Words by Jess Slayton.
Although we did not actually get to sit down together due to their east coast tour, I’ve been lucky enough to speak with Bobby of Rough Francis through email correspondence over the course of the past few weeks. He and the rest of the band—Julian, Urian, Steve, and Paul—just got back from a tour that took them down to North Carolina and back. This particular tour allowed them to hit a few stops that they had never hit before, while also returning to places they’d already come to love. They’ve actually done many tours before and have hit the west coast as well, although according to Bobby, they prefer playing along the east coast because all of the major cities are closer together.
Bobby, Julian, and Urian are brothers, and Steve and Paul are close friends—Rough Francis is clearly tightly set in a sort of familial closeness. The name itself refers to the nickname of a late uncle who acted as a spiritual mentor to the entire group. He also was part of the band Death, along with the three brothers’ father and another uncle. As Bobby put it, Death was a “crazy rock n’ roll band” that ultimately inspired the members of Rough Francis to come together as a band six years ago. However, music has been a part of Bobby’s life since he was young—he’s been dreaming about playing in front of a big audience since he was a child, and many of his favorite memories involved watching his father and uncles play music.
When asked to describe the music of Rough Francis, Bobby wrote “I would like to say that our music is pure joy, energy, and angst.” From this statement and from what I’ve heard myself, it’s very clear that the music that they play absolutely thrives in a live setting, seemingly coming to life as the audience falls into step with the rhythm. It appears that Rough Francis considers the audience a part of their art, and that the attempt to all feel the same emotions at the time is integral to their success.
Video by RETN.
Six Vermont bands showcased Vermont’s homegrown music at the legendary music festival SXSW in Austin, Texas this March: Waylon Speed, The DuPont Brothers, Lowell Thompson, Zero Circle, Get A Grip, and The Snaz. The project arose from cooperation between the SXSW producers and Big Heavy World, Vermont’s independent, volunteer-run music office, with additional support from the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing.
A preview concert was held and broadcast across Vermont, co-produced by Big Heavy World, The Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center, and RETN with support from Advance Music Center and Moreau Theatrical Services. Video of the full concert is above, courtesy the hardworking video artists of RETN. Enjoy!
Here’s quick links to the band web sites:
Waylon Speed, waylonspeed.com
The DuPont Brothers, dupontbrothersmusic.com
Lowell Thompson, lowellthompson.com
Zero Circle, zerocirclemusic.bandcamp.com
Get a Grip, facebook.com/getagripvt
The Snaz, reverbnation.com/thesnaz
Words by Jess Slayton. Photo by SHEM ROOSE.
I met up with Eric Olsen of Burlington-based Swale at Stone Soup Tuesday afternoon to learn more about one of the individuals behind the band. Over a selection of hot bar items and a vegan club sandwich, I learned that he works independently as a web developer and designer right above the café. Olsen, the guitarist and contributing vocalist in the quartet, told me that the band formed in 2002, after he was asked to help with the musical direction for a burlesque cabaret. All of the band members—Olsen, Amanda Gustafson, Jeremy Frederick, and Tyler Bolles—played a part in the Spielpalast Cabaret. Although they had known of each other before hand, this is what brought them together and created that which is Swale. When asked to decribe their music, Olsen said that they are not necessarily flamboyant, but are certainly playful despite having a concern with things of the soul. This dimension of the group’s artistry can definitely be accredited to their burlesque roots.
Although all four members of Swale hail from various places, Olsen said that the Burlington music scene has definitely had an impact on the communal focus that pervades their music. From a superficial standpoint, the tight knit and small Burlington community has provided them with the opportunity to play mostly for smaller audiences and on smaller sound systems—it’s therefore a matter of adjusting when they play on larger stages. More importantly, however, is the fact that the Burlington music scene has caused them to place more value on the connection between their audience, themselves, and the music, than on virtuosity and technique. This focus on the community is part of who they are—they are interested in being an enjoyable part of the community, and know that eventually they will be heard due to the small community and their tenacity.
From a sound standpoint, Olsen explained that they have evolved from a slow-core band with a quiet and intense sound to one with much more variation. They purposely label themselves as simply a “rock” band due to the wide variety of sub-styles that they work with. They also love working with other local artists, and letting them have full artistic freedom in doing so. One thing that I really admired about Olsen was his commitment to unstructured art—he said, “We’re not a band to adhere to, but rather are interested in the art of collaboration.” They choose to play with others who they trust and consider great artists in their own right, and choose to see what they have to offer rather than feeding them musical pieces that they expect them to play. Part of this comes from the fact that over the years, Olsen said that he feels that he has become much more generous of an artist. Althought it was an extensive process, he said that he became less concerned about how he and his bandmates were viewed, and more concerned with what they could offer their audience. It became more acceptable to go off script because the moment was there, and gave him more opportunities to reflect on his own art rather than worrying about what would be the most impressive. This has allowed Olsen, as well as the music of Swale, to grow into what it is today.
Swale just released The Next Instead as a double vinyl last year, and has no intention to stop churning out songs. According to Olsen, they have no shortage of material, and are hoping to write the theme song for Vermont Edition and maybe form a partnership with Vermont Public Radio. Check them out this Saturday at the Magic Hat Brewery for Heavyfest. Olsen insists that you come hang out with them. Find more at http://swalesong.com
PHOTOs BY JAMES LOCKRIDGE & Robert harris.
Dustin B. & Timmay B., the Burke Boyz, are BMC (Becoming Men of Christ) Productions based in White River Jct. They joined host Brent Hallenbeck on ‘Rocket Shop‘ tonight, Big Heavy World’s local music radio hour on 105.9FM The Radiator. Hear more at http://www.bmcproductions.org/