I’m listening!

Heyyyy – just peeking my head up to say a quick something!

I’ve been spending more and more time in the studio and it’s been a blast. The recent release of Hey Elizabeth acoustic was heartening because you guys showed me there’s still some love for Hello Kelly out here. I wasn’t expecting it.

We’ve all grown up and there’s only so much time in any given week. But I want to explore this. What do you want? More acoustic tracks? New music? Something live? Let me know in the comments because I want to listen! (Or come join the convo on Facebook or Twitter.)

Love you guys!

“Hey Elizabeth” acoustic version

Hey friends!

I’ve got a special treat for you today! (Especially if you’ve followed me for a long time.)

I’ve been making music as part of Lighthart for the past year, and that’s going to continue. But recently a friend of mine got married and asked if I’d record for her an acoustic version of Hello Kelly’s most recognizable song. Of course, I obliged!

Hey Elizabeth (Paper Bag Princess) was a big part of why Hello Kelly had the impact we did when we first came out in 2004. And over the years, people always asked for an acoustic version.

But I never got around to cranking it out until now.

You can stream the song on Spotify (don’t forget to add it to your favourite nostalgic or acoustic playlists!) and you can buy it on iTunes too. It’s available at Amazon & Google Play too, with YouTube on the way as well!

Recording this was therapeutic for me. If you’re familiar with Hello Kelly’s story, you know there was a tinge of defeat in how we closed up shop. But so much healing and growth has happened in the years since and I was so glad that revisiting this tune brought nothing but joyful memories. I hope that comes across as you listen!

Maybe more stuff like this will come in the future – anything’s possible. But for now, I hope you enjoy this new acoustic version of an old favourite. 

Please visit Lighthart.com to make sure you’re current on all the new music I’m making now. Thanks friends!

Here’s to being humans today and every day!

Introducing “Lighthart”

I’m So Excited to Tell You About This!

I spent 2015 rediscovering something I’d lost: The courage to do whatever the heck I want to creatively!

It’s a big deal for me to feel fearless again!

And my talented wife Julia was a big part of that!

While I was writing and touring my one-man show The Robot Speaks, I was ALSO working on some songs with Julia that were very exciting!

I’ve been wanting to make music like this for a long time!!

The Robot Speaks was me exploring a raw, intimate and dark place, and this new project swings the pendulum the other way with maximum force! I’m literally thrilled to finally announce it.

My wife and I have formed an indie-pop band called Lighthart and it’s everything it sounds like. The songs are hopeful, dynamic and bursting with energy! The whole thing feels very timeless, free and natural.

We’re working with some fantastic songs and finally nearing the end of recording. I couldn’t be more excited about this new music!

If you want to get all the updates regarding a release date, a debut single and live appearances, then sign up for the mailing list below!

Here’s to being humans today and every day!

Francy

Psst! If you’re a fan of my quirky solo stuff, don’t worry!! My “Francy” brand isn’t going away and I’ve got long-term schemes for new & wacky projects to come down the road!

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Special News & New Video!

Thank you so much for an incredible year with The Robot Speaks!

The show, the songs, the record – it taught so much about myself as an artist. It made me fearless again. You were a part of that in 2015, and I’m so grateful!

All good things must come to an end and I’ve decided to retire The Robot Speaks.

Why? I need to make room in my brain for new projects!

I want to tell you all about them but there’s something I want to do first!

I want to share a new video with you.

Out of all the original songs on The Robot Speaks, I got the biggest reaction to one song in particular.

I wrote this song back when my old band was still making plans to take over the world. I was hustling hard, trying to plan and control way too much. Honestly, I was chasing my tail! I remember becoming overwhelmed one night and writing this song …

“Don’t Give Your Heart Away”

It was one of those songs that scared me as it was taking shape. “Is this how I really feel?” I’d wonder as I scribbled the lyrics down.

Looking back over the past few years, I can’t think of a better song to culminate the healing process that The Robot Speaks has been for me.

I’m joined on this track by my talented wife Julia Appleton. My good friend Michael Paterson lent me his 8-bit prowess to spruce up the ending a bit and I’m so grateful to my friend Wayne Young for his nuanced mixing that really brought the track together.

The video below is made up of free-license clips I gathered online. I’m not much of a video editor, but I think the visuals help to evoke what the song is trying to say.

So grab your headphones and enjoy!



(If the video isn’t displaying, click right here to hear the song!)

One Last Thing!

Next Friday, February 26th – I’m going to announce my first big project of 2016 and I’m so excited about it! If you don’t want to miss it, then sign up for my MAILING LIST below. (ou’ll get some free music too!)

—-

Here’s to being humans today and every day!

Francy

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The Robot Speaks LYRIC VIDEO

I can’t wait for you to hear my new record!

The Robot Speaks will get you thinking about your own irreplaceable human voice – only you know what it is. An idea, a project, a set of beliefs or a gut feeling that the world tells you is too weird. Hey! You’re not a robot.

