Music is the force that initially attracted Carmine Francis to the Mile High City, particularly an opportunity to play in the indie-rock band Scatter Gather. He was an active member of the group for eleven years before forming Definitely, maybe. He also increasingly dabbled in producing and engineering, especially at his former studio at John Macy’s spot on East Colfax, Macy Sound Studios, which relocated to Texas last year. While he never had much time for solo work, that all changed with the pandemic, when Francis began creating his new, self-titled EP.
“I had a really long musical partnership with somebody and that came to a close. I think toward the end of our final band is when I really started knowing that I wanted things to sound a certain way, and really just trying to embrace more my ideas and bring those to life,” he explains, adding that the pandemic project also allowed him to find “players who I felt fit really well.”
Francis teamed up with a group of local musicians who helped bring his vision to life. He credits Gregg Ziemba, Ben Weirich, Kramer Kelling, Carl Sorensen and Ben Waligoske, among others, for making the six-song release greater than the sum of its parts.
“It was really cool, man. It sort of felt like a clean slate, honestly. I had my old studio on Colfax, and it was a pretty unique space and opportunity. Mostly there were just a lot of musicians around — a lot of people I’d been friends with for a long time, and some newer people who were bringing in projects,” Francis says of the vibe surrounding his latest endeavor. “It was really nice in the project having full ownership and making all the editing calls and stuff like that.”
“A lot of that work is what started to inspire me to work with different players," he continues. "That process was honestly very natural. There’s just a handful of people who were on my periphery. We were working on other projects together, and it came to a really cool collaboration on my own stuff.”
Inspired by the likes of Richard Swift, Fiona Apple, Kendrick Lamar and Blake Mills, Francis has shared a handful of singles so far this year. But the EP won’t officially be released until Saturday, March 11, during a performance at the Mercury Cafe. King Bee and Moon Atomizer are also on the bill. Joining Francis live will be Weirich, Sorensen, Kelling, Waligoske and Eric Estrada. It’ll be the group’s first concert, though Francis admits to playing some Mercury Cafe open-mic nights recently, just to get a feel for the house piano.
His keys are certainly front and center on the six songs, but Francis admits he needed some guidance when it came to fleshing out the other pieces, which is where his collaborators stepped in.
“It was a lot of articulating what I’m hearing to other musicians. I’m not a drummer. I don’t play strings. I think it was a really cool privilege and learning experience to be able to work with all of these people,” he explains, calling the songwriting dynamic “very liberating.”
“I had to find a lot of confidence in my own voice throughout this process," he adds. "It was really special in that way, just being able to articulate and at the same time respect what other people are bringing to the table, and knowing that you’re working with these people because you already like their ideas. For me, it’s almost like seeing players as different colors for painting. That’s where I’ve been at. Being the producer for this album, I had free rein of what to put in the piece. It was a lot of growth and learning around working with people, which is such a constant thing.”
He considers this solo material his “most personal body of work.” It’s certainly not the “math-y, weird shit” of Scatter Gather, he says, or even the psych pop of Definitely, maybe.
“The process of this album was really me just doing a lot of emotional processing. I didn’t have a band at the time; I was just playing songs. They were sort of just coming out of me, rather than me sitting down to work on them, which is often my process,” Francis says. “For me, a lot of this album and the work itself was really healing, and allowed me to work through a lot of stuff I was dealing with through relationships and things changing through COVID. It was very therapeutic.”
He adds that sometimes “you have to work through it one way or another,” and he’s “super grateful” to have music help him with that. While he says there was "a lot of stuff that got undug" while writing the record, he doesn’t plan to stop making music in that same vein.
“What I’ve been really trying to embrace is you are where you’re at when you’re making art,” he says. “It’s a whole process. The process from start to finish — there’s an evolution that happens in you. Moving forward, that’s what I’m embracing: embracing the process.”
Carmine Francis, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street. Tickets are $15-$20.