In our MAI Abroad issue we travel to NYC to interview musician ‘JW Francis’ — the moniker this Oklahoma born bedroom-pop crooner has finally settled on. Influenced both by the energy and inhabitants in The City That Never Sleeps and the dreamy charm of The City of Lights, JW Francis’ music is a smooth and ethereal tribute ‘to people, for people’. We caught up with him ahead of his European Tour to talk side hustles, an unexpected addition to his band, and question who, exactly, is Joe Fusco?!
Watch the video here:
What is one of your earliest memories of performing on stage?
I was playing the role of Bubble Gum Bart in a play that I think one of my teachers wrote and I was singing a song called Sticky Situation. Bubblegum Bart was the villain and I remember the director telling me to put my hands on my hips and then point to the crowd and sing “sticky situation…” & yeah that was my first on stage appearance (laughs)
You went to high school in Paris and you are now based in New York. So our question is, if New York could give Paris some music advise and visa versa what would it be?
If New York could give Paris some music advise it would be to inject some urgency into everything. I mean, at the same time, I’m not really sure what’s going on in Paris these days, I didn’t even know then (laughs) but I think in general everything feels so urgent in New York and there is something life affirming about that because it’s like, ‘ahhh it’s gotta happen now!’. And if Paris could give New York some advice it would be to slow down and remember the past.
What’s the biggest mess you ever had to clean up?
I threw a lot of shows in college and they always had a theme, and one time I threw a cereal show, which meant that everybody brought a box of their favorite cereal and by the second band people were just throwing cereal everywhere. So in the end it was just pure dust all around us and we had to sweep and mop to clean it all up. It was so much waste! So much cereal! I was very sad and I never threw a cereal show again! My advice is: don’t throw a cereal show unless you’re ready for the consequences. Consequently the show was called “Existential Breakfast” (laughs)
If your music were a place what would it look like?
I’m actually conceptualizing this right now… So, if my first album were a place it would be a bed, or a nest where you are just very comfy and you can retreat to. It’s a place to just be you and the worst you. The second album would be a car and it’s going very fast and it’s like you are moving and going to the next thing. The third album would be a lake and you are just chilling and reflecting. And the fourth album would be on the moon and it’s just out of this world. So yeah, I’m like four albums ahead right now, which is where I like to be – I like to be all ‘you don’t even know!’ (laughs)
What’s been making you laugh out loud recently?
Hmm peoples faces because it’s been raining a lot and people make the funniest horrible faces when it rains, or it’s cold. It’s like a series of humans with these hugely disgruntled expressions and it just can’t help but make me laugh because I’m just like, who are you emoting to?! It’s not schadenfreude or anything like that, I’m not like, oh yes your pain brings me pleasure. But it’s like, I don’t know, I find it really funny.
Nonfiction or fiction?
Recently it’s been a lot on nonfiction. At the moment I’m re-reading a really good book called Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas who is a famous dutsch architect who wrote a retroactive manifesto of New York city. I’m also a tour guide of New York so I read a lot about the city & it’s fascinating because a manifesto is kind of like what you think the world should be. But manifestos never have evidence they are more from your head vs reality. So this book is like looking at New York as a sort of laboratory, and saying what the manifesto was behind this whole city. It’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.
So what does it say in the book?
Basically, that New York is like a theatre of progress & it’s nature vs reality & reality is just crushing nature. Manhattan itself means “island of many hills” and it was in the 1900 century that this war against nature was waged because they blew up all the hills. So New York is fairly flat now but it used to be literally the island of many hills. So they blew up all the hills and put all the land in the water – land mass below 14th street grew by a third just because that came from all the rubble from the dynamite. In 1811 they drew the grid plan for the city and have followed it to a t. It took one hundred and fifty years to actually build that whole thing out, which is crazy. That’s the whole concept of Manhattan – to get the idea into your head first and then you make it happen in real life, which is not how most cities develop. In Central Park, for example, some of the actual rocks you see are the real bedrock beneath us.
How did you get into being a tour guide?
Mostly I was just fascinated by New York. The first time I was ever in New York the bus dropped me off in the middle of Times Square and I was thinking this sucks, this is so much, so touristy, so fake. Especially coming from Paris where it’s all magic and small streets and romantic and the city feels generous. New York does not feel generous, it doesn’t give a fuck about you. You could die and they’ll keep going. But there is something that you can’t see but you can feel, and it’s the energy here and the people, it’s… But that’s the other thing it’s so mythical, so I just wanted to learn more about that.
Who is Joe Fusco because we watched your music video “Joe Fusco” and it seems like you have a special relationship…
Haha He was my first New Yorker friend, really. Because I went to school at Columbia but no one is generally from New York there, and I wanted a city friend not just school friends. So one day I got taken to somebody’s roof by a mutual friend, and from 14th and 7th you can see all of Midtown, you can see all of Downtown, you can see New Jersey and I was just like, this is New York, this is crazy, who owns this roof, I gotta be their best friend! And it turned out to be Joe Fusco who is a filmmaker. So that night he ended up showing me his YouTube channel and later I looked him up and actually at that time I was going by the name Nico West and I was only writing songs about fruit – so any fruit you can think of I wrote thirty-seven fruit songs. People would say, “Strawberry” and I would be like, I got you! and I would start a song about Strawberries. Joe Fusco made the music video for ‘Banana’ and that’s how we became friends (laughs)
How many musical incarnations have you had?
Since Nico West, it’s been Dob Killin, Juno Cassidy, JW Francis. I also had a band called Hubba Bubba who were a punk band. So I’d say about five or so.
Your dad is a drummer and is going to be the drummer on your European tour?
My dad used to be a a drummer, or rather he played drums twenty years ago, and what happened was that I went home over winter break last year and told my mum that I have these shows in Paris and Manchester and I’m going to do a small European tour I just need, like, a band. And one of my best friends was like, I’ll come with you and be your guitarist and I know bassists etc etc. So I was like, sweet, I just need a drummer, Mum, do you know any? and she was like, well, I know your dad used to play drums but he probably won’t do it. But he said he’d do it. He doesn’t have a drum kit he just plays Rock Band and he has a Rock Band kit, so he practiced for months on the rock band kit and he did great, so we are going to do it again now in the fall.
What’s the best song that your dad ever introduced you to?
He kind of introduced me to everything so it’s hard to answer that. He used to make me mix tapes and I’m remembering Is This It by The Strokes and I’d Rather Dance With You by Kings of Convenience but anyway, my dad was really really hip. He’d make me cds and I would be on my portable cd player on the bus to school listening to these songs.
How do you get inspired when you aren’t inspired?
Probably other people’s art. Like watching a movie and most likely something that isn’t music. Or going on a walk. Walks are really important for me. Or sleep. Sleep is very inspiring. That moment right before you go to sleep that’s really where I get everything. I don’t sleep a lot because right before I go to sleep I’ll jolt up with an idea and feel like I need to communicate it from the beyond (laughs). But yeah sleep is very inspiring.
If you weren’t making music what would you be doing?
I’m doing it right now and it’s throwing Murder Mystery parties. Indeed… haha
So yeah, whenever I’m not doing music I’m throwing Murder Mystery parties with my friend Drew. We have a small business called J33 and we throw these parties for the general public and for companies… It’s just super fun. It’s weird because I write these things with my friend and then like, real adults act them out. So a week before I will send out the participants their profiles and let them know that they should arrive in character, and then an hour into the party someone drops dead and they have to figure out which one of them did it. And the dead person I will take them into another room and be like here’s your moustache, you’re a new person, go back into the party.
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