A Conversation with Francis Lombardi

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Members of Your Band: Just by virtue of a number of factors, beginning in my formative years, I’ve grown much more accustomed to running solo than as a band. By that I mean, I was always singing from a young age, and the guitar didn’t come into the equation until I was 17 (I had dabbled in drums and piano, but to no great extent as a kid). So, every stage of musical development, from the learning process to gigging, started and usually remained a solo endeavor. Because I sang already, because I learned on an acoustic guitar, and because an acoustic guitar and a voice translates well as a single unit (as opposed to if I had stuck with the drums, or had primarily decided to focus on a rhythm instrument like bass, or an accompaniment instrument — where you need other people to materialize the song in any real relateable form), it was always easy to hit up coffee shops and eventually start gigging alone.

Whenever my schedule could handle it, I could take a gig, without having to work around the schedule of three or four people. So it was part circumstance, part convenience, and later on, part musical taste, that led me to not doing as much of the band thing as other musicians and songwriters I know have and do. The point of all of this is to preface everything by saying, I’m not averse to playing in bands, but circumstance and convenience has made full band shows a rare treat for me. ::: That all being said, the last full band show I played was for my first ever album release party almost a year ago (Whiskey and the Mourning After — Nov. 7th, 2014). On that night I had the pleasure of Santo Rizzolo (of Mad Feather Group) on the drums, Erik Romero (of Dollys) on bass, and the incomparable songwriter and guitarist Vic Della Pello on lead guitar. Erik was also the sound engineer and multi-instrumentalist for that album, which was recorded with Jon Leidersdorf down at Lakehouse Studios. That album actually ended up being named Album of the Year at the 2014 Asbury Music Awards (in addition to being named Male Solo/Duo Artist of the Year).’

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You’re Based Out:  As a bit of background, I grew up and still reside in Ocean Township. It’s a town that neighbors Asbury Park, and actually shares a mutual zip-code. I had sang my entire life — my father is a musician (piano/vocals), and for most of his life was successful as a working musician (weddings, night clubs) — so partially through genetics, I’m sure, and the fact that some of my earliest memories were musical ones, performance was just something I did as naturally as breathing, but with as much joy as can be had by a kid probably just looking for attention (if I’m being honest) and by the inherent sense of accomplishment and joy that comes with developing any kind of practical or artistic proficiency.

So when I came home from college one summer, after my freshman year, with a broken leg (and no way to get back to waiting tables), I made a demo tape with some covers, and went to every bar I could hit between the Sea Bright/Atlantic Highlands area and Toms River. I managed to book one weekly gig at Clancy’s Tavern in Neptune, and from there, through exposure and word of mouth, it turned into a laundry list of establishments between the Jersey Shore and NYC over the course of five or six years, where I would have monthly or weekly residencies as a cover act, or at least a frequent guest.]

As one can imagine, being 19 years old, and significantly younger than most people I was spending time with in bars 3-4 nights a week, I went from a repertoire of mostly 90’s grunge and alt-rock and the occasional obligatory and cliche classic rock song, to really taking a liking to guys like Neil Young and Bob Dylan (who, as you can imagine, were frequent requests for a guy with an acoustic guitar), as well as more modern folk-tradition or folk-inspired acts like David Gray and Ryan Adams.

At some point, probably around 25, the thrill of hanging in bars for a living, a lot of free time, free bar tabs, and a pretty decent hourly wage (all of this, by the way, in exchange for what I’d be doing ANYWAY in the privacy of my own bedroom or basement) gave way to the realization that I wasn’t only developing bad habits, but my work had turned into a job. I was beginning to hate songs that were, by definition, my favorite songs to play (and listen to), because I had gotten up to the 2,000th time playing some of them.

