|Baz Francis - Magic Eight Ball - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Dom Daley|
|Saturday, 30 April 2016 02:30|
On the eve of the brand new Magic Eight Ball album being released I managed to bag a really good chat with Baz Francis, the band’s singer, frontman, songwriter and almost everything else, about the new record ‘Richest Men In The Graveyard’ and whatever else he has going on in Magic Eight Ball’s world right now. Here for your reading pleasure, are some of the printable highlights of a conversation that seemed to be over in minutes but actually lasted nearly three hours…..
Let’s start at the top and you have a brand new long player ready to go tell us all about ‘Richest Men In The Graveyard’.
It's funny, years ago certainly when I first started buying records I'd listen to my favourite bands and I'd buy into it the whole artwork and the music would be thoroughly investigated and I'd want to get my money’s worth by trying to like it - especially if it was one of my favourite bands - whereas nowadays with digital downloads being the way people listen to their music differently so it can be a challenge in itself to keep things interesting because people don't necessarily listen to an album the whole way through like they perhaps did, but will hear a song they like and just download that. It’s a challenge when coming up with a new release. So promotion wise for ‘Richest Men In The Graveyard’ we have an ad campaign which is set to happen in a few weeks time in the Metro in London so fingers crossed that will have some sort of impact. I think with so many bands being around its difficult to come up with way to promote a new record and try to be seen in new places. Not every band makes the effort and with such great places to be seen like Uber Rock you guys are really out there leading the way. You are happy to work with bands and are open to ideas because there are many ways to approach the same subject.
I'm hopeful we'll have a spike of interest when the ad is in the Metro runs and then when it dies down, which is only natural, we’ll be trying to keep someone’s interest, which is the really hard part.
It’s like dating isn't it, when you first meet someone you try really hard to impress them then after a while that sort of dies off (Laughing) and as your efforts wain so will your relationship, (Laughing) which will explain one failed marriage and one failed engagement (Laughing).
So to hopefully stop that with the new record I've been researching the best way to get the word out there about us. There is someone that should be named and shamed but maybe that's for another day? (Laughing) Let’s just say that a certain magazine didn't want to cover the last record (‘Last Of The Old Romantics’) with Rik Mayall on because he wasn't famous for doing anything musical, which is hilarious because regardless of it being serious or not, he had a number one single! That guy was part of a massive culture shock to the norm and bands wanted to be on their show the likes of Madness and Motorhead did really well off the back of being on the Young Ones. Anyway, I was discussing us getting in a certain well-respected music magazine and the guy was giving me the run-around until I realised this isn't going to happen and when I was speaking to the writer I couldn't help but think "what a cunt!" He just didn't care that it was Rik's last performance on the record I was promoting and trying to get him to write about. Later on the same day I got a newsletter via email and in its news it reviewed a twenty year old album (now that's news?) and the other thing was they were plugging Noel Gallagher, and like him or loathe him, he is the most successful British songwriter of the last few decades and in their tag line they spelt his name wrong, so I thought you know what? “Fuck You, just fuck you” (cue plenty of laughter both ways down the phone line). Then I get the news email off them this week and the main story they were running was - (I appreciate its Grand National week) but get this right, Band Or Horse? For fuck’s sake that is the main news? Dear me you do wonder if they care about music at all with stuff like that. Band or horse? I know it’s a business, I completely understand that but when you completely remove the love of music and arts what are you left with.
So, back to my initial point we thought in this day and age Metro might be a great place to carry an ad and reach people in a different way for a band like ourselves as well as publications like Uber Rock who have covered Magic Eight Ball since day one without any agenda or being driven by money you’ve always been about the love of music and a passion for what you’re doing which is on the same level as Magic Eight Ball and I really appreciate that and the fact there is no agenda.
It’s certainly an exciting month ahead as you’re off to Scandinavia for your first gigs in the Faroe Islands. How on earth did you get booked to play in the Faroe Islands?
Well I wrote (before Christmas) to a load of places in that region and Scandinavia as I really wanted to play there as I've played Denmark and I really enjoyed it as a solo artist with Donnie (Vie) so I contacted venues on the Island and a particular venue which had a great vibe got back to me and asked if I was serious, and I don't think they have had anyone from the UK play there before, so it's happening. It might be a novelty for them but there are people there who are getting into my stuff.
Actually the original plan was to go there and write a solo album and release it on a local label but they are very much geared to local artists, so we've decided to record it in um Swansea (laughing). A slight left turn in the road.
Well it does get cold down here sometimes Baz…..