(Before you watch it, I have to ask … Will you please forward this page to music-loving friend? Did you know people trust music recommendations most when they’re from a friend? That’s how I’ve been introduced to some of my favourite artists! You can really help me out here!)

The Robot Speaks, releases on October 16th! (4 days!!)

PSST! Don’t forget to pre-order The Robot Speaks today! If you do, you’ll get a bonus song called Dark Cloud AND you’ll help me with the cost of printing physical CDs. Thanks so much, friend!

Here’s to living like humans today & every day!
—-
Francy

Hello Kelly Retrospective Part 5: Identity

I’ll be honest, this week’s blog post was hard to write!

If you’ve ever been so driven, so dedicated, so desperate to see something pay off that you started to see the core of who you are change in order to make it happen, then you’ll probably relate to this post!

This one brought up some pretty raw memories!


Last week, we talked about the fifth and sixth years of Hello Kelly, which saw me learning what it meant to be a signed band and dealing with some major growing pains. The music industry began shifting in real & seismic ways, and I lost track of the band’s vision as we fought to stay afloat.

At the end of 2009, I made the decision to reboot Hello Kelly in Nashville, TN. This adventure rocked me to my core as I wrestled with inner demons and rebuilt the band a final time …


I listened to Paramore’s 2009 live record on-repeat for the entire drive to Nashville.

By the time I arrived, I’d convinced myself that my career needed to look like theirs. The stadiums, the thousands of fans, the staggering record sales. Problem is that any time you’re saying “I want to be the next X” and X is an extremely successful thing, you’re setting yourself up for an incredibly steep climb.

But that didn’t matter to me. I was literally desperate for success and I’d convinced myself that I’d have an easier climb without any band mates in tow. Ironically, I really needed a band but I was petrified of actually speaking to any of the thousands of musicians in the city so I turned to Craigslist.

I’d joined forces with ToTell, an Ontario band led by Zach Havens, to book what we called The Intensity in Ten Cities tour. The plan was for the newly rebooted Hello Kelly to drive up north to play 10 dates across Ontario in March 2010. I wanted the new guys to get a taste for what Hello Kelly had built in Ontario before we tried to build something in Tennessee.

I met George Wong, a fellow Canadian and Berklee Music grad, in a Starbucks. Days later, I met up with Benjamin Mahaffey and we talked for hours about our mutual love for Our Lady Peace. After only two 10-hour long rehearsals, the three of us plus guitarist Travis Wilbourn got in my van and left for Ontario.

The tour was trial by fire. We may have confused some fans as it took us a handful of shows to get our feet under us. But when we weren’t out playing, we were staying in my hometown, Orangeville, Ontario, at an empty apartment my dad owned. We bonded by cooking each other Kraft Mac & Cheese and playing Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey on Nintendo 64. A few days after we’d returned to Nashville, they all took me out for a drink and said “We’re in!” The fifth & final official incarnation of Hello Kelly was born: Travis Wilbourn on guitar, George Wong on bass, Ben Mahaffey on drums and myself on guitar & vocals.

We rehearsed more than I ever have.

Starting in a rehearsal facility and moving to a storage unit when money got tight, there was a point when I think we were putting in 30 hours/week. It was challenging to re-arrange the new material for our 4 piece unit – the songs had been recorded in the studio with dozens of tracks. But what made it all worth it were those moments when somebody had an idea that made everything else fall into place. The show we crafted that Spring was one of the best Hello Kelly had ever had.

As fondly as I look back on those rehearsals, I still felt cripplingly homesick most nights. It’s hard to be motivated and focused in a new place. I spent a lot of time wondering why I’d moved in the first place. Is a shot at “fame” and “success” really worth feeling this way?

At first, I medicated by going to movies alone, which was innocent enough, and then there was some drinking too. None of it felt very self-destructive at the time, but it was. Thankfully, I wasn’t allowed to wallow in this state very long. Why? I asked to vacate my apartment one morning without warning. The landlord had found somebody willing to pay him more for the room.

I think I only lived in my van for a week. I’m not proud of it, but I do have to admit I felt clever pretending to be a hotel guest and scoring free continental breakfasts on occasion. I know, I know. Don’t judge!

During that week in the van, a friend invited me to The Anchor Fellowship, a small church downtown. I stayed in my seat for both evening services that night. Weeping, I had never encountered the Holy Spirit in such a personal & intimate way. I was in a dark place so this sliver of light was cause for hope.

Corey Pigg, a musician I’d met at the church, invited me to crash on the couch at his place. This house was shared by 5 dudes; it had crooked ceilings & floors, and smelled like hookah. At church one night, Brian Ban, one of the pastors, told me that my identity wasn’t Hello Kelly. This, as the Anchor’s congregants often said back then, “wrecked me” and was the beginning of a massive & profound paradigm shift in my life.

Weeks later, pastor Josh Stump pointed at me from the pulpit and shared these words of prophecy: “I don’t know your name but you’ve been doing things one way for a long time, and it’s not working. It’s not working and the Lord says a new way is coming.”

