Growing up in small-town Monsey of Upstate New York, Shlomo Franklin finds beauty in small-towns, in people, and what could be considered by some as mundane. The beauty he sees is put into the poetic lyrics in each of his songs. Of his recently released debut album Franklin said “I wanted the songs to come from a place where you couldn’t tell if the story was being told by a seventeen-year-old or a seventy-year-old.” The twenty-two-year-old singer-songwriter has stories to tell and does it impressively in his music.
In addition to the eleven-track album Shlomo is also creating in another medium. With a series of Travelogues the singer is taking his love of storytelling and showing the beauty he both sees and vocalizes. What stories does he aim to tell? “I am obsessed with the beauty of the mundane, small-town stories, with stories that are so damn good but aren’t flashy or headline-worthy but still encompass everything that is grand about life and that we love about life,” Franklin says. The videos being released on YouTube are an artistic blend of poetry, nature, and music. There is an innocence to the process that is authentic and beautiful. Shlomo Franklin has a song for everyone, and in this space, he has a story for everyone and they are stories you want to hear.
I had the chance to interview Shlomo Franklin for the second time. We talked about his journey with music and early connection passed down from his father, his debut album Apt. 16, creating in a visual space as well as in the studio, and more. Read the full interview below.
Hi Shlomo, it is cool to be on the phone with you. It’s been a while since we last talked. I am glad to do it again. I am especially glad because in our first interview you were opening for Sawyer Fredericks at a City Winery show and I had interviewed Sawyer and his sweet mother who is his manager asked if I would be interested in interviewing the opener Shlomo Franklin. I start thinking about how I had done no prep and had zero questions but I was happy to do it and you were very patient with me. So I reread that interview and yes I’m excited to be talking to you having prepped and knowing what genre music you sing. How have things been since we last talked?
Shlomo: Oh they have been great! It’s funny because I remember our conversation being simply delightful. Kirsten (Sawyers Mom) was kind enough to involve me in a very generous way, which already I think having me open the show was a kind gesture. Then including me in that way and therefore introducing me to you was really cool. So that whole experience was pleasant, it was fun, and like I felt cared for and lucky. Then just you know talking to you and hearing a bit about your background you know was awesome.
Yeah and that is something that I really wanted to talk to you about, in talking to you I found that you have this really incredible story with your journey with music. You had mentioned in our interview you grew up as a Hasidic Jew and that you didn’t really listen to anything outside of Jewish music, except for your dad would sometimes play Bob Dylan with you. You had no idea who Bob Dylan was or that he was this legend but he had this weird voice and you liked it. So now here you are making music yourself, could you tell me a little about your background and your journey into music?
Yeah, I grew up extremely sheltered. My parents were very sincere people who wanted to shield their children from a harsh and confusing world, a seemingly apathetic at times, and turbulent universe. So we were brought up extremely sheltered. I loved music, but the music that I was exposed to really didn’t go all that deep and didn’t really say that much and really wasn’t of the best quality.
My father was a hippie in the sixties and he used to go see Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, Dave Van Ronk in the early sixties in Greenwich village before their careers really took off. So he had a really sacred and personal experience with Dylan’s music. So growing up I think it was a form of him really sharing something personal about himself with me. He would play these CD’s that he hid in the glove compartment of his pick up truck that he hid below the road maps (laughs). So he had these CD’s and he would show them to me and it always felt like a very personal way of him trying to tell me about himself and about the world that he came from and the world that he experienced. I always knew that my mom didn’t love Bob Dylan, and she didn’t love that he still listened to Bob Dylan but she respected his love of that music enough to the point that years later my mom and I went to a Bob Dylan concert and she snuck down to the floor really close to the stage for the encore with me. Which was a beautiful experience. Yeah, it was a beautiful experience of solidarity with her.
Hearing this music it was so apparently and drastically different than what I was used to, so it sort of hit me in the face. Like anyone listening to Dylan for the first time, the nasally drawl and controversial vocal quality was the first thing I noticed. What also stood out was how absolutely different it was. How much conviction he sang with, how much passion there was in both his lyrics and his performances. It really took a toll on me the melodies were sort of playing in my head. I would go to school and feel perhaps lost, or you know there were times that I was being bullied and just really felt like I was floating in a large pool of nothing and these like melodies and little phrases and lyrics would really sit with me. I noticed that these songs sat with me and they stayed with me even when the CD player was off and there was nothing but silence these songs played on in my head and no other music had done that before. I wasn’t all that aware that Bob Dylan was this national treasure and the world’s most regarded songwriters and poets, I just knew that he was this weird guy in my dads’ glove compartment that my dad used to see back in the sixties.
That’s incredible. What a special relationship with your parents and a special relationship with music. I think it is amazing you were listening and following in love with Bob Dylan without knowing he was this icon, you just connected with his music and lyrics and fell in love from that. Now here you are and you are this awesome musician. I saw your show that night we met at City Winery never having heard you and you take the stage and it was a beautiful night I still remember and your music suited the venue perfectly with the seated candlelit room and it was just you and your poetic music. Since then you have released your first album which I’m excited about, how have things been since you released Apt. 16?
