Rough Church’s Greg Franco

Greg Franco Interview by Harvey Kubernik C 2013

Rough Church have just released a double LP vinyl called Aloha Mijos and will be headlining a December 20th show at Taix in Echo Park and returning to the same venue on January 24th.

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Q: Where were you born and raised? What got you started on this journey with music? 

A: Born in Hollywood, but I’m a Van Nuys Valley dude too, I’m also from Burbank and went to high school there. Radio in LA was good in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It Rough Church: Aloha Mijosstarted at KHJ then went to KROQ and Rodney , etc. Also, thank goodness there were great record stores in nearby Pasadena like Pooh Bah’s. Growing up in LA in the early 80’s, was great! I had a 1964 Mercury Monterey convertible, and access to everything. We could go see X and Wall of Voodoo. In the early 80’s I had a girlfriend when I was 17 and she was 16, we saw everything, and it was cheap. We saw Gary Numan, Lene Lovich, and Siouxsie. I also got exposed to the local music via KXLU-FM. And only a few years later, while at UCLA with my brother Daniel I started my first band Blasphemous Yellow.

We had a Minutemen/Violent Femmes kinda thing going on and a bit of King Crimson too! We started playing at The Anti-Club with Uh,(Ethan Port from Savage Republic) his side project. Also we played with Tex and the Horse heads, (they scared the crap out of us) Debt of Nature go us gigs, and that later became Medicine. We met Psi-Com, which was Perry Farrell’s first project, later he formed Jane’s Addiction. The Minutemen and The Dream Syndicate were also playing on the scene back then, and we worshipped both of them. That was 1983-1985. What a great scene! I would later say the same thing about the 90’s Silverlake scene when I was in my band Ferdinand. LA always has good music, sometimes you just need to find it in odd places.

Q: Tell me about your gear? 

A: My guitar is a Japanese made Fender Telecaster, bought in 1996 in Nashville TN, by then bandmate Chris Chandler, My rig is a music man 70’s vintage, the speaker is made by Black Widow.

Q: You reside in an area called Mt. Washington/ Cypress Park, near to Silver lake and Echo Park. Can you describe it? This is where you also have a home/garage studio and where you practice and record your demos. 

A: Sure. Cypress Park is down the hill, I’m in Mount Washington, it’s near Frog Town, and Dodger Stadium, is cut off by the Los Angeles River. It’s a world on top of a hill above where the 110 Freeway and the 5 Freeway meet. It’s my sanctuary. I like to be able to come down the hill, to Downtown. I can be in Echo Park and Silver-lake in 5 minutes. It’s an easy access thing. The big boy recording studios, like Estudio, and Grandma’s Warehouse are also 5-10 minutes away. There’s a energy to my part of LA, it’s a secret Eastside LA thing. Its quiet up here, except for the coyotes at night. I draw from the environment. I can choose to be in the crazy LA thing, eating at Olvera Street or Phillpes in a heartbeat, or just stay up in the castle. I can see Downtown from on side of the house, and the San Gabriel Mountains on the other. I dig that, it’s unique.

There’s something great about living in the shadow of Dodger Stadium. In the Spring and Summer, I can see the stadium lights, and I can see the fireworks on Friday nights when they are playing at home. I also love Vin Scully. I grew up with him. He and the Dodgers are very important to me and my family history. It keeps me connected to storytelling and my roots in LA. It’s what Ry Cooder writes about on his record ‘Chavez Ravine.’

Q: Can you sort of explain why your current band is called Rough Church?

A: I can say that places like Taix restaurant where we play, and where I book the bands on Friday nights in Echo Park, comes to mind. Also the Fillmore in San Francisco comes to mind, a ‘church’ for me. I think It’s nice when we can feel ownership and fellowship in a music venue. Our own history, the feel of that. We are restless souls coming together to enjoy great music. I dig that. Rough Church, I guess.

Q: In the last few years you have recorded various projects, including “The Wow Signal” “Nude Canon” ep and toured New Zealand and Australia. In July 2013 you will be releasing a double LP on vinyl, “Aloha Mijos.”

