Francis Lung

There’s epic sounding records out there, and then there’s the kind of Brian Wilson meets Phil Spector mountain of sound that Francis Lung has emerged with on his debut album. Meet the former Wu Lyf member who has released one of the most melodic and lush sounding records you’ll ever hear.

When hotly tipped Mancunians Wu Lyf imploded in 2012 after one astounding album, no one was entirely sure which way the members were going to go next, including their bass player Tom McClung. Now going under the moniker Francis Lung, he’s emerged with two astonishingly melodic EPs before releasing the richly textured debut album ‘A Dream Is U’ earlier this year. So how did a skateboarding fan of Husker Du, Minutemen and Black Flag end up making an astonishing record  which conjures up sixties style orchestral pop with a unique twist….

Francis Lung has come a long way since the days in his former band. Whereas in the old band days, interviews were declined, and an air of mystery prevailed, these days Francis Lung is extremely amicable, chatty and happy to discuss every aspect of his musical career so far. With bandmate and girlfriend the keyboard player and vocalist Coralie Monnet beside him, we settle into a coffee or two in Common, to get to grips with his remarkable debut release, and start, where all good stories do, back to the beginning, with his love of Neil Young, Beach Boys and disco which shone through the first two EPs as Lung recalls “I don’t think I’ve ever stopped listening to things like that. At the time I would’ve just been writing some songs, I would’ve been doing what I always do, which is like something will just happen, and then later I’ll analyse it and go ‘well, what is this?’ It’ll usually refer to something in my catalogue of music that I usually listen to and I’ll go ‘hey that could work in that sort of style’, and so that song ‘Where Life Comes To Live’ (from 2015’s ‘Vol I Faeher’s Son EP’) was in that americana style. It was very much like ‘Harvest Moon’ we were listening to it a lot when we were on tour with Wu Lyf in Japan. We went to like a rock n’ roll bar, and they were playing nothing but Neil Young, and that song came on during the night, and I had that song but it was a much faster song, it was going to be like The Replacements or something, it was totally like a rock riff. Then I heard ‘Harvest Moon’ and thought, oh, I could do it as this tempo“.

On your second EP, ‘Vol II Mother’s Son’, on songs like ‘Dance For Sorrow’ you’ve got funk guitar on there, was that another experimentation with musical styles ?

“Yeah, definitely. I’d been listening to quite a lot of sad music, but I didn’t want to be just like an acoustic artist, I thought it would be cool if I could make something that was more upbeat but still had that quality of… I don’t want to sing about happy stuff, I knew that, and that’s the kind of writing I’m always drawn to, in any sort of literature and in music. So I thought, well what if you can feel good, but feel sad at the same time, so that’s what I was trying to do with that one. I feel it was a bit more consistent, in that it stayed with pretty much one genre throughout the whole thing, and then it moves on to this one, where I thought, well, this is like a dream-pop record, but what does that mean?”

Dream –pop is probably the current term most widely used to describe the kind of music Lung has produced on his album. Yet from the opening charms of ‘I Wanna Live In My Dreams’ to the delicate melodies of ‘Unnecessary Love’, ‘A Dream Is U’ is so much more than just ethereal guitars and hazy sounds. It feels like he’s injected the spirit of classic sixties pop throughout the record. It’s been a monumental struggle but one he feels has been worth it in the end as Lung admits: “I don’t think I could’ve done it much better. I could have done it differently, but considering what I went through, and the processes I went through to get that result. With songs like ‘I Wanna Live In My Dreams’ I didn’t think I could ever achieve a song like that, it was so, I guess it’s quite epic. I really wanted this song that started off as like a really simple folk song, to become this epic like Phil Spector sounding pop song. Just because I like songs that sound like that, and there aren’t enough Ronnettes’ songs in my head! It was like, ok, well this sounds like one, and so I’m going to make it like one.  At the time I was really into music like that, so I just wanted to hear more of it, so that was my way of doing that, just by making it, or seeing if I could. Now, reflecting back on it, it’s like, maybe this isn’t the most considered thing to do as a new artist cos every idea in that record is recycled, it’s almost like derivative, but I feel like it’s a really interesting collection of derivatives that you don’t normally have in the same place, and it’s not a total rip-off, I feel like it’s reverential of all these different things combined in a new way. But then I saw some reviews that were like ‘this is just like those bands’, and I was like, well you’re missing the point, but it’s ok. “

