Royal Blu ADD
Royal Blu - Interview in Kingston, Jamaica
11/24/2017 by Gardy Stein
Calm, unintrusive but oh so present: Sean Michael Francis and the musical vibrations he creates rank among my most exciting discoveries of the year. His artist name Royal Blu perfectly condenses the mood his voice and songs evoke, a regal, painfully beautiful sphere with a hint of melancholy into which he carries his listeners both during his rare live appearances and with his first ever EP Sing With God, a collaboration with Berlin-based producer Tim Foresta. It's the magic of this release that Reggaeville came to talk about with the young artist, but we touch on many other issues as well during our interview at Stones Throw, an oasis-like bar and live venue at Kingston's busy Mannings Hill Road. Read on to find out about Royal Blu's formative years, his view on the young artist's part in the development of Reggae music and why journalists can sometimes be not only recorders and presenters, but also the matchmakers of brilliant music like his:
Royal Blu in the house! I just recently found out that Taj Francis is your brother. You seem to come from a very creative background. Can you tell us about how you grew up and where this love of arts comes from?
Well, I would say that we inherited this love for the arts from our mum. She does fashion design and stuff like that. She was always drawing and designing dresses and shirts and so on. I mean, apart from that we also have uncles and cousins who do art, but within our family it was just our mother really. And then Taj was drawing from an early early early age. My own, the love of music really came in High School. I always loved music, but when I started writing back in 2007… it was kind of weird, nobody at that time knew that I would end up doing music (laughs). If it wasn't music I'd probably be doing architecture now cause I love drawing as well! Technical drawing, I was always interested in that.
How old were you in 2007? And what made you start writing?
I was 13, 14 years old, around that age. We were in a group in High School, me and ironically Buju Banton's son, Mark. We just wrote songs together and rolled as friends, so… that really pushed me.
What was the name of the group?
Frass Turf or some stupid name like that (laughs). But it was a vibe because we were young and were just singing about what we saw and what we knew at that time, so it was kinda funny. On Saturdays we used to walk all the way up to Red Hills to record up at Mark's house on a little Burger King Microphone (laughs). That's where we kinda built our crafts and stuff. It was fun times!
And when did you start to develop that into something more serious?
Well, I got serious after High School. When I left in 2011, I wanted to do something more in music. Even in High School I wanted to express more in music, but I didn't really know how to and the environment never really allowed for that, at that time it would just be like trying to impress a girl or so (laughs).
Was it then that you came up with Lethal Audio?
That was a bit before… when we were in High School, there was this little subgroup within a group. Like, we the people from St. Catherine, we formed our little own group and after High School we just began to take that group more serious. Lethal Audio was really fun because that's when I started to dive into live music and stuff. We had our own band, so that was when the music and the content started to change and we got a little more positive and serious. We even kept our own show in 2013 at this place named Bookophilia, we had a good amount of shows, like the most that venue had seen. And that kind of prepared me for what it takes to keep a show and what it takes to rehearse and do stuff like that and take it serious.
So that's when you started to perform, right? What is the "Class of 2016"?
Live in Kingston! That was a show we did in December 2016. Me, Runkus, Blvk H3ro, Sevana, Xana Romeo… it was basically just a group of young artists, a kind of graduating class. It was really nice, that was special.
Sounds like a good schooling for what was to come, for next thing I know, you were on the big stage at Reggae Jam in Germany in 2017! What led to that?
Well, first of all I was recording with Runkus, he is my bredrin, so through that they just kinda knew me and wanted to book me, like hearing me through Runkus and the agency and stuff, so… that's how I got that opportunity.
Was it your first time in Europe? How did you like it?
Yeah man, it was amaaaaazing! I didn't know what to expect. I mean, you see pictures and videos and stuff, but to be on the stage for real and being there with a band and the energies that you feel… And then you see like this wave of people, it's the most amazing thing ever, and from when you step out it's like... they don't even need to know you, just from when you step out with an energy, and just kinda command their attention, then everything is good from there. Even while performing, there was this guy in the front row that was jumping the barricade, so I thought yowwww… (laughs)
Was it there that you made the link to Tim Foresta?
No, I actually made links with Foresta a good while ago. I linked him through a writer named Kai Eckold, we linked up through Facebook and he heard some unreleased music that I had and he was like 'Yow, this is amazing! I have a friend named Foresta who is a producer, can I send it to him? Possibly you guys could work!' And I was like 'Sure!' because I knew of Foresta and from when I heard about him, I always wanted to work with him. So he sent it to him and Foresta heard it and linked me back a couple a days later and said 'Yow, we should do some work!' And he sent me some beats and from there we just kept the connection.
Perfect match! When did you decide to do an EP and how was the process from then?
We decided to do the EP… because, when he sent me a batch of riddims, I wrote two songs. One of the songs was just kind of to feel out the energy and the other was the song that we have named Believe. When we did Believe, that was when he came to Jamaica for the first time to record in the studio, and the whole vibe and the energy of the session, our chemistry naturally it just kinda made sense to do a project. Yeah, it was just amazing, to know that this was his first time coming to Jamaica and he was coming to work with me… (shakes his head laughing)
What about the other tracks? Did you send him ideas or did he send you riddims to choose from?
