Franky Perez is an artist who you may well discover for the first time if you visit The Black Deer Festival, celebrating Americana in the heart of the Kent countryside this weekend, but for many fans and artists, Franky is an artist who possesses incredible vocal presence and a charismatic personality which has allowed him to cross into many musical genres and work with some of the greatest names in music including Billy Gibbons, Joe Cocker, Darius Rucker, Ringo Starr, Steven Tyler, Cody Jinks, Chris Janson and Slash.
That might sound like the line up to the greatest super band ever, but it’s simply proof that Franky Perez is one of those musicians appreciated by the best. This weekend, we in the UK will get the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about and it might be the one reason, if any was required, to go spend a weekend under those sunny Kent skies listening to great music and eating great food at Black Deer.
Franky will be the only artist to be playing across all three days of the festival, so whether you are a day ticket holder or a weekend ticket holder, you will get the chance to see this brilliant artist play. Perez is respected worldwide for his work with Apocalyptica, Slash, Deadland Ritual and for his solo career. Now he has poured a lifetime of music and experience into a breath taking fifth solo album ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ and this is sure to expand his audience even further. Along with the record, there’s a moving documentary film of the same name which charts his musical travels across America during lockdown. It’s an emotional, spiritual, musical journey of discovery and I was honoured to get the chance to ask Franky a few questions.
EP: Of all your solo work, ‘Crossing The Great Divide’ seems to be your most personal. The story of self-transformation and deliverance is a hugely engaging one, especially when it is told through lyrics like “love like we’ve never loved before, kiss like we’re going off to war, laugh together until it hurts, leave all of our troubles back on earth” which is extraordinarily poignant at the moment. What was the inspiration behind the album?
EP: I really think your voice seems to be sounding especially powerful at the moment; you really remind me of one of my favourite artists Jack Savoretti, and I think you both draw huge inspiration from diverse genres. What artists inspire your music the most?
FP: Thank you very much for that. I think the years have weathered both my face and my voice. Haha! Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett are two of my biggest influences vocally. As a songwriter I still and will always be inspired first and foremost by the Beatles. Then there’s Dylan, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Chris Whitley, Steve Miller, The Eagles, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, Bill Withers, Alejandro Sanz, Elvis Costello. The list goes on and on!
EP: This album finds you clean and sober for nine years now. Do you think this has helped you write an album of such searing honesty, but also an album that feels positive at its very core?
FP: I would say so. I’ve done a lot of work on myself and continue to do so every day. Honesty is the cornerstone to my sobriety. I had to be honest with myself and accept that I had a serious problem. I had to be honest with myself and face the fact that if I didn’t get sober that I would lose everything… my life, my family, my art. l made the right choice. As far as the honesty and positive nature of the album, that was a conscious decision. This record was written at the height of the pandemic when things looked bleak. I felt there was enough darkness and uncertainty in the world and I didn’t want to add to it. I felt we could all use a little hope so I did my small part. Even the most tragic songs on the album have a silver lining. Even when I lead the listener down a dark hallway I made sure to leave a light on so they could find their way out.
EP: The list of artists that you’ve worked with seems to cover everything from Darius Rucker to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, from Steven Tyler to the late great Joe Cocker. Is it important to you to make your music hugely accessible by not being able to put it into any particular box? Elements of your music would satisfy fans of any and all the musical genres.
FP: The music business has been at times guilty of not giving the listener enough credit. Even though someone may not be musically inclined it doesn’t mean that they can’t read through bullshit. If the artist doesn’t fake the funk and truly believes in what they are doing, the listener will take the trip with them no matter the genre. They may not stick around but they’ll take the ride. At least that’s been my experience.
EP: The new record has elements of autobiography to it and is full of big melodies and hooks and deep sentiment. Do you consider this your strongest work to date?
FP: It’s my strongest work today. 🙂
EP: You will be the only artist appearing at all three days of The Black Deer Festival which is fast becoming one of the UK’s must attend festivals. Is there anyone on the line up you’re particularly excited to meet; I would have thought Van Morrison would be one of your inspirations?
FP: You have no Idea! I will be in a full sprint to see that show!
EP: You’ve been working with SupaJam School which is an incredible initiative. Can you tell us a little bit about what they do and how you have been able to help them in their amazing work?
FP: SupaJam is a post-16 specialist music college based in Swanley, Canterbury and Brighton. They offer carefully and individually tailored placements to students who may have previously struggled in formal education settings due to social, emotional or special educational needs or poor life decisions, and are now looking for an inclusive alternative educational provision.
As far as my involvement, I’m just another fan of these young men and women. A mouthpiece and a shoulder to lean on if they should ever need one. I got to spend the day with them last time I was in the UK and was blown away by the promise and compassion I witnessed. We could all learn a thing or two from both the faculty and students of SupaJam.
EP: There is a moving documentary which accompanies the record that tells the story of your musical travels across America during lockdown. I’ve spoken to so many artists that found the pandemic gave them time to reflect and take stock of their music without the pressure of the deadlines that come with a successful musical career. Your musical journey and the music that it inspired feels like all of your musical experiences have come together with all your personal experiences and the result is your strongest work to date. What are your memories of that journey and do you feel it has changed you personally and as an artist?
FP: The media has been extremely polarizing. The division between us is at an all-time high. This trip more than anything showed me that when you take away the noise you find that we all want the same thing. We all just want to be heard, understood and loved.
EP: Finally, Franky, thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. Apart from The Black Deer, will there be any opportunities to catch you live in the UK anywhere else? If not, are there any plans to come back to the UK soon?
FP: My team and I are working on getting me back here for a longer run. I love the UK… You guys just get it.