It all started with a trip to the movies. An impressionable 11-year old Toronto lad called Francesco Yates went to see Jack Black star in the 2003 release of `School Of Rock’ and Yates’ life would never be the same again.
“I always used to sing, I always enjoyed music but I never made the connection until I saw School Of Rock,” explained Yates on the phone to promote his debut EP `Better To Be Loved” which he will introduce with a short Canadian/U.S Fall tour on a co-bill with another young Atlantic Records’ signing, England’s Jess Glynne. Dates include a September 19th appearance at Belmont, Montreal and a September 21st show at the Adelaide Hall in Toronto.
“School Of Rock is a brilliant movie, the 20-year-old Yates continued. “I loved everything about it and after I watched it, I had to go to the nearest music camp and just live out that experience. Then I realized it wasn’t just a passing phase, I actually wanted to do this. It ignited something in me.”
“I just remember the feeling of being on stage at that Music Camp and feeling the camaraderie of the other musicians on stage and the people in the audience,” he continued. “I didn’t even know that much about music at the time but I know I just fell in love with the entire experience.”
Yates was inspired enough to start writing songs and as he became proficient on both piano and guitar, his vocal coach was impressed enough to approach Toronto-based Chris Smith Management with her then, 14-year old protege.
“It was a trickle up sort of deal,” allowed Yates. “My vocal teacher brought me to Chris then I went through a sort of incubation period with him where it was ironed out what I wanted to do. Then I was brought to Atlantic Records in New York where I went through another incubation period before they brought me to the attention of Pharrell Williams who agreed to work with me.”
On the surface, Francesco Yates appears to be the complete package. He possess the photogenic good looks of a young Peter Frampton, is a gifted pianist and guitar player, a promising vocalist who has even co-wrote material with Williams on his six-song EP. During the course of our conversation, Yates also comes across as an articulate young man who seems to be aware of the pitfalls of early stardom yet also appears to be well grounded, career wise.
In discussing the impact School of Rock had on him, Yates is aware that severe financial cutbacks are forcing many schools to eliminate their music programs and that many students are denied access to musical instruments or the experience of receiving musical lessons in class.
“It’s a shame because being exposed to music promotes creativity and that’s what an education should be about,” he observed. “I definitely advise people to learn to play the piano, that’s the most important instrument you can learn. If you can master the piano, you will understand music from every other instrument.
Faced with the daunting task of working with such an established artist/produced like Pharrell Williams, Yates felt he was well protected during a protracted apprenticeship in which Williams, working with top Danish producer, Robin Hanniball, shaped and directed Yates, encouraging him to develop his raw talent.
“I felt from the beginning that I was in a good place,” confirmed Yates. “The goal I wanted to achieve with this Ep was to open the door far enough that I could walk through it with full force. They (Williams and Hanniball) wanted me to be fully prepared for my record release. It was never a question of me being tossed out there unprepared. When that happens you don’t actually get to figure out what you like, your career becomes very short lived. Sure, you might go straight to the top of the charts but you are going to go straight back to the bottom again. People will get to know you for a sound that’s disingenuous to what you truly want to do.”
“When Pharrell first met me,” continued Yates, “We had some very interesting conversations, we talked for a long time about things not even related to music. He calls himself `the stenographer’. He tracks what he sees and then he prints it out for what it is. He finds out what the artist likes but also finds out what the artist didn’t even know about. Then he uses all of this input when it comes to recording songs.”
The six tracks that constitute `Better To Be Loved’ have been forged over the past three years and although Yates didn’t initially have much input into the writing of the six songs, he was allowed a certain level of creative say in which material was selected for the record. “I do have a co-write on “Change The Channel’ and even though I didn’t write “Honey I’m Home” I can certainly identify with the lyric and I just knew I had to have that track.”
Produced with all the class and smoothness of a Justin Timberlake or Bruno Mars record, the title track, “The Call” and “Honey I’m Home” have already attracted major radio exposure throughout North America and Yates has earned critical praise for appearances at this year’s Juno Awards in Hamilton, a performance at the SOCAN Music Awards in Toronto and a well received Canada Day live performance in Ottawa before a crowd of over 100,000 people.
“We live in a singles driven market so it is important for me to get a body of work out there and see how people react to the songs,” Yates allows. “Their reaction will give me an idea what direction I am going to go, I always believe the best judge is the public.
The inevitable Justin Bieber question is broached but Yates again, is surprisingly mature in his assessment of what has happened to the Beeb and what lessons he can personally direct to his own career.
“Pharrell and I have had the chat and he’s explained to me what to watch out for,” concluded Yates. “You look at some one like Justin and there’s a guy who was like a superstar at like 15 or 16, all the money, all the star power and if he doesn’t have someone looking out for him, of course he’s going to go a little crazy. But now I think he realizes how badly he was being received and he’s trying to make up for it. With me, I’m just trying to find some solidarity and I’m glad that I had that incubation period. I would hate to be cast as a child star that has to go through that transition to the the next stage, I’d rather just keep things music based.”
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