Rough Church Taix 321 LoungeA: Yes!!! It’s a double recorded almost all live in one weekend! The engineer/producer is Manny Nieto. He and I are old friends from the 1990s Silverlake rock scene. Manny was in Distortion Felix, he made his record with Steve Albini back then, and learned from him. He hung up his own music but has been so busy recording in LA and even in China and Singapore. He has worked with bands like Health and The Breeders.’ Los Lobos did “Tin Can Trust” at his place called “Estudio” That space, his room in Lincoln Heights is magical.

It was started on my birthday 9/11/2010 and I just wanted to invite my friends to come play on this record. It had to be done live though. Guys from Scenic, Mark Mastopietro, Whisky Biscuit, Jeff Cairns( slide guitar) came over, Lindsay Glover (drums), 5 Track was playing bass and guitar, Tracy Hill is on a majority of tracks as the drummer. I had only formulated the project for a month before and I booked the time.

We rehearsed and sketched out some songs I wanted to do like ‘Helicopter Gunships’ and ‘Chess Pieces.’ These were songs about the Fog of War, our current American History, and they needed to be purged. I carried around these ideas in my head with repeating lyrics. Five and Mark helped me a lot, and then this temporary RC band began to flesh it out at rehearsal and then we had some songs, semi-written. Some of it also was me taking poetry and reading /singing the words while we were playing. Live jam concept.

Q: You were in now employing another lyricist into your work.

A: Yes. I was also using stuff from a real poet from Dunedin New Zealand named David Eggleton. I met him through Otis Mace and ultimately they are all mutual friend of the guys in the Clean. It was a roll of the dice. I guess I wanted to stop hearing my inner voice for a while. Late one night just before the first LA sessions, I sent David a desperate e-mail saying, ‘Can you send me a couple of poems?’ He sent me 15 (approx) poems.

Q: What struck you about his material?

A: The generosity of it, the beauty of his inner voice and soul, his rhythm. David’s experience is so different from mine. He is a man of letters, so I wanted some of that mojo.

Q: You then took the master tapes to Hawaii.

A: Yes! Hawaii with Manny! Such good times. Manny had a ongoing working relationship with an amazing studio over there called “Low Brow” in Kailua, Oahu. My wife wanted to vacation there so we had a week there to do overdubs and mixing before she arrived. We wanted to be on Kailua beach. Demitri Marmash owns the studio, right there, about 50 yards from the beach, and he’s a friend of Manny.

Q: Tell us more about your process.

I was inspired on some long instrumental tracks to add my own poetry and sang on the tracks. I would swim in the ocean and then towel off, get in the booth and then riff on stuff I was thinking about while swimming, what a good idea that turned out to be, Manny’s concept.

Q: And you mixed the results in Hawaii.

A: Manny is a genius. He also jumped in and played some instruments for me like drums.

The song “ Junk drawer” for instance, was written and recorded in Hawaii. Manny jumped on drums, Demitri played bass. This amazing native Hawaiian guitar/slide

Rough Church

Rough Church. Photo by Harold Sherrick.

player on that song. It didn’t make the vinyl, it’s an outtake, but it will be on a Powertool records (Auckland New Zealand) compilation.  So we had songs from my neighborhood in L.A/Mt. Washington, Cypress Park, then the Pacific ocean and New Zealand. Also as a side note, the Tsunami hit Japan, and we thought it was going to come to Hawaii, it was a strange time, that added to our mix. That why I say at the top of the liner notes it says: ‘Aloha, Mijos, Arigato, Kia Ora’.

Q: What did you discover about the songs upon mixing?

A: It was like letting my hair down. What little I have left. It’s more like (John) Coltrane. Stretching out. The drum sound is different. Sometimes we just got it down to Tracy’s bongos, solo to keep time, there is space and relief. At other times there’s turmoil in the songs. That just came out, very new for me, never did that before. I also had a hand held digital recording device and got people, their voice, sounds of the streets, airports, machines, telephone conversations, the weather on the tv. , Etc. I was using it going in and out with it on the guitar pickups. And you hear a lot of that in the background. And I was also able to take it and get a repeating box and stomp on some of it happening as a rhythm and we played off that. Weird stuff. 14 minute opus type craziness, other times a thirty-second punk rock blurb with me shouting!

