Sometimes it’s not easy to define art. Though there are always the familiar markings of songwriters past and their influence on modern culture, you never know exactly how those ideas will come back out through the filters of an artist. Justin Francoeur is one such artist, and his album “Moving Through Universes” is as much an excercise in tenacity as it is in bringing together multiple styles of music into an evolved cacophony of dare I say “world music”?
Skope: Can you give us a brief summary of Moving Through The Universe? Is it a concept record?
Justin: Not in the strict sense of every song being integral to a specific theme or successively telling a story. The title however, is conceptual. Moving through universes speaks of the theory of parallel universes and the further metaphysical concept that through a change in thought, one can “move” between universes, where everything looks exactly the same but maybe one or two things are gone or different.
Skope: Your lyrics sound intimate and personal, are your songs autobiographical?
Justin: Yes and no, it depends on the song. Some definitely are autobiographical but others were written around a theme. You & Me is autobiographical to my co-writer, James Terrell. “The Show of Incredible Faces” is the only song that I would say is autobiographical for me, though it is set in a fictional story. “The Cold That Is Inside” is also a fictional story but the feeling of loss that the character in it has is a feeling I’m well familiar with, just not under those circumstances.
Skope: I read that this album is 7 years in the making. How did you maintain focus for that length of time and how did the scope of the record change during those 7 years? Why did it take that long to record this album?
Justin: The album began from a musical collaboration I had with my dear friend, James Terrell. Prior to that, I had given up music and sold most of my gear and music books after feeling disillusioned from a life as a working musician; performing in various bands for weddings, festivals, and in bars. The song-writing with James was the only musical thing I was interested in at the time and pretty much involved me with an acoustic guitar trying to put music to lyrics James had written over the years. Quite quickly I took a stronger role in the writing and began writing my own songs and lyrics. I knew I wanted to make a CD and knew it would take a long time too, so I began building a home studio and teaching myself how to record. Recording quickly became an integral part of the songwriting process – I felt the software was often my medium. As life went on, it was easy to put the project on the back burner. (Much material came out of this period including many partially recorded songs which will be on my next CD, “The One.”) At times it was a struggle to work on tedious editing or booking sessions at another studio to record a string section – the songwriting was the part I loved best. Even though I was working with a lot of different song ideas, I knew which ones would be on this album. It finally came to pass in the last year or so that I realized the project was nearly complete and the only thing holding it up was myself. So, I made it my full-time job to finish the final vocals and edits, and then I spent several months doing many mixes of the songs until I was finally happy with it. I had been so perfectionistic about the CD and I realized that that was largely what was holding up its completion. I hate the phrase “good enough” but at times in the mixing I had to accept that certain things were…good enough. All in all, it has been a learning experience on many levels, the most important of which to me was how to complete a project that requires the greatest amount of artistic effort and integrity that one has.
Skope: I read that you performed and recorded all of the instruments for Moving Through Universes. What is your favorite instrument to play?
Justin: Well that’s not quite accurate: there were many great musicians performing on the album other than myself. Often I would record someone who played instruments I do because I was worried the album was starting to sound just like me and not like a complete musical piece. These musicians were: Chris Harris and Artie Moore on bass; Fred Wolking on guitar. With that said, I did play the majority of the guitar, bass, and piano; with some extraordinary exceptions. Bass is probably my favorite to play – I like the supportive, groove role it plays and the power that each note has in affecting the path of a song. I enjoy guitar but mostly for soloing – it can scream in ways that a bass is just not capable of doing. I recorded a lot of the piano myself but I am not much of a piano player. Many of the songs were written on a little MIDI controller keyboard I have and I liked the original performances so I kept them. The exception was the fabulous piano playing of Jeremy Gordon and Drusel White.
Skope: Where did you record the record?
Justin: The majority was recorded at my home studio: Moving Universes Studios. Vocals, drums, strings, and some miscellaneous stuff were recorded at larger studios: Derryberry Audio, Elmore Studios, Wave Stable Studio, and CEC Studio. It was mastered in England by Tony Cousins at Metropolis.
Skope: You made use of several world-music type of instruments such as woodwinds, shakers, etc…the song Hoka Hey even has a tribal chant/dance. Would you consider this record to be world music?
Justin: Not strictly; I consider it in the Pop genre. Peter Gabriel and Sting have been huge influences during this project and I love the way they incorporate world instrumentation into western pop songs. I was simply trying to give my songs, which were mostly written on an acoustic guitar, some larger textures.
Skope: Do you have a band lineup and do you perform live?
Justin: I am still a working musician but for this project, which is my love, the answer is no for right now. I would love to put a band together and perform this music but I would need more financial backing to do that than I have now. The songs are too involved to do that much work for just a club gig, which is all I could expect in Denver. At the moment, I am content to just be a recording artist as far as my music is concerned.
Skope: There are some very Dave Matthews moments on the record. Who are some of your influences that readers might recognize?
Justin: You’re not the first to say that! I respect Dave Matthews – mostly for Carter Beauford – but he is not a huge influence on me now. As I said, Peter Gabriel (as well as Genesis) and Sting are very big influences for me. Some others are: Bjork, Radiohead, Damien Rice, David Gilmour, Sarah Mclachlan, Yes, Sigur Ros, Phil Keaggy, Enya, and Prince.
Skope: Will there be any touring for this record?
Justin: Not at the moment. I soon plan on making a music video for Hoka Hey at a Native American reservation. When I feel like writing again, I will begin recording for the next CD, “The One.” Hopefully it won’t take seven years!
Skope: What would you like Skope readers to know most about Moving Through Universes?
Justin: Moving Through Universes represents the highest musical expression that I as a musician and a human being am capable of conveying. Any other albums I make will also come from this place of relating to music as something beautiful, powerful, and important in shaping our lives and perspectives. There’s a lot of music being made for pure entertainment purposes, or as good dance music for night clubs. It is made and is so prevalent because it panders to the lowest common denominator and there is huge profit in that. Money is made but typically art is not and the human race is not valued or propelled further either. This is not that.
Check out Justin Francoeur’s “Moving Through The Universe” for some polished grooves and intimate songs. http://www.justinfrancoeur.com