Need To Know: Francis and the Lights
By Courtney Nichols
Do you write in a particular room or location?
I am trying to find one. I don't know where to find one.
Unlike most artists, you credit all of your work to one inspiration: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White.
To be honest, my mother gave me that book as a gift. It was surprising to me and unexpected. When it was released, she gave it to me. I think it was a curiosity to her, but it changed my life absolutely. The first time I started to read it, it changed my life completely. It was like a light beam had switched on. It was night and day. It was the beginning of everything that I care about.
Tell me more about it.
It has three parts. The first part is an instruction by E.B. White, who wrote Charlotte's Web, about what the manual is going to be about. The story revolves around a class he took taught by Mr. Strunk. There was a little book that went along with the course. It was a grammar guide. He describes Mr. Strunk's demeanor and style of teaching and the power of this little book. What follows is the music, which is very clinical. It is punctuation and grammar. The book is a writing guide -- when to use a comma and other information. There is so much more to it. It is basically a work of minimalism and human brevity. The other thing that it is, is an argument for doing things the right way, the best way you can, the standard way. One of the rules that I love the most is, 'Prefer the standard to the offbeat.' That is the second part. The third is An Approach to Style. It is E.B. White being a bit freer-flowing. He gives a few rules and there are some longer paragraphs on how to express yourself. His argument is that if you do things correctly, then your style will come through. If you do things succinctly and you say only things that need to be said, that's when style happens. That is when your self comes through. When you try and be something -- that is when it is contrived and confusing. I feel that.
How does that translate into the day-to-day?
I tell myself that instead of writing a book, I am writing a song. Before a performance, I tell myself to only say and play what is important. Ultimately, it's just to do less, do less, do less. It's as hard as it gets. I fail at it more than I succeed. I say to myself, 'Try harder to do less. Just do the thing -- the real thing -- the heart of what it is. Get to that and fuck the extra shit. Do the real thing.' That is what all that is.
You use a lot of jargon associated with visual artists. Many musicians don't talk about failure as much as they should.
I totally agree!
When do you know you have failed?
I think everything I have done has been a failure. I am waiting for the success. I know that once I get that, things will change.
Is that emotional success, creative success, or financial success?
Everything all in one. You know what I mean? You will know it when it happens.
Do you think you are on the right path?
I hope so. I don't know. For me the song is the unit. Once the song is there and the recording is successful, that will be the spark of everything else. I am working on that.
Your work seems very personal. Does that alienate you from collaboration?
You have toured with many pop stars, but I don't think many pop stars come from this kind of literary background. How do your world and their worlds combine?
The bigger, the better! That is all I have to say about that.