• Francis
  • 2019-01-22

Francis is singer/songwriter Alex Wesley and his ever-evolving pool of musicians that help take his ideas to the studio and stages. The Milton Keynes musician started playing the piano aged four with, then tried various instruments before settling on the guitar. Francis released new EP ‘The Long Way Back Around’ on Friday, January 18th. We found out more about the project.

I guess the key is to try and retain a level of child like absorption and just soak as much stuff up from as many people as you can as that’s the way to grow - in life and music.

First up, tell us a bit about yourself - what first got you into music?
I guess what originally got me into music came directly from my mum, she played piano and as a child we had a small Yamaha keyboard that she would play Flur Elis on - so it was her who pushed me into learning piano from an early age. Along the way with life moving I found myself doing what music was available to me at the time so instruments like the recorder, steel drums, classical guitar, more keyboards, trombone before landing firmly on the guitar.

Were there any particular bands or artists you took inspiration from?
With this EP I went firmly rock so bands like Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age were the definite inspirations. The EP started out as a two-piece idea and kind of fleshed out from there so with that we were looking at bands like The Black Keys and the White Stripes.

Under an amusing bit of advice, we were told that no one would want another two-piece rock record, but then Royal Blood happened so that helped me know I was doing something right - or that I shouldn’t listen to the opinions of others too much… somewhere between those two!

Why ‘Francis’?
Well Francis is my middle name. My full name is Alexander (not that anyone ever calls me that) Francis Wesley. Rather than have it be looking like more of an obvious solo thing I wanted to keep it more open. There is stigma associated to your music if you are a solo artist and people expect something a bit more gentle and singer/songwriter-y.

While I do that, and love doing that, the benefit of calling it Francis I felt was that if I wanted to do something completely different and swap between different genres then I would be able to do that easier under the name Francis. It’s all semantics.

You have an ‘ever-evolving’ pool of musicians who help take your ideas into the studio and onto stages. How does that work?
About 10 years ago I was playing in a band with a drummer called Kev Hickman - in fact he is the drummer on this record, and he began also playing with a blues artist alongside what we were doing together. I found myself booking gigs and not having the musicians to assist me with them which was an interesting spot to be in!

A good friend and great drummer who has done some really great stuff over the years - Matt Alan, offered to step in and do the gigs I had in the diary. He pretty much saved me to be honest, I can’t really underestimate the impact of his generosity on my life after this gesture.

After that, the bass player couldn’t do a gig so we got one of his friends in to play and the whole thing kind of evolved from there. When you’re out there playing you meet people and musicians want to gig so it’s not too difficult to convince them to join you, especially if there’s a few quid in it for them.

It has at points reached a level of ridiculous where I’ve done multiple different shows with completely different line-ups on the same day, but that was just part of the whole journey.

Who’s been the most influential?
In terms of musicians I have lasting effect to the way I conducted the whole thing. I could string a list of names of people who have been a part of what I’ve done over the years and they’ve all brought something great to the table or taught me something.

I played in a band called The Amateurs for a few years and the songwriter in that band was definitely a massive influence on my writing. He writes great songs so trying to come up to that invisible bar was something I subconsciously tried to do.

I guess the key is to try and retain a level of child like absorption and just soak as much stuff up from as many people as you can as that’s the way to grow - in life and music.

If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would it be?
I’m a big Beatles fan so to jam with Paul McCartney would be insane but I think if I wanted to try something a bit different I think working with Nile Rogers would be a real experience. He’s obviously done some incredible and varied music over the years. and I’ve definitely tried to imitate what he does on a few different tracks that I’ve yet to release. Look out for a track in the future called ‘My Days Are Better With You’ - I’m just doing my best Nile Rogers impression!

Tell us about your EP ‘The Long Way Back Around’. What’s it about?
Production of the record began six years ago this April. At the time I had just finished recording an album with the Amateurs and the future of that band was quite up in the air so I wanted to go back and try working on my own material again. In the six years from there I’ve played well over 1000 shows, travelled, written, played with some great people and now the EP is being released.

I played my way round half the globe and now here I am releasing my own music the way I wanted to after everything. I took the long way back around to doing the thing that it was always about for me in the first place - I just tried a few other things on the first lap.

When did you write it and where did you record it?
The EP would have been written in the first quarter of 2013 and we recorded it with Dave Draper in his studio near Birmingham. After the initial five days with him we came away with a product we were really proud of, but over the coming months I found myself adding a middle eight to two of the songs so after that I knew it wasn’t really done.

A couple years went by and I was playing a show in Amsterdam when I decided I wanted to go back and finish it off. Then it has just kind of sat around waiting for the right moment to be released and here we are!

How does ‘The Long Way Back Around’ represent your style?
It depends what day of the week it is? With what I have always done, saying yes to any and every gig I could find I think my style goes down a few different roads. For me that was the point of sticking with the Francis name. This is the rock EP, what comes next almost certainly won’t sound like it, but you might find it is something you want to listen to when you don’t want your face blasted off. Maybe it will be acoustic, maybe it will be more electronic but it’s all me and just a different side to this being in which I inhabit.

What are you hopes for ‘The Long Way Back Around’?
Wembley Stadium? To be honest I’m just glad to have a platform to be releasing my music the way I want to and for it to be getting out to people. The feedback I’ve had so far has been great and just to have it getting played by people is what I hope for. If it brings something to them then I think I will have done my job.

What are your plans for releasing further music in 2019?
I am starting work immediately at recording the next batch of songs. I’m not 100% sure if it will be another EP or an LP, or even an LP split into 2 EP’s but I’ve got the songs so now I just need to do the work.

Can we see you live anywhere?
Francis is playing at the Apple Store in Dubai Mall on the 16th February but currently there are no UK dates booked. I imagine there may be a date or two in May or maybe some later this year but as yet nothing is confirmed. I might be doing a ‘Sgt Peppers’ and just retiring into the studio to record a load of music. When the songs are out there for people then gigging will become more relevant again.

Finally, if you could wish for one thing to happen for you this year, what would it be?
If I can get through it and do all the things I want to do, get to a place where I’m ready to release more music then I would be more than content with that. I wouldn’t say no to a Glastonbury booking though…

Listen to ‘The Long Way Back Around’ on Apple Music below. For news and tour dates go to the Francis Facebook page.

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