Long story short, it’s around that time that I started writing more often. I started taking seriously the possibility of creating music instead of just playing it. Around the same time, I took one weekly gig, at the request of an Asbury Park booking manager Peter Mantis, at the now defunct Trinity and the Pope. We took what was a traditional open mic night, and instead turned it into — by the second and final year — not only a local original artist and musician showcase, but a home and local congregation of mostly younger Asbury-area musicians. The musicians came because it was fun, it was unstructured, it felt like community, and I made sure to pay, out of what I was making, for enough booze (on top of their drink tickets) to get them sufficiently buzzed. That last part was a joke. Sort of… Anyway. I digress. The people came because it was cover-free, the drinks were reasonable, it was a great room, and they knew they’d see great music on a Thursday night. So, that’s where a desire to become an original act met the opportunity to feel part of a larger community of musicians, just looking to make good music and have a good time — a no judgement zone.

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New music coming out? YES. I am working on a 7-song self-titled album (Francis Lombardi — October/Nov. 2015) with Chris Everett at Sound Foundation Studios in Eatontown, NJ. Chris is a great guy. I’ve worked with him in a live sound capacity, where he also excels, and he is very flexible in terms of working with artistically-eccentric requests — of which, I am told I have many. Eventually, I want to get this one pressed to vinyl. Since tour is coming up very shortly, vinyl will have to temporarily wait.

I’ll soon be setting up a CD pre-sale and album teaser on my official site: www.FrancisLombardi.com.

On a side note, I’m extremely excited for the final product. We nailed the base tracks (vocals/acoustic guitar) in a couple takes each, in a matter of two studio days. I have an awesome musical two-punch from Maryland laying down pedal-steel and cello/violin — Ahren Buchheister and Erin Snedecor — who have their own projects, one of which is named Pompeii Graffiti. Their music blew my mind from about 10 seconds in to my first listen. I’m very happy and honored to have them. Daphne Martin will also be providing some killer harmonies in addition to my own. Which brings me to….

You’re doing a major nationwide tour with Daphne Lee Martin coming up. Can you talk about meeting Daphne, and working together on music. Also, why tour the country with someone one like Daphne?

In order to understand how this entire tour and much of the “candy” on this album is even being made possible, I have to mention a local band and all-around good bunch of guys, Accidental Seabirds. These guys are not only people who I’ve long admired and respected as musicians, and crossed paths with regularly around town, but two of their members consolidated the act in to a duo in order to do more traveling — of which they do ALOT. Jesse Lee Herdman and Alex Letizia, like I said, do QUITE a bit of traveling. However, aside from doing our local scene proud out there on the road with their seriously killer, extremely unique, eloquent and “heady” music (I’m a fan of “heady”), I am always amazed by their ability to bring people together. By that, I mean, they will make it a point to regularly bring friends they’ve made on the road back to Asbury Park, and organize some really nice local receptions for these otherwise locally-unknown acts. They are also unique in that they make it a point to share, not only their own music on the road, but really do the entire scene a solid by putting people in other areas of the country on to acts in our scene here. I’m sure they don’t get enough credit for that. Not only did I meet Daphne through them, Ahren and Erin from Pompeii Graffiti are also two people who Jesse put me in touch with when I was looking for pedal steel and cello for the new album.

Enter Daphne Lee Martin. I happened to be playing Langosta Lounge (Asbury Park) on an evening when Jesse and Alex were putting on just such a show for an artist from out of town — Daphne Lee Martin. They were putting the show on right next door at the “Asbury Park Yacht Club”. I finished up early, I went over to check out the music on the other side of the wall (some good friends of mine — Overgrowns and Cranston Dean Band — and, of course, Daphne Lee Martin, were playing). Daphne had known my music before even reaching town (Thanks, Seabirds), we struck up a conversation, and the rest was pretty much history. We are different in many ways, but in more important ways, we are very similar — kindred spirits in a sense. We struck up a jam and spun some records later on in the evening, and the idea of getting out on the road together was born.

