David Francey is a Scottish-born Canadian construction worker turned successful folk singer and songwriter. He began making music in 1999 with his first CD, 'Torn Screen Door.' Since then, he has won several Juno awards and garnered positive acclaim across Canada and throughout the world. In 2009, Francey released his eighth album, a collaboration with artist Mike Ford, titled 'Seaway.' Spinner recently interviewed Francey to learn more about his music and plans for SXSW 2010.
When did you start making music and performing?
I put the first CD out in 1999, but I still worked in construction up until the second CD won a Juno in 2002. So I started in 2002 full-time.
What inspired you to make the transition from construction work to music?
My wife Beth is pretty well the reason for it, to tell you the truth. She encouraged me to make the first CD. I wrote songs for years and years and didn't perform them. I just wrote them because I had to, and felt like I wanted to. Once I wrote them, I went on to the next one, and just had no plans for them at all. [Beth] was hearing them and thinking I should be doing something with them. She kind of made things happen for me really.
And I had the great good fortune in '98 of meeting a producer from the CBC who caught us at a show and couldn't believe we didn't have a CD. So he hooked us up with a very inexpensive studio, and we did the first record. That [CD] sort of crawled across the country all on its own and got some accolades. And I realized they're not too bad -- the songs. I knew all along, but I realized they might have some legs. Then the second album won the Juno, and that sort of sealed it for me.
How would you describe your sound, in your own words?
It's very simple and stripped down. What I've always preferred is just as few instruments as you can get away with, and lyrics that matter, and a melody that might stick in your head. I think that's really all I've ever wanted to do. I've played with other musicians and filled the sound out, and it's been wonderful, but the essence of the sound is a melody that might stick, an easily singable song and lyrics that matter.
What are your musical influences?
I've had quite a few over the years. Certainly, musically, it would be most of the Canadian singer-songwriters from the early '70s. You know, Bruce Cockburn and Joni Mitchell, Willie P. Bennett and all those Canadian guys. Also, John Prine. I really admire him an awful lot and listen a lot to him. And then from Britain, it would be Planxty. I really loved the music by Planxty from Ireland. They just opened up my head to melodies like nothing else -- Donal Lunney and Andy Irvine and those guys.
What is in your SXSW survival kit?
A good book and my camera, and that's about it. I travel fairly light, or I try to anyway. When I get somewhere, I like to take a little walk around and have a look at everything.
Do you prefer the Beatles or the Stones?
Ah, jeez, well you know, I think I would have to say the Beatles, because I listened to them before I listened to the Stones. You know, I love the Stones, but I 'd say the Beatles. I think their melodies are just unbeatable.
What's your musical guilty pleasure?
I listen to all kinds of music right across the board, but my guiltiest musical pleasure would probably be Avril Lavigne. I hear her on the radio a lot, and I think she's really great. I just like her songs. I find myself really liking the tunes, and I'm just thinking, "I shouldn't like this," but I do.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as an artist?
I think just to make a living in this industry. That's exactly what I started out to do. And I'm not saying it's a great living. It's not exactly a lucrative world of folk music. It's just making a living, as I set out to do. I worked construction and I was making a living at that and loved it. When I switched to this, it was a big move. And lo and behold, when Beth and I set out on it, I said, "As long as [we] make a living, gorgeous, we'll be good." And sure enough, we have. And so I think making any headway in this industry at all is a bit of an accomplishment. And I had a song of mine covered for Hockey Day in Canada. It's actually the theme song for that event. That's a huge thrill in my life. I should put that one down as the greatest thrill - -having that song 'Skating Rink' picked up for Hockey Day in Canada.
Where do you draw your musical inspiration from?
Just life in general, I think. A lot of the other songs are written about the things we used to talk about at work -- you know, roofing or flooring, or whatever we were doing. I think that's why the music has had some success -- because people could recognize themselves very easily in what I was writing about, because it's what everybody's going through, really.
So it's a universal message?
Well, my dad was [a] working man, you know -- a factory worker -- but he had this love of poetry. He just adored poetry and Robert Burns' poetry. So I got this sense that music and poetry were worth something in the world, and I'd like to think that it still is.
Mar 7th 2010 9:40AM by Jaime Owen for Spinner Canada