I took this and ran with it, full speed ahead.

I still had never learned what it meant to slow down, to wait. I also didn’t know then that when God says these kinds of things, he’s often not in the hurry that we’re in.

If you’re reading this and don’t buy that we’re able to hear God’s voice, I get it. This retrospective exists to tell my story and, at this point, God became a bigger, more real part of that story. I won’t try to convince you it’s real but it was and still is very real to me.

I had convinced myself that I was meant to quit Hello Kelly but stay in Nashville and await whatever this “new thing” was. I wondered what it could be. A new band? Maybe something I wasn’t expecting at all. I now see that I was like a kid on a sugar high, running around frantically. But the point was that for the first time ever, I was willing to lay the band down, for real. Not because I was sick of it but because I was secure with myself. This is called “surrender,” and it’s powerful stuff.

So imagine my confusion when opportunities started to line up for us in Nashville. We were discovered by Shawn Carnes, who offered to manage the band. He loved the new, as-of-yet unreleased record and was intrigued by my story. He brought in a co-manager named Mike Baker, who was very confident that he could get us signed to a major label with a six figure advance, which would effectively end our frustrating relationship with 7Spin Music.

At this point, I told my band mates that I had been seriously considering folding up the band. Their response was pragmatic: “There are significant & exciting offers on the table, are you sure you don’t want to see them through?”

This began a season that was both exciting and exhausting.

I became very spiritual – studying scripture, learning contemplative mediation, and participating at church. This was a deeper, more authentic & life-changing pursuit than I’d ever heard preached in any CCM music. But at the same time, the band continued in a sort of limbo – me with one foot out the door but sticking around to see what might happen.

I think my devil-may-care attitude frustrated my band mates and managers, because they were used to the relentless and obsessive Francy, but I’d turned away from being that guy. My identity had been separated from Hello Kelly for the first time: I felt whole as Francy and the band was merely a thing I did.

That doesn’t mean I wasn’t enjoying it & learning. Unlike previous years where I’d played mostly conferences, church events and festivals, we were playing mainly bars & venues now. I learned quickly that these audiences weren’t responding to the tested Hello Kelly theatrics and flair. “Less show, make it about the music,” I learned. I resisted at first, but we’d later find a balance that caused local pros to tell us we had one of the best original music shows in the city!

The new record, EASYFORYOUTOSAY, was mastered and ready to release, but Baker advised us to wait. “If you release it on 7Spin,” he said, “you’ll be less attractive to the major labels I want to pitch you to.” This was discouraging because we were creeping up on 2011, and I hadn’t released new music since 2008. I’d told our fans to expect new music and now had to stall, find ways to explain without explaining. Our authenticity with fans crumbled quickly. Worse was that Baker couldn’t approach these major labels until he’d worked out a buyout agreement with 7Spin. This took months. He told us often about the phone calls he was having with 7Spin’s people, about the delays. Still, he always assured us that he’d get to the bottom of it – and we trusted him with everything.

It was early 2011 and Baker was reportedly very close to finalizing the buyout agreement with 7Spin.

Then one day, out of the blue, I received an email from Baker: “I’m done,” he said, “Good luck with all your endeavors.” With him, Baker took all the negotiations and progress he’d made with 7Spin, sending us back to square one. It felt like being near the end of a difficult video game only for the console to freeze and restart you at the beginning.

This hit me like a ton of bricks. Carnes, the other half of our management team, became our sole manager. He was great at communicating our story, but lacked Baker’s focus and precision and that’s what we needed.

My band mates, wanting to understand our dilemma for themselves, asked me to take them to Indiana so they could meet with 7Spin. We made the trip and the label’s president did what he’d always done best – he made a compelling and complicated argument (he was also a lawyer after all) for how his label was still crucial to the band’s success. Thinking I was asleep on the drive home, my band mates spoke vitriolically about how I’d been lying to them, hiding from them this amazing label we could’ve been benefiting from all along.

Naturally, I found myself talking to my dad. “I just don’t want to do this band anymore if it’s not making a difference for people!” I told him. “Wow,” he answered, “I haven’t heard you say that in years.”

We finally released EASYFORYOUTOSAY that summer.

There was no promotion or publicity from the label, and they even managed to put the wrong artwork on iTunes. There’s a great story of how they sent us a box of CDs with severely pixelated printing and asked us to sell them anyway. As discouraging as these things were, I felt strangely vindicated as my band mates started to see 7Spin in the same light I did.

I don’t like how easily the label comes across as the villain in these posts. They’d invested a big sum of money into Hello Kelly’s first record and nobody can blame them for wanting to make that money back. At the time, I thought them cruel for holding so tightly to our band when it was clear (to me at least) that the partnership was a failed experiment and losses needed to be cut. It’s true that being signed caused us to miss a handful of exciting opportunities, but who’s to say where any of it might have led? Success is a mountain with no summit, after all. Looking back, I can see their logic in holding onto me “just in case” – but it was hugely disheartening at the time.

