Francesco Yates Interview: Singer Talks ‘Call,’ Pharrell’s Advice + That Afro [EXCLUSIVE]
When 18-year-old Francesco Yates stopped by the PopCrush office, he couldn't stop playing his guitar, making up songs on the spot about whatever was going on at the moment. Whether watching him play or listening to him talk, it's clear that the passion for music just spills out of him. He opened up to PopCrush about his single, 'Call,' what it was like working with Pharrell, rocking that signature afro and more.
How did you get started in music?
I mean, I've always done music, I'd always dabble in and out of it. I didn't really take it seriously until I was 10 or 11. That insanity all came into fruition when I watched the movie 'School of Rock' and I was just inspired by the kids on the show, and I thought to myself, 'Oh, I've gotta do this.' And I actually heard it's becoming a TV series, so that just made my life. I didn't know where to go to keep my music going, and coincidentally enough, and there was a music store and music school up the street from where I lived, and they hosted this thing called Rock Camp … and they put the kids together in a band, and each week in the summer they performed for their parents. And I just remembered the first time I performed -- all the crazy things that went along with it.
What can you tell us about your single, 'Call'?
That song is a very special one because when we were recording it we came in late at night and … we just sat and talked about all of these different philosophical things, like what love really means in the grand theme of things. Initially I didn't know what the song was about, and [co-writer Matt Morris] goes, 'Don't you understand? It's patience.' You have to be patient with someone. When it says 'I'm there when you call,' it's more than that. You gotta kind of see it as like a patience with someone who isn't ready to see love. That unconditional part of it is what we wanted to touch on.
We noticed it's a little more uptempo and a little more electronic than some of your other covers and songs. What made you decide to go in that direction?
I listen to a lot of old stuff, and like you were saying, it has kind of a synth feel, almost from the '80s, we wanted to make it feel a little modern and touch on the influences of my past.
Who are some of your influences?
I'll have you here all day -- there's so many! Prince, Michael Jackson… a big one of mine was Freddie Mercury from Queen. The whole style, and the singing and the vocal ability -- I looked up to him as what a singer was.
We can kind of hear it in your voice -- that soulful sound. You collaborated with Pharrell on his album, and now he collaborated with you on yours. How did that happen?
Well, we first met at seemingly kind of a family reunion -- with me not actually being in the family. My A&R went to him independently … just wanting to show Pharrell the artist he was working on. But then we found out because Leila Bell was a protege of Pharrell, and Leila Bell is also under the same management as me. It was crazy. When we met, it was like, all the people knew each other. We sat there the first day, we kind of got to know each other. He gets inside your head. He got inside my head, figured out what we were going to do. We talked about Led Zeppelin, and then the first song came out, which is 'Change the Channel.'
Did he offer you any advice?
To never question your initial instincts musically. You have to go with what first came. Because as soon you start putting that negative energy out there, it can ruin the music. He's a good advocate for 100% authenticity, to just be oneself. That's what he championed.
How did you guys bring that vibe into the song you worked on together?
We were talking about Led Zeppelin, and Led Zeppelin and pop artists clearly don't go together. [But] he slanted it in such a way that seemed to make it work. He stood up for me playing electric guitar. Normally I don't play electric guitar. Now it's in my show -- I play electric guitar in my show, whereas before I didn't.
What can you tell us about your debut album?
It was a journey. It was almost like a finding of oneself artistically. I find had to find who I was. I wanted to do so much music. I wanted to do all different styles. But when I narrowed it down, the focus became clear. It became much easier once I knew what I wanted to do. I think that's important for an artist to do.
What was the process of narrowing down that uniform sound?
I so much like the current stuff that's going on right now, like a lot of Drake's stuff and 40s production. But I also like the music of the past. We wanted to find a way to make it both come together, and through the union of [mine and Pharrell's] minds I hope we achieved it.
Would you say that Drake is an influence when you were recording an album?
As far as the production goes. I mean, I'm not a rapper -- YOLO, of course -- but just the way the music sounds -- the sound of the ambiance. The Weeknd too, that whole spacey sound of the music is what interests me.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
Well, not really. That's like picking kids. Like a favorite child. Each one has a unique and different character to it.
Do you have any other collaborations in the works? Who are your dream collabs?
Dream collab would be Prince. I'd like to go over to his house for pancakes. Prince and Justin Timberlake -- I thought to myself just now, I got a tweet from him recently. It's very surreal stuff for me. It just blows my mind. To me, people like that -- they did it right.
JT has said some pretty nice things about your music. That had to be really cool to hear.
I pinch myself every day. I was just saying, I feel lIke I am going to wake up out of an 'Inception'-type dream, and this is all going to be not real. But if the dream lasts, I am just going to keep it going.
What is something that fans would be surprised to know about you?
I've never had a hamburger in my entire life. I've never had a hot dog in my life. I've never had sushi. I guess I'm just a picky eater!
We love that you call your fans Team Afro. Your afro is such a distinct look. Did you purposely decide to grow out your hair like that, or did it just happen?
It's funny because when I was younger I had really short, almost buzz-cut hair. And I don't know, one day in the fourth grade, it just kind of grew, and I just stuck with it. I wish I could style it. I really do hope and pray every day that it turns out some shape in some type of way.
You're currently on tour with SoMo. What can fans expect from the tour?
We've come to put on a show. Just entertainment. Go back to basics. We're not trying to change the world. I just want to give people a good time.
Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you?
In order to get away sometimes from the music, I have to do either one of two things: I have to play basketball or go swimming. I'm very, very big on basketball. I like to get away sometimes and do that.