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Francesco Yates Lives, Breathes, Sleeps Music

Being able to open for one of the world’s biggest, most talented pop stars isn’t too shabby, but actually being compared to Justin Timberlake? Sheesh … 

Insert Francesco Yates, a singer, performer and all-around jokester out of Canada who lives, breathes, sleeps music.

Entering the music industry at the young age of 16, the Toronto native brings his own unique flavor to the pop realm, pairing smooth buttery vocals with live instrumentation to tell his story. As evidenced by records like “Do You Think About Me,” “Better Be Loved,” and “Call,” the 23-year-old spends the majority of his day working and perfecting his craft.

The message in his story is simply that dreams do come true. If he can do it, you can too. 

Francesco will be opening for Justin Timberlake on Feb. 22 when his “The Man of the Woods” tour comes through Anaheim.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Where do you fit in the realm of pop and R&B?

I would say there’s some alternative sensibilities. It’s pop with my own alternative spin to it. But above all, it’s more about the essence of who I am. I always want to incorporate the fact that I’m a musician into what I’m doing. That’s important to me.

You’re from Canada. How does that play into your life and career?

I’m glad to be a part of the music scene that’s developed in Canada the last few years. Drake, Shawn Mendes, Justin Bieber – to be in the midst of that, it makes you optimistic. Before, Toronto wasn’t seen as much of a music pub as it is now. For the industry and the artists working in it, it’s more thriving.

Are you still in Canada?

I am. I’m still in Canada, right in the thick of Toronto.   

How old were you when Drake blew up in your city?

I was in grade nine and it was 2009, so the syncing of 9’s was kind of cool. I just remember that first EP he did and how meteoric that was for him. You hope as an artist you can follow in the footsteps of that. It’s something to aspire to 100%.

How important is it to come to California as an up and coming artist?

I suppose there’s a component to doing that, but it’s really about wherever you are. Now, the concept of the studio and how we make music has gone mobile. It’s really about the ideas in your head, that’s the new age of the artist. Traveling studios, mobile studios, I’m starting to prefer them now to the traditional thing. It just feels more intimate.

At what point did you realize this music thing was for real?

I’m still blessed by it every day. I can’t believe it. I just came off of soundcheck from being on stage with Justin Timberlake and opening for him, that alone is mind-blowing. But I’m still just happy to be around for it as long as it’s around for me.

Can you talk about how being on his tour came about?

I did a song with a friend of his – actually in L.A., funny you mentioned it. I did a song a couple years ago called “Call” and one of his best friends, Matt Morris, showed it to JT. He shouted me out a long time ago, so he had known me a little bit from before. Now given the tour has started and everything, I guess he remembered. I’m fortunate enough to be where I am now, and the fact that he chose me.

What was the inspiration behind keeping your name?

I just decided to do it. I figure that most people haven’t met a Francesco in their lifetime, so I’ll be the first one then.

“Sugar” is at over 395 million views on YouTube alone. Did you foresee it blowing up like this?

I was happy with it when I recorded it, but not at all. It’s interesting to see how songs can just take off like that and have a life of their own. It’s really cool. It was the biggest surprise in my life I could have ever gotten. I was in a festival in Toronto a year or so ago called Velv – it’s a big EDM/hip-hop Festival – Robin Schulz​ played and I performed it on stage. It was in front of 30,000 people so to me, how that went from what it was to where it is now, it’s like “how did that happen?” It’s amazing. It’s a blessing.

What did that record do for your career?

It opened a lot of doors. It also allowed me to let go of my perfectionism. Sometimes the things you don’t think will take off, might actually be. It’s very important for any artist to always keep in a creative state. There’s a lot of theories on how songs are made and you gotta go about it this way or that way, but being open is the best policy when it comes to that.

What was it like being so young and playing guitar with one of the most legendary producers/artists in the game, Pharrell?

That was spooky. I learned a lot from him about how to see and structure records, how they’re made. What’s interesting about Pharrell and his creative process – he told me once, in order to really envision the song being successful, you have to see it all the way down to the music video. I thought that was really important that you had to see all of it for it to be a complete thing. It will make it go the extra mile. That’s something that’s always stuck in my writing process.

The fact that he chose me to record on “Gust of Wind” was really crazy. He texted me after I did my guitar part like “yeah I’m going to keep it, you slayed that.” That was a pleasant surprise.

You dropped “Somebody Like You” last month. Talk about your mind-state in creating this one.

I wanted to write a song with a bouncy bassline, and it kind of evolved from there. I was in the club one time where Robin Schulz was supposed to perform. He didn’t end up showing up so we actually had a booth and bottle available to all our friends. It was a house night there and I saw a girl dancing with light-up sneakers, which inspired a cool image in my head. Took that with the bassline that I just jotted down on the keys, and that’s how that was born.

Has the girl who inspired it heard it?

Oh no. [pause] You know what, maybe she has. I would hope so.

Talk about your creative process. Do you write your lyrics down or on your phone?

