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Interview: Franky Perez discusses new album ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ and playing Black Deer Festival

We go inside Perez’s upcoming album.

Franky Perez
Credit: Black Sea Music

Franky Perez is set to release his new album ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ on 24th June 2022, which contains a blend of music from pre, intra and post-pandemic days influenced by cross country road trips, The Beatles songwriting, salsa music and more.

An already established artist in his own music, Franky also plays alongside artists such as Slash, Apocalpytica and Scars On Broadway and brings an interesting, complex set of songs to listeners with the new record which will be his fifth solo album. 

I sat down with Franky to talk about UK touring, his bucket list of artists to play alongside and his involvement with SupaJam…

Hey Franky, thanks for joining me today. How are you?

I’m pretty good. Thanks for having me. How are you? 

I’m great thanks. I appreciate you taking the time out to chat today because it’s been a busy few weeks for you having just been over in the UK playing Black Deer Festival. How was that, I hope the thunderstorms didn’t spoil anything for you?

Yeah, it didn’t affect me, I was able to play all three sets but on the second day, it came down pretty hard. It was lightning too so they decided just for the safety of the the attendees to shut it down. But overall, man, what a festival it was, it was really great. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do it. It was really well put together. The lineups were great and the stages were killer, so it was a really great experience. 

Was this your first UK experience post-pandemic in a bigger venue? 

So I came over a few months ago and played a small venue In London but I’ve been over numerous times in different projects and played different festivals in the UK. I’ve always loved the way at festivals that you can have a stage with a metal band over here and then over there, there’s a stage with a pop band on and you’ve got the same people that are watching the same bands. It’s just good music overall. So when I came over to London this last time, I caught the bug. I couldn’t wait to come back and the festival was everything I expected it to be and the crowds were incredible and very welcoming. We really enjoyed it. 

It was the Supajam stage you played as well. There’s a good little pre-show snippet on your socials of you playing with the kids before you went on. Can you give a little overview of what Supajam is and your involvement with it.

Supajam is a school for kids that you know, for lack of a better term have been either been overlooked, had gotten into trouble or may have some learning disabilities and they basically take these kids in. Music is at the core of the curriculum. It was something that really touched me. I went and spent the day with them, which is how all of this even started; it’s the reason I’m even at Black Deer Festival. Supajam was the conduit. I spent all day with these kids and I spoke to them. I played music for him. I listened to them play music; it was such a moving thing. Some of these kids that would probably be deemed hopeless by certain people in society; to see them thrive in that situation was incredible. I was like, however I can be a part of this, whether it’s as a mouthpiece or an ambassador, I can help musically; I can provide music, you know, and to then be on that stage that they’re actually running! That’s their little stage. I wrote a song specifically for them that we performed together at the end. They sent me ideas of lyrics and themes and I took all of that and turned it into a song. To perform that was; I’m not just saying this, one of the most moving experiences of my life. Because I know what it feels like to be in those kids shoes. I’ve been there, you know, I’ve been counted out as a kid and I had to have alternative schooling because I just didn’t fit, I didn’t get it. I was a troubled teen and if I would have had something like that, it would have been very helpful. 

Music is awesome hey! I think you’re an interesting artist to speak to as well because it’s quite tough to categorise you into a genre or style. As much as genre labels are almost irrelevant these days, do you think that when you set out in the music world you set out to become a certain type or artist or it was just a natural progression?

You don’t or you can’t box in an artist. At least I won’t let myself be boxed in and as long as I’m not compromising my artistic integrity, I go wherever my heart takes me. What I’ve learned over the years is  that people don’t give the listener enough credit, right? If you are being honest in your performance, they will take the ride with you. I mean, they’ll take the ride with you no matter what the genre is, they may not stick around but they’ll take it with you if it’s honest. I’ve never been in a project that I didn’t believe in, I won’t be in one I don’t believe in. I’ve turned down things that didn’t make sense, you know. Apocalyptica though, I never would have guessed. I never set out when I was a kid, when I grabbed the guitar, to think ‘someday I bet I’m going to be in a band with Finnish guys that play metal’ (laughs) but on the other hand, what really attracted me to those guys and what really made me want to be a part of that band, is how incredibly musical they are. I say this a lot. They are so humble but I’m so close to greatness on a stage on a nightly basis. Like, these are guys that that are prodigies, were child prodigies of what they do. I get to sing maybe eight songs a night and then the rest of it, I get to watch and I never get sick of it. It’s incredible! So back to the original question, I’d take genre out of it. I’m just me and I give a project the best I have. It seems it’s worked because I’ve been able to navigate a pretty long career. I’m 46 now and I’ve been doing it since I was 17; professionally since I was in my early 20s.

