Interview/ Premiere: Emily Francis Trio

If you like your jazz experimental and proggy, the Emily Francis Trio has got you covered.

Taken from their forthcoming ‘LUMA’ album, we’ve got the first play of the trio’s new single ‘Idol’.

With a fusion of jazz, psychedelia, electro and prog-rock elements, ‘Idol’ pushes the genres into uncharted territories. The new track is characterised by the interchanging synth and piano melodies that create a spacious soundscape, definitely a tune for the journeying listener.

As for the new song, the band explains: “Idol is inspired by our love for the contemporary, electronic jazz scene in New York, including artists such as FORQ, Donny McCaslin and Now vs Now. The track represents the evolution of our style, nodding to the classic piano trio format with the use of acoustic piano as the lead instrument, but expanding on this with the synth orchestration and cinematic nature of the composition. “Idol” is a perfect introduction to the colours and sounds of upcoming album, LUMA.”

With each listens, ‘Idol’ unfolds itself seductively. Every play reveals subtle, intricate production beneath its many layers. It’s an enchanting and cinematic track that commands your attention.

To mark the single’s release, we talk to the trio about their new single, upcoming album and much more.

Q. For those that are new to you. What brought you together? Can you share a bit about what each of you brings to the band?

The band has been around for quite some time. Trevor Boxall (bassist) and I met many years ago playing in wedding bands and, as well as digging each other’s playing, realized that we also shared the same musical interests – jazz, soul and funk, and prog rock. I had a few people around me that were encouraging me to start my own thing, but it was Trevor that gave it the push over the edge for us to properly start a project together. Initially, we went out playing our favourite standards and soul covers along with our friend and drummer Liam Waugh (World Service Project). Despite some nice gigs, we felt that what we were doing wasn’t original enough and a booking for Ealing Jazz Festival’s mainstage gave us the momentum to finish writing a set of originals and arrangements. The material was well received and prep for the first album “The Absent” began very soon after. A successful UK tour followed, and we’ll never forget the feeling of presenting our music to a completely new audience for the first time and receiving such positive responses. Liam made the decision to focus more on touring theatre work, and so came the task of finding a new drummer. A friend recommended Jamie Murray to me, and he couldn’t have been a better fit. He instantly understood our emerging New York influences; musicians such as Tim Lefebvre and Donny McCaslin, who he is now actively working with. The bulk of the writing is done by me and Trevor – sometimes separately, sometimes together – with Jamie coming in to sprinkle the magic on top. Our individual writing styles are quite different, but we try not to be too precious about our ideas and stay open to what each other brings to each tune. Once we’re in our zone together, we kind of inspire each other in the moment with different ideas and we usually arrive at the ‘best’ decision quite naturally. Banter, having fun, and food are VERY important factors to the success of this group!

Q. Does the band have a collective personality or vision?

As a band we’re pretty focused on just doing our own thing. We try and create what we love and hope that it connects with our audience. We try and keep the creative process pure and just let the music be what it will be without judgement or trying to pigeonhole it into specific styles. Although we’re ostensibly working in the ‘jazz’ arena – and improvisation forms a major part of what we do – we’re also musical magpies and the sound of the band is the way we bring all our different influences together. Individually we each have our own very different personalities and interests, but we come together with our love of playing well crafted music and just enjoy letting the creative process unfold between ourselves and the audience. We feel like we’ve created a pretty unique sound in terms of what’s going on in the UK jazz scene right now and we’re very proud of that. It’s also really important to us that you feel like you are watching a band. Some jazz shows can be a bit stiff and formal with everyone behind music stands. That is not our vibe at all, we want to have a great connection between us on stage and put on an engaging show. Our attentive audiences are testament to that.

Q. Congratulations on your new single – we love it! Could you please walk us through the creation of ‘Idol’?

Thank you for the kind words! I wrote this initially at the piano, just exploring the chords and the harmonic structure. I’d been playing around creating patches on my Dave Smith Prophet 6 synthesizer and had come up with a really fat sounding pad. When I played the same sequence on there, it gave it a whole new life and I realized it was going to take on more of an 80’s electronica influence. I was fortunate enough to be a featured artist for keyboard brand Nord’s “World Session Series” where I performed a very early condensed version of the song. This version returned to having the piano playing the lead, with the synth orchestration circling around it, which is closer to the full studio version. Trevor came up with some amazing bass work, utilising pedal effects to the point that you can’t always tell whether it’s synth or bass guitar and Jamie’s cymbal washes and delayed snare hits give it such a cinematic feel. The track was heavily inspired by one of my keyboard idols Henry Hey, who is a synth orchestration master. Jason Kingsland who mixed our album also mixed Henry’s band FORQ’s latest album and you can hear his mark all over it. He is a genius and so creative with effects. It takes the song to another dimension.

Q. There’s a brand-new album on the way. How long was ‘LUMA’ in the works? Since you released your debut album in 2015, how has your sound developed?

For the fans that have waited a little while for this, thank you for hanging in there! We’ve been planning to write a second album for years, but we struggled to settle on a sound. We’ve binned so many songs. A couple, “Le Tambour, 2.00am” and “Backseat Driver” were written back in 2017, “Escape From The Echo Chamber” and “Broken Kingdom Pt 1” were initially part of a live video session to showcase our emerging sound in 2019/2020, so we’ve been working properly on the material since 2020 and lockdown was a big help to give us time to finish everything! Initially our sound was simpler and more akin to the classic piano trio. Whilst the core of piano, bass and drums remains, on this record we’ve really opened up sonically to include so many more textures, including synths and effects, to tell the story of the tunes. We also really used the studio and the mixing process as creative tools to create the album we wanted to make as a standalone work, without worrying about how it would work in a live setting. It’s been a challenge getting ready to play this music live, as we’re so uncompromising on production value. Idol is currently performed with a backing track, Trev’s pedal board looks like starship enterprise and Jamie also uses a separate snare specifically for this song.

Q. Among the tracks on the album, which are you proudest of and why?

So difficult to choose. We’re proud of the album as a whole, purely because we feel it’s the first work we’ve presented that really stands on its own as a cohesive piece of art and shows our development and sound as a band. Sonically I adore, “Idol”, “Le Tambour, 2.00am” and “2 Bed Flat On Mars” and it’s very easy to chill out to “Broken Kingdom Pt 2” which is exactly what I wanted for that song.

Q. If you had to describe your style in five words, what would they be?

Progressive, Melodic, Cinematic, Epic, Fusion

Q. Is there any artist that inspires you at this time? If you could work with any artist, who would it be?

We adore so many bands that are orientated around the New York jazz-rock sound such as FORQ, Now Vs Now, Kneebody, Donny McCaslin and so forth. We’d love to work with Donny, he’s a beast! As well as composers we are also session musicians and appreciate great writing in all styles. Other artists we’d love to work with include, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Steven Wilson, David Gilmour, and Robert Plant, to name a few.

Q. Lastly, you have a show at Ronnie Scott’s coming up. What can we expect from an Emily Francis Trio live show?

Hopefully to be entertained and to hear something new. We try to take the audience with us all the way, so that you not only connect emotionally with the tunes, but feel the same joy we do when we’re riding the wave together, and the thrill and danger of trying new ideas and seeing if they will work out!

CF Smith

Permeating your ears with good music.

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