Francis Lung

We discuss other influences such as Dennis Wilson’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ which Lung describes as “an amazing album”, Belle and Sebastian who he was obsessed with when he first started writing songs, before moving on to his own album making process. The album was produced by Brendon Williams, who works at Manchester’s Low Four Studios, and by sheer perseverance, having some damn fine tunes, and a few strokes of luck along the way, Lung managed to bag himself studio time and a top producer on just the strength of his demos and live set as he explains:

“I think it was Dan Parrot the guy who runs Low Four, who got in touch with me about being a spokesperson for some funding that they were trying to get, and he’d asked me to do a Low Four session as well, and it was like, well if they think enough of me to be a spokesperson for their funding and to play on their show, then I should find out more about Brendan who produces there. So I eventually just weaselled my way in to getting him to record just a demo, and I’d already recorded all the drums somewhere else in Warrington, and I brought them all into the session, and was like maybe we could do all the guitars and the vocals here. He was like, I like these drums sounds they’re ok, but I think we could start from scratch and make something much better. I hadn’t even considered that there could be anything better at the time, it was like, it is what it is. I quite like finishing stuff, so I’m always like on to the next thing, – let’s get it done, whereas Brendan was like, let’s do something from scratch next time. So I said well, why don’t we record all the drums in one day, as I knew we had like the basics of the tracks, I knew that he’s want to finish it. So I was just sort of really bluffing my way into getting this record made! I wasn’t on a label, I didn’t have any money or anything, it was all just on good faith. So I just had to ensnare the producer into the project, and just like, make him want to do it! (laughs). From there it was a fairly long process of on-off nights, when he wasn’t doing anything. We would just go in there and do stuff. It was only after, when I had a new booking agent, who had a contact at Memphis Industries that I said to my booking agent, I want to put this record out, I need to finish it, I need to mix it, so get me in touch.”

As the album was recorded over a year or so, did you find that was an easy process to do or were you constantly losing your thread and having to then pick it up again next time?

It’s a terrible way of working! Also, I’m always learning what I’m trying to do at the time, I’m always going a little bit beyond my ability of what I can actually do, so I’m always playing catch up with myself.”

Lyrically, there’s plenty of surreal imagery, twisted love songs and ideas about escaping reality, yet as much as you attempt to read into someone else’s words, the themes involved on ‘A Dream Is U’ weren’t all linked initially as Lung states: “I don’t really consciously think about this stuff before I start making things, it’s always afterwards that I’ll see that there’s some sort of concept that runs through it. I think when I wrote a sing like ‘A Dream Is U’ which is a really early one, which became the album name, it was when I was in a relationship with somebody and it was all very new, and I was feeling like overwhelmingly positive about everything, and I wanted to write a song which sort of reflected that. Not just ‘oh my god, I love you this is so great’ cos that’s not what the songs says, it’s essentially somebody saying they’re afraid of someone, cos they’re like a dream, they’re like too good to be true, and they did end up being too good to be true! It’s more of a song about being in love with this person that’s too good for you. I wanted to make this record that sounded like what it was really like to love somebody which actually isn’t all that fun, it’s not that satisfying a lot of the time, a lot of it is just a dream, and you chasing the dream version of that person or a situation. So that was one theme for the record, then you break up with that person, and you write a song about them that isn’t so great, that doesn’t put them in such a great light. . I then started to see this ‘dream’ theme that was coming through, cos I already had ‘I Wanna Live In My Dreams’ so I was like, well I’ve written about it in two songs, I’m going to have to run with it what does that mean to me? What is a dream? So I’d think about all the different ways it could be interpreted and whether it could be a person, or a song, it could be a life, or just an escape. So, when I wrote more songs, I thought of the dream as the unifying concept, I wanted the whole concept to be a lot more abstract than just being about love”.