He sent me riddims, he always sent me riddims, and I just wrote to them. For example the song Let's Get High, he sent me like a minute version of the beat and I had to loop it on iTunes and write a full song to it, yeah… a lot of it was just kind of taking ideas from each other and building stuff together, but for the most part when it came to recording the songs he was here through the whole process, giving ideas throughout the whole thing. It was great!
Do you have a favourite on the EP?
It's hard! But it would most likely be Blue Mahoe, because the second verse in this song is to me one of my favourite verses. Because it has so many layers and so many dimension to it that I never even knew I could tap into for myself and it kinda changes the mood of the song and stuff so… yeah I think that would probably be my favourite.
Can you tell us how you met Lila Iké?
Funny enough, I knew about Lila Iké from before she even recorded her first official song. I knew about her from Lethal Audio days, like I always saw her. And this time she had like funny Youtube videos of her singing songs, covering songs and stuff like that, and it was just always interesting. It was later on that I found out that she was really dong music seriously… I first heard her singing around Blvk H3ro and dem, cause all a we used to roll together, so I heard her singing and I was like 'Yow, this is amazing!' she is an amazing person and artist with a very unique voice. Even when I got the riddim for Believe, I instantly heard her voice on it. So that's why I decided to just like write a song with her in mind. And she executed it easily, flawlessly, all I had to do was voicenote the stuff to her and she got it instantly.
How did the video develop for that song?
The idea and direction and stuff came from Foresta. We didn't get to do it exactly how we wanted to do it cause it was a rainy day and we wanted sunshine to really keep some of the colour and stuff. It would have been a lot of costume changes and colours, we wanted it to be a lot more but the rain was falling and it… I guess it kinda worked for the video, it added to it at the end. It was stressful, but at the same time it was really fun, like me and Lila we have a natural chemistry as well. Everybody I work with, I work with them not only because they are talented, but because we just have a great connection. So it was fun, really really fun!
Are any other of the tracks going on video?
We have a video for Let's Get High and we started a video for Blue Mahoe. We also have a video collaboration with Taj for SinG With God in the works, so basically every song except On The Side.
You mentioned the Runkus feature – was it similar to what you said with Lila, did you hear him on the track as well?
Yeah, instantly. Because the funny thing with that beat is that, when Foresta sent me that riddim it was the same thing, just like a minute version of the beat and I wrote a full thing around it, but just the whole idea of the song… I knew that Runkus would deliver very well on this song because it's SinG With God and then Runkus is on that God ting with capital G. campaign so everything kinda plays into each other. I just thought it was perfect, and then me and Runkus we work together effortlessly, I can work with him, ore than anybody else in this world.
Yeah, that was the stage vibes you gave also…
We've been doing this from High School! We've been in studios together, we've been clashing each other, this is just… it's just a vibe. And the best thing about working with Runkus is that I can do a song and finish it and just leave it with him and I trust that anything he does with it will just be amazing. I never hear his parts before we record. I never ever hear anything that he does until the day it's being recorded and I'm always amazed.
Me too. I saw him last Saturday at Jamnesia, performing with Jah9 and Protoje and Koro Fyah, it was wayyyy up. Do you do live shows like that as well?
Yes, I was actually supposed to go that night! I've never been to Jamnesia and I really wanted to go, but I didn't get a chance because I was busy. But yeah, I do live shows and Jam Sessions and stuff, but not so much as of late because I've been working on the project. Live music is definitely something that I love, it just brings music to a whole other level. When you hear a song on a track and then when you hear it executed live it's like two different worlds.
I read about an upcoming project called Spare Change – is that something you started?
Yes! I put it on pause because we were working on the EP, but yeah, it's definitely something that I'm working on.
Who is involved?
This is just me and my team, Quik Keyz, that's Timothy, and another engineer called Tilly, they are the people that I work with usually. Because they know my sound, they know my voice, it's also another energy kind of thing. Even before we start to record, before a session, we always just talk about life and laugh, so… Spare Change is another independent project that I put together. It has various producers like JLL, I usually work with him outside of Foresta because we also have that same chemistry.
It's so great to see all these young artists, you, your brother, Runkus and all a dem, putting another dimension to Reggae. Can you say something about what you perceive your role to be in the development of this music?
I would say my role is just to not be afraid to do whatever you like honestly, whether that comes in the form of how you present yourself, how you look, or the kind of music that you put out. Reggae will always be Reggae, everybody loves Reggae, but to add different elements to it like HipHop and the heavier stuff like Trap and just what is modern now and what is cool now and bringing our flavour to it, that's kind of the element that I feel I bring to it. I see now more and more people who are not afraid to dabble in different sounds and, you know, even different imagery and stuff. Because when you look at the music on an international scale, that's what it is. You have a bunch of people that aren't afraid to do different kind of music videos and different kind of songs and stuff. I mean, we are getting tired of seeing videos from Jamaica with a bag of Zinc Fence and… we need to show different elements and different sides of it, because Jamaica is just as much connected to the world as anywhere else!
Looking into the future, I'm sure you will be touring again. Is it something you plan as solo artist or do you try to roll in a group?
Next time I'd like to try as a solo artist with my band, but, I mean, whichever way it happens it's a blessing. I'd like to go places like France and Italy… we've been to the Netherlands, but I didn't get a chance to go to Amsterdam, like everybody was telling me you have to go there (laughs). So yeah, many places to go.