Artist of the Week: Francis and the Lights - Rolling Stone
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Artist of the Week: Francis and the Lights

Eccentric ’80s-pop group earns raves from Kanye West, MGMT

Who: New York-based ’80s-pop throwback group fronted by eccentric singer Francis Farewell Starlite. The band has gotten raves from unlikely fans like Kanye West and Drake and is currently touring with pals (and Wesleyan schoolmates) MGMT. Despite all the attention, Starlite, who chooses his words very carefully, remains modest. “With Kanye West and Drake, I feel they are two artists who really love music, period,” says Starlite. “I think that both of those individuals know what a good song is. That’s what I’m trying to do and I think that that’s what translates no matter what.”

Sounds Like: Immaculately produced ’80s-excess pop that channels the sparkling production of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel on jazzy tunes arranged with the precision of Steely Dan. Highlights from Francis and the Lights’ full-length debut include minimal, funked-out numbers like “In a Limousine” and the piano ballad “Get in the Car,” Starlite’s bittersweet tale of a girl who works the streets. Sample lyric: “Get in the car/You could be bigger than Madonna/Get in the car/You know you wanna.”

Master of Minimalism: Starlite is a fan of early Beatles and Thelonious Monk, but no record or artist has impacted him quite like Strunk and White’s grammar-usage guide The Elements of Style. Startlite cites the book’s emphasis on clarity and minimalism as its biggest influence on his songwriting — a stark contrast to the overblown production of hitmakers like Katy Perry and Ke$ha. “Knees on the Floor,” features little more than tightly locked drums, a few synth melodies and Starlite’s lilting falsetto. “I like this idea in the Elements of Style that style is not embellishment, that if you try to say something as simply as possible, your personal style will come through,” says Starlite. “The simpler you get, the closer you get to something.”

Soul Man: Starlite started out performing at Wesleyan and even his earliest gigs were incredibly ambitious: one gig found him covering Otis Redding’s classic The Immortal Otis Redding in its entirety. “I would sit in my room and listen to it over and over again, beginning to end,” says Starlite. “It had all the fundamental elements that I wanted if I were to have a band.” As for his execution of the record live, Starlite adds simply, “The performance was touch and go.”

Secret Shopper: Starlite is extremely private about his personal life — he chooses not to disclose information about his early years — but he has no qualms about documenting every single purchase on his Twitter, from musical instruments to meals. (He keeps tight restrictions on who can view it, though.) “I’m very proud of the fact that it was completely honest,” says Starlite. “I stopped doing it for a few months but now I’m doing it again. But you have to know the Twitter name. It’s secret.”


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