20:20 — 20 Questions, 20 Answers
In part 42 of our continuing 20:20 Q&A series,
David Franz —multi-label founder, singer-songwriter, producer, engineer, performer, educator, and more—
joins us with wry wit and irrepressible humor to talk about his new album To the Unknown, the spiritual energy of the desert, the generous act of teaching, and much more.
To the Unknown is David Franz’s vision quest. Channeling the shamanistic energy of Joshua Tree National Park, David searches out meaning, seeking and finding a voice to share deeply personal—and universal—experiences. Among David’s truths: Shared suffering can lead to positive change. Insightful and introspective, To the Unknown offers timely reflection and caution for all of us as we continually head to the unknown. David’s remarkable album releases September 24—don’t miss it!
Welcome, David, and thank you for joining us.
~ Bambi Grinder, NoteWorthy Music
20:20 with David Franz
NWM 1: Please introduce yourself, briefly, as a musician and human of Earth.
David: Hello one and all worthy of note. Some call me David Franz, although many nicknames are out there. I’m a lover, a seeker, an optimist, and a revenge bedtime procrastinator (I’d rather stay up than sleep). The desert inspires me, and the ocean calms me. Imperfectly human, maybe partially alien, and definitely curious. I like to use both sides of my brain for the good of humanity, but mostly I use my heart for that purpose.
NWM 2: What was your first concert as a fan?
David: The Beach Boys. One summer, my neighborhood friends and I really got into skateboarding and listening to surf music. It just so happened that the Beach Boys were touring and made a stop in Pittsburgh. They were touring around that track … ‘Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mama’ … you know! ‘Kokomo’! Now it’s stuck in your head too. Sorry!
I like to use both sides of my brain for the good of humanity, but mostly I use my heart for that purpose.
NWM 3: Name three things that make you smile.
David: 1. Your smile. Look atcha! You’re gorgeous.
2. My pup Sunny. Anything that little white wolf does brings me joy.
3. When someone is in their element and thriving … like when a DJ looks up from the decks for a quick satisfying glance of everyone dancing their asses off, or a chef watching someone’s eyes roll back in delight after tasting something they made.
NWM 4: Where were you and what were you doing when you realized COVID-19 had just changed your life as a producer and artist?
David: I was in a very fortunate position, actually. I was in Ojai, California, and had just recorded the basic tracks for my album. In mid-February, several weeks before everything shut down, through a stroke of magic, my producer Will Robertson and all of the musicians that I wanted to work on the record were available, as was Carbonite studio and Jason Mariani (studio owner and engineer). So, we all gathered for four amazing days and recorded the songs for To The Unknown. The pandemic changed my life in many ways, and one of those ways was a gift of time that enabled me to focus on finishing my album.
Another way the pandemic affected my life as an artist and a producer was learning how to do remote vocal recording sessions. My producer Will Robertson lives in Atlanta and has his studio there (Gallop Studio). Instead of traveling to record vocals in his studio, like we had planned, we figured out a way for him to control Pro Tools on my computer, virtually—listen in to the stereo mix, and interact over video while I sang the songs. It was almost as good as the real thing, minus the celebratory beer after the session.
The pandemic changed my life in many ways, and one of those ways was a gift of time that enabled me to focus on finishing my album.
The third major way the pandemic changed my life was that my record label Underground Sun had to go virtual. We had to release the Iggy T and The Crazymakers album—a project that was years in the making—completely virtually with no live shows. All other promotion had to be reconfigured. One of the things that I could do locally without endangering lives was to do live-streaming. With the help of two close friends in my bubble, I created a virtual variety show that featured Underground Sun artists and their music, along with interviews with other artists, and other shenanigans. The shows were one-hour specials, and they were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted. They’re on the Underground Sun YouTube channel for all to enjoy and/or troll.
NWM 5: We love this from your press release about your single “My Greatest Enemy” from your album To the Unknown, which releases September 24:
[F]rom a combination of scorching life events, social transformation, pandemic lockdown, and personal epiphany, David has emerged, like a snake too big for its skin, from behind the producer’s console to the front of the stage.
Tell us about these catalysts that propelled you into the spotlight.
David: Well, aren’t we getting personal now? ☺ OK, let’s go there. The album was born of two main things … an unexplainable connection with the desert of Joshua Tree and a very difficult breakup from a serious relationship. The desert helped me find and craft a sound that resonated with my soul. The breakup gave me ample emotional material to extract and exorcise. Instead of producing other artists, helping them to bare their hearts, I felt like I had expressions that others might connect with, something worth sharing to let others know they’re not alone in their suffering.
The desert helped me find and craft a sound that resonated with my soul.
Shared-suffering turned push-toward-positive-change in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement inspired a lot of exploration and growth as it brought into focus so many issues that are deeply personal to me. Studying the wide-ranging, tragic effects of systemic racism and understanding my role as an ally has given me more confidence to use my voice for good.
