“…But for me the raw emotion that comes out is from the inside out. And I feel it a bit differently; for me music is therapy, it’s my way of expression.” Heston Francis
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Atlanta-based Dominican Heston Francis is a singer/songwriter/guitarist/man who is very comfortable and confident in his own skin. An honest, open, conscientious, expressive and very approachable individual with the essence of love running through his core, Mr Francis definitely wears his heart on his sleeve. Since capturing the public’s and radio-lands imagination, heads and hearts with his debut album ‘Storyteller’ in 2008, Heston’s deep and thoughtful lyrics, relayed via his uniquely emotive, soulful and passionate vocals has become the hallmark of his sound. These traits are even more prevalent on his fourth and most recent album release ‘Love Junkie.’ Uk Vibe’s Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards was afforded twenty minutes quality time with the self-effacing and amiable Mr Francis prior to his heartfelt performance at London’s Jazz Cafe as special guest support artist of UK Soul stalwart Don-e.
The Dood: Greetings Mr Heston Francis. I appreciate you taking time out to get the lowdown to UK by tonight prior to taking to the Jazz Cafe stage. How are you feeling now in mind, body and soul?
Heston Francis: I’m good! I’m good! I’m ready for the show!
The Dood: So I believe It’s second time around, you’re towing the ‘Love Junkie’ album. When and where did this latest tour begin?
Heston Francis: It began in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago.
The Dood: So you’re back here at the world-famous Jazz Cafe. I believe you ticked It off your bucket list back in May 2014 when you headlined. How does it feel to be performing in front of the Jazz Cafe faithful once again?
Heston Francis: I love this place! I just posted on Facebook, “Back at it again at the Jazz Cafe!” I wanted to perform here for so many years that to do it was an honour. It feels great running into the same musicians and having conversations. Sometimes I feel like I’m not in London anymore, it feels like I’m about to do a show in New York because I’m so familiar with these guys now. It’s almost becoming like a second home.
The Dood: You’ve been quoted as saying, “Music is not what I do, it’s who I am.” Michael Jackson once quoted something along those lines. He said, “He didn’t have vocal coaching or dance choreography lessons, he just feels the music from within and expresses himself accordingly.” Can you relate to that?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Heston Francis: Oh, absolutely! I was talking to a friend and they said, “When I see perform, I feel you! It hits me right between the eyes or right between my chest!” And I think for me, music is not what – I mean I’m sure naturally I call on influences from ever since I was a child – but for me the raw emotion that comes out is from the inside out. And I feel it a bit differently; for me music is therapy, it’s my way of expression.
The Dood: Back in November 2013 is when you confessed to being a “Love Junkie” as it were, with the release of the album. I believe there’s an interesting story behind how you arrived at the title for the album?
Heston Francis: Yeah, there was a friend of mine named Kelly back in St Louis, and we were going back and forth with name suggestions. I said I like “Love Addict” and then she gave me a couple of options and then she got on “Love Junkie” and I said, “Wow!” It’s a little controversial. For me, coming from “Storyteller”, “Warm Human, Cold World,” which seems a little docile compared to “Love Junkie” – But at the end of the day that’s who I am! And if anybody knows me, they know that I give it all, it’s not fake, I give it all.
The Dood: The use of the word ‘Love’ also has many connotations for you on this project. Can you expand on that please?
Heston Francis: Well, I love the people. I’ve made my mistakes, but I think I try to live a good life. And so on however, love falls for me; whether it’s for my children, or towards the girlfriend, or my wife or my mother or my family, friends, I give it genuinely. I’m not a malicious person, I’m not vindictive. At the end of the day, just like “Warm Human, Cold World,” it’s just how I protect myself upon others. And that’s where the love is – whether it’s universal, whether it’s personal, whether it’s relational, it’s still from me an honest giving.
The Dood: Where was the video for ‘Love Junkie’ filmed?
Heston Francis: In Atlanta, at the studio where I record a lot of my albums. 800 East is a studio in Atlanta. I mean the likes of John Mayer have recorded there, you name it. It’s a great studio for live musicianship – drums, guitar rooms, you name it. It’s a big live instruments studio, it’s a great place.
