Franko Fraize talks to Sarah Ebockayuk in this exclusive GIGsoup interview. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.
If you haven’t heard of Franko Fraize, where have you been? The Thetford lad and his band have been making waves in the industry, performing at BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend, Soccer AM and the festival circuit.
Franko brings a very British vibe to rap and hip-hop. He has been touring with Reverend and The Makers in the UK, and has recently signed to Polydor Records.
I caught up with the cheeky chap, Franko, before his impressive set at the O2 Academy in Liverpool on the 21st November.
Given signing with a record label was a massive ambition of yours. What made Polydor Records stand out from the others?
Basically, the other labels all had something to say. But I think in this industry people say a lot of things, if you know what I mean? The geezer at Polydor, Ferdy, he is just bang on the money really. Everything he said seemed to make sense. He was straight forward about it, it is just one of those things. I felt like if you are going to crack on with something on the major level, I just went with who I felt showed intent and interest. He seemed like one of my type of people so it just went on from there.
You have fulfilled one ambition what is your next one?
It is quite interesting you say that at all! It is one of those things, when you get there you think, what do you do now? But really that’s my life ambition is done. I think the other side of the music thing I wasn’t really aiming for… I was just cracking on and seeing what happens! To fulfil that was an absolute plus!
Then now, I’ve got this single one up I just want to get into next year and get all over the gaff. You get short-winded with all this stuff. I want to get up now and smash it as hard as I can. With this tour it has it lit the fire in me. I have seen how good it is to go out there and see a crowd, you release a song and you think it is all good then you go out to all these shows and see their reaction live, it gives you so much confidence.
I just want to go into next year and get a couple of tunes out get the album out in summer time hopefully and go to festivals and have a really busy 2016.
You have previously stated the importance of staying grounded has inspired your music. Still working at BT, how do you cope with balancing a 9-5 job and a music career?
It’s hard yeah. It’s one of those things, with the work thing it is what keeps me going. In this industry it is so unpredictable, you know what I mean? Hopefully in 2016 I will put it all behind me. It is one of those things especially with music, and all musicians know this, especially people round my way. If you want to do music you have to do it for the love, otherwise you are never going to do it.
There’s not enough hours in the day or money in the bank. It is only the love that keeps you on track and I think because I have come up like that and stuff like getting signed is like a cushy couple of quid in the bank.But you keep your wits about you, you don’t go thinking “this is all good now,” it is still that same mind-set of getting up in the morning and grafting and going to bed.
My dad gave me proper good work ethic, I think that helps, I was never out of work as a youngster, my dad wouldn’t let me! That’s helped!
Do you think you will ever leave BT and focus on music full time?
I think if I see it going the way I hope it goes, I am getting so many good people involved and the right people saying things, but put it this way; when I start booking a good gig at Reading or Leeds, I think that is when I will know, do you know what I mean? I think that’s a mark. That’s the thing as well, I am only on single one here at the minute, so once I’m in a little bit deeper I will feel a little more comfortable with it all.
What inspired you to make the path of rap to express your life experiences as opposed to other genres?
Basically, when I was younger, I could rhyme words and that and I didn’t really see a market for it in this country, something not to take too seriously. I listened to people like Puff Daddy, but it was when I first listened to Skinnyman, and he was talking about the life outside his front door and everyone was relating to it. It was that really, that and grime, it gave a British identity about being able to rap. Especially grime, it felt like grime wasn’t really trying to copy anything. It felt like if you were rapping grime it was an English thing. It was the first time I think that ever happened.
Yeah, I think that was the main thing to make it rap and obviously The Streets were a main influence. With the band side it is more the music side of it. When you play it live with a live band it brings a total different animal to it. It brings something totally different to it! It was always going to be rap.
Do you see rap as a life choice musically, would you expand to other musical genres?
I see myself doing a bit of a good thing at the moment. Where I have touched on different genres, especially live, it keeps it so open, without trying to be like that. I am not purposely saying; look this is what it is and this song I’m doing this genre, and I hate talking about myself in this way, but I think what it is the way it comes across is that it is Franko, whatever it is.
If I rapped on a house tune I don’t think people would be like why is Franko doing a house tune? It’s a bit like how The Streets were on their tune ‘Fit But You Know It,’ no one ever said “oh that’s a different one.” Without intentionally doing it with having that wide genre on all my music so far, it’s made it so easy to just jump on anything and I’m sure when the album comes out there will be bits and pieces on there!
Do you feel with writing and performing your music with so much personal insight into your life allows your fans to feel they are part of you?
Definitely, one hundred percent, and I think that is the good thing about live music and I think that is one thing people do not know about me. They see the show live and I think that is when the audience gets it, and when I am talking in between tunes and I’m rapping on the tunes I feel like they can see I am the same guy!
To be honest the whole reason why I have done this is to present what I think about my town. So I could never do this without that personal element. Even rappers I listen to, I buy into, I like them and it’s got something about it, I like to hear about people, all artists and bands. It’s weird, it’s always the songs that resinate the most when you feel like a generation of people might take something from it. I feel like people might take something from it, it’s really good and all when someone is saying something is good and my songs mean something to different people, and when people say; ah this song has helped me through this and helped me through that, it is a wonderful feeling. It is mad!
