"It was wonderful to have the chance to bring 100,000 people together over three days to learn, to be inspired, and to see if there's anything they can do to be of help," says Francis. "When Dispatch plays again, we'll find a cause we all want to get behind and support it. Also, then I don't feel like the band is totally broken up and gone."
I took pictures of people and moments in different neighborhoods in L.A., without setting up the shot - like a dog or from behind someone driving a car. In the studio, I had the images in my head and a chorus, but I didn't write them down. The song was completely improvised once we hit 'record.' I knew poetically what I wanted to say, but I let the words come out as I sang the song.
-Pete Francis on recording Iron Sea and the Cavalry
In his solo career, Francis tends to mimic the same types of self-marketing and grassroots efforts that helped build his former band's reputation. Where Napster and file-sharing within college networks helped to spread Dispatch, Francis has now turned to Facebook. A contest on his page encourages fans to play his songs on their profiles, promote his concerts when he comes to town and even learn to perform their own versions of his songs.
"We did a cover contest where the fans could vote, and in Baltimore I got to meet the guy who won. I think it's a great way to interact with fans," he says. "I really want the music to get out there, and I feel like touring and people buying a CD and sharing it with their friends is the way to go."
To that end, Francis ensures that his tours are a mixture of schools, clubs and out-of-the-ordinary performance venues. Sometimes he performs for a few thousand people, sometimes only a couple hundred, and he claims to enjoy them equally.
"There's a different sort of energy and vibe to playing a club in Charlottesville [Virginia] than there is to Madison Square Garden. I love the spontaneity of changing a setlist mid-show, and it's nice to know you can jump off the stage and talk to people afterwards and feel a connection. I'll never forget playing a morning assembly at a prep school. The kids were sleepy coming in, and the next thing you know they're all up on stage, hip to the rock show," says Francis. "I love the atmosphere at colleges. The kids are just open to talking to you - dancing around and being free. There's a freshness to it."
Although many of his best known songs like "Two Coins" and "Carry You" are gentle acoustic harmonies, Francis makes a point to play concerts people "can really jam to," drawing from a mix of his material to keep the crowd on their feet. He switches amongst a quiver of acoustic and electric guitars that includes a refinished '64 Stratocaster, Collings Dreadnaughts, a vintage blue Telecaster and a 1930s National steel resonator. And he's got no shortage of diverse material to draw from.
Francis describes his solo debut in 2001, So They Say, as a "raw" album of solely bass, guitar, drums and the occasional B-3 organ. He followed that up with Untold, a polished 2003 album produced by John Siket of Phish and Dave Matthews Band Crash fame.
For his last three releases - 2004's Good to Finally Know You, 2006's Everything is One and the most recent, Iron Sea and the Cavalry - Francis' has relied on old friend Jack Gauthier (Dispatch, State Radio, Ten Mile Tide) for production duties.
"Working with him is like a clubhouse - let's hang out with the guys - and the process just happens. He's not forcing anything, and he allows the music to evolve in a very organic way," says Francis.
The tracks to come out of Iron Sea may well be Francis' finest work to date. "Johnny Ocho's Lullaby" was written for his godson, born on the 8th of October. His wife, who also travels as his tour manager, sings back-up on the song, which opens the album.
"It's one of those tunes you can ride off into the sunset with, where the outro just goes on and on," he says. In "Case of Bad Love," Francis again displays his talent for indirect analogies.
It's Eiffel Towers in Rio de Janeiro
We're picking flowers in the land of the midnight sun
There are the times in the mind that you go looking
Waiting for the pot to boil but nothing's cooking
Telling big lies about how I survived my pirate days
In the same old ways
That's a case of bad love
"I don't know if you've ever had the experience where you're on a date with a girl and you're building it up in your mind, like 'This could be real, this girl could really be it,' and you talk to her about 'We could go here or there and travel together,'" says Francis. "The next thing you know the relationship goes on, and it could be a couple days or a couple weeks, but you realize you don't want to do any of that. So that's kind of a joke of it being a case of bad love."
Not that that imagery is clear from the lyrics. But that's what Pete Francis is hoping for.
JamBase | Ambiguous Reaches
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