for you?
Being at my own studio it allows me any creative idea that I can think of. I have the tools right there in the studio and also I have the time, which is important. Sometimes when you go rent a studio you’re there for a few days and that might be cool. I go there every day – to my studio – and am always working and thinking. So if someone brings me a song to help them really shape their song to a way that they dream, their dreaming of how it could sound. Sometimes people say, “Oh, I think it could sound like this!” and I just think to myself how can we get it to be the way they’re envisioning it. I can really get into the process, I think, more than if I were renting out a studio. And then I know my instruments very well – my piano, my drums, my guitars, you know, my amps, my pedals. So I know how to get sounds that hopefully inspire people.
I was actually going to ask, as a follow up to that, what’s your favorite piece of gear in your studio if you have one?
I’m kind of in love with all of my instruments. All of my guitars all have kind of stories about where I got them and found them. I think that they all have different songs in them at different times. Same is true of my drums. I’m not really a drummer, but I love banging on the drums. I’m not really a piano player, but I love playing chords and piano. I am by nature a lover of music. I feel like part of my calling is to be a producer because I like working with other people. I like helping them.
I wanted to mention to you I’m gonna be coming out with a new webisode called “Back At The Crest.” So, it’ll feature me in my studio and talking with an artist and they’re also gonna perform a song. I just started that series and the first person I started with is a really good person you should check out. Her name’s Abby Payne. I produced a song hers. She’s really talented.
Can you tell me a story, like the origin story about one of your favorite pieces of gear, or your main guitar?
Let’s see. Well for a while, I was playing with two guitars as my main guitars and I called them “Sisters Blue.” I got one at a guitar shop in Cincinnati called Mike’s Guitars and it’s a 1964 Strat. I got it maybe 15 years ago. Those guitars have been with me for almost all of my major gigs — they were with me in Boston in 2004. They were with me when I got a record deal with Hollywood Records I played with them at the Garden. Sometimes it’s fun to think of guitars like swords. — like a samurai with swords. It’s funny that guitars have that nickname of being an axe because an axe you kind of go into battle with. You know what I mean?
Yeah, I do!
So I think that’s kind of fun that I think about “Sisters Blue” as two of my main axes that have been with me in many of my battles.
Nice! So what songs have you composed on that ‘64 Strat?
Pete: Um, I composed, you know, a lot of songs that went on my record Good To Finally Know, like, do you know my song “Low Sun?” It’s like a funky, kind of Hendrix-y type rock song. Um, I composed that and, and then – so the other “Sister Blue,” so you know one’s a Strat and one’s a Tele.
Pete Francis performs on Thursday, June 25, at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, NJ. Click here for tickets.