Francis Lung – Up & Down

One of the more surprising things to learn about Lung, is not only is he a skater, but some of the earliest bands he admired were more from the punk hardcore scene, yet it was more of the DIY attitude that he has stuck with as he explains: “There’s nothing of that in any of the music I make, and the reason for that is, I tried to sing in that style and I would just destroy my voice. I wish I could do that, cos I feel I could express a lot about the way I feel, but I think I just have to express the same feelings in a different way, that has a bit more longevity. I didn’t really listen to music until I watched skate videos, and in one skate video called ’Streets Of Fire’ I heard Black Flag, Minutemen, Husker Du, and I think it was Sonic Youth, in about fifty minutes, and they all had like three songs each, so I just had this amazing introduction to hardcore and post punk all in this one video, and it was just the greatest thing. It was just great to have skateboarding and this raging music going hand in hand, if you were to listen with headphones and skate down the street fast you’d feel amazing! To listen to Black Flag or listen to a really fast Minutemen song it’s like one of the best feelings. I’m still influenced by those feelings in music, I feel like skateboarding is really percussive. I was a drummer first, so I’m always looking for a beat or a groove that’s really enrapturing.”

His video for the single ‘2 Real’ even has Lung skateboarding around the countryside, and was shot by a skateboarding film maker from Manchester he admires, Jim Craven, after Lung attended a film screening of Craven’s many years ago, as he enthuses:” I started when I was eleven years old, and I’m thirty now! I haven’t really stopped at any point. The video was shot by a skate cinematographer that I really admire called Jim Craven.  I went to a video premiere of his at The Pilcrow Pub just down the road, and it was amazingly shot, very much in the style of the ‘2 Real’ video. There’s a lot of landscapes, a lot of skate spots that are unusual, and just like a stunning backdrop, if you wanted to check out his videos, ‘Land’ and ‘Island’ are two really good ones of his. I was just like, it would be so cool to do a skate video like this, and I would love to be in it, I think I asked him like a year and a half before we actually ended up doing it, and it’s just another case of just getting your shit together and just organising it, and you know, driving around in the rain, and making it happen!”

We discuss his new found love of animation, as he made the entire video for title track ‘I Wanna Live In My Dreams’ himself, involving months of gluing things together, green screen filming and having a very patient partner! “It was a case of drawing the entire frame, then I would put another piece of paper on top, and I would draw the next frame, cos I guess that’s the only way to learn stop motion is by doing it. I just sourced a lot of material like National Geographic or I would just print stuff out of the internet, or old newspapers from the 50s that we found in the Second Hand Emporium shop. So I cut anything interesting out of those that I could find, it was a case of, so what’s the idea I have in my head, what’s the closest thing I can do to that idea with the materials I have in front of me. It was a lot of trying to combine really simple elements on a green screen. It took about a month and a half of working every day on it, and I had a job. Coralie was really supportive in that time, cos I like lost my mind completely, I was just obsessed with it! I would really like to do more animation, I’m really interested in the idea of combining a live video with elements of animation over the top.”

This goes back to the idea that seems to run through everything you do, of just doing it yourself, and getting on with it.”Yes, for better or for worse (laughs), if I don’t do anything, nothing happens! The other thing I’ve learned is that just because you’re doing it by yourself, and you feel like it’s difficult, and it’s hard, and seems impossible sometimes, doesn’t mean that no one’s interested. It just means you have to pursue it.”

