- Wed, 2011-04-27 15:04
Francis Neve has been a part of the music world for some years now, but it was with the release of his debut solo album The Second Time We First Met late in 2010 that he really seemed to find his niche. A collection of softly-spoken reflections on relationships backed with skipping beats and deftly produced, sometimes explosive soundscapes, it was met with great enthusiasm all round and has established Neve as an exciting new musical prospect.
I Like Music caught up with the songwriter-producer to chat about new single Winterbury, tackling personal subjects, his biggest inspirations and plans for the future.
"I Like Music because…music likes me!” Francis Neve
ILM: Tell us about your latest single Winterbury and how you came to work with Lucy Randell.
Francis Neve: She was introduced to me by a mutual friend of ours. She needed some help with some of her own music that she was writing and producing, so she came round my studio. I helped her out with a few tracks and I was just instantly taken with the way she was. I just felt that the music she was doing – r&b – was very different to what I was doing, but I felt that it would work really well as a bit of a crossover. I had this track that was only in its early stages, and it hinged around this disjointed chorus. The lyrics were said by a man but the story didn’t make sense and it suddenly clicked that it needed to be a woman saying it to a guy. I got her to do it and it was just instantly satisfying!
ILM: How do you tend to approach the song-writing process?
Francis Neve: There are a few different ways. It depends on the song, but usually it starts with a musical idea or phrase; a chord progression or a melody. Once I’ve got the idea the next thing that I usually get is a sense of how I want the whole thing to feel. Do I want it to be an upbeat song or a down-beat song, should the recording be jazzy or folky, or whatever. I get the atmosphere before anything else and I just start laying it down straight away. I don’t really write the song using a guitar or a piano, I just sort of write it on the computer in the studio. Quite often I’ll have one or two lyrics from the very beginning and I’ll build the rest of the lyrics once the song’s finished.
ILM: Your debut album, The Second Time We First Met, feels very personal. How do you feel about revealing so much about yourself to so many?
Francis Neve: I’ve always been pretty determined to say that it’s not really about me. It’s just about what I fantasize that people go through. I mean, obviously there are parts that come from experience – we’ve all felt those things.
ILM: So it’s sort of your poetic take on universal concepts and emotions?
Francis Neve: Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it. It’s not so personal, or it wasn’t while I was doing it. In fact, I probably felt more self-conscious about putting the music out there as a whole rather than the story that it was telling. I really wanted the lyrics to be something that anybody could relate to, so that everybody could say “god, I’ve felt like that about someone,” you know what I mean? That’s something that I really love about being in music – the lyrics.
ILM: The album has had a wonderful response; has that given you more confidence or put you under more pressure?
Francis Neve: I think it’s given me more confidence in the ways that I needed. There are other people out there now that want to hear it, which is a really nice feeling. And then maybe the pressure…I’m not really feeling any pressure yet, which is good! I just started trying to write some new material with some of the guys from the band recently and there were a couple of weeks when I was unsure about which direction to go in, but that was probably the first time that I’ve felt a bit of pressure. Then I wrote a song and now I’m a lot more positive again and I know what I want it to be.
ILM: Can you describe that to us or do we have to wait and see?
Francis Neve: I probably couldn’t really describe it; it’s mad! It’s going to be a little bit more driven; it’s going to have a bit more energy.
ILM: When did you first realise that music was what you wanted to pursue?
Francis Neve: I probably first started to really get into writing and playing music when I was a teenager and I’d write songs with friends. Eventually I ended up in a band in my early twenties, and I think that by the time I got to about eighteen I’d realised that I wanted my own studio and I wanted to make music. Whenever I wasn’t doing that I felt like something was missing in my life, I suppose. That might sound a bit hokey…! Since then I’ve always had it, and I’ve had to make quite a lot of sacrifices to be able to do it all the time. But I couldn’t not do it; it’s my outlet. Some people go to football; I lock myself in the studio.
ILM: Who have been some of your long-standing, biggest musical inspirations?
Francis Neve: Lyrically Roger Waters was a big influence on me when I was younger. Musically, I would definitely say Radiohead. They’re one of those bands that you can’t really get away from. They put me onto so many other different types of music when I was younger. More recently I’ve really been influenced by sounds; bands like Fourtet have been a really big influence. Even bands like Mogwai were a huge influence on me when I was younger. I’m not sure that I’ve ever wanted to sound like a band or an artist, but I’ve always been inspired by what they do.
ILM: Could tell us a bit about your approach to a live show; what you set out to achieve and how you approach translating the songs into a live arena?
Francis Neve: It’s quite a challenge at first, because of how things can feel in the studio, but I think the important thing is to give a performance and to do the songs justice. So we try and keep the songs quite faithful to how they are on the record, but let them have their own freedom so that the other musicians bring something to the table. So although we use a lot of the same sounds a lot of the songs off the album have a slightly different edge when played live. I’d like to think they’re a bit more emotive.
ILM: Have there been any live shows that you’ve seen as an audience member that have really inspired you?
Francis Neve: Too many to say! I work in sound as well so I work with shows and do a lot of festivals… I’ve seen so many live shows! I’ve recently been doing Goldfrapp; they’re amazing!
ILM: Does seeing a show night after night change your perspective?
Francis Neve: Yeah, you can become a bit immune to it I suppose. Even so, I’ve seen some amazing performances. Godspeed You Black Emperor at Royal Festival Hall in 2000, supported by Sigur Ros, was really amazing. Mogwai at Royal Albert Hall was pretty impressive too. And Grace Jones at Latitude believe it or not, she was incredible!
ILM: Do you have a big record collection?
Francis Neve: I was moving around a lot last year. I’ve got a big CD collection and they’re all in boxes in the garden shed somewhere! I’ve been meaning to move them into my house, but I’ve ended up just getting things on iTunes, and now I just use Spotify all the time. I’m buying less and less. I mean, it’s no substitute for buying a CD and having it on and listening to it. I know it’s horrid, but …I dunno, it’s just becoming like the times I suppose. It’s sad really.
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Francis Neve: I’ve been listening to some old folk music, to get a bit of inspiration. I actually had a Burt Bacharach day recently! Well, a Burt Bacharach morning. I’ve been listening to Neu as well, the German kraut-rock band. Especially their song Hallogallo.
ILM: What are your plans for the year ahead?
Francis Neve: We’ve got one more single to come out. I’m not sure when that’s planned for yet, I guess in a couple of month’s time. It’s a really good summery single that should be coming just at the right time. Hopefully that’s going to go down well and we’ll get to do a few shows around town to support that. We’re not lined-up to do any festivals this summer, and I’ve got no plans to do any regional shows yet. The next thing for me, after this single, is to start working on the next batch of tunes. That’s going to be my summer really. Hopefully by winter we’ll have some new material.