Ex Wu Lyf bass player Francis Lung has returned with the excellent Short Stories EP out later this month. A masterpiece that leaps forward from the melodic pop of his second album Miracle with a trilogy of spoken word stories that melt the heart and charm you with Mancunian wit. Wayne AF Carey gets on the blower to his new home base of Nantes in France to talk about the creation of this startling collection of songs.
LTW: You’ve created an excellent EP with Short Stories. Tell me your thoughts behind it.
FL: Thank you very much. It all started with creating 2p Machine. It was just me lying in bed with a three week old daughter sleeping in the same room as me and me wife, you have to wake up so many times in the night, feed them, change them, go back to sleep. You’re just sort of left with your head with your thoughts. I’m not a great sleeper when I get woken up. A lot of time when I can’t sleep I will try and write music, not really from scratch but I’ll try n imagine songs halfway through writing them. I started to try to entertain myself with a short story of the way a short story should start. It started with the character Sasha and some half remembered holiday from being at Blackpool Pleasure Beach or Whitley Bay. I thought, what if the song started with ‘Yes’ It felt like a really good opening word to a song. I just kept thinking about books where you can choose your own ending. Each time you get to that page you can see all the possibilities where it could go. I thought three quarters of the way through the song I could actually speak it. In my mind a lot of it was post punk, more abstract. I wanted people to visualise it, and I had a voice memo of this guitar riff that just gave me a simple idea of telling the story.
LTW: I love the way the music complements the story in a way that the Manchester spoken word scene aren’t exploring at the moment.
FL: I think one of the things about it is it starts off quiet, it makes you lean in a little bit. I thought after making 2p Machine I’ve made something really terrible here. The end of it is just me standing up screaming into an SM57 with a lot of compression on it. I’m holding the mic, it’s not like a precious phone call, and that’s how the next song came out The Midland Hotel.
LTW: That goes to my next question about The Midland Hotel. You’ve put Midland Hotel II before Midland Hotel I. Why was that?.
FL: I thought about Star Wars, how we start off with A New Hope and then we learn the back story afterwards. It starts off with Star Wars 4, then you go back and learn about why. What I had in my head was a ghost story. I wanted a story about a chef, who makes a dish for his widowed wife and because he’s stuck in the afterlife there’s something in him where he left too early and he needs to do something else for her before he can pass on. I just had this idea when I was reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential. Obviously I’m in France, I’m thinking about French cooking and he writes a lot about French cooking in that book, then I just started thinking about an Anthony Bordain character. Innately there’s something funny about that you know. From there it was about choosing a dish that the ghost chef would make for his wife that was funny but is also a real staple here in France. People eat French onion soup because they’re getting married and they eat it around midnight when they’re really drunk and it’s supposed to be like a life giving thing that means they can carry on partying for about three days which they do. I had to find a way to make this story happen. I knew it was slightly different to 2p Machine as I knew what would happen. I knew that Ann Snow would go to the restaurant and she would taste this French onion soup and she would know that her husband was in the kitchen in ghost form. I really love making a lot of these songs because I had to fill in the blanks which you don’t normally do in songwriting. You don’t normally have that much of a plot.
LTW: One thing I’ve noticed is there’s a big Roger Waters sound going on in there. Am I right?
FL: I like Pink Floyd but I’ve never heard his solo stuff. That’s crazy! I’ll have to listen to it. After I wrote Midland Hotel 1 I realised I had all these other characters. I had Ann who is the ghost’s widow and then I realised she would need a back story and I was lying in my bed every night trying to think of other short stories I could do, and one idea I had was a really simple one about a bucket list you would want when you’re actually dead and I was gonna write this just from my perspective, but I realised that this could maybe be cool if I had a bit of a pre angle to Midland Hotel II. Ann Snow has lost faith in life, she misses her husband too much, she’s been alone for too many years, she’s sick of everything. Ann’s list is like some kind of suicide note, which is written the day before she goes to The Midland. She tastes this soup and is reunited with her husband for one night only. I thought it would be good in a Star Wars way to get all the characters first and learn about why they’re in that situation.
LTW: You drag people in with that story. You have the chef from Salford who’s wearing his ill fitting chef whites, a working class Mancunian. Is this something you’ve seen in the past that’s similar or are you just creating fictional characters?
FL: yeah. It was a real freeing exercise to me. I didn’t do on purpose as 2p Machine was about a character, so I just followed on from that. I’ve never done a ghost story about an apparition of a dead husband. I had written one story and had a beginning, middle and end, and then I had another idea in my gut and it was a plot and I thought, how do I fill in the blanks here?
LTW: Is this something you’re moving onto now, spoken word. I noticed you’ve squeezed a couple of songs in between, especially the moving Shadow Shyness.