Talk inevitably gets round to his old band’s approach to the media, where interviews were scarce, photos of the band even more so, and the whole approach to everything they did seemed like a cleverly controlled campaign. However nothing could be further from the truth, and this time Lung wanted to make sure things were done differently as he elaborates: “I think that if I was to do things like my old band and say ‘no interviews, I don’t want to talk to anyone’, that could be perceived as really disingenuous, like ‘oh, ok we’ve all seen that before’. The thing with Wu Lyf was that we didn’t do many interviews cos we didn’t know what to talk about! It was more out of necessity, like why would we just talk about nothing. We just didn’t feel like it. I feel like with the work I do now, it requires a bit more of an explanation, or a bit more of a backstory. For me, I love reading interviews, so I just feel it’s kind of a duty for anyone that’s interested, just to say something about it. I was reading Jim O’Rourke interviews today, and I’d be really frustrated if those didn’t exist”.

Lung has even gone so far as to include some on stage storytelling in his recent run of in store gigs, as the band were stripped down to a trio, with more scope to explain what the songs meant before launching into them as Monnet adds: “Afterwards, people were telling you that they really enjoyed listening to the story of the song, and that they understood more, and that’s why I think for you, you understood that you need to say these things, so that people can understand them more. People enjoy that more, as well as just enjoying the music, they enjoy the story that goes with it.”

Lung has always had a love affair with American music from the hardcore bands, to the US alternative indie scenes, even covering Smog’s ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ for the charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), as he enthuses about his love for Smog aka Bill Callahan and the messages in that particular song: “My friends in the band Blaenavon were dong a track, it seemed like a nice thing to do, they were covering an Elliot Smith song, we‘re both big Elliot Smith fans. I thought it was just Elliot Smith songs they were using, and I was like ‘cool, I’m going to do this Elliot Smith song’, and they were like ‘no, you have to choose someone else, it’s not just an Elliot Smith thing!’ I chose that one because it was a song about drinking, and I love Smog and I love Bill Callahan, and I just… it’s weird, I think this country has a strange relationship with alcohol. I think that almost everyone you meet has a story about it with themselves or a relative.  I just felt that song was really relatable to me, as a metaphor for alcoholism, in my life or just people in my life that I know”.

Everyone has a pivotal moment in their lives, when music sticks its big paws around you and you’re hooked, whether it’s from hearing a mind blowing album to seeing your first gig. Lung’s also involved inflatable balls and confetti cannons: “I remember the first gig I went to was in The Apollo, and I was watching Flaming Lips. So the only band I saw for a while with my friend was The Flaming Lips, and they used to play like twice a year. I remember the first time I went to see them, The Macabees. were supporting. I’d never been to anything that big, and when that support band started, the kick drum and the bass and the volume and everything, I felt it so hard in my chest. I’d love to feel that feeling again, it was so intense! I don’t know if I was influenced by much more than listening to Joy Division and The Smiths like Manchester wise, I wasn’t really listening to The Fall until like a year ago, I’ve been a bit out of touch. I’ve always been so obsessed with American music, so I was obsessed by the way that I felt from that show, watching that band, and obviously watching The Flaming Lips afterwards, it was just like a carnival. There was the big inflatable ball he (Wayne Coyne) was rolling in, and the confetti, and it just seemed like an impossible ambition you know when you’re like fourteen or fifteen. So, I definitely wanted to be in a band, but I didn’t really know that much about bands or music, I wasn’t like a music nerd, I just knew that I wanted to play. I was a drummer at the time, and it snowballed from there, like I learned about bands as I went along, chased certain genres down rabbit holes and stuff, but I got into the whole Manchester thing, much after I was really playing.”

