INTERVIEW: Francobollo

Everyone’s in a good mood. It’s Live At Leeds, the first festival of the year for many and the sun’s shining. Could thing’s be better? It’s only early in the day, but we’re already crammed into a booth in Nation of Shopkeeper’s courtyard with all of the Francobollo lot and their friends in Wyvern Lingo.

After about half an hour of mindless chat about Birmingham’s Bullring and a Francobollo-Wyvern Lingo collab EP full of ABBA covers, we get finally get onto talking about the band and their beginnings over seven years ago.

Simon Nilsson (vocals/guitar), Petter Grevelius (guitar) and Sean Bean (drums) met back at school in Sweden, where they studied music together. “We played in different bands, with different instruments to now,” begins Petter. “Simon used to play drums, Sean played guitar and sang and I used to play guitar and sing too. It was a mish mash of everything!

The lone Brit in the band, Sam Bailey (bass) met the Swedes when they moved over to London and they played at the same gig. “My band broke up quite soon after that [show]”, explains Sam. “At the same time Sean and their old bassist were going back to Sweden as they’d had enough of Sweden but only their bassist went so I joined. It was that easy!

Easiest audition I’ve ever had. I walked into the room with four beers and I think it was either I was just too polite or they couldn’t be bothered to audition anyone else,” he continues, before Petter agrees. “He was a nice guy. He could play bass. He brought some beers.”

The move to London was a big one for the band, but it “defined” them, says Petter. “We could explore more. We played with loads of different people and saw loads of different people. You never get to see any live bands in Sweden and when we came to London there was loads of them. You realise what’s good and bad when you play. Your general approach to music expands so rapidly.”

The city offered them so many opportunities to play, as well as see bands. “In Sweden, you’re lucky to play once every three months,” says Simon. “In London, you could play every night if you wanted to.” There were so many chances to play shows, Petter’s count outgrew his wall chart as they racked up over 250 gigs by around 2014.

We managed to meet so many bands along the way, and really good people,” adds Sam. “It’s lovely meeting likeminded people and making friends. You can weed out the people who want to be in a band just to be in a band, and then find the people who want to be musicians and connect with them. They’re the ones you end up playing on their records, helping them out and collaborating.”

Playing live so many times has let Francobollo know how to play live well, which has helped them when in the studio. They’ve been working with Charlie Andrews, who’s also produced the likes of Alt-J and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. “It was his idea to bring it into the recording process,” explains Simon about recording as a live band. “There were 20 people amongst all this expensive gear drinking beer and having a party. He’s keen to keep us organic and the way it is.”

We’ve worked with other people before but it never came across in the same way,” he adds before Petter takes over. “They take the producer’s side and put too much influence on their own side, so they go ‘Oh I need to change this somehow’, but Charlie was so much easier to work with.”

We think like producers when we record because we listen to music so much. You never think about how much every person has ever listened to, but it’s insane. We have this ability to hear production, so he just left it to us to play and then refined it.”

Francobollo are a lot different to the harmonising beats of Alt-J or the acoustic ballads of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, which offered something else for Andrews to play with. “We were thinking ‘Why does he want to work with us?’ but it’s worked and now we’ve even signed to his label!

In an interview, Charlie Andrews listed the band’s “interesting arrangements” as one of the reasons why they’re so exciting. After a debate over whether he meant Simon’s trousers (see a nice model shot below), they decide it must be due to their loud-quiet dynamic.

Everything’s so monotone at the moment. If you look at a track it looks like,” Simon explains before their tour manager Danny jumps into narrate “Simon uses his thumbs to define loud and quiet in wave form”. After a confused laugh Sam continues, “We don’t write verses and choruses either.”

You always think the chorus is the hook and the thing you sing to. It’s interesting hearing the Swedish idea of music which is that it’s in the hooks and beats. You can’t find choruses, but it’s nice to do that and then still remember a song without a chorus.” The only problem they find is when playing, the lack of structure makes it hard to define where to go from. “We usually end up trying to imitate the guitar or drums so the others know where we mean!

The structure of their music isn’t the only thing that leads to a debate, describing their sound is something else. “Like a cuddly…” Petter starts before Simon shouts: “Like a really bad diarrhoea” before muttering “no…no…no listen to what I’ve got to say.”

I come from the point of view that you see everything in the world as shit, and then you make things good,” he explains while the rest of the band all have a face of disbelief. “The world is shit and everything’s awful, but you can make good things out of it! That’s kind of like diarrhoea, because when you have diarrhoea every part of your day you’re not shitting is beautiful. Our music is the time you don’t have diarrhoea.”