It’s funny. You’ve got to write it down because there’s something about wanting it to be final in your phone, that you may not actually write down what needs to be written down. Because it can get really disorganized if you just have a bunch of notes in your phone. Recently, it’s a thing for me to observe: which is the more important element? Is it melody or is it lyrics? I’m starting to think it’s lyrics to be honest, but it’s an interesting process for sure. Happens differently every time.

3 things you need in the studio?

The microphone and SM7B, that’s what I need for sure. I like having a blue Gatorade, because I need to stay up. And my drive with all my special sounds on it. Some of the sounds that I got from Pharrell and all these types of guys.

What can we expect from your forthcoming debut?

I’m finally coming into my own as an artist. Although my music tends to be very eclectic, it’s starting to get a sort of central theme around it. I haven’t fully nailed it yet, but I’m getting really close and I’m happy with it. There’s a lot of dynamic songs, it goes up and down. There’s lots of hills and valleys, which is something that’s important for a debut album.

Can we expect any features so far?

I’m keeping it open. I’m starting to work with a lot of people, but I can’t reveal too much just yet.

Best memory on the Man on the Woods Tour?

Getting to play Madison Square Garden was definitely a huge milestone for my career, just considering all the great people that went through there. On a techy kind of geek note, the sound in there is incredible. It sounded amazing in the Garden, so that helped my performance. Just to have that there on my mental resume.

What does it mean to be compared to JT?

It’s a huge honor for me. I’m just grateful for those things. I’m grateful for anyone who may say that or think that. It’s special. You can’t take that for granted. It’s trippy, for sure.

Best piece of advice he’s given you?

Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness. He related that to artistry. When you’re writing a song, you have to break the boundaries. That’s what you’re supposed to do as artists. We show we’re the tastemakers. We’re supposed to show the people the way, while giving them a good time too. It’s a balance between satisfying what you want and satisfying what the people want to hear. That was a great bit of advice and it applies to everything in life too. You don’t want to have regret.

What is it you want fans to get from your story?

I’d say the power of manifestation, and it can happen to you. Anything can happen to you. We don’t know what’s possible sometimes. To know with enough perseverance, you can do a lot of stuff.

What’s your favorite song to perform in a set?

There’s a song called “Satin Sheets.” It’s this big rock ballad. It’s my favorite because I get to play this guitar solo more than I do. I get to make a lot of funny faces and that’s the only point of the performance where making a bunch of funny faces works.

What can we expect from the Anaheim show in Orange County on February 22nd?

An electric type of set. A lot of high energy. I like to bring it all on the stage, and I like to move around a lot. [laughs]

Have you been to Orange County?

I haven’t actually, but I’m excited to go.

I hope you get to go outside and enjoy the sun and the beach!

Yeah man, I’m going to have to learn to surf somehow.

Having made music since the age of 11, what are some goals as an artist at this point of your career?

To continue and strengthen my lyric writing. First and foremost, to learn to be okay with being vulnerable in a song. That’s important because as artists, we want to be cool a lot of the time, but sometimes, you need to be a little more honest than that. There’s a balance. Just live better and live well.

How important is social media for your career?

It’s very important. I just got the hang of it … kind of. But then it becomes fun, because you start to see people interacting with you and you can interact with them as well. For an artist now, there’s no better way to know what the people who listen to your music are thinking, and that’s important too. Because you want to give them an escape. It’s a pleasant escapism that the listener’s looking for.

What’s a normal day in the life? Walk us through.

I wake up, I wrestle with my curly hair for about an hour and a half. If I’m on tour, I go from the hotel to the bus to prepare. I get to the venue, set my stuff down. I’ll set up maybe my little studio operation. I have a drink of water, go to soundcheck, then do my pre-show ritual. But in all that too, I allow myself to have a moment of stillness where I’m completely by myself. Given the high-pace nature of being in the music business, it’s important for artists and people like myself to have 20 minutes of stillness just to gather yourself, then you can be good.

What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?

Maybe teaching music. Music was always going to be a part of my life in some capacity. I think I would teach in some way. I would try to go for my PhD in music.

What’s the best encounter you had with a fan?

I was 16 years old. I was going out after opening for an act in the town of Peterborough, Ontario. The fan grabbed a hold of my hair and wouldn’t let go. But luckily she did let go, but I was scared there. My hair at that point was twice as long as it is now. Your boy might have lost of hair then.

Who’s the most played artist on your phone?

Right now, Anderson .Paak or Daniel Caesar. Daniel’s a fellow Torontonian. I’m into that quiet storm of R&B lately. I work on some of those tracks sometimes.

Dream collab?

That’s a tough one, maybe Alicia Keys. She’s amazing.

What advice do you have for an aspiring Francesco Yates … someone who wants to do what you do.

Always have the will of a lion. Be very persistent. It’s such a fickle thing to be in and you really gotta know yourself. Take that time because it can catch up with you. Take the time to know yourself and what you want to do. You got to be clear about what you want to do, and stick to your way artistically because in reality, you’re the only person on your team. You gotta really just know who you are. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to listen to people, but know who you are at your core, because nothing can change you.

Anything else you want to let us know?

Later on in the year, the album will be in its completion and I’m excited to put it out.