Interview: Baz Francis

He’s the front man of Mansion Harlots and Magic Eight Ball, worked with Donnie Vie and had the honor of Rik Mayall calling him a C… on record. Baz Francis has now relocated to Los Angeles, completed a tour of Europe, recorded a Live Album in Africa and released solo album Face That Launched a Thousand Shipwrecks. Despite all of this, he found time to tell us what drives him and his plans for the future. 

Baz, you’ve been the engine room of Mansion Harlots and Magic Eight Ball. So what was it that made you want to release a solo record?

I think it was informed by several things. One of which was moving to America. I knew that I had to move to America to be happy. That was something that I needed in my life for about 15 years before I did it. It got to a stage where I saw family and friends fall by the way side in my life and feeling completely out of sorts in the place where I grew up. I knew that moving here was going to effect change. And I thought, rather than go out to America as just Baz Francis from Magic Eight Ball, why not be Baz Francis, Baz Francis as well. And then with the return of Mansion Harlots 20 years on from when we first existed, that was born out of wanting to do a record one day with my old band mate Will Gray. Then realizing, actually we should probably make this now. Because when I go to America and we’re 5000 miles apart, the chances of that happening, the wheels turning to get that happening are unlikely. So now I’m here and I’ve got my fingers in those three pies. But I think there are people that see things very one dimensionally. You’re doing a solo record so therefore you’re ex-Magic Eight Ball, or you’re doing Mansion Harlots now so Magic Eight Ball ended. They can’t comprehend there are different channels. And for me doing something musically different, but also liberating. So I can go off and do a solo show tonight and not play any Magic Eight Ball material.

I think that’s something that’s prevalent in the whole industry, when someone releases a solo project there’s an expectation of the curtain to come down on the previous chapter. Do you think you’ve had a different approach to writing on your own, than with the band?

Well 99% of the songs that I write for my records are done by myself. So it doesn’t really affect the prominent writing for those projects, it doesn’t really affect the physical act of writing. Two of the Mansion Harlots tracks were written by Will Gray and there’s one co-write on the first record. But other than that, all the others were written by just me. I don’t write a bunch of songs and go, there’s a batch, what label shall I stick on it? There’s always a game plan. With Magic Eight Ball, I wanted to take us on a heavier route from a Manic Street Preachers, Cheap Trick meets Big Star, Raspberries direction to a more Wildhearts, Faith No More, Marilyn Manson territory. But with my solo record, I said to the producer before we began, the sound and direction of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours meets Physical Graffiti. So its nice to have that vision in advance and watch it unfold. But that’s more the personal challenge I set myself, rather than the company I keep, as its just me writing.

Do you feel that when your writing for a band, you have to write what would be in the wheelhouse of the other guys? Or did you feel unfettered, that you could bring whatever to the table and they’d be on board?

The Latter, they trusted me. Or rather Robbie Holland (Magic Eight Ball bass player) he just put trust in me to do that. And Dave Draper (long time Magic Eight Ball producer) we have a good relationship. There was trust in me to provide and I hope I didn’t disappoint. I’ve tried writing with other people and it can be frustrating if they turn their minds off to suggestions.

The chemistry is obviously important. Groups like Genesis, where every member is a great songwriter, there can be a lot of ego in the room. Two great songwriters don’t immediately write great songs

Its interesting you say that, I got an email from a producer today wanting to work together on a song. If someone has music that they send over and say ‘put a melody and lyrics to this’ I’m confident in that. But when someone wants to write music with you, its can be an eternal power struggle of ‘I like my idea more’ and that’s the bit where I find relationships come undone. Being in a song writing partnership, like Lennon and McCartney. That’s a marriage that goes beyond music. You have to constantly consider the other’s feelings and you argue, but you make beautiful babies.

