Analogue Music | Pete Francis

Pete Francis

By Matt Conner

The appeal is direct. The invitation is straightforward.

On the newest album from Pete Francis, PTRN SKY!, the heart of his music and message is laid bare from the outset, a hand outstretched to anyone who will listen describing the hopelessness of his present. The hope is for a connection, that someone might actually answer the question asked, "Tell me why I can't get on with it."

This hoped-for exchange takes only a few minutes but it says so much about both the meaningful intent of music and the man behind it. Francis is keenly aware of the power of music, of art that accomplishes its purpose, and with humble spirit, he's presented PTRN SKY! with the hopes that it will also mean something to someone in a way that brings light and life to their own mental and emotional battles.

These are healthy days for Francis, who most fans will know from his years as a founding member of Dispatch. In our recent interview, we spoke with him about the messaging of his new LP and his hopes on the other side of its release.

Analogue: You lead out the new album with “Can’t Get On With It,” which made me curious about the intentionality of your sequencing here. It’s this song that offers up a direct invitation into your own mental or emotional battles, and it made me wonder if you viewed it that way, as some portal to come right on board with you and take a journey from there?

Pete Francis: I think you nailed it. In a way, we’re cracking open the egg and beginning to see what’s going to be on the pan. I also thought a lot about Beck’s song “Loser”. Why would you declare that at the beginning of the song? Or is there something about being a misfit or loser that we can all relate to?

So with “Tell me why I can’t get on with it / tell me why I’m always stuck,” it’s a way to bring people right into the situation. Immediately you wonder, ‘Well, what’s going on? Why can’t you get on with it?’ I do think the cyclical nature of thoughts that I deal with and maybe others do too presents the feeling of really being stuck and being stuck can be sort of frightening.

But another way of looking at it is to say, ‘I’m stuck, but what is it I can do to come out of this?’ And so, I hope there’s a little bit of both within that question—not only being imprisoned by your thoughts but also being close to discovering the key that opens those prison doors.

Analogue: I feel like some other artists work hard to cloud or veil these sorts of feelings. Was it purposeful to be so direct here? Did you wrestle with how to position this?

Pete: Yeah, I think that’s a good question. In many ways, I feel as if we’re so alike as people and there’s a tendency in the culture we live in to point out our differences. We say, ‘I’m like that, and you’re like this.’

For me, I want to step into the situation to say you can look at me and we can have an honest conversation with this, that this vulnerability is a place in which we can find common ground. I’m looking to find common ground with this. I’m not looking to veil anything for you to maybe figure something out. I want this to be a direct, vulnerable conversation that is rooted in humility. That’s what I’m going for here.

Analogue: Is that what art has been for you, an arm around?

Pete: I think so. When art hits correctly, it begs us to join it, like a little kid holding up his hand to join your hand. There’s that feeling that I belong. I don’t know if you think about this, but when I go to MoMA or a museum, I think, ‘Why do people come to this Jackson Pollock or Mark Rothko or Edward Hopper painting?’ To me, they come back to it because it’s alive. The artwork is inherently alive. That artist has given it life, and it lives on its own. That, to me, is the essence of art.

Art shouldn’t be a gated community or structure that you have to know the key to get into. To me, the greatest art is inviting you into something that’s very much alive. Then when it really works, it inspires you or me to pull out a notebook and jot something down or walk out of a museum with a friend and high-five and just feel like that energy has transformed us. That’s when art is successful.

Analogue: Is it hard to do that well?

Pete: You know, when you’re real with people, people can really detect it and they can detect bullshit sorta quickly. I’m trying to be real. With mental illness, I’m trying to switch out the word ‘illness’ and put in ‘forgiveness’ because nobody wants this. Ultimately what I found, when I talk about it, other people talk about it back to me. They say, ‘You know, I’ve struggled with OCD pretty bad’ or, ‘My father had bipolar disorder and it was confusing for our family and we didn’t know what was going on.’

"With mental illness, I’m trying to switch out the word ‘illness’ and put in ‘forgiveness’ because nobody wants this."

In my opinion, that’s when healing happens. I think in many of our communities, we feel isolated with these thoughts. My hope is that by expressing my thoughts in PTRN SKY!, real healing can happen through sharing. Nobody wants to be isolated by feeling that they don’t belong.

Analogue: There’s something about the song “Brighter Days” here that I want to discuss because just as you invited people into the problem, you’re also so earnest in the way you insist that you won’t give up.

Pete: Yes. The song opens, ‘Why am I so broken? Why do I feel such pain?’ In one regard, you or I could imagine saying that in a moment when we’re by ourselves in our room. What I’m trying to do is to bring some of those voices to light and, in the process, trying to yield myself or give hope to others. The idea of not giving up is, I think, a noble idea because we don’t want anyone to give up through their hardships. We want everyone to know that there is hope and there is change.

Something I’ve learned in my therapy and in group therapy, a woman said to me, ‘Hey you want to establish a voice inside of you that can say, ‘Hey man, you’re going through a hard time.’ I think we are wired to be hard on ourselves. We say we can’t sing that good, run that well, can’t read that fast, or that we don’t like our hair. To come back to “Brighter Days,” it’s nice to have that talk and say, ‘I won’t give up.’

And then it says, ‘I am free of your hollow ways.’ Those hollow ways are those that you’re imposing on yourself or maybe another person that is keeping you down and you say, ‘Fuck it! Sorry, I’m not gonna go with that anymore.’ I think it’s liberating to know the answer is deep down inside of me. The power to change is truly my choice, and I think that’s powerful stuff to write about.

VISIT: Pete Francis

*Photo: Shervin Lainez