You don't need to tell me about it (laughing). We recorded the V8 single there and also the Magic Eight Ball bonus tracks were recorded there.
Tell me how do you approach doing a Magic Eight Ball record compared to a solo record then, something it sounds like you are also working on?
Well for a start, most of the Magic Eight Ball stuff is done live with us - Jase from Bullet For My Valentine, Dave and myself - as a three piece and they are very much rock productions. Whereas my solo album will be less of a rock album and I won’t be working with the other two. But it won’t be like one of those guys with an acoustic guitar strumming and singing folk songs about new born babies, it hopefully will be something different. Obviously there will be some acoustic guitar on there but I don't want it to be a generic unplugged thing. Yeah, the idea is to approach both very differently.
I got to see the artwork last night for the new album it would look great as an LP. What formats is this new album coming out on?
Well sadly not vinyl unless someone offers to release it on that format. It was great that the V8 thing came out on vinyl record it’s great to have that experience – as I said at the start I got into listening to music on that format by listening to Marvin Gaye records, so in an era where vinyl had become devalued its great to come out on that format and see that it is seeing something of a resurgence. Tts all very positive which is great. I mean if anyone should make an approach as to release any Magic Eight Ball on vinyl I'd be very much up for that. I think it’s a beautiful medium.
I agree although there are merits and worth in a lot of the formats. CD is great and even sound files have their place...
Yes for me I think my preferred medium is still the CD. I saw a cartoon online that was funny, it was a vinyl traditionalist where they had their record player hooked up to their car (laughing) which struck a chord with me. There are certainly pluses to CD with regards to things like the running time and the fact it is a compact disc (for the car), so like you say, everything has its place, but it is nice to be pressed on record. It’s like I said earlier with files I might not like the compression but if someone only wants the one song they'veheard why would I deny them that, and it might lead them to invest both time and money further down the line in to other Magic Eight Ball releases if they like what they hear, and who am I to say what format people should listen to music on?
Let’s look a little deeper into the brand new Magic Eight Ball record, 'Richest Men In The Graveyard'. When I first put it on I was struck by how heavy the opening few tracks were. Much heavier in sound than anything you've done previously, would that be a fair assessment?
Yeah it would. There is about a third or maybe more of the album which is on the heavier side, but that's maybe because that's what I've been listening to along with power pop and now was the right time to bring it to the fore with Magic Eight Ball. The original concept to the album before it was written was to make a Hallowe’en album for all seasons.
Every October someone will cash in on the holiday and write a song about it, well I wanted one for all year not just that week’s build up and it’s my favourite time of the year. In Mexico they have las dia de muertos in which I see parallels. They celebrate the dead and the whole album is a concept -even though I don't really like using that word - so let’s say, there is a theme running through the album which is about how death is. I’ve sung about love and all its failings and successes and the other topic I felt qualified to talk about is death. As a massive horror movie fan and - I say this with tongue firmly in cheek - a philosopher, I wanted to explore the subject so this is an overlap between the fun horror fan and the pensive adult in me. So a Hallowe’en album for all seasons because I'm interested in how different cultures celebrate death and to be fair nothing sounds closer to the subject matter at hand than a really good power chord or riff. Take Metallica and when they did 'My Apocalypse', if it had an acoustic guitar on it it wouldn't have been the same so something really scary would be a cop out if it were weak. There are ballads on this album but they aren't there to appease the listener they are there because they are sad and melancholy and to throw some distortion on there would be a disservice to the music just for the sake of it. ‘Eyes Of A Fool' nearly didn't make the cut because it seemed something just wasn't right with it and with 20/20 hindsight the thing that wasn't quite right was I was trying to make it more rock than it should have been. So making it into the ballad made the song and the same vice versa.
I would say even on first listen the flow of the new record seems really good - is that something that you are aware of and work on. I mean, is it deliberate?
Oh yes, it’s something I put a lot of thought into. When we did the first album and it has the heaviest song first and then segued into the power pop, on this album we start off heavy and we needed to progress into the ballads so rather than rock - rock - rock - rock - rock - ballad we definitely wanted it to flow. I don't feel like I “have to” include a certain song. So yes this record isn't accidental at all and ending this record with something of a ballad, I do love the melancholy you know, I love the idea of the beautiful finale. It’s sort of uplifting as the same time. So it goes from the very aggressive - horror movie - type song to end with something that has none of that in it and leaves you with the lyrics. But all the fun we've had over the last 30 or so minutes hasn't been throw away and I do mean every single word of it.
