Interview: Stripping The Soul With Singer-Songwriter Shlomo Franklin
Have you ever stood at the edge of a cliff, peered down, then dove? Probably not, but it's basically the same feeling you get when you listen to Shlomo Franklin. There's a weightlessness to the singer-songwriter, like he's constantly heaving things like love and loss off his shoulders until they come crawling back and he has to rid himself of them once more. This is the direct result of making music that spawns from the soul. Shlomo does this thoughtfully, careful not to pinch a nerve, but still willing to tear his heart open if it means he gets to share the contents with us.
We love Shlomo Franklin here at The Music Mermaid, because it's not every day that you find an artist who really gets it, whatever that means, and who works hard consistently to get it. A few months ago, Shlomo released Don't Love Anybody, his debut EP, to major media buzz (it got picked up by some of our favorite music blogs including Atwood Magazine and No Depression) and lots of love from loyal fans. For good reason: this 5-track record is an at times sprawling, at times sparse, offering of love in its many forms. It's a gift.
Don't Love Anybody opens with its title track, a mesmeric and tender plea that we've loved since it was released as a standout single back in April. It's almost absurd, or cruel, just how lovely this track is, because it sets an impossibly high bar for the rest of the EP (spoiler alert: it reaches new heights, don't worry), but really it's just a stunning sonic gem. Sleepy strums, wailing strings, and aching vocal delivery join forces to create a stirring piece that dares you to forget it. You won't.
Next comes "Waltz For You," a more outrightly folk tune drunk on acoustic twang but accompanied by subtle percussive slaps and bass line. It's a slightly tongue-in-cheek composition as Shlomo desperately reveals what he'd do for love, but ultimately, it's still his signature love letter type track, confessional and intimate. "About Last Night" marks the midway point of Don't Love Anybody, another highlight of the record. Here, we're back to soft lullaby-like arrangements and raw vocals as Shlomo wearily scorns those inevitable heavy-hearted talks about our feelings that abound in relationships. You know the type -- the ones quietly, then fiercely, brought up in the early morning fog after last night's fight. There are some moody moments on this track, darkened by swells of strings, thick with emotion a lot more relatable than we wanted, thanks a lot, Shlomo.
A few days ago, he dropped the music video for "About Last Night," a bittersweet (emphasis on bitter) trajectory mimicking the track's narrative. Director Kenny Duclos offers pretty cinematography and expertly framed shots of a relationship in limbo: Shlomo sings and strums, resignedly, as a young woman packs her bags and skips town. It's the lack of communication that does them in; he saying more with music than with words, she waiting for him to spill over like a dictionary. It's a sad, simple story sweetened by Erin Nelligan's performance, Shlomo's sonic talent, and Duclos' directing.
Don't Love Anybody floats on with "Cruel Intentions," beginning with some flavored acoustic rhythms before the arrangement rounds out with percussive efforts and growls of electric guitar. It's not a rock 'n roll banger in the typical sense, because there's still a mooney tempo and dreamy croons, but each element is somehow (how does he do it?) tinged with a folk-rock tone. The EP ends with "January Eyes," one of Shlomo's previously released singles. It's a beautiful little ballad melting in its sincerity, quiet and unobtrusive. Tender acoustic strums lead the track beneath those aching vocals singing poignant lines like "your clothes in the hallway / your head on my lap / my fingers ran down your curved golden back." It's a gentle conclusion just as spellbinding as the record's introduction.
With Don't Love Anybody, Shlomo Franklin offers a collection dripping in crushing memories of love: its triumphs and its failures. Lovingly crafted in stripped-back arrangements, the EP is awash in a golden warmth you don't just hear, but feel, courtesy of soft layers and desperate vocals. There's a lot of truth here, naked and nervous, but presented in such a way that it had to be revealed, like it was a matter of life or death for Shlomo to bare his soul to a bunch of strangers. But that's just it -- we're not strangers when we listen to him. We're family because he lets us in.