If I had a time machine, I’d go back and take the label president out for a beer (or ten.) I often wonder how things might have been different if I’d leveled with him in blunt honesty. So it goes.

That conversation with my dad was ringing in my ears and I spent my mornings on tour scribbling in ratty journals. I was searching for how this band could once again have vision and purpose. How do you create brutally honest art but also be true to your blossoming faith at the same time?

I found a special book in my church’s library.

It was called “Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers” by Chap Clark and I devoured it. I found that I was reading about “Kelly.” The band’s vision – “To encourage, empower and challenge Kelly” – had turned into a cheap catchphrase over the years and had been gathering dust – but this book reminded me of its vitality & relevance. I became passionate about the potential that might still lie in Hello Kelly – the idea, not necessarily just the band. My creativity began firing in new ways …

Here in 2015, our culture’s fascination with zombies and the apocalypse has mostly come and gone, but back in mid-2011, the craze was just beginning! As the tour van hauled from Calgary to Nashville that summer, I was feverishly developing an ambitious idea to write & record an intricate concept record about navigating a zombie apocalypse. I wanted to write about the dark & dead world and the spark of life that can come from loving each other and building community. There would be a chilling story about a lover turned zombie, all bolstered by narrative tracks with voice actors and sound effects. We made plans for a new elaborate live show, costumes, and videos. Again, at the time, the zeitgeist wasn’t yet full of zombie fever so this idea felt fresh!

We loved our precious little idea and didn’t want 7Spin Music to mess it up or delay it. So, I’m not proud of the devious little plan we cooked up on that long van ride, but here’s what it was: I’d been writing a string of deeply spiritual songs on the side, songs that didn’t fit Hello Kelly at all. “Let’s call in favors,” we brainstormed, “and throw those songs together as a crappy record for 7Spin.” We reasoned that they’d be more interested in a spiritual record anyway, since they were a Christian label. “At the same time, we’ll actually be spending our time and money on making our zombie concept record the best it can be. Having given 7Spin the fake-out crap record, we’ll have fulfilled our contract with them and will be free to shop & license our awesome zombie record without them!”


 

It was a strange plan: Disconcertingly dishonest, and very convoluted. I mean, did we actually think it was going to work?

As we began to set it into motion, I was often reminded of that moment in church: “Your way isn’t working, but a new way is coming.” I was conflicted … I’d come to Nashville desperate for success and willing to do just about anything to get it, but I’d learned such profound lessons in faith, patience, joy, and having an identity outside of the band …

Yet here I was, hypnotized again by the idea of fame. That new passion & freedom I’d found? Twisted up in a heartbeat! After spending many aimless years without a plan, it was eerily easy to shut up my conscience and charge forward with our sneaky scheme. I’d lay in bed at night and ask myself, “Is this the new way? Really? Really?


 

This week’s post was the hardest to write so far because this stuff isn’t buried in the past. It’s fresh! It wasn’t that long ago! It’s different to recount things that feel like they happened yesterday. They’re not in the rear view anymore; more like the back seat.

If you’ve been around my website or if you’ve seen my show, The Robot Speaks, then you know that the robot vs. human thing is big to my brand. But it’s also big to me – it’s not just a gimmick.

In writing this week’s post, I thought about the movie The Iron Giant. Near the end, this lovable giant robot is triggered by a toy gun and suddenly transforms into a ruthless, invincible war machine with red eyes. He loses sight of who he is, and tears a peaceful little snowy town to shreds.

None of us are giant robots (that I know of), but we can all relate to feeling that twitch! It sucks big-time when life overrides you and takes you down a road, like you’re a passenger. It’s easy to forget that we all have identities besides our jobs, our dreams, our families – but we do! Did you know that you’re enough? That can be hard to hear because it goes against what the world screams at us every day.

I’ll say it again – we’re not robots! We get to slow down and decide how to respond. The more I write about my time in Hello Kelly, the more I realize that my ongoing struggle was that I’d react quickly … Instead of responding slowly. There’s such a big difference.


I’m going to be wrapping up this retrospective next week with one final post. I can’t wait to share not only how the Hello Kelly story unfolded, but more importantly, what came after. This “new thing” I’d been waiting for hadn’t even crested the horizon yet! The whole story caps off with some really cool redemption and I’m really looking forward to telling you about it.

Thanks again for joining me. Please keep emailing me and messaging with your thoughts about the stories I’m telling. I want to hear from you. Share in the comments as well!

ALSO! I’m sending an exclusive sneak peek of my upcoming record, The Robot Speaks, to my mailing list this week! Be sure to sign up below so you don’t miss it!!

Thanks again for reading. Here’s to living like humans today and every day.
Francy
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Hello Kelly Retrospective Part 4: Vision

Phew! So this week’s post is a bit of a doozy!