Like with the last record the final song was very poignant and about divorce and then right at the end you think I've placed the song at the end to be taken seriously you have Rik saying what he does. Mix it up, I guess be both serious but always keep a sense of humour. (Laughing)
There is definitely a progression on this record. Whilst it’s recognisable as a Magic Eight Ball record the sound has developed and not stood still - you haven't just hit on a formula and repeated it year after year.
I'm glad you feel that Dom. I have noticed a lot of bands who deliberately go for a certain sound and write songs in the comfort zone to fit a genre, which in itself is fine, but I'm not like that, I will take the band wherever it needs to go you know? I don't try to sound like the bands I love and I wouldn't want to sound like a parody band, and I've always loved being able to do the good time rock songs and enjoying life in the lyrics and mixing it with serious stuff. I am aware that I don't want to be pretentious, I'm not someone who wants to be thought of like that. But, yes, it's not 1988 anymore I don't want to make the same record that say Guns N’ Roses made. I love that record but I wouldn't want to copy it.
Magic Eight Ball have been a going concern for a decade now there must be a sense of achievement in that?
Oh yes, it’s great to look back on photos of Robbie and myself and now ten years on we’re playing bigger stages and what we've done as a band. Because let’s not forget I am not Magic Eight Ball. I might do a large percentage of the work sure, but it’s still a band, and the work is done as a band. Which is a very different approach to when I do the solo thing as me, Baz Francis. When I come to do the solo record the same people won’t be involved.
Sometimes I'm surprised it’s been that long though. I guess being a self-managed band some of those proudest achievements are from looking back and being self-managed for all that time as well and thinking “wow we manged to get on this or that bill,” which is really great you know. Overcoming those obstacles is a bigger achievement, anyone who's been in a band will know it’s like herding cats. I think on my gravestone it should read, "Here lies Baz, he herded cats for many years.” (Laughing) Or, what I would prefer what Rik said about me on the last album, "Baz Francis member of Magic Eight Ball, nice enough bunch of guys but a complete and utter cunt!" Not that I envisage having a gravestone mind.
How about a blue plaque?
Yeah, if a plaque somewhere had that I'd be thrilled. I have told my girlfriend that and said stick that on something and she refused, so I told her that will be my dying wish! (Laughing) Look she’s going to get haunted if she doesn't do it. It’s her choice. (Even more laughter)
I think it’s a really nice achievement to have done this for ten years, but I'm sure there will always be people who say, "who the fuck are these guys?” “They've been going for ten years and I haven't fucking heard of them." (Laughing) No, seriously going to new places and playing to new people is great. I think it’s great to play a big festival stage one day and the next some dive in the middle of nowhere to a few people, that'll do me. Don't do this if you are in it to make a million and are disheartened by a few shows where there aren't many there and they are looking at their phones. Whereas me, I'm still enthused when I see an offer come in for a show in the back of beyond and it peaks my interest and I'll be like "I don't care were doing it were doing it." (Laughing) The next time Magic Eight Ball play is in a football stadium and the one after that will be slightly more intimate. I love that and embrace it. Those are the good days. Maybe the achievement isn't musical it’s perhaps stupidity? (Laughing)
Or that in ten years you haven't been sectioned...
Ha! Yeah it could be like – “hey there goes Baz has really brave and courageous,” or just “WHAT A TWAT!” Why would you do that? Why would you put yourself through ten years of that? (Laughing) Why? Look, if it was easy everyone would be doing it wouldn't they? And then it wouldn't be fun.
I do look back at ten years of pictures now and again and think “wow what a great life I've been privileged to have” and when I bump into people and they say “how’s things?” I'm the same old same old Baz and I'm like I'm so glad that what I do still excites me. I feel like I'm preaching to you from a pulpit here though Dom. Motivational speaking for twats by Baz (laughing) you should have conducted this interview by email with rules - max answer 200 words, and don't deviate! (More laughter)
So there we have it. A three hour conversation with Baz Francis of Magic Eight Ball edited down to something you could read and we wouldn’t get sued for printing. There’s a rumour that a further audio book version of this interview will be available on Amazon. But what I will say is that it was an absolute pleasure sharing stories and chatting with Baz.
If you do get the chance I suggest you pre-order the CD version of ‘Richest Men In The Graveyard’ on Magic Cat Records right HERE: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=GKZN6HEPM4ZQS. The downloadable-version that features two exclusive acoustic session bonus tracks you can now pre-order that on iTunes HERE: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/richest-men-in-graveyard-expanded/id1104320430. Or best still pop along to see Magic Eight Ball at one of their upcoming live shows and buy everything they have on the merch table.
Photographs courtesy of Andrea Duarte