FL: That’s an interesting story. I don’t know if you know Michelle Hussey who used to be at BBC Radio Manchester? I did an Instagram story and it was me and my wife, we were filming our shadows dancing. In a happy moment we were disco dancing as our shadows were. Charlotte messaged me and said she could never do that, I have shadow shyness. I thought ‘shadow shyness’, that’s such a good lyric and I said “could I use that?” and she said yes of course. She’s a poet and she always comes out with great stuff like that and so I wrote the first verse, then realised it sounded a bit like Peter Pan who had a shadow that didn’t want anything to do with him. In the Disney film they change it a bit from the novel. It’s much more mischievous. The idea is the same, The shadow that’s trying to get away from Peter, it’s like a bit of a personality disorder, having a side of you that doesn’t like you and you’re constantly fighting against it. I was trying to write the story of Peter Pan through the perspective of the shadow. It had parallels with Peter Lewyn who was the inspiration behind Peter Pan. J.M. Barry was friends with his family and he just picked this boy Peter to be his sort of hero and because it was fiction and the general public knew about it, this reputation followed him around everywhere and the real Peter Pan ended up with this shadow which he couldn’t get rid of, which was weird and poetic. I tried to use that and put it all into Shadow Shyness as well as the underlying message of growing up and not trying to live as fast as other people, or not wanting to grow up. Maybe it because of your parents you know, I’m turning 33 this year, not that old but you start to think about growing up. I’ve certainly had to do a lot of that with my daughter.
LTW: I’m 52 and I still feel like I’m 21. I am Peter Pan!
FL: That’s not that old is it? That’s it, most of us relate to that character and that’s the brilliance. Nobody wants to grow up do they? I try to make music that hits extreme emotion.
LTW: Have you any plans to make a new album soon?
FL: Yeah yeah, well I was making an album before I even started this EP. I only started writing the EP at the end of January and I finished writing and recording it in May, so it was really fast and I was about six songs into the album at this point which is completely different and now I’m coming back to this record, which did have some kind of spoken word element and I was like, ok, now I have all these first person songs, am I gonna be writing more character songs, am I gonna write a sequel to this EP?
LTW: I think you should write a sequel to this EP. You’ve totally changed direction from your previous stuff, bar a couple of tracks.
FL: That’s cool. I was talking to a friend who said maybe you don’t have to sequester it off and do something different. Maybe you can have it all a part of an album, like the pop songs are more spoken word and give it some more narrative based stuff.
LTW: There’s a big scene in Manchester at the moment with people like Leon The Pig Farmer and Patrick T Davies leading the way, making music to go with their spoken word. Your stuff is in different realm than the punk poetry crew.
FL: I know I’m flying quite close to the zeitgeist in some ways. It’s nice to hear that someone thinks it’s got it’s own little niche. I’m kind of new to this. I was studying English at University and I always wanted to be a journalist, I always wanted to be a writer before music but I sort of put all that aside. Coming back to writing in this way, it was something I was interested in but not something I pursued before February this year. I don’t like flowery writers or flowery language. I like Bukowski for better or worse and I like Sylvia Plathe. I don’t like Kerouac so much for the floweriness. I like anything that gets to the point. I think anyone could be a writer if they’ve got something to write about.
LTW: A lot of people would like to know, what actually happened to Wu Lyf? You were quite mysterious with the press. Why?
FL: Our singer just lost the will to continue and we were all in our twenties and we had this real low period and Ellery’s reaction to try and get out of that situation was to stop doing something that he felt was aggravating it. We respected his decision that he didn’t want to do it anymore. One of my favourite things about the bands sounds was the guitars and basslines were kind of smooth. They were very clean with raw vocals. The drums were super aggressive. Everything was sort of unified by reverb. It was like, what do you do if everything sounds shit? Put reverb on it, there you go. We did sound quite shitty.
LTW: Have you got any plans for a tour?
FL: I’ve just done a run of dates and a few UK festivals in July. We’re doing an EP launch in Paris on 24th September. I’m closer to Paris than Manchester now. I think it would be great to do some shows in the Autumn back in the UK, the usuals like Gullivers in Manchester. I’ll definitely let you know if I do that.
A great chat with a lovely guy who makes extraordinary music, that sends that familiar spine tingling feel you get when you hear something that resonates with you. Charming…
New spoken-word EP, Short Stories Out September 23 via Memphis Industries
Tour dates supporting The Dears (except Paris date):
Sat 24th Sept: Paris – Supersonic – Tickets here.
Tue 27th Sept: Rotterdam – Rotown – Tickets here.
Wed 28th Sept: Brussels Botanique Rotonde – Tickets here.
Thu 29th Sept: Utrecht Tivoli Vredburg – Tickets here.
Fri 30th Sept: Cambridge – Portland Arms – Tickets here.
Sat 1st Oct: Liverpool – District – Tickets here.
Sun 2nd Oct: Glasgow – Hug & Pint – Tickets here.
Tue 4th Oct: Manchester – Deaf Institute – Tickets here.
Wed 5th Oct: London – The Garage – Tickets here.
Thu 6th Oct: Bristol – Exchange – Tickets here.
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Words by Wayne Carey, Reviews Editor for Louder Than War. His author profile is here
Love this article :) Thanx so much