Julia Francis, it’s safe to say, will never be referred to as a shrinking violet. Brassy, bold, and boisterous, the Seattle singer-songwriter proudly wears her heart – and whole dang soul – on her crushed-velvet sleeve. With a voice that KBCS describes as “howling, blistering… like Bessie Smith and Sister Rosetta Tharpe colliding with Slick, Joplin and Tedeschi”, Francis will pull you out of your daily reverie and into her incense and amber world at the first note.
When You Get What You Want, her first new music following a decade-long hiatus, surges and swells, shimmering with the ghosts of Laurel Canyon. As broad and undeniable as the steel-grey pacific of her home state, Julia Francis, it’s safe to say, is back. You’d better hold on.
A born singer, Francis during her time has moved through the worlds of classical choral works and musical theater to jazz, blues and rock and roll. A professionally trained actor and author (her novel Victory Garden garnered grants and awards including a month residency at the vaunted Vermont Studio Center), Francis fell into corporate marketing by accident after college and discovered a way to support herself and fund her art. The ear-trained, self-taught guitarist produced and toured two albums nationally: Five Challenges to Flight (2005) and Lucky Penny (2008).
A change in priorities led Francis to focus on family, leaving the bright lights temporarily behind. Someone born with music in their soul never really walks away, and she continued to write and arrange in her home studio. In 2017 Francis returned to live music, building a band that wins over crowds with their in-the-pocket, authentic blues-rock every time they step on stage.
When You Get What You Want was written in her home studio in South Seattle: a cedar-lined oasis with twinkling lights, patchwork rugs, and a 1940’s barber chair that belonged to her father-in-law (who bankrolled his son’s band Violent Femmes and their first album.) When the time came to track the record, Francis turned to acclaimed producer Steve Fisk (Ben Gibbard, Car Seat Headrest). In December 2019 they settled into Seattle’s Avast Recording for a three-day session, playing live in one big room and cutting the whole thing in single takes.
Joining Francis and Fisk in the studio were Darren Loucas (guitar), Mark Lutwak (keys), Mike Peterson (drums), and Rebecca Young (bass). Carrie Akre (Hammerbox) contributed vocals on “Drawers”, and Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire (Shabazz Palaces) played congas on the title track. Pearl the chihuahua provided emotional support.
A life-long disciple of sound healing, Francis has often looked to her Celtic heritage, studying with shamans to understand the power of the unseen, and following her passion for traditions that employ the voice as a powerful tool to heal and unite. After twenty years moving between the corporate and the creative, Francis, drawing from these metaphysical traditions, brought the two together through her company To The Bridge. Offering songwriting workshops facilitated by professional artists, To The Bridge helps leaders and teams come together through co-creation of their own songs.
This work, in turn, has had a profound influence on Francis’ own creativity. “Working with people who aren’t comfortable expressing themselves musically, or don’t feel free opening up to their peers, gives me courage to sing out LOUD about the things people don’t like to talk about”, says Francis. “What if we took a chance and opened our mouths and spoke our truth?”
On When You Get What You Want, the truth comes pouring down like rain. A collection of songs that explore the ways we can rid ourselves of the conditioning that keeps us from following our bliss, this is a record that speaks directly to the listener. “I hope these songs make people feel seen”, explains Francis. “I couldn’t wait another second to bottle the magic that’s happening here: my band feeds the roots and the soul of my songs, and my voice feels free to go beyond… Our aim is transformation.”
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