My Page: Pete Francis ‘Letting in the Light’
The Dispatch co-founder emancipates himself from the darkness on his first full-length release since stepping away from his beloved band.
In 2010, I made a record with Jeff Trott, who has co-written many of Sheryl Crow’s hits, including “Soak Up the Sun,” “Every Day Is a Winding Road” and “If It Makes You Happy.” My wife Katie and I rented an apartment in Hermosa Beach, Calif., for the two months that Trott and I were working on new tunes together. The coolest part about it—aside from working with Jeff, who is a great collaborator—was being in his studio in Manhattan Beach. All of the recording and engineering happened in the same room. The vibe was impeccable and the space had awesome mics. Trott had the perfect blend of analog gear and the latest plug-ins. A voice inside of me kept saying, “You should learn how to record your own music.” It was from this experience that I promised myself that I would one day build a studio in my house.
That’s exactly what Katie and I did in our Connecticut home. Our studio is called Dragoncrest and, since 2013, I’ve been writing and recording there. By that point, I already had a ton of experience being in studios and recording music, but little knowledge about how to actually do it myself. My process of learning how to record is where the story of PTRN SKY! begins.
Before my story about the record continues, I feel it’s important to briefly address why I left Dispatch. For much of my adult life, I’ve struggled through depression and bipolar disorder. For many of the years that I was in Dispatch, I was white-knuckling my way through life, grinding on the road as a musician with a mental illness. While there were many highs onstage, I had to deal with the major lows that plagued me and, undoubtedly, had a negative impact on my bandmates. Looking back, life on the road broke me down and severely strained my relationship with the other members of Dispatch.
Around this time, two things happened simultaneously: I began writing a new batch of songs, and I hit the woodshed to learn the process of recording for hundreds, maybe even thousands of hours. It was beautiful. It was horrible. To be honest, it was more horrible than beautiful, but I kept going. I didn’t like using Pro Tools so I tried Ableton, felt thoroughly confused by that and, finally, landed on Logic Pro.
Logic is a great composer’s tool, and I find it very intuitive. When the pandemic hit, I worked with keyboardist and producer Jason Wexler over Zoom. He helped me understand Logic and created a few templates so that I could eventually record on my own.
Once Wexler helped me get oriented, I was introduced to producer Scott Jacoby (Vampire Weekend, Coldplay) by a childhood soccer buddy. Jacoby and I connected deeply and immediately, and he agreed to help wire and organize my studio so that I could record all of the instruments myself in a clear and fluid way. I was lost in the woods, and Jacoby drew me a map and handed me a flashlight and bug spray. It was on!
At this point, I was like a fisherman with a big net, able to scoop ideas up and shape them into songs. This freedom allowed me to work with drum loops on this record. I find that a drum loop can be a very inspiring canvas to paint on. Loops go on forever so you can practice ideas, chord progressions and riffs against the backdrop of a sound that helps forge a song into being.
Once I had all the basic tracking done for PTRN SKY!, I sent a few of my demos to Jacoby. He was excited by the work and got more involved as a co-producer. He also played keys on the record and mixed all 10 songs.
In its essence, PTRN SKY! follows the journey from my head to my heart. Prior to making this album, I had been dogged for years—stuck in cycles of unproductive thoughts. I couldn’t break free from them. I knew that I had to change my outlook on life. I knew that I had to turn inward to find strength and wisdom. I knew that I wanted to free myself from suffering.
The album kicks off with “Can’t Get On With It,” a song about recognizing that spiral, being frozen in the grips of morbid introspection and feeling lost in the throes of spiralling ruminations. From there, you’ll hear “Scared Without Your Love” and “Brighter Days,” and my sense of hope and transformation becomes evident. PTRN SKY! is meant to be listened to from beginning to end—it’s not a shuffle record.
As the record progresses, a new person emerges, one who finds self-compassion, self-love, and, ultimately, self-forgiveness. On songs like “Bring Me Some Water” and “Fall Into Your Heart,” you can hear me actively looking for love and friendship in some new, healthy relationships that feel truly aligned with my flow of energy. As an artist, I found myself deeply connected to my art by embracing humility and by allowing all my vulnerabilities and fears to find peace and refuge in a stronger version of myself. Hopefully, people will feel the healing energy in these songs so that they can also stop fighting the darkness and let the light glow in their hearts.
Pete Francis will release PTRN SKY! On May 12. It’s his first LP since leaving Dispatch to focus on his health and wellbeing.