Have you ever worked at something – a dream, a project, a relationship – so hard and for so long, that you start to lose track of where the thing ends and you begin?

Writing this week’s post kicked my butt in a serious way.


Last week, I walked you through the third and fourth years of Hello Kelly, which saw me rebuild the band twice and frankly get lost in the hustle of it all. Due to money problems, I had a really hard time learning to slow down and enjoy the amazing experience for what it was. Day by day, it started to fly by in a blur.

I signed to a US label in what I now know was a bit of a panic, and the stage was set for a couple very exciting but dramatic years. This week we’ll walk through the roller coaster of releasing our first full-length and realizing what it really means to be a signed band …


 

We were gearing up to release our debut record on 7Spin Music.

The label put us on a 60+ day tour in the USA to promote the record and our bassist James Watts had always loved touring the States – but sadly he had some family things come up that Spring that caused him to sit this one out. With Mutter having already headed off to school in Australia, we were short 2 key players and about to embark on our longest tour yet.

There was pressure coming from other sources as well. Producer Adam Smith had helped us craft what started as a disparate batch of songs into a strong, cohesive record. But when we got the mixes back from the mixer, we were shocked at how bad they sounded. The worst part was that the label stood by the mixes. Thank goodness my dad shelled out personal cash for a new mixer, or that first record would’ve sounded very different.

I remember our drummer, Josh McCabe, criticizing the label when they had us organize and pay for our own photo shoot. “We’ve always handled our own shoots,” I argued, “What’s the big deal?” McCabe and I disagreed about a lot of things in our time playing together, but I’ve realized he was right about this one. A pro shoot paid for by your label was a reasonable expectation in 2007 and, looking back, I can see that an opportunity was missed to bolster us and our record with some really strong & intentional branding. So it goes.

In April 2008, we departed for what would go down in history as Hello Kelly’s most dysfunctional tour.

I loved every band member as a close friend, it but it was ultimately just an incompatible group of guys crammed together in that van.

Benjamin Butt was a wild man on guitar and Sean “Pierre” Schwartzentruber was as solid as they come on bass. There’s a video on YouTube of us playing an Ontario festival called Pitch & Praise after returning home from tour. We sound great and the show is a frenzy – you’d never guess that some of us were barely on speaking terms!

The biggest source of conflict though came from outside the band. Our record was set to release on April 15, 2008 and we’d told all our fans across Canada and the US to raid their local Christian bookstores for it. Remember, this was back when having your record in stores meant something! We were excited to see it on shelves, so we found a Christian bookstore and … They didn’t have it. Huh? We sat in the van and called 5 different stores in the state. Then the MySpace comments started pouring in … “Tried to buy your record, but the store didn’t have it!” On and on the comments went.

The label told us they missed the release date because of a shipping delay. But that didn’t matter to us – we were so embarrassed! The record eventually did get into a few stores, but you only get to really hype up your release day once, and ours had been botched.

I spent many nights on that tour staring up at the stars after shows and connecting with God. I’d hear his still, small voice simply say “Keep moving forward,” and I did. When we finally got home to Ontario, I was ready – despite the the momentum we were beginning to build – to walk away from the band.

My dad’s pep talks really do belong in movies.

He encouraged me that despite all that had gone wrong, the band stood for something important and that people connected with its message. He assured me that if I just kept at it, things would turn around.

My decision to stick it out was immediately rewarded. After that tour, Watts was eager to jump back in on bass and Mutter, back from Australia, was chomping at the bit to play as well. It was a rainbow after a horrible storm: The well-oiled 3rd incarnation of Hello Kelly was back on the road. That summer will always be one of my favourites.

But any time we were home from tour, my brain would turn against me. I’d lose sleep to images of record contract legal babble scrolling through my head. There was no longer a place to explore the wacky and offbeat ideas that had once defined Hello Kelly. There was a committee for everything, but they’d let us down already. I started to feel like my band, my baby, my voice, had been taken away from me. It sounds melodramatic, I know but many days I would daydream about a life free from music.

It was some combination of coincidence and blessing that our manager, Vacher, introduced me to a film maker named Jonathan Steckley. Our first bro date was to see Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the terribleness of which bound us immediately as friends. We wound up in his basement apartment that night, telling each other all the ideas we’d had for movies better than the one we’d just seen. He suggested writing a screenplay together, which had been a dormant dream of mine forever. At a time when I felt I didn’t have a voice, here was a new way for me to tell stories. Not to be too mushy about it, but Steckley was truly a godsend.

Vacher had been managing us for four years.

He’d fulfilled his contract to us but had stayed on to help us navigate label life. However, he was about to become a father and knew it was time to pass us off to other management – maybe even somebody in Nashville.

I remember taking a trip with McCabe and meeting with a handful of different prospective managers in Music City. He was expertly poised in these meetings, speaking of Hello Kelly’s vision with confidence and clarity, something I’d always struggled to do due to my stutter.