Daphne Lee Martin
Daphne Lee Martin

Daphne is not only a talented singer, songwriter, and staple in the Connecticut music scene (she’s from New London) … she has a quality that I, for a rather long time, was seriously lacking. She has her act together — and I say that in the sense that she seems to be very gifted at taking abstract ideas (like a tour, or an album) and applying practicality and hard work, enabling her to finally materialize them as a concrete reality.

You asked me the question, what was the biggest mistake I made starting out in the music business. Putting aside that I’m still relatively a fledgling in the business of original music, the greatest mistake I made in the last three-four years was a complete neglect of the entire notion of music as a business itself, as opposed to music as a form of self-expression, self-contemplation and ultimately connection. … I’m being a bit disingenuous there. More so than a neglect of the business aspect of music, I think I had an outright determination to consciously avoid what I saw as the mundane “left-brained” and perhaps necessary evil of music as a product to sell. It’s an idea I am honestly still hesitant to embrace completely, but I am steadily learning to take a step back, take a practical look at the necessities of music as a self-sustainable endeavor, and being absolutely careful not to let my idealism regarding the creative side of music spite the nose right off of my face in the process.

Anyway, I cannot say enough nice things about Daphne. I honestly think we both have some serious strengths to bring to the table, and it’s going to make for a very productive tour — both as individual solo acts, and whatever we see as organically happening as a duo, even if the decisive push ends up being a practical one at its heart, as we will have nights where we will be expected to cover three hours of stage time. Our voices compliment each other, which, anyone who has had an act based on harmonies will tell you, is not something you find everyday. I consider it a great opportunity and honor to share the road, and a van, with someone from whom I can learn so much …. and of course, I anticipate us as having a great time on the road in general. We have similar musical tendencies, so I won’t be in a car for three-six to even 13 hours at a time, with someone whose fingers I will inevitably break just to keep them from controlling the stereo/road music choices.

1) I am excited for this tour musically — in the sense that it will bring back that innocent and youthful newness that I think one needs every once in a while in order to shock his or her system of the repetitive motions involved with playing songs from a still-forming and not yet prolific catalog. I feed off of crowd reactions, so I want not so much the music to be new to me, but I want it to feel like it’s new for the people listening. It’s hard to do that playing exclusively locally.

2) I am excited for this tour in the sense that it can and should be treated like a sort of touring internship, in my mind. It’s an opportunity to learn that practical touch, that Daphne has mastered, and that makes this war of attrition we call songwriting as a means to advancement, and professional songwriting possible.

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3) Forgetting music entirely for a minute. I’ve seen a majority of both coastlines, up and down, but have never strayed more than a couple hundred miles (tops) from any ocean. This is going to be a life-changing experience. I am going to get to see the vast majority of this country into which I was born, and have yet to see to a great extent. I am going to get to meet musicians around the country, learn from them, and hopefully make some lifelong friends. Of course, I will also be spending 7 weeks with a woman of substance, who I consider a friend, and who — by the trip’s end — I foresee being an even greater friend. There’s a human experience to a trip of this magnitude that is worth more than the sum of its parts. I suspect I will come back a different person.

My Sound Has Been Likened To: David Gray, Ryan Adams, Rayland Baxter, Dylan, Young.

Wildest thing that’s ever happened at one of your shows?

Between you and me — this isn’t article-friendly probably — but when I was living in NYC, I was playing a gig at the now-closing (after 68 years) Back Fence Bar on Bleecker Street. I had 10 or 20 friends out. During the set, a middle-aged man — a bit of a drifter, who was not part of our group — overdosed in the bathroom, was dragged out, revived at the foot of the small platform stage, and was loaded into an ambulance. (His friend told the medic who revived him it was probably a “speedball”.)

Needless to say, that was the end of my set.

What do you love about playing live?

Honesty. The ability of a performer, if done correctly, to get the audience to drop its guard, relate to the lyrics, and the songs become a conversation. Listening room gigs tend to be the perfect setting for this to take place, but if you can get a loud and rowdy bar room to shut up, it’s twice as fulfilling.