I think that’s true not only of songwriting, but of bands. If you’re on the road for 18 months, and you can’t live together in close quarters. Being tired, being happy, being sad and if you can’t deal with it together, cracks start to show. You yourself have been touring for pretty much the last 18 months, much of it off the track usually beaten by musicians. 

Deliberately so

Was that born out of marrying a love of travel and music? Or out of desire just to take things off the beaten track?

Both, because, and this isn’t me being anti English, just me being anti boredom and not being a fan of provincial mentality. I don’t care if you’re from Chester or Charleston. If you only know one town and three families, your brain is going to shrink. If you’re part of a music scene in England, or Southern California or Northern Italy or Western Spain. You do a circuit and eventually you end up back at the start. And if you’re not careful, when you go round the second time you end up playing to the same people, and the trap is that you convince yourself that’s progress and you inflate your own ego by saying your going on tour again, but you’re actually going round in circles. I found that very disconcerting especially in the age of Facebook. Putting photos on there of ‘pressing flesh with the fans’ and you make it look like a celebrity lifestyle. I moved to LA in September last year and I thought to myself ‘if I’m going to be in LA, where is going to be difficult to get to from there and easy from here?’ I thought ‘where would I like to go?’ That’s where Macedonia and Iceland came in. That’s why my live album was done in Egypt. I couldn’t think of a western artist that recorded a live album in Africa. Well, McCartney recorded in Nigeria. There’s acts like Die Antwoord and Ladysmith Black Mambazo that have become big here. I looked into doing shows in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria but settled on Cairo Jazz Club. It became about the challenge and what I personally could take from it culturally. When you’re constantly setting challenges for yourself, it’s interesting.  The closing lyric to Legacy from Manson is ‘nobody cares when you’re gone’ When I leave a show in England or France, people will be very nice to me but someone else will be there soon and it will be Baz who?

What do find a difference in audiences between places like Macedonia to England to Los Angeles? I speak to people who find it very hard to read what an LA audience is really feeling.

Firstly, with LA more than any other city on earth, you’re made aware the moment a gig is over you’re essentially forgotten. I remember reading about Axl Rose in the late 90’s going to see Radiohead at The Palladium or somewhere and getting turned away because the security didn’t recognize him. Five years previous he was the king of LA! When Michael Jackson was acquitted, people wouldn’t touch him. So with LA I’m very, very aware everything is temporary. Whereas when you go somewhere international acts aren’t common and there’s a curiosity to see you. Even if they don’t like your music, they want to see what you’re about. People love music there just like anyone else and they don’t get to see acts come through on the circuit. People are interested why you’re going there and its because I don’t want to be a basic bitch.

To coin an LA phrase

I hadn’t heard that until I came out here, but I think its good at describing a lot of people

You’ve got the show down at the Doll House in Anaheim coming up and you’re playing at The International Pop Overthrow Festival at Molly Malone’s.  What’s in the future pipeline for you? Are you taking a break from playing live to write, or can you do both? Does one compliment the other?

I actually met the organizer of IPO in Liverpool in 2012. And now he’s put me back on in LA. So its kind of full circle. Also the guy on after me at IPO in LA, I opened for in Nottingham last year. So these northern England connections keep coming. I’ve reformed Mansion Harlots and we’re about 90% into the recording of an album, I’ve done shows in England and in Europe with them and the next album I’m going to write will be a Magic Eight Ball album. I’m also doing a series of shows that will be acoustic but Mansion Harlots material. The whole singer songwriter thing can go a bit stale if you’re not careful.  So that will be a new challenge. But I don’t like to be too rigid with it. Take the last tour for example. The first tour poster had eight dates on it ended up with thirty, so who really knows what the future will hold?

Album Face That Launched a Thousand Shipwrecks is out now. You can catch him live at The Doll Hut, Anaheim, CA June 9th, Long Beach Vegan Festival, Long Beach, CA  July 7th and as part of the International Pop Overthrow Festival, Molly Malone’s, Los Angeles, CA July 29th. 

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