The Dood: What caught my ear on this, your fourth studio and latest album, is the wholesome production. You have something for the Steppers (Resign 2 U, To The Sky), something for the Lovers (Love Junkie, Dreamin) and something for the Roots Reggae massive (Come Away With Me, Our Father.) Tell me more about the producers you used in this album, DJ Kemitt), Darren Daz I-Que Benjamin, The Swatt Band and Ryan Wilson.
Heston Francis: What can I say? They’re great musicians who know their craft. It’s been an honour to work with them, and I would love to work with them again. I’m working on his new album, which will be out in March of next year (2015), called “Transparency”. I’ve written the entire album and now I’m just looking to get it produced. So these are great people and I’d love to do it again.
The Dood: How has your music and lyrics evolved since your first album release? And does ‘Love Junkie’ reflect your life experiences and personal growth thus far?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Heston Francis: If you want to know who I am and listen to my music, that’s who I am. And like my stage performance, like my vocal delivery, I’m continually more honest about my delivery when I write a song. And to me it’s always that, it’s about being honest with my writing. If it comes out this way I’m gonna to tell it this way and not try to curtail it to make it theme. So for me writing is like speaking.
The Dood: Reggae expresses itself strongly on a couple of tracks on ‘Love Junkie’, the aforementioned, “Come Away with Me” and “Our Father.” Again the production is sublime. Please enlighten us about their conception?
Heston Francis: Well, I’m West Indian, and a lot of my songs come out as Reggae. When I write with the guitar, they usually come out as Reggae. So sometimes I have to deliberately arrange them as a Soul recording. So some of it, I just decided not to touch, as with “Our Father,” And “Come Away with Me.” They were tunes when I said, “Let it be. What it came out naturally as.” And instead of taking a Reggae song and flipping it into a Soul production, I just left it Reggae.
The Dood: Were these tracks homage to some of your Roots Reggae influences, Third World, Bob Marley, a Morgan Heritage and Beres Hammond?
Heston Francis: Absolutely! All of it! Just touching on that with which I grew up.
The Dood: Would you say that your Dominican Heritage is the X factor you bring to your music?
Heston Francis: I think so. I think It’s Soul and all the other influences, but with the Dominican flavours stuck in the middle, I think it is, I think it gives it a slightly different seasoning.
The Dood: Another track that really grabbed me was the sumptuous, insightful and perceptively written, “My Only Question.” Was that written from personal life experience or observation? (Will you perform that tonight?)
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Heston Francis: Yes, it’s written from personal experience. I have not been the luckiest in love recently. I actually just lost a major relationship that I really wanted to hold onto. So now that I’m singing these songs, they kind of take on a really deep meaning.
The Dood: Which tracks on this album resonate with you the most? And do you think this is your most rounded out up-to-date?
Heston Francis: “Come Away with Me.” I don’t know why, it just feels closest to me. And yes, the production of these albums is continually getting better.
The Dood: What is Heston’s philosophy on life and music?
Heston Francis: I am music – that’s it! I am the music that I am. So simple, I am music, there is no separation.
The Dood: Are you self-taught on guitar and is it you playing guitar on “Best Friends?”
Heston Francis: Yes I am. I picked it up at twelve, I put it down thirteen, I picked it up at thirty and have been playing for the last eight, nine years. I write all the songs on guitar and vocals first, but the person playing on best friends is not the, it’s a guy called Brandon Thomas from Atlanta, Georgia.
The Dood: Yes, I’ve met him; he’s a class act and is featured on many of the Anthony David’s albums.
The Dood: Can you describe your writing process once an idea formulates within your being?
Heston Francis: I have to feel it, and if I’m on a plane it’s easy. If I’m going through it, it easy and if I’m not feeling it I’ll leave it alone and then I’ll come back to it.
The Dood: How did the link-up with Peter Robinson, Dome records label come about?
Heston Francis: The first album, “Storyteller” was sent to him by my former manager. And ever since then I submit the music to him and we seem to have a very good relationship. On they look out for me, especially on the European side.
The Dood: So you’re happy and content?
Heston Francis: Oh yeah!
The Dood: I know your a father now. How many children do you have, what are their ages and do you anticipate any of them following you into the music industry.