If someone hadn’t heard your music before what song would you recommend they check out in order to fully understand what you do, and why?

I think there’s two ways to go about the dynamic between what you are in a studio and what you are on a stage. With varying shades in between, I think there are two basic approaches to capturing sound in a studio. — You are either an act or band that wants to reproduce, as accurately as possible, the experience of your live act within the boundaries and limitations (in that respect) of studio recording, or you are an act that wants to reproduce accurately the sound of your studio recording in a live setting.

While it’s often difficult, given the nature of dealing with the finality of an “album-version” and the often ensuing tendency to overthink and nit-pick a recording, I think that live is where people get a real understanding of what I do.

For that reason, in a few weeks to a month, I would say the new self-titled album that will be released would be the best introduction to what I do. That was my underlying goal on this one. I wanted to make it sound like I’m playing in your living room with a couple of friends.

Until then, staying on the live-performance aspect, I would check out two video performance/interviews done by a great up-and-coming music media site, whose mission is “to provide quality videos of emerging artists in the tri-state area.”

Francis Lombardi performs tonight at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park along with Wyland, and The Amboys

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Francis Lombardi & Dapnhe Lee Martin Tour

Oct 10 | Fanwood Music Series, Fanwood NJ
Oct 11 | House Concert, Asbury Park NJ | email for details
Oct 13-14 | CMJ MUSIC MARATHON
Oct 14 | Way Station, Brooklyn, NY | 9pm
Oct 15 | Dr. Clock’s Nowhere Bar, Washington DC | 9pm
Oct 16 | TBA & WWVU, Morgantown WV
Oct 17 | Hambone’s, Pittsburgh PA | 8pm
Oct 18 | Bossy Grrrl’s Pinup Joint, Columbus OH | 8pm
Oct 19 | Sitwell’s Coffee House, Cincinnati OH
Oct 20 | TBA Lexington KY
Oct 21 | Haymarket Whiskey Bar, Louisville KY | 9pm
Oct 22 | Melody Inn, Indianapolis IN | 9pm
Oct 23 | Elbo Room, Chicago IL | 9pm
Oct 24 | Art Bar, Milwaukee WI
Oct 25 | Frank’s Power Plant, Milwaukee WI
Oct 27 | 406 Brewing, Bozeman MT w/ Hawthorne Roots
Oct 28 | TBA, Boise ID
Oct 29 | Tim’s Tavern, Seattle WA
Oct 30 | Le Voyeur, Olympia WA
Oct 31 | TBA, Portland OR
Nov 1 | Fort George Brewery, Astoria OR w/ Sam Cooper
Nov 2 | TBA Portland OR
Nov 4 | Make Out Room, San Francisco CA
Nov 6 | Fox Goose, Sacramento CA w/ JonEmery
Nov 7 | TBA, Los Angeles CA
Nov 8 | TBA, San Diego CA
Nov 10 | The Lost Leaf, Phoenix AZ
Nov 11 | Cultured Cafe, Flagstaff AZ | 7pm
Nov 12 | Zinc Wine Bar, Albuquerque NM | 9pm
Nov 14 | Opening Bell Coffee, Dallas TX
Nov 15 | Hole In the Wall, Austin TX
Nov 16 | Cabo Clear Lake, Seabrook TX
Nov 17 | TBA, Baton Rouge LA
Nov 18 | Siberia, New Orleans LA w/Alexandra Scott
Nov 19 | TBA w/Scott MacDonald
Nov 20 | TBA Huntsville AL
Nov 21 | Metro, Augusta GA w/ Phillip Lee, Jr.
Nov 22 | TBA Greenville SC
Nov 23 | Caledonia Lounge, Athens GA w/Cortez Garza
Nov 24 | TBA, Asheville NC
Nov 25 | Preservation Pub, Knoxville TN
Nov 27 | TBA, Myrtle Beach SC


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