Ha ha! It is my Zen Arcade or something.

Q: Your concepts for art work and graphics are part of the total vision.

A: Yes! I sat down with an artist Stephanie Mercado. My friend Oscar Apodaca invited me to her art show, years ago, but we never really met then. I was so taken by her. She’s Latina but has this Anglophile Victorian thing and she distorts it. She makes odd doll houses, does Real painting. A master. The double album original artwork was done in watercolors. I gave her the album to listen to after it was mastered. It was mastered by Shane Smith who did the last Los Lobos album.

The master lacquer is done by Pet Lyman, who is the best in the biz. Rachel Gutek did the art direction. She is a Grammy award winner. She does Madonna, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, Monkees, She’s the best. We will sell them out. They will include download cards when you purchase.

Q: Why vinyl?

A: Vinyl is the most romantic thing ever. I want the listener absorb it. Get them to listen to the whole thing at a sitting, like a movie. Are people able to focus like that anymore? Without being on a device or looking at a screen? We have maybe raised a society of people who are not able to do this? I think it will be a narrower appeal, but maybe not. In addition, it’s a bigger sound. I have converted some people from being a MP3 guy to appreciating vinyl. It’s a whole different experience. Getting back to vinyl makes me want to enthusiastically continue on as an artist, It’s has a permanency to it.

The recording industry, is peddling digital downloads, and only promotes their acts to kids mostly. I wanted to be unique, but vinyl sales are also going up, so it’s not so unique now, or a stupid business decision like it was five years ago. People are getting turntables again, and that is what needs to happen. The vinyl buyers are a certain breed, I think they will I think they will dig this double album, they will pay for it. The big label recording industry became unsympathetic to music fans who never felt bad ripping it off, but that overlapped into taking artists for granted, and that is a huge problem.

At the same time artists didn’t always really respect themselves either, and a lot of them didn’t know about how the music business worked. I think just signing to a big label now, and trusting them with your career is not what the smart artist is doing anymore, they are finding their own way. It takes putting on more hats than ever though, so it’s not the same kind of business that it used to be.

Some indie labels like Merge records have bucked the system, so that is good. If they want this double vinyl, I can license it to them! Or to Europe, that might work. Partnerships between label and artist are better, instead of labels acting like parents of teenagers, deciding things for you.

Q: There are some overt political themes on some of the tunes.

A: That’s just one aspect, Love is most important and so is humor. I think I kind of get up in the morning and get in a certain mood, and read the paper and react. Or don’ react. It just hits me. I don’t have a filter. I’m reacting to the dehumanization that’s been going on that no one is talking about.

Q: Talk to me about your current band, some you work with on a regular basis.

A: I first saw Kaitlin Wolfberg (Seasons) playing around, at the Echo Park Country Outpost in May of 2011, and I thought ‘Wow’ Violin in Rough Church. What a great concept’. We worked her on our EP called ‘Nude Canon’ (BWH/Powertool 2013) and had her play with us on our New Zealand and Australia tour in April 2012. We also got a guitar change-up. On guitar and many other instruments came Carey Fosse (Possum Dixon/Wayne Kramer) after 5-Track left, which led to us making the newest recordings called ‘Nude Canon.’ We later got Dante Pascuzzo on bass. (Quetzal, Poncho Sanchez). Lastly, the next record will be made with drummer Alfredo Ortiz, he’s awesome, he has his own record coming out with his band Bongoloidz and has been in many bands! (Los Villans, Money Mark, Beastie Boys, Ozomatli, Tito and Trantula, Maximum Hedrum). So RC is really more a collective, but I’m determined to keep this lineup together.

The dilemma now is to stay focused on the goal which is eventually to get what I call “Big Rough Church” to Europe/ New Zealand and Australia to play festivals. We’d love to meet more people and play our music for them, show them our L.A. vibe.