It’s a cutthroat business trying to make it in the independent music world. Thousands of bands tour the country tirelessly in hopes of gaining the modest success only few can achieve. The boys in Dispatch have been at it for six years and are only now beginning to see the fruits of their labor.
The band recently sold more than 100,000 records, and its latest release, Who Are You (Bomber Records), debuted as one of the top 50 internet releases of the week. This success comes largely because of the vision of guitarist/singer Pete Francis.
Francis took a few moments recently to speak with The Hatchet about his band, his new solo project and his desire to change the face of contemporary music.
The music of Dispatch seeks to meld a number of influences ranging from rock to reggae and funk. Francis does not see that type of diversity in most current popular music.
“There’s a lot of music out there that’s one dimensional,” he says, “I know what we do, and whatever it is, it’s more positive.”
Francis cites eclectic influences as a necessary element to his music.
“I try to be a big sponge and suck it all up,” he said.
He also stressed the importance of collaboration among artists.
“There is no form in creating music or art of any kind. The form comes from the process,” Francis says. “Usually with Dispatch we’ll just lay down a groove; it’s a collective thing.”
Dispatch has played the indie music scene since 1995. The band released several albums on Bomber Records and has toured the country practically non-stop for the last few years. Francis said staying dedicated to his audience is key to developing a large fan base.
“You’ve got to put in your time, play any gig that’s offered to you,” he said. “We’ve always been a band that’s been about the people. Our whole thing is putting on a live show and making people feel good.”
Francis does admit that sometimes life in the band can get hectic.
“When you’re involved with a group of people artistically it’s always difficult,” he added. “That’s just the bottom line.”
But this conflict often leads to inspiration.
“Out of the tension things can bloom,” he says. “It’s a cool process to go through.”
In spite of, or even because of, this creative tension, Francis claims to be content with his role in Dispatch but continues to see himself as an evolving artist.
“I think that there are certain songs that I write that work well with Dispatch and sometimes there are songs where I’d rather explore my own vision completely,” he says.
Acting on this sentiment, Francis recently released a solo record, So They Say (Bomber Records), to offer something new to his fans. He said he does not plan to leave the band.
“Dispatch kind of fulfills a part of my whole musical being, and doing this is just another part,” Francis says.
So They Say is orchestrated and performed almost entirely by Francis, but it is a collaborative effort in many respects. Francis called on veteran jazz musicians Marty Ballou and Marty Richards as well as producer Jack Gauthier to help with the recording. The result is an interesting mix of musical genres and styles.
“To me, this was focused very much on poetry,” Francis said. “A lot of this record has that broken-down jazz feel with a concentration on the lyrics.
“A lot of times I write different poems, and then when I’m writing a song I take pieces from different the poems,” he said.
Francis, an avid poetry reader, seeks to craft his songs the way poets
craft their work.
“I’ve always been interested in metaphorical writing,” he said. “Poets like Wallace Stephens and E.E. Cummings.”
Such interest has fueled Francis in his songwriting since he was a young man. Raised mostly in New York, Francis started writing poetry and music at a fairly young age.
“I’ve always loved singing,” he said. “I picked up the guitar when I was 16.”
Several tracks off of the new album hark back to his early days songwriting.
“There are a couple of songs off So they Say, like `I don’t Want to Fight,’ I wrote when I was 19,” he says, “`Father Rose’ I wrote when I was 19 too.”
Francis is currently touring solo to promote So They Say. He came into the D.C. area Tuesday to play a well-attended show at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va.
Francis will return to Dispatch in early November to tour in support of a new live record due out Nov. 6. Francis takes the time on tour when he is not playing to indulge his personal tastes in music and literature.
“What’s fun about going on the road is you can visit a lot of cool record stores and book stores and pick up little jewels along the way,” he said.
Whether playing with his band or on his own, Francis seeks to stay true to himself and the music he loves. That principle is the driving force behind his newest release and his music to date.
“I try to write in very concrete language and go after the truth of what I’m feeling,” he said.