You have new music coming out as Franky Perez. ‘Crossing The Great Divide’, a pretty epic title for a pretty epic album. You say it’s your best stuff yet. What is it that makes you so proud of it? 

Every artist wants to say it’s my best album you know? I can’t say it’s my best yet. I don’t know if it’s my best. It’s tough to say. But I will say, it was the greatest experience to make which comes across in the album. I didn’t have anyone breathing down my neck or looking over my shoulder. I could work my own pace. I was inspired by this incredible road trip that I took. Like everyone else, I was just tired of the darkness. We all know what that felt like during the pandemic, the despair and the loneliness. I just wanted to do my little part to put something positive into the ether. So I made sure even when I went down some dark path in the songwriting process that I would always find a tunnel out and give the listener that out. So experience wise, it’s definitely the favourite album I’ve ever made. My first album was for a major label and I had this opportunity when the labels had all the money in the world to throw at records. I spent a year and a half in the studio, experiencing that whole thing, you know, and even though that was an incredible experience, it didn’t compare to being in my little world and this little room and finding myself again.

How long did it take you to to get ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ done from sort of start to finish?

It’s a little bit of a long winded thing, but I’ll try to button it up. So initially at the beginning of the pandemic, it was March 13th of that year when I started getting all the emails that gigs were going away, tours were cancelled and I don’t know how to sit idle. I can’t sit idle. I have to be creative or doing something at all times but there was no outlet for that. So I did what I used to do, I literally pulled out my old MacBook, I’ll show you (Franky pulls out a chunky MacBook from the 2010 Apple era), this big old thing! Remember these (laughs). I pulled this out and this little terrible interface and I sat down with an SM7 microphone; which wasn’t even on a stand. It was just on the table, like pointing at me, right? (laughs). I was like literally leaning over in the dark with just a computer screen and I made this little record called ‘Suddenly 44’. It was only intended to be a record of what I was doing and I was writing songs and then sending them to my friends. People were starting to do the whole thing with the Instagram shows and stuff. Yeah, I wasn’t really hip to that. So I thought ‘you know what, let me just send people some songs here and there’. That turned into this one after the other. I wrote eight songs in a matter of two weeks.

One of the people I sent it to was my friend at Ducati America and he loved it. He said ‘man, people have got to hear this, maybe we can figure out a way to get you some little weird social distancing tour’ and so I jumped on his motorcycle and I would go around and stop at different venues and broadcast myself. I made my way across the country. I started in Vegas with Los Angeles and San Francisco and then made my way from San Francisco the whole way across the country to Washington DC. I caught the attention of these venue owners that actually financed documentary films, right and they’re like, this is the story! Which is another thing I never thought I’d do when I was a kid. ‘Oh, one day I’m gonna drive across the country on a motorbike playing songs’ (laughs).  So they financed the documentary which became this other whole animal where I crossed from Miami back to California. But this time I visited healthcare facilities and played in the parking lot. I visited my friends, people like Randy Travis, Blackberry Smoke, and Bill Burr and I interviewed them. And as I’m doing that, I’m also doing this epic road trip, right. So I found myself with hours and hundreds and thousands of miles at a time with my thoughts, all these experiences and all these things that you can’t really experience unless you’re on the ground running, you know, and I started writing the album on the bike. On my voice notes on a motorcycle, it was really unsafe, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody (laughs). 

As if Covid wasn’t enough for us, you had to throw in dangerous driving as well, just to make the pandemic a little bit more exciting (laughs).

Yeah, there were riots, there was the racism cases, the election, complete chaos. But there’s me on a bike. I had the sketches to the entire album. I was on the road that time for about close to a month and I travelled about 5000 miles. So when I got home, I took a day or two to rest and then I was just inspired. I came in this room with my proper setup and started plugging away. So all in all to make the album I would say, including the trip if you consider that pre production maybe six months.

Well for the size of the project it, and for what you did, it’s still not a massive amount of time to put an album out. Did you have an excess of material and if so how did you narrow it down? 

I wrote a ton of songs, it was a very prolific time but I had a very specific vision of what I wanted this album to be. I wanted it to be a very positive and uplifting record, right? So if I wrote a riff or I wrote a part that I thought was great but very dark, I would finish it and then put it one on the shelf. I would think this isn’t ‘The Great Divide’, this is something else. What would happen as well was I would write one song, and then that that one song would inspire another theme and then I would go that route. So it’s as if there’s bookends on the album. In my opinion, it’s a very cool and cohesive album. 

I’m presuming now you’ve played the songs live for a little bit now. Are any in particularly becoming fan favourites? 