First of all the fake candles were a great touch that night and it is very gratifying to me to hear that you have a good memory of that night too. I share that sentiment. The most fun thing about putting out my first album is that nobodies favorite song is the same. So I get comments or messages or at shows, people really gravitate to different songs. That reception has made it feel like a victory because I do believe that I have a song for everyone. Not every one of my songs is my favorite song at the same time, but every single one of my songs is my favorite song at a certain time. The fact that that resonates with people and that comes through and it’s not like there’s like two of the better songs and the rest are sort of filler or the rest aren’t unique or different or just latch onto what’s already been said. The fact that I dodged that very common bullet feels really good.
I love that. A lot of what you do in person and lyrics come across very genuine to me. You are also a very creative person and you are doing this really artistic thing with your travelogue series on YouTube with your music behind them. What can you tell me about what you’re doing with these visuals on YouTube?
This is so much fun because for a long time I would watch certain YouTubers that were awesome cinematographers and I always admired a lot of the storytelling and related to them. I didn’t really ever see myself in that medium and I didn’t think that I would have a genuine or natural way of fitting myself into that art form. But it kept sort of bugging me and creeping up into my imagination and I found the right tone and certain vernacular where I could perform in that area and tell stories or talk about small mundane mini things that brought me joy or intrigued me and I found a way to do that with a certain amount of self-respect and dignity. A lot of that was due to Anthony Bourdain and Parts Unknown which sadly I only got into that after he passed. But his voice in those things and his words frankly really resonated with me and it was quickly apparent that he and I liked similar writers, which after some research proved to be true. So I am really fired up with this ability to fuse my songs and little travels, whether it is throughout the east coast or just upstate New York or eventually hopefully the world. I am able to do it all with my iPhone with a couple of accessory lenses, iPhone Gimbels, and iPhone microphones and eventually I’d like to pick it up to where it can compete with the visual and sound quality of anything that is out there. Right now though experimenting with this very DIY homemade style home videos and tour diaries have been really fun and really has grabbed my attention. I am still trying to crack the code and figure it out and get better at it but it feels very fresh and new which is good because there is an innocence to it but I have a lot of experience still ahead of me to get the quality and type of product that I dream about.
You talked about the innocence to it, what has been something you have learned about yourself in the process of finding your voice in this medium?
I learned that I am obsessed with the beauty of the mundane, small-town stories, with stories that are so damn good but aren’t flashy or headline-worthy but still encompass everything that is grand about life and that we love about life. The things that inspire us and make us feel whole and happy. I am so passionate about storytelling and telling other peoples stories. Which that is the vision eventually that I had with this is I’d love for it to be mixed with people that I encounter and let them tell their own stories and give over their own world. Where I would just listen and simply be the narrator or the curator of a museum that is full of other people’s life experiences.
You mentioned things that inspire, I wanted to ask you what is something recently that has inspired with you and stayed with you?
Recording is the trickiest art form for anyone I think because Tom Waits once said that songs don’t want to be recorded and that it is a violent process trying to record them. That’s why, and I wonder if you share this same feeling that a lot of times we prefer the live versions of songs as opposed to the recorded. Especially if the first time we listened was in a live setting. So the recording studio generally speaking is designed to be a very stale and bland environment with little conflict and no personality. It’s a blank space and an empty page that waits for an artist to make its mark. However in the real world you write a song say in your apartment in a city and as you are writing there are sirens across the way, there are people chattering in the streets, you hear the distant rumble of a crowded subway, and pigeons on the fire escape and so there is this whole soundscape that influences and inspires your music. Then if you take it out to a noisy bar or a packed theater you are still playing with sound and energy with different people. So then trying to replicate that same performance in a deafly quiet sterile recording studio is a fun challenge and it is really unnatural at first.
My first album really chronicles my experimentation and my first experiences in really learning how to operate this instrument that is the recording studio. I have been really excited and inspired by my next album because it is a whole new level and I’ve really found what works for me, what doesn’t work as well, and recording has only been feeling more and more natural and conducive to what I know the songs sound like in my head and what they should feel like. The fun-ness the light-ness the ease and joy that comes along with songs and hopefully the more I do it the less nervous and self-conscious I’ll be and really let the song just sing for itself.
That is really interesting. It is cool to see you recognizing that with your second album and approaching the studio as an instrument you can master. I wanted to go back to the night we met. I ask people their go-to karaoke song in every interview and we said we’d circle back while you thought of yours and we never did so I am happy to now. Do you know what your karaoke song would be now?
(Laughs) It is a great question. I think it would have to be something by The Smiths would be great. Because nobody is as cool as Morrisey, nobody is as out there as him. So I think filling those shoes for fun after a night perhaps of a few drinks seems like an ideal scenario to place one’s self in.
Being so inspired by your next album like you said, I wanted to ask what’s next for Shlomo Franklin?
I want to finish this album. I am about halfway done. I hope that the songs will resonate immediately and give people at least a small part of the joy and inspiration that they have given me. I’d also like to go on a European tour soon. That’s a little tricky for a completely unknown artist but I’d like to make that happen. I’d just like to continue to go and find my audience and bring these songs to people that need them and want them and maybe don’t know that they exist yet. So I am just determined to make sure that these songs meet their targets and make sure that if anybody wants these songs that they know they are here for the taking.
For you I think all you need is a seated audience and even if you do sometimes feel like an unknown artist you won’t be after that night. I think I speak for the people that were at that City Winery show and it was incredible and I really appreciate you and your time Shlomo. Thank you I hope we can do it again sometime.
Thank you Tom, I would love that. We should definitely talk again both on and off the record. You’re a great guy and I love talking to you. Thank you so much.
For tour dates and to sign up for his email list visit http://www.shlomofranklin.com/