NWM 6: Before your emergence as a musician, you spent years unlocking the creative genius of other artists as a co-writer, producer, and record label head.
How did those roles shape your vision for yourself as an artist, and how does producing compare to creating your own music?
David: I learned many lessons while producing other artists—from psychological comforting techniques to physical performance tricks to engineering efficiencies to sonic palette wizardry—but nothing prepared me for the minute inspection of the imperfections of listening to my own recorded voice. Apparently, even the most famous singers don’t like hearing their own voice (e.g., John Lennon), but that gave me no comfort. Ultimately, it’s been a growing process towards acceptance of my humanity and a learning experience that will help me when producing other artists in the future.
Apparently, even the most famous singers don’t like hearing their own voice (e.g., John Lennon), but that gave me no comfort.
Also, when producing other people’s music, I’ve normally obsessed over every note and every mix move. With my own record, I tried to let go of that obsession and give in to letting other people (e.g., the musicians, the producer, the engineer) express themselves through the songs. The effect was profound. The album became much bigger than me. It’s a shared experience, and I hope that translates and better connects it to the listening audience.
NWM 7: To the Unknown is described thus:
[S]teeped in modern production with a foundation of soul and blues and sonic that drive with the spirit of the desert … conjuring energies from both outlaws and shamans.
Tell us about the creation and conception of this album, its message, and its importance to you.
David: The desert breeze is a voice; Joshua trees are totems. Together, these create a spiritual energy that calls to me and connects with me on a level that I didn’t know was there. I’ve been seeking this kind of energy all of my life … a power that enables my voice to come out in my own unique way. I think we’re all looking for that, whether we’re conscious of it or not. It took me quite a while to find it, but the desert has unlocked a door to this deeper level, and I can access it when I want to now.
The desert breeze is a voice; Joshua trees are totems.
NWM 8: Who might we be surprised to find on your playlist?
David: The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. I’ve listened to hundreds of episodes. Oh, you mean music? Most of my record collection is dub music … King Tubby, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Augustus Pablo. Most of my online listening is chill electronic music … Poolside, Leisure, Little Dragon, Flight Facilities. Billie Eilish, maybe you’ve heard of her, she’s not bad. 😉
NWM 9: What has been a particularly memorable or rewarding experience of your career so far?
David: A major highlight was touring with Underground Sun artist Iyeoka all over Europe and Africa. The shivers from the first show in Istanbul when the entire crowd sang along to ‘Simply Falling’, the absolute joy when everyone lit up their phones at the end of our show in Riga, Latvia, and the dancing euphoria of thousands along the river Oued Bou Regreg in Rabat, Morocco. … Those memories will never fade.
A major highlight was touring with Underground Sun artist Iyeoka all over Europe and Africa.
NWM 10: You founded two record labels, Underground Sun and Underground Sol. Tell us about these labels and your ultimate goals for each.
David: With Underground Sun, I wanted to create a record label that honored recording studio history (Sun Studio in Memphis) and pushed into the future by helping unknown ‘underground’ artists emerge into the light. This label serves a wide variety of musical genres, from R&B to rock to hip-hop to folk, all with soul music at the core.
Underground Sol has the same purpose as U SUN, but is dedicated to serving the electronic music community. It focuses on creating and releasing new electronic music as well as remixes from Underground Sun artists.
NWM 11: What is a favorite of your songs? Please tell us a little bit about it.
David: You want me to pick a favorite of my babies? Well, this is a tough one because it changes every day. Since I have to choose, I think I’ll choose the one that started the whole process off, the song that was fully written in one night in Joshua Tree, the song that started this whole album and artist journey, and that one that still points the way forward … ‘Tree Pose’.
I’ve never written a song like it—and doubt I will again.
This song was fully freeform expression. I tapped into some kind of natural energy and rode it. The lyrics were inspired by the book The Autobiography of a Yogi. We added to it in the studio, but all of the tracks from the original demo recording are in the final version. I’ve never written a song like it—and doubt I will again.
NWM 12: You taught at Berklee College of Music for almost a decade, where you also designed the curriculum for Berklee’s first online music production course based on your first book. You have since written other educational books and served as a course instructor at lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning.
Share about your role in education and why teaching is important to you.
David: I suppose I learned the importance of sharing knowledge early on from my mom. She was a teacher and ran a daycare business out of our house. I learned what it meant to be a teacher from her. At Virginia Tech, before I went to Berklee, I was a teacher’s assistant while I was getting my master’s degree, so I had some training there.
I hadn’t planned on teaching at Berklee Music, but 9/11 happened and everything changed. That’s a story for another day.
I think teaching is a generous act.
Teaching at Berklee Music was great, and it led to working with Lynda.com and Linkedin Learning. Education is not dissimilar to producing artists. In fact, I think the two go hand-in-hand. In many ways, the two jobs require the same kind of demeanor and interpersonal skill sets.
