Analogue Music | Neal Francis

Neal Francis

By Matt Conner

Neal Francis likely still has a "World Tour" t-shirt available if you want one.

Just like so many other musicians, Neal Francis lost a thing or two during the global pandemic. He and his bandmates were two weeks into a long, long stretch of concert dates that included a month in Europe, another planned month in Europe later in the year, and even an appearance in Japan. The plans were so exciting that Neal and friends ordered some "tongue-in-cheek" Neal Francis World Tour shirts to commemorate the year ahead—only to have everything shut down.

In response to the losses of the last year, Neal found a way to lean into the unknown by making more music than ever and learning to record as well. In Plain Sight is the brand new album, coming out this Friday, as the follow-up to Neal's last album, Changes. It's another compelling amalgam of genres, and even the lost opportunities seem like they're coming back.

This year has taken Neal and company on the road with Black Pumas as well as festivals all over the States. This winter, he'll even try the European dates again. We're not sure if he should order another round of shirts, but we are sure that music this good will find its way and carry him to new heights just yet—even if he's had to wait at first.

Analogue: The release of In Plain Sight is coming up. How is this time emotionally for you leading up to its arrival?

Neal Francis: I’m excited. I’ve ridden the wave of “this is terrible” or “I can’t listen to this anymore” or “everybody is going to hate this.” Now I’m better. I’m coming back from that trough and now I’m at an even point where I don’t listen to it anymore, but I also am accepting when people tell me that they like it. I’m happy about it.

I’m very proud of what we were able to do as a band, y’know? That’s where I’m at. I just have to take it a day at a time to tell you the truth.

Analogue: Glad you said that because I wanted to ask about the other side where you allow yourself to feel proud or excited by what you’ve made.

Neal: The process of mixing was new to me just in terms of how intense it was and how long it took. It was a lot of emotion going on. As I said, I really rode the wave. I didn’t really have any chance for revisions after the fact. We did do some, but I guess I’m a little scattered on it because it was six months ago now, and it was also a pretty weird time. We weren’t sure things were going to open back up, etc.

Analogue: What’s it been like playing these songs live? Has it gone as you’d hoped?

Neal: Yeah, that’s been really enjoyable. We got “Aladema [Apartments]” going first and gradually just bitten off two or three at a time. Now we’ve got the entire record plus another two or three cuts that didn’t make the recording that we’re now playing live. It feels good to have all that new material. It’s definitely a new flavor because we don’t have all the instrumentation to cover all the parts, so there are different live versions for sure.

Analogue: I want to step back just a bit and ask about Changes (2019). When you wrapped up that cycle, did you know what you wanted to do next, sonically speaking? Or was it more organic than that?

Neal: There was no defining north star for the development of this record. It was more like the latter of what you just described of things coming along. I was doing the first demos for this record pretty shortly after I recorded Changes. Even before that released, I had demos for “Alameda” and “Sentimental Garbage”. Then the rest of the record was mainly written during the pandemic as I was learning how to record as well.

Neal Francis
Neal Francis

Analogue: You mentioned some individual tracks and that makes me want to ask about “Prometheus,” since that’s such a striking track.

Neal: Thanks man, I really am proud of that track as well. I had an 8-track and guitars left where I was living with the drummer. I demoed out the instrumental for that and then did a co-write to actually come up with lyrics for it. Then I completely rewrote the lyrics on my own after that.

That Prometheus myth was at the forefront of my thoughts. I’d also watched the movie The Lighthouse, which was based on a similar myth and I felt like I was trapped in a similar isolation. I saw it before the pandemic with a girl I was hoping to date, so I went into it blind. It was so crazy. I’m still friends with her but it was totally weird. [Laughs]

Analogue: Did your last tours take you into the U.K. and Europe, because I saw you have upcoming dates pretty much everywhere including overseas?

Neal: We were supposed to go right after the pandemic, actually, like on March 24. That was supposed to be when we left. We were getting ready for a long one, too. It was one month in Europe—like two weeks in Sweden and then two more in continental Europe then another later in the year that would have been another month.

Then we were supposed to go to Japan for Fuji Rock in August, so last year we had this world tour and we even printed up these t-shirts that were tongue-in-cheek that read “Neal Francis World Tour 2020”. And then of course we get two weeks into our tour and everything gets canceled. Then it was like, ‘All right, we’re having a sale on these world tour t-shirts.’ [Laughs]

Analogue: [Laughs] Wow, that’s both horrible and yet somehow funny.

Neal: Oh yeah, we were able to see the comedy in all of it.

VISIT: Neal Francis