For an artist who grew up in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, Robert Francis sure knows how to channel the wide-open spaces of middle America. At nineteen years of age, Francis wrote and produced his debut album, One by One, which quickly earned him recognition as one of the great up-and-coming folk artists.

Soon after, he signed a record deal with Atlantic Records and will be releasing his highly anticipated follow-up album, Before Nightfall, on October 20th . Francis was kind enough to answer a few questions for LA Music Blog’s readers about his influences, what it was like growing up in a house full of musicians, and his musical connection to Flea.

Robert Francis

What was it like growing up in a house full of musicians?

It’s definitely interesting living in a house full of musicians. There is always something going on. When I was about 6 months old I used to fall asleep across my father’s lap while he played piano. I would hear music when I went to bed. When I woke up he would be blasting classical music, and when dinnertime came around my mother would be playing ranchero songs on the radio, so there was always something there. It definitely gave me at a very young age no other choice but to want to pursue a career in music.

How do you think the mix of classical music that your father used to play and the ranchero that your mother used to play has influenced your style today?

If anything it has given me a broader range of musical taste, which helped me to narrow down my own thing, and with that much music going on, I had to discover rock n’ roll and all these different things on my own. It allowed me to grow in a different way, and it just sort of came about. I don’t really know. It just happened. I can’t really put my finger on it, but I am pretty sure it had something to do with the family.

Where did you draw your influences for the new album “Before Nightfall”?

[While recording] my first album, I was listening to a lot of music at the time. I was listening to Townes Van Zandt, David Crosby, and a lot of different people. With this record, I had almost put a lot of that down and sort of just let these songs write themselves. That’s kind of the way this came to be. I wasn’t necessarily listening to a song and thinking, “Oh, that’s a great vibe” or “I want to capture that in one of mine” or anything. For these songs I just sort of waited, and I would hear a melody in my head and then build the record, so this one came out a little bit differently.

Have you seen any major changes in your career since signing with a major label?

Not so much. I mean, I hope it will (laughs), but I think right now it might be a little too early to tell because we are just getting started. What I originally worried about was the transition from an indie to a major and my integrity as an artist and if that would get convoluted in any way. That was my biggest worry and nothing so far has been a problem. The label has been extremely supportive of everything I have wanted to do. So far, so good!

Who would you say are some of your major influences, and where do you see them showing up the most in your songwriting?

I would have to say some of my biggest influences would be Ry Cooder and the vintage film Paris, Texas because listening to him and having Ry around as a kid were the foot prints to me wanting to make music my career and my life. I remember I was watching Paris, Texas on LaserDisc in my house. I must have been in fourth grade, and I remember thinking that I have to travel and get out early and start this sort of different vagabond style lifestyle. That never really never came to fruition the way that it did in the film, but it inspired me to get out on my own and do what I love. Those were definitely some of the earliest and most significant influences for me.

Tell us a little more about your particular songwriting process.

A lot of times what will happen is that I will be driving around or wherever I will be and I will hear a melody in my head. I never pull over or try to record it on my voicemail or anything. I just wait and see if it sticks in my head, and if it is there a few days later, then I know I have something. Usually the lyrical content just fills itself in. I will start singing something and then what I do with the verses is I try to find out and reinforce why I am singing these lyrics over and over again with this melody. The verses sort of come about as the support to that. I feel that I have something if I can remember it, and hopefully other people remember it as well.

When you were younger you met with John Frusciante and took guitar lessons from him. How did that scenario come about?

That came about through my school. Flea’s daughter went to my high school, and I remember there was some sort of orientation for parents or something like that. I remember my mom telling me he had a pink Mohawk, and that he looked slightly uncomfortable. All the parents knew who he was and no one was really talking to him, so my mother, who is pretty forward, ran over to him and was really nice to him.

A couple of years before I dropped out of school I was not inspired and didn’t want to play guitar. I just wasn’t doing much so my parents got involved. They knew Flea owned a music conservatory over in Silver Lake, so they thought he might know someone who could inspire me again and help me out. They made the call and Flea said, “Well maybe John can help him out.” Five minutes later John Frusciante called me and that completely rocked my mind because I was a huge fan of his. That’s sort of how that began. It didn’t last too long, but I learned a lot.

What is currently in heavy rotation in your music collection?

You know I have been listening to this Waylon Jennings. I picked up some compilation through Cracker Barrel (laughs). That has sort of been in heavy rotation. I am listening to…I can’t really think of anything else (laughs). That Waylon Jennings record has been the main thing I have been listening to. I listen to all sorts of music. My drummer has this crazy extensive music library like 700gb or something, and I see him every day so I listen to what he puts on. I listen to a lot of obscure music and that’s kind of the way I have been listening to music for the last year and a half, so currently I am having difficulty pinpointing just few names, but I listen to a lot.

When can people see you again in LA?

I think we are playing the Roxy with Noah and the Whale (Oct. 20th), but I think we had to cancel our record release date because we are hitting the road with them. There are no other dates coming up that I know of in LA besides that one, but when we come back some time in November, we will do our first proper LA show. Hopefully again in November but definitely at the Roxy with Noah and the Whale.

Well it was really good talking to you. Thanks for the time!

You too. Hopefully we will see you out at the show.

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