You have had an incredible journey from MySpace to performing with the likes of Professor Green being recognised on BBC Radio 1 and playing at iconic locations. What has been your highlights from your journey so far?
Yeah, it’s still up there! I saw that the other day – it is like finding an antique. Highlight would be BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend in Norwich, because for years I was kind of setting up and getting people interested and when it got to the Big Weekend the crowd was massive for it ,and I got a mention on BBC at the time and it was a really unreal situation. So much came out of that one show, it has got to be that. But like you said, there has been so many highlights, even getting mentioned at QPR was a big deal because my old man is a season ticket holder, it is those sentimental things. But really the biggest one was the Radio 1 weekend, it was massive for me!
With your album due to be released soon. What do you aim to achieve in the next year? Any exclusive events or projects coming your way?
I think for me, I have written so many songs, it is really timing for these things. Really I have written loads of albums, the album keeps changing and changing. I think next year is the perfect time to get it out for where I think from where I have been and where I am now, I think it is the right time I feel like I won’t be putting out an album that is meaningless. I have so much music and so much sentiment on each tune. So I’d like to think that early next year, I’m just griming through to the summer and get the album out there. I can’t wait to do it to be honest with you, I’m buzzing for it, I’m really excited to get that album out!
Musically are there any artists/producers you would like to work with or alongside?
Yeah people always ask that, it’s funny, it sounds really arrogant, but I am locked in my own little zone quite a bit and keep going with what I’m doing. I work with a lot of producers; I work with my mate Tone I work with him quite a lot. It’s one of them you don’t really want to go out of your little zone too much. There isn’t really anyone, I don’t know. It’s like to do something old school going back to the old school era doing something with The Specials may be good.
But without being arrogant, I just feel like I’m in my own little box and bubble of my own I don’t really want to get out of it, you know? I feel like that is a difficult question, I feel like I should be reeling off all of these names, but it is one of those things, I take it as it comes.
How is it on the road? Being away from Thetford? How have you chosen your team and have they been there since the MySpace days?
Because it wasn’t a band writing songs, the band are people that are likeminded people like my trumpet man Dan, I have known him since the beginning. Like my man Tone, he’s an artist and it is really just finding likeminded people who get it and are up for a laugh. I feel like we have found a good little core group now, it is a good little group. And tour life has been absolutely unbelievable, I’ve loved it, just getting the opportunity to go to places like Manchester and Leeds has been great it has been an eye opener and all.
Especially the live gigs, I’ve learnt not to get too mad too early because you proper lose your voice! It’s probably one the best thing we have done in music so far and its good because when you are in a band it’s one of the things you want to do! And it has not come too early for me, it’s come at a really good time where we can just enjoy ourselves.
Back in the MySpace days when you started uploading your music, did you feel any pressure from competition at the time? What was tougher back then or now that you have a record label to your name?
The way I look at it is to do it for the simple reasons, like when I put a song on Myspace. I wrote a song about Thetford and I put it out there to see if anyone from Thetford would listen and loads of people started listening. I never really looked at competitions, the more you look at it the more you would be in a bathroom crying. I just crack on with my own thing, so in terms of then to now I have this conversation a lot with music people: it is a blessing and a curse.
It is a blessing you can put so much out there so easy, and it is a curse for the same reason. There is no quality control, but in that respect things are fine the way they are. The industry is so quick and people pick up things really quick, I don’t know whether it is easier or harder now. I think it is a totally different thing. It’s a crazy one, I bet it would be different if I was starting out right now. I think it would be interesting to see how it goes, especially with the importance of social media. There is a lot a pressure whereas years ago that wasn’t something artists had to care about, and back in the day the mystery of an artist was part of his charm. People not knowing what was going on and going to their shows to see what they look like live. That thing loses its type of magnet but it’s all part of the industry and part of society nowadays.
Recently there has been a trend of UK artists conquering America. Do see your music taking that path?
It’s funny, because when you sign a deal then they start talking about worldwide and it’s not something I would even look at. Before it was Thetford then it was East Anglia then it was Liverpool! It’s the natural progression, then naturally Europe then the rest of the world. But really music that influences me, without being rude to the Americans, it has always been English. Not intentionally, it has always been music from England.
Like what you were saying before, it has always been music that resonates. I’ve never really looked across the waters and thought “I’d like hitting it here and there.” The thing is once you get to a certain level in England the natural progression is to go to America, so everyone wants to go over there and break it. So I will take it as it comes . If I’m able to do it, obviously I will love it. There is a lot of appeal out there a lot of money to be made and I think what I do would have appeal for what I do for Americans because I am British.
We will see, without sounding too humble and small minded I really will take every little thing as it comes at the time. Unil it comes to a time where I feel like I have done really well in England, I probably wouldn’t be too concerned with it. I really want to go to Europe to be honest because a lot of people say a lot of Europe buy into British people really well. I’ve never really been up north, it is a step to perform in these cities and it has been mad, the next step would be to take it to Europe I’d love to take it there. But yes of course, for the money and the people I would love to smash it in America!
Franko Fraize was a joy to interview and his passion and love of his music is a clear indication he is a massive one to watch for 2016.