But we started coming up against a problem. The music industry was rapidly changing! Writing this in 2015, it’s easy to see the seismic and permanent ways the industry has shifted. But actually living it in 2008 was different. It was a little like sailing directly into a gentle wind that grows subtly but steadily … Until you find yourself reenacting the end of The Truman Show.

Everybody we met with was beginning to brace themselves for these impending changes and didn’t want to take any risks. Management companies were clinging to their established artists, their supposed cash cows. And along comes Hello Kelly, a well-intentioned pop band based all the way in Canada, signed to a small indie label from a small town, fronted by a singer with a stutter that prevented him from doing interviews … Despite McCabe’s best efforts, it’s not hard to see why every Nashville manager couldn’t catch the vision.

Despite all this, we kept crushing it on the road. That summer saw us at festivals selling cases and cases of CDs to receptive and excited new fans! Our first single “10 Good Reasons” had broken the Top 30 on Christian US radio, and it was honestly amazing to be meeting fans who’d discovered us this way. There was one show in Welland, Ontario for one of our favourite promoters, Nicole Smith, where we’d been slotted to open for Thousand Foot Krutch who had a huge following in Ontario at the time. For reasons unknown to me, they didn’t show up and suddenly everybody was looking at us to headline. We’d played big crowds before but this was different: This kids were expecting TFK and getting us instead.

Rising to the occasion that night was a storybook moment for Hello Kelly. You know those occasions where you get to really show what you’re made of? We relished it. We weren’t trying to be rock stars; we were working hard to serve – to deliver what those kids had come expecting from someone else. It’s like we somehow leveled-up and earned the title anyway. It was so humbling to have those kids tell us how glad they were that we’d headlined. No amount of radio success, critical praise, money or industry clout has ever held a candle to that feeling! So good.

At the end of summer 2008, it was once again time for Mutter and the band to part ways.

McCabe moved from drums to lead guitar, and we brought in Ryan Donais (brother of previous guitarist Mike Donais) on drums. That Fall, we set out on the Rage Against Abuse Tour, opening for Eleventyseven.

Despite (and possibly because of) some wild and unpredictable drama with this tour’s manager, we had a blast on this run. We were all growing and maturing, and rolling with the punches bound us together. Also, I can’t write this without letting the world know that having Ryan Donais on drums behind you is an unmitigated blast.

Watts, recently married, approaching 30 and having difficult family things to tend to, made the difficult decision to leave the band. He’d always been the the wisest of us, quick to remind us of the band’s vision when we were off track. (Many times he seemed to know it better than I did.) I’m so glad he got an appropriate send-off; his last show was for hundreds of kids in Toronto. I miss that guy all the time.

All my go-to fill-in guys had moved away or were busy with other gigs, but we had a few shows left in 2008. I needed some semblance of stability and family so when I realized that my brothers, Adam & Jacob, were down to fill-in, I jumped on it. Was it the tightest iteration of Hello Kelly ever? Maybe not. But jamming in the basement with my (literal) brothers was a return to a sort of rock & roll purity, and I needed it.

Likely taking Watts’ departure as his cue, McCabe left the band that Christmas. It was New Years Eve of 2008, and I realized that Hello Kelly had had a new line-up every three months that year! Not a great way to build brand (or band) recognition! Around that time, there were quite a few artists like Dashboard Confessional or Rocket Summer – acts that boasted a full band sound but were marketed as the music of one guy. At the outset of 2009, I decided to shape Hello Kelly to fit this mold. The fourth official incarnation of Hello Kelly was set: Mat Lean on guitars and synth, Adam Goudreault on bass, Jacob Goudreault on Drums and myself, on guitars and vocals.

We built a new show and booked Hello Kelly’s first Western Canada tour.

Pulling booking contacts from friends in bands who’d made the trip before us, I booked shows all the way from Thunder Bay, Ontario to Vancouver, B.C.

I wish I could say there was an intentional plan for this undertaking, but the truth is that I was chasing my tail. The loss of so many of Hello Kelly’s mainstays – Vacher, Watts, and to a lesser degree, Mutter & McCabe – had left me aimless and staying busy was the best way I knew to keep the anxiety at bay. The band’s vision, “to challenge, encourage and empower Kelly,” had become just a catchphrase, not the guiding lamppost it had been before.

Conflicted as I was, 2009 saw me step up as a leader in new ways, taking on the jobs of booking and management. From the outside looking in, it may have seemed like Hello Kelly had taken steps backwards, but I had to grow from shipmate to Captain and my band mates truly took it on the chin. Following a young & green leader is selfless and brave. Looking back, I regret that I was too preoccupied to truly enjoy what an awesome adventure it was to cross Canada with Lean and my brothers, but I’m so grateful they had my back through it all.

Vacher was still helping line up some big picture opportunities. We worked for a few months on building a big radio campaign to push either “Simple Love Song” or “Hey Elizabeth” to Canadian mainstream radio. This was going to be a big deal – lots of people believed that if either of those songs were given the necessary push, they would catch on and the band would have an exciting future in Canada again. Sadly, none of these plans materialized because the label money we’d been relying on had run out. Another casualty of the changing music industry.