After their manager suggests a better explanation, the others suggest nirvana on steroids, or a rollercoaster ride. But, Sam agrees finalising on a “diarrhoea rollercoaster.”

Francobollo had a big gap in their musical timeline, but Simon simply states that’s when “life happened”. During this time, they didn’t completely disappear, they changed their name to JaJa Ok and still made the typical ‘Bollo tracks. Some of which like ‘Good Times’ and ‘Future Lover’ made it through the net to the modern-day era.

We wanted a clear break so we could present ourselves as ‘thus is what we do now’,” Petter clarifies. “We want Francobollo to be a label of a huge variety of things so we had to streamline it a bit at the beginning so we could go back to do whatever we wanted.

Even during their hiatus-style time, they were still playing live, which has seen them keep their fanbase up and be as supportive as ever. “It’s beautiful,” Sam states with a smirk. “In Belfast recently we got to the end of our set and someone shouted ‘Kinky Lola!’. We went over our allotted time to just play it for that one person, but it was so nice seeing them feel like they had a connection to it.

Petter’s gig count on his wall filling up over three years ago is a sign they’ve done the right thing. In London, they’ve got unreleased tracks being treated as crowd favourites, and the ‘Bollo fever has spread further than their friends.

Simon explains the first night he released it wasn’t just people they knew singing along was at their EP release show. “All the old-school crowd were standing at the side while kids at the front moshed and sang along.”

There were two top-UK lads at the front, probably called Darren and Jason,” Sam fondly reminisces. “They were around 45 and were like ‘love it mate, absolutely love it!’, while protecting the kids from getting hurt.” The others aww over the loveliness, before he continues: “It matches the music. There’s bouncing, playful, violent and angry parts so people look after each other but still go wild!”

With so many gigs under their belt, it’d hard to for anyone in their position to pick whether they prefer live shows to being in the studio. Petter attempts to make his decision: “There’s a lot of build-up when you record. I get to add the second guitar so there’s more than the drums, bass and guitar, and that’s when it becomes an actual song. It’s when everything goes …(cue waving arms)… and it gets exciting!”

However, there’s instant gratification live, and the adrenalin is mental so it’s hard to choose,” he sits on the fence before Simon adds another of his weird analogies causing another high level of confusion in the rest of the band. “Live is like a cheap fix of heroin, while recording is like a deep fundamental acid trip.”

The recording of their upcoming album, Long Live Life, led to Charlie Andrews asking the band to be the first to sign to his new label Square Leg Records. “We’re kind of the catalyst for the label I guess!” Simon jokes before screaming the (at the time secret) album details. “We’ll sue you if you mention it.” Sean perks up from the corner of the booth to add the details: “It was recorded in Iguana Studios in Brixton, it’s a lovely place in a back alley. I won’t name drop who else has been there, but it’s going to make us very rich and famous one day.”

It’s called Long Live Life. It’s the whole diarrhoea rollercoaster again. Long Live Life. It’s a play on words, life is long!” Simon tries to explain with little success before Sam takes over. “Charlie was asking us what we thought about the title as it was ‘quite happy for you guys’, but it does make sense once you describe our sound.”

It’s like a greatest hits record! It’s taken such a long time so includes tracks from six to seven years ago,” he adds. Simon continues: “I can’t wait for the second album as that’s where it gets more interesting. It’s from one place and one time, so it’ll be a lot cooler!”

With so much material to choose from, “there’s thousands of tonnes of CDs” jokes Sam, a lot had to be left out but it won’t be forgotten about. “The [Wonderful] EP had two left over tracks!” Simon says.

We’ll find something to do with the cast-offs because it’s heart-breaking when you can’t put them out,” Sam explains. “We worked hard to make sure it all fits together and has an A and B side of the vinyl, so there is a definite start to the second side,” before Petter laughs. “When they start making 15” records…”.

Their debut album is only a couple of months away from being released, so the band have got their final plans sorted. “We’re doing a UK tour in October, then having kids and then going to Europe to do another tour!” explains Petter but Sam reminds him. “We do have Marika Hackman’s tour before that as we’re supporting her.

The jokes of children in the future plans soon end, with Simon finally composing himself with no weird comments or diarrhoea related remarks. “We’re just going to keep being Francobollo! We’ll do more of it and release more things as us!”

Francobollo’s debut album, ‘Long Live Life’ is due to be released on July 14 via Square Leg Records.

Becky Rogers

Jon Mo