Heston Francis: My daughter’s fifteen and my son is nine. My daughter’s name is Natae, my son’s name is Hayes. They both love singing and my daughter things better than me when I was her age. But I don’t know if she’s quite interested and I don’t want to force her. So whenever she’s ready I would definitely support her.
The Dood: Inform us about the gorgeous ballad ‘Love Space.’ You connect with the angelic voiced Chantae Cann?
Heston Francis: Well, I asked her to do all the background vocals, because she’s about as supreme as they get. “Love Space” was never meant to be a duet, but I while we were there, I just thought it would be amazing for her. She was doing the backing vocals and I said to her, “I need you on the song!” So I rearranged the lyrics to make it into a duet, and she recorded as I rearranged it. And that’s how it came about.
The Dood: “Dreaming,” and “Resigned To You,” tell us about those two tracks?
Heston Francis: On “Resigned To You,” I approached DJ Kemitt, he loved it. I gave him bare minimum instruction, because I didn’t want to get to be involved in the production of it. He took it and sent me one recording of the production, and that’s it. I recorded it and I was done! “Dreaming,” I wrote while I was in Dominica on my Aunt’s porch. It was originally a Reggae kind of vibe, but more ballad-like. We came into the studio; I worked with Darren Daz I-Que from Bugz-In-The-Attic. He produced it and we tried a couple of different versions and this one felt good. It gave me that Smokey Robinson kind of vibe, and I kind of like that, so that how we kept it
The Dood: ‘Good Morning America’ from your ‘Storyteller’ album revealed a socially conscious/political side to Heston Francis. Can we expect you to express yourself in a similar fashion on subsequent projects, or as and when the need arises?
Heston Francis: As and when the need arises. It’s not something I focus on; if it hits me it hits me.
The Dood: Can we expect a Heston live and unplugged album any time soon?
Photo: Courtesy of David S. James
Heston Francis: Yes, you definitely can, I’m just not sure when. When the time is right and I have the right band, I will record a live album.
The Dood: I interviewed a young man by the name of Leon Ware, and yes the same demeanour about him and that inner vibe of love and peace. He mentioned that young artists should have their internal creative writing abilities nurtured more. Your writing seems to draw upon that same inner well of love that Leon Ware himself draws upon. Do you concur?
Heston Francis: Yeah! The funny thing is, the reviews, especially in Europe, Leon Ware always seems to be mentioned. A very special man, Leon Ware very special!
The Dood: Demand for your live shows ever-increasing the world over and Europe is no exception. They love you in France and Amsterdam and I know you have a growing legion of fans in Germany. Do you plan on representing there any time soon?
Heston Francis: My plan is to put that together.
The Dood: You’re performing on the same bill as your good friend and another Jazz Cafe favourite Don-e. How long have you known each other?
Heston Francis: We just really met on the last tour here (UK) in April. We casually sat and talked about doing a tour and here we are. I love Don-e! Don-e’s bringing the vibe right! What can you say about Don-e, you know what I mean!
The Dood: So overall would it be fair to say that ‘Heston’ Francis is a ‘Storyteller’ par excellence, who is a ‘Warm Human’ living in a ‘Cold World’ who confesses to being ‘Love Junkie?’
Heston Francis: Exactly! (Laughs heartily) That is it, you got it! You got it right; it’s all of the above.
The Dood: What message would you like to send to your UK Vibe readership and also your global fans around the world?
Heston Francis: Well, honestly, like always, I’ve watched everything come to fruition for the onset of my dream of doing music, and all I can say is thank you for listening and please continue to listen. Every time I sign an album I am so humbled by it. Every time I’m on stage, on a bill, on a television station, on a radio station, I never take it for granted. So many of us try to do this thing called music and it’s only a few of us at the end of the day that gets the opportunity to even play a venue like here (Jazz Café). When I think of it, I am blessed! I look at it as half full and half empty – if I want to be an idiot, I just look at it as half empty. I know I’m in the minority, so thank you and please continue to listen, I appreciate it.
The Dood: Thank you for taking the time out and am looking forward to your performance this evening.
Michael J Edwards
Love Junkie (CD, Album 2013, Dome Records, Worldsoul Music)
Warm Human Cold World (CD, Album 2011, Dome Records)
Storyteller (CD, Album, 2008 Worldsoul Music)
Essential Remix 12”: Resign To You