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MUSIC: Interview with Rough Francis’ Bobby Hackney Jr.

Saturday, March 22, 2014


Photo Credit: Casey Xavier Starnes

Imagine being your average punk rock kid listening to the loudest, abrasive and electrifying music only to find out that your father is a long lost pioneer to the genre & lifestyle. Enter the world of the lead singer of Rough Francis, Bobby Hackney Jr., who only a few years ago was heading to basement & DIY shows all over New England, starting a punk band with his brothers Urian & Julian and discovering that his father was in a trio that personified Detroit rock & roll in the early 70s. You might know the trio from the stunning documentary A Band Called Death, which singlehandedly rewrote punk history with lead singer & bassist Bobby Hackney and his brother Dannis who plays drums telling the story of a band they were in that was headed by their late brother David on guitar. Since the resurgence of Death in 2009, Bobby & Dannis have reformed the trio with Bobbie Duncan on guitar and Rough Francis has become part of a burgeoning punk & garage rock scene in New England. In fact, Rough Francis will be performing at The Columbus Theatre tonight with local revolution rockers Ravi Shavi sharing the stage. I got the chance to talk to Bobby Hackney Jr about this wild ride over the past 5 years, being a band based in Burlington, VT and more:

Rob Duguay: Before we start talking about the show at The Columbus Theatre tonight, let’s do a before & after of Rough Francis. What was life like for you before you found out your father was the lead singer & bassist of one of the earliest punk bands ever with Death and how has life been ever since the rediscovery of your dad’s band?

Bobby Hackney Jr.: I got introduced to punk rock when I was about 15 years old . I started hanging out with all the punk kids and I got into skateboarding, then a friend of mine made me a mixtape with Black Flag, Fugazi, Minor Threat and all of these other bands. I got into punk that way and I was also a musician at the time playing with my friends in various bands doing covers and stuff like that. I then started going to shows and I really got into it, soon afterwards my younger brothers were getting into punk rock through me and all three of us were musicians while listening to punk rock. One time my father after hearing some of my band’s songs said, “You know this kind of reminds me of the stuff me and your uncle did when were kids” and I was like “Yeah right Dad”. Once we discovered the Death music we were just blown away because we really had no idea that our father & uncles were playing music like that. We only knew our dad and uncle Dannis as reggae musicians because we grew up around Lambsbread and the reggae thing and when we heard all the rock & roll they did it was mind-blowing.

R.D.: I can imagine when you find out that your dad who you thought was a reggae rasta musician all of a sudden in the 70’s was doing all of this punk stuff that nobody was really doing at the time had to be a huge surprise.

B.H.: It was really funny because as I got older my musical taste got a little finer, I didn’t really hear The Stooges and The MC5 until I got into my early 20s so if you told me when I was super young I probably wouldn’t have understood it quite yet. I didn’t find out about Death until I was in my early 30s and my brother Julian was in his early 20s and my brother Urian was in his late teens. I think it’s kind of one of those things when time had to take it’s course for us to understand what this really was, and after that once we were old enough we understood fully and helped bring it to the surface.

R.D.: One day you just find out after listening to a Fugazi record then you hear about this EP only to find out that it’s your dad and your uncles playing punk rock, such an amazing story. As I mentioned earlier, tonight Rough Francis will be performing at The Columbus Theatre in Providence. For people who have never seen you guys play or even heard of you guys, what can they expect from Rough Francis?

B.H.: Well, we’re just a very high energy band that does whatever the music tells us to do. We’re very spiritual when it comes to music, we’re very passionate about it and we really love connecting with the audience and connecting with people that come to see us. We try to create a vibe, whenever we’re in a room with people we want to make it an event with feeling. Whatever happens, happens but it’ll definitely be a good time and it’ll definitely be fun with a lot of high energy for sure.

R.D.: I’m looking forward to it tonight and it should be a blast of a time. So Rough Francis is based in Burlington, VT, a place that has a history of being home to jam bands like Phish, Dispatch and Strangefolk. As a punk rock band based in that city, have you ever had shows in Burlington where a bunch of hippies show up? If so, how weird was it?

B.H.: People in Burlington like all kinds of music and you’re right with the jam scene being pretty big up here. At the same time a lot of kids that listen to jam music also go to different types of shows and we do have a very mixed crowd with punk kids, skater kids, older people who kinda know the backstory and grew up listening to The Stooges, we have people that used to go to Lambsbread shows that fall into the hippie category that just know us through our dad and we have college kids so it’s like an awesome mix of all these different types of people. We try to do a lot of all ages shows as much as we can so we have everybody of all walks of life coming to our gigs, we’re even really good friends with some of the members of Phish. Jon Fishman will even come to a show every now and again, people up here are very accepting of all types of music and it’s pretty cool.

R.D.: That’s great to hear, not every place has that type of musical open-mindedness that Burlington seems to have. You guys currently have your debut album out called Maximum Soul Power. When Rough Francis was making the album, what was the process like? Was it a lot of stuff you weren’t used to at all? Did you use any similar techniques that your dad did when he recorded his music? Who helped do the producing and where was it recorded?

B.H.: It was a long process but when we first started being a band we were doing Death covers and once our dad & uncle started playing out live that gave us the green light to move on and start writing our own music. It was a little tricky because we were trying to find our own identity within the story. We knew that we had the energy and obviously our main influence was Death but we wanted to put our own spin on the story and the sound. We pretty much just kind of let go of all the preconceived notions that people would have of us sounding like Death and being related to Death and use that to create our own sound while using that same energy and it worked out really well. We just did what felt right to us and had the same mindset and the same energy, it was kind of like a seamless process. Once we started to let go and not freak out about it as much, that’s when things started to come out naturally.

R.D.: When you just sit back and relax while getting comfortable in your own environment that’s usually when the best stuff comes out. Now where was the album made? Was it done in a studio? In a basement? In a garage?

B.H.: It was done in a studio called Signal Kitchen based in Burlington that also hosts live events now. At the time, it was just barely starting out and we met this guy named Mike Lubita through the filming of the documentary A Band Called Death. We used his studio space for some footage and we got to talking and he said that he’s a sound engineer and he’s interested in recording us. So we formed a relationship with Mike and he got us in the studio for a really good rate, we pretty much tracked all of Maximum Soul Power in 2 days and then we did the vocals and the overdubs at our practice space which is also a recording studio. It was a really casual and slow process, we wanted to do it at our leisure so it wasn’t stressful and we had enough time to work out the kinks, be comfortable and do it the right way. I think it turned out pretty well and we kept it pretty low key.

R.D.: We’re only in March here in 2014 so the year is still pretty young. Rough Francis has an album out and you’re in the middle of a little tour so what does the rest of the year have in store for you guys?

B.H.: We’re going to continue on the path of playing shows, linking up with some other cool bands hopefully. Everyday is a different adventure and a different surprise, you have all these people and these bands sending you emails. Hopefully down the road we can get on an opening slot with a bigger band, but we’re going where the wind takes us I guess.

Bobby Hackney Jr. is one cool cat and you can see him and the rest of Rough Francis tonight at The Columbus Theatre located on 270 Broadway in the west end of The Creative Capital. Get your earplugs and be prepared to act like a total maniac because you’re going to get rocked.  


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