I found myself sitting with Scott Jackson, a good friend working in Christian radio. “Why aren’t you in Nashville?” he asked bluntly. It seemed crazy at first, but I couldn’t deny the allure of a fresh start. Lean and my brothers all had plans to begin college after the summer’s touring ended and then, Hello Kelly being reduced to only me, the band could be based anywhere …

We opened for Relient K that summer at Canada’s Wonderland for a huge crowd of 5000. Backstage, my brothers and I thought it was so cool how Relient K used one of those street map play mats for toy cars as their drum rug. It did my heart good to play such a big show as a send off for Lean and my brothers.

I decided to move to Nashville at the end of 2009.

“Maybe being there,” I thought, “I’ll be able to find a new line-up and a manager to help me build new vision.” My dad gave me this (great) advice: “Don’t move somewhere unless you have something to do when you get there.”

So, I planned to make a new record. Adam Smith visited Ontario for a week in September 2009, and we wrote what would become EASYFORYOUTOSAY in a week. I was void of vision – for Hello Kelly but also life in general – and all of that came across in the songs. The record was dark and heavy which, to Smith’s credit as a producer, was an honest reflection of my heart at the time.

Driving to Nashville in the big white Hello Kelly van with a suitcase and a couple guitars, I took a detour to Valparaiso, Indiana to meet with the people at 7Spin. My plan was to simply say, “We signed a deal when the industry looked like X, now it looks like Y. You no longer have money to fulfill the promises you made to us, and I need to start over.” It was naive of me, but I somehow hoped we’d shake hands and call it a day.

“If you really do make it in Nashville, then we can profit from it,” the label president said. “It doesn’t make sense to end the deal.” He reasoned that if I had the resolve and determination to move my whole operation to a new city and reboot, then I might have the resolve and determination to defy the changing industry and land a major deal, which could theoretically score him a big buy-out payday.

As I drove on to Nashville from Indiana, I could feel the walls closing in. 7Spin had tightened their grip and I was, in almost every way, starting from scratch.


I’ll be honest! When I was writing the outlines for these posts a couple months ago, these years were the hardest to mine because they’re filled with some very tough times. And writing the actual post this week, a lot of those same emotions returned. Like I’ve written in this series, it’s tough to look back and see these pains & failings your rear view!

There’s a part of me that reads this post and thinks: “OK, get over it. You got the opportunity to make music for a decade and you had some tough breaks. Big deal.” And it’s true! I have so much to be grateful for and I’ve learned to not take it for granted. There are so many bigger, deeper and more important cares in life than whether your band makes it or not.

But please notice this: The pains and struggles I’m describing don’t begin and end with “… And the band’s pursuits didn’t pan out.” Looking back now, I can see that my inner turmoil in this season was caused by a slow and subtle misplacement of identity. I became the band. There was no separation. And as the band lost focus, vision, and purpose, so did my actual literal life. I was blessed to have friends and family come alongside me for seasons, as we all do, but every one of us ultimately ends up in bed at night, staring at the ceiling, trying to reconcile who the heck we are and what we’re doing.

Something profound about robots and humanity … This is real stuff!


Hopefully some of you can relate and I’m not just talking out of my ass. Fortunately, the next post in this series sees me find a community of friends in Nashville that dramatically changed my trajectory and restored hope in a huge way, so I’m very excited to share that part of the story.

Thank you so much for joining me for this journey. Many of you have been emailing me, texting me, messaging me with your thoughts and reflections on these memories. Please keep doing that! Feel free to share in comments below as well.

And sign up below to get the next post sent right to your inbox so you don’t miss it!

Thanks again for reading. Here’s to living like humans today and every day.
Francy
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Only Humans Can Say “No”

I wanted to interrupt the blog series to share this article I found today over at Storyline Blog today.

It’s about how we can train people how to treat us (hint: with respect) … I won’t give away the article – you’ll have to click through to see what I mean.

But it struck me because it’s so in line with what I write about here. Making the conscious choice to be a human gives us abilities that robots don’t have.

  • The ability to examine how we’ve programmed ourselves, or even how others have programmed us!
  • The ability to dismantle the way we’ve allowed ourselves to be treated, and then alter it by adding new variables …

Click through and read to see what I mean.

My retrospective blog series continues on Monday September 28th. Can’t wait!

Thanks for reading! Here’s to being a human today and every day!
Francy

PS: Hope you’re getting excited for my new record, The Robot Speaks!!!!

 

 

Hello Kelly Retrospective Part 3: Hustle & Money

I don’t know about you, but I’m loving this series so far!

Do you ever feel like you don’t have time to slow down? Like if you took a second to think, you’ll be left behind?

I came face to face with that in writing this week’s post.


Last week, we walked through the first two years of Hello Kelly, which saw me launch the band with more success than expected and, frankly, take it for granted. I told you how ego crept in and how easily we lost track of the band’s vision because we just wanted “more.” More of what? Who knows!