The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Shlomo Franklin: I was born in Bethel, NY. Bethel is a rural town with not much in the way of traffic lights or strip malls. There’s a gas station on the corner, a farmer's market in town and an ice cream shop near the lake across from a small cafe. The locals are working class and full of a certain pride and confidence that only exists in upstate New York. The neighbors were ranchers, mechanics, policemen, and artists.
I was born next to a mecca for music; the original site of the historic Woodstock festival. Its importance would only dawn on me later on in life but all throughout my childhood I was being sent subliminal messages of what music and songs can do; how much they could truly mean.
TMM: What was the production process like for your debut EP, Don’t Love Anybody?
SF: I’ve been in and out of recording studios for the past four years but Sherwood Ridge was the first studio that I could truly call my home. It was the first time I was being guided by a pro with far more experience and musical wisdom than me. C Lanzbom has shaped the way I record and perform -- he’s brought me to a whole new level and the EP and album that will follow (out hopefully this winter) is a soundtrack of discovery. There’s something virgin and exciting about these recordings, a certain innocence that I’ll never have again.
TMM: What about the songwriting process -- are there any specific themes you tend to employ or techniques when it comes to your song structure?
SF: These songs all tell stories of love. They’re not about falling in love... more about the foolishness and strangeness of human connection. They seem sad but they’re only sad because the narrator is experiencing these things for the first time. Love, heartbreak, connection, loss, devotion, romance, friendship, one night stands, first loves, etc... it was all new ground for me, so these songs are sort of [about] processing the past for me. It’s like seeing the ocean for the first time and there’s a hurricane coming on strong. It is beautiful, shocking, and terrifying all at the same time.
TMM: We know it’s unbelievably unfair to ask, but which one of your songs do you feel closest to and why?
SF: The title track, "Don’t Love Anybody," is certainly the most personal one of the bunch and I think is a more skilled composition, but I think people have been gravitating towards "Cruel Intentions" and "About Last Night." I love them all and I am extremely proud of each recording.
TMM: You’re big on giving live shows (for good reason -- your music was really made for those intimate, quiet moments you get with an audience… but also for those rollicking in-your-face moments you need to punch a crowd with). What do you get out of performing live?
SF: You couldn’t have said it better. Playing a show can sometimes feel like a montage of humanity, feels like someone’s life is flashing before your eyes. It’s invigorating and exciting and when the audience is good, then it’s heaven. Ain’t nothing like it.
TMM: In an interview with NJ Arts, you mentioned that “songs are exorcisms of pain.” That’s a really beautiful way to put it. I’m a poet, not a songwriter, but I think we excavate the soul when we write -- we extract the good and expel the bad. Can you talk a little more about the healing nature of writing and making music?
SF: Absolutely. Writing and reading can become a sort of meditation or chant. Your soul speaks louder than your intellect. Things that need to emerge can finally find the doorknob. Sometimes I’ll write songs about a split second moment that I experienced as a child -- I have flashbacks of a random morning when the sun was shining through the window and I didn’t have to go to school and I hadn’t a worry in the world. I’ll recall certain feelings that run deeper than anything I could ever express in normal conversion. A song or a chord or a rhythm of words can help bring that back to life.
TMM: Who are your biggest inspirations, both musically and personally?
SF: These days I’d say The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, and Frank Sinatra are at the top of my musical list. I learn a lot from comedians as well for some reason... a lot of the time I feel more connected to their creative process than I do to the way other musicians write.
TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
SF: The release show for my latest EP was insane. I couldn’t believe how many people came out just to hear my new songs. We held the gig at Rockwood Stage 2 and I was blown away by the fact that we packed the place. A few months prior I couldn’t even book a gig there and now we were selling it out. It was incredible and I feel tremendously thankful to everyone that showed their support for me and my music that night.
The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Shlomo Franklin?
Shlomo Franklin: I’m currently recording a lot of new music in various studios so it’s just a matter of time until I release more songs!
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Featured photo by Nina Carbone.