Francis Lung – A Dream Is U

Although he may not have been influenced musically by bands from his hometown, he appreciates the freedom and creativity that runs throughout the city and the encouragement given to musicians: “It’s a great thing! It’s a really good city to do anything creative in. People might come to your show just because they haven’t heard of you, which I don’t think would happen in every other city in the UK. There’s lots of really great friendly promoters and venue managers, that will just let you put on a show. It’s always been that way. There’s a huge culture for DIY gigs, and it’s a really encouraging environment to start a band in, sure some people can be unfriendly, but I feel that anyone that comes here and wants to start something, it’s usually something weird and something different, so people don’t usually tread on each other’s toes much. That’s the advantage of a small community of musicians, even if you don’t know anybody, or if you’re a total recluse, which I kind of am, cos I don’t hang about with anybody in the city, or any kind of ‘scene’ people. I still know what they do and I don’t want to encroach on it, and maybe likewise, I dunno….”

It’s a city that encourages creativity, I always find it very honest and open that way

“It is. I mean the only criticism I have about Manchester, is that it’s not a city that is encouraged by the city itself to make music. I mean the whole infrastructure of the city has nothing to do with the city council, the culture has always existed outside of that and against it, and I think that must be a part of it too, because you’re forced to be DIY, you get better at being DIY and stronger. It ends up being what it is, I don’t know it any differently, so I don’t know what it could be. If you go to other cities like in Nantes where Coralie’s from, in the northwest of France, they have practice rooms that are government funded. So they pay a really nominal fee, like five euros each per month between like five of them, and they then have twenty four hour access to this rehearsal studio that’s sound proofed, they’ve got a full equipment backline that they can draw upon. Then they’ve got programmes for like setting up the shows and stuff, and there’s so much infrastructure there, cos there’s so much funding from the government. “

Lung’s band have become such an integral part of his sound for this debut album yet despite the thriving creative scene in the city, finding the right musicians isn’t always easy, especially when you’re somewhat of a recluse as Lung freely admits he is, and building a band around him was no easy feat as he explains: “I used to just play to a backing track and sing along to it, and that was fun for a while, but I’m sure that every artist whose ever done that gets told after the gig ‘yeah that was great but I’d love it if you had a drummer or something’ it’s so disheartening that eventually you’re like ‘ok fine I’ll figure it out!’ It was so much work though! Finding people is so hard initially, especially because I really didn’t socialise with musicians in Manchester. I was more…I just felt a bit cloistered and the scene was a bit intimidating to me. I think I maybe put an ad out on Facebook under Francis Lung, just like looking for each band member. It was funny because the bassist who initially applied, I’d known for like forever, and he just applied and emailed me like a joke C.V. of all this stuff that he alleged that he’d done. I knew who they were and I loved them, so I had this one guy who was playing bass for me for a long time. I played a show with PINS and their driver said that he played drums cos we all drove down to London, and I just had nothing to lose so I said ‘ok you can play with me’ (laughs). It was really stupid, I didn’t really think about any of it, I just went with the first thing that came up every time, I was like ‘this will work, let’s throw it all together and see what happens!’ This band I’ve got now I’ve had for ages, like three or four years. We’ve come a really long way. I’m really looking forward to going back on the road and playing these shows, and the new songs, now that people have had a chance to hear them as well. I feel like we’re a new band!”

Lung and his band embark on a full UK tour this autumn and play Manchester’s Soup Kitchen on Saturday 25th October, and although there’s no full orchestras involved (I don’t think the Soup Kitchen’s pillars could cope!) there will be plenty of epic sounds involved as they enthuse “We’re trying to make these records come to life in front of you, which isn’t really that easy. It’s quite rich, there’s a lot of layers, and we don’t have an orchestra, and we don’t have a brass section or anything, but what we do have is some pretty clever keyboards and some arrangement know how, and I feel like we can make a really interesting version of that record. I think some of the themes expressed in the songs come across best right in front of you. I think when you listen to a record and you listen to the words, it’s nice and it’s private but then when you hear some of the stuff on this record in front of you, in a crowd of people, it can take on a whole new context.”

Francis Lung plays The Soup Kitchen on Sat 26th October. The album ‘A Dream Is U’ is out now on Memphis Industries.

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From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.