A lot of the time when I’m writing, I’m thinking melodically. I’m always thinking of the audience, right? I’m a dreamer, I’m an eternal optimist and so in my mind, I’m like, ‘Oh, I can imagine a crowd singing this part’ ya know, and then I go after it. For example, there’s a song on the album called ‘2020 Vision’ and I could visualise people singing, I knew how I was going to string it out at the end of the song…and it happened at Black Deer Festival. It happened three nights in a row. It was one of the most special things that has happened to me on stage. These people didn’t know me from Adam, but they connected quickly with it and were singing it back to me. We got done and we were backstage and my guitar player of fifteen years, Christian Brady, looked at me and he goes ‘that’s exactly what you wanted isn’t it’. 

Franky Perez - Crossing The Great Divide
Credit: Black Sea Music

It’s always a musicians worst nightmare when they imagine a moment like that and it doesn’t pull off!

I had a moment once when I was playing this charity event and we were doing ‘Black Sabbath’. We’re doing ‘War Pigs’. Great. So I’ve done this song a million times but at this one point, I had a brain fart and forgot which verse I was on! I was like ‘it’s War Pigs, everybody knows War Pigs’! I held the mic out and nothing! Nobody sang! (laughs). 

I’d like to delve into a couple of tracks on the album as well. ‘The Great Divide’. which is already released and we’ve already delved into the premise behind it with the ride, but you got some cool people on that. Matt Chamberlain who drums for Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Eicca Toppinen from Apocalyptica. Is this one of the most special tracks on the album for you because of what it holds?

Yeah, it is and it appears on that first little acoustic record too. That’s the first thing I wrote at the beginning of the pandemic and I just picked up a guitar that was in open tuning to just start noodling to start it. I performed about 90% of the instrumentation on ‘The Great Divide’ from drums to bass but when I played that song, I found I had a particular thing in my head and I would go after that particular player. So on that song I always heard like a Bob Dylan, Nick Drake, Cat Stevens sort of vibe to it. Matt Chamberlain was actually making a Dylan record at the time. I’ve been such a fan of Matt’s. He’s a friend, but I’m also a huge fan of this guy’s work and we did it remotely. He took the track, recorded his part in the studio and sent it back, and it came back exactly the way I thought it was going to be. As far as Eicca goes, I wanted the song to be uplifting but I also wanted something more haunting underneath it and I knew that’s the way he thinks. So I sent the same thing to him. It was like ‘hey man, just do you’. and he came back with a bunch of different takes and I went through things and I didn’t have to do anything. These guys just got it. That track came together very quickly and easily. Nothing was forced.  It became a benchmark for the rest of the album.

‘Illumination’ reminds me of 80’s Phil Collins with the brass parts. What was the influence behind this song?

I’m Cuban and both my parents are Cuban so I grew up listening to salsa music. It’s something that always creeps in. There was always a horn line in my head so I just kind of went with it. That groove just wrote itself and it was a really fast process but then I wanted to do a thing where I dabbled in Latin melodies for the vocals right? Latin melodies, but obviously in English. I wanted it to be very roots but at the same time accessible, if that makes sense. That was a fun one to do, a really fun one to do.

Talking about the big names that you’ve performed with over the years, is there an artist that is on your bucket list that you’ve never worked with? 

Man, I’ve had the blessing and the incredible opportunity to jam with Ringo once! I’ve had the opportunity to play with one Beatle but my dream would be to even just riff or anything; even have a brief conversation about songwriting with with Sir Paul McCartney. Songwriting for me begins and ends with The Beatles you know, and it creeps into pretty much all of my songs. Some of the younger generation, not all but some doesn’t even realise how good these incredible songwriters were. The younger players have these changes and things in their music that they don’t even know where the source is. I’ve had conversations with younger players and I’ll say ‘oh, man, I love that part. It reminds me of something off Rubber Soul and they’re like, what?’ (laughs). I’m like, dude, there is a source to what you know, and it’s passed through so many different generations, everything that people are almost forgetting, you know. So The Beatles and Sir Paul would be a dream come true. I started as a McCartney guy and then I gravitated towards Lennon with his solo work and then I got into things with Harrison. Then I went to Ringo. Now in my old age I’m going back to all those records.

What what does the rest of 2022 hold for you going forward at the moment? 

I’m just going to support his album as long as I can. It’s funny, I’m already thinking of another album. I’ve already started writing another one (laughs). I keep getting reinvigorated, especially when I play shows like Black Deer Festival. I’m going to give this album as much attention as I can and keep playing shows in Vegas. 

Thanks for taking the time today Franky, we’ll catch you soon! 

Thank you man, it’s been a pleasure. Look after yourself. 

Franky Perez’s album ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ is released on Friday 24th June 2022. Listen to the ‘The Great Divide’ below:

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