Also, I think teaching is a generous act. Some people are afraid to share their ‘secrets’ because they’re afraid that someone they tell might steal their job, their client, etc. I’m the opposite of that. I don’t live in fear of that. I know I can do what I do, and no one can do what I do the way I do it. I hope people who learn from me do it better than I do. I think sharing only helps everyone. There is enough success out there for everyone.
NWM 13: What are your special interests beyond music?
David: I have a pretty good golf swing, but that doesn’t mean I score well. I can make a delicious Thanksgiving turkey. If I had to choose a career outside of music, I might choose genetics. I read a lot of books, mostly about mind expansion and lessons in humanity, and some about sci-fi. I’m a total Star Wars nerd. Ok, I’ve outed myself.
I’m a total Star Wars nerd. Ok, I’ve outed myself.
NWM 14: If you could see anyone from throughout history perform who would it be?
David: Well, I’ve seen both Prince and Stevie Wonder, two bucket listers. Of this century, Aretha Franklin or Billie Holiday. If I could go way way back, I’d choose Beethoven. That dude was deep. Maybe I’m too influenced by the movie Immortal Beloved. ☺
NWM 15: Please share a unique childhood experience that you feel helped contribute to who you and your music are today.
David: When I was very young, around age 5, I took organ lessons. I got pretty good at playing ‘Hot Cross Buns’, but that was about the extent of it. I was distracted by wanting to play outside, especially t-ball and baseball. I didn’t like practicing the organ so my folks pulled me out of the lessons. I credit this parental move for saving me from being a keytar player. ☺
NWM 16: What is a unique trait or quality that sets you apart from the crowd?
David: I may have a few. First, I have two left thumbs. Some say this is the cause of my horrible penmanship, but I think it is thumbthing else.
Maybe it’s my deep understanding and complete lack of knowledge of esoteric nothingness and everythingness.
Or maybe the thing that sets me apart from the crowd is my one-of-a-kind aroma.
Sometimes, there’s never one clear cut answer to life’s little mysteries. (By this stage in the interview, I’m quite punchy, and this answer is all in jest. ☺ )
Big props to all the artists out there baring their hearts and souls on the regular!
NWM 17: What is something that has surprised you in your life or career? Tell us a bit about it.
David: I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to release my own music. It makes me appreciate even more all of the artists I’ve worked with as a producer. It takes a lot of courage to put your voice out there, to put your name on an album, to be a public figure, to claim a ‘sound’, and to contribute a piece of art to the world at large. Big props to all the artists out there baring their hearts and souls on the regular!
NWM 18: We often ask: Apart from live music, what are you most looking forward to when things return to ‘normal’? And though we are interested in this answer, we would like to get a sense of what feeling you are getting now playing music in your area—are things beginning to return to normal with a continued element of caution or is everyone openly embracing freedom with a general feeling of being ‘over it’?
David: It seems like the general sense is ‘We’re over it.’ However, I think many of us still are in the habit of wearing a mask and being cautious, even if we’re vaccinated.
I’m looking forward to starting a local ‘musician happy hour’, where musicians can get together, share songs, and encourage community.
This music is meant to connect, to share that others struggle with issues that you might also struggle with.
NWM 19: What is one thing you would want our readers to know about you which we might not know to ask?
David: My current album explores some of the darker side of our feelings as humans. This music is meant to connect, to share that others struggle with issues that you might also struggle with.
Most of our suffering can be healed in time. My journey with making this record has been cathartic in so many ways, and I hope that it can be for others as well.
NWM 20: What’s next for David Franz?
David: I can’t wait to share several singles and then the whole album with the world. I plan to play live to support the album. And I’m starting work on my next record, one with more hope to match my current vibration.
The song that started this whole album and artist journey, and that one that still points the way forward … ‘Tree Pose’. This song was fully freeform expression. I tapped into some kind of natural energy and rode it.
Timeless and transformative.
From a combination of scorching life events, social transformation, pandemic lockdown, and personal epiphany, David Franz has emerged, like a snake too big for its skin, from behind the producer’s console to the front of the stage. Years of unlocking the creative genius of other artists as a co-writer, producer, and record label head has led to the evolution and development of his own artist persona.
Having a voracious appetite for many different genres of music, Franz founded not one but two record labels. Underground Sun covers a wide-ranging catalog of genres but all have a foundation in soul music. R&B, rock, hip-hop, blues, folk, world, electronic and jazz all find a home on Underground Sun. Underground Sol, co-founded with DJ/producer/entrepreneur Justin Paul, is devoted solely to electronic music and the myriad genres within that broad label.
Both labels embrace and cultivate diversity and inclusivity, knowing these are not only at the core of a thriving music industry but also imperative to connecting and empathizing with all of humanity. Both Underground Sun and Underground Sol have a strong legacy of launching musicians from under-represented demographics into solid music careers.
Website | https://davidfranz.com/
Facebook | https://www.facebook.com/david.franz.92?ref=profile
Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/davidfranzmusic/
Twitter | https://twitter.com/DavidFranzmusic
You may enjoy our previous 20:20 with Steven Spencer
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