A dramatic tour in the Canadian prairies sent us reeling, and it took a while for Hello Kelly to truly recover. This week I’ll take you the ups and downs of that recovery, the twisty road that got us to the brink of some of our coolest adventures …


 

2006 and I didn’t get along.

It was a difficult year and there’s not much I can say to sugar coat it.

In what felt like a mad dash to recover a sense of purpose after bailing on the Absolute tour, we found ourselves in Kansas for 2 weeks, playing a handful of regional shows. The tension had thinned, but it wasn’t gone. I remember very little being said on those country drives.

When Adam Arkell, Kane Bender and Mike Donais all left the band within a month of each other, I was tempted to walk away as well. Hello Kelly’s success was nothing to shake a stick at, and it would’ve been understandable for me to move on to something else at that point. But James Watts, my good friend and bassist, still had faith in the band and that was heartening. I must also attribute the band continuing to my encouraging dad. His pep talks belong in movies.

Around this time, two bands we used to play with often – One Way Out and Relentless – were both winding down. I did some recruiting and, in April 2006, James Watts, Phil Johnston, Lee Zavitz, Mat Lean and myself formed what came to be known as the 2nd official incarnation of Hello Kelly.

I was dating a girl named Stephanie. Twice a week I made the drive (2 hours in the gas-guzzling van) to see her. My twenty year-old speeding habits earned me a tall stack of tickets and my insurance premiums learned to fly. Suffice it to say that money (and my major lack thereof) became problem #1 in 2006. I’m not proud that hard-earned band money filled my personal gas tank on a couple occasions. I don’t have many regrets, but not taking a business class early on is one of them.

We were at Gospel Music Association Week in Nashville.

Our manager, Chris Vacher, told us to meet with two suits from an independent label called 7Spin Music. These guys told us about how their boss wanted to sign a rock band.

We were all happy to be in a band where big picture strategy was happening. Vacher wouldn’t let us play for free, and he started targeting bigger shows like conferences, camps & festivals. But we were still coming against every regional band’s nemesis: Over-saturation.

The worst thing your fans can say is “I’ll just see them next time they’re in town.” This is a sign you’re repeating yourself and haven’t created demand. See, with so few cities in Ontario, it’s easy to find yourself playing the same city every month, and who wants to see you that often? Touring outside of Ontario sounds like a great idea until you realize how far away the rest of Canada is …

The answer to this dilemma was, of course, the USA. Tons of people, tons of venues & a higher ceiling for success. The notion of signing a US record deal was exciting. Remember: Back in 2006, you still distributed your CDs to actual stores. If the poster and album art looked cool, there was a good chance you’d move some units. I must sound like Grandpa Simpson describing this model. Who’s Grandpa Simpson? I believe I’ve made my point.

As Vacher sorted through the contracts, we found ourselves playing alongside Superchick in Ohio. They invited us onto their tour bus and we told them about the label offer. “You seem worn out & aimless, like you’re about to sign this deal out of fear,” is the heart of what I remember them telling me. They advised us to hibernate, write new material and rediscover our identity before signing anything. I didn’t know what to think.

Watts and I met Vacher at a Wendy’s off the highway weeks later.

He had with him a copy of the contract and a pen. This was the deciding moment.

Johnston and Zavitz had moved on from Hello Kelly to start a new band. Hello Kelly hadn’t released new material in ages, and our crap van was on its last legs. All I could think about was all the money we didn’t have. The contract promised some modest signing advances, and I’d convinced myself that the band wouldn’t survive if we didn’t sign.

Still, the advice from Superchick was ringing in my ears. Gearing Hello Kelly down for a minute to get some perspective sounded strangely freeing. Even if it would ultimately end the band, it would be a decision made in clarity and you can never feel bad about those.

Watts signed first, because he knew the decision was ultimately mine since I wrote the songs. I remember telling them I wanted to take three days to fast and pray about the decision. Vacher asked, “What will fasting tell you that you don’t already know?” He wasn’t being sarcastic but I think I thought he was. Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking – maybe I was just self-conscious – but pride took hold and I signed the paper. I’ll never forget the look on Watts’ face: He looked sad for me.

I have a childhood memory of using a Game Genie to beat Super Mario Bros. 3.

After I sent Bowser plummeting down that brick hole, the magical door to the Princess didn’t appear. It was a glitch in the game caused by the Game Genie. I did the work but got no satisfaction. Have you ever gotten exactly what you wanted and realized there was never really anything to get?

Signing the deal with 7Spin was followed by that creepy “now what?” feeling. I realized that signing a record deal is usually followed by making a record. But my songwriting demos sucked and I had writer’s block. There was nothing new to say.

But we did have a steady supply of shows. Some extremely talented friends stepped in as fill-ins while Hello Kelly searched for new official members. I got to play shows with drummer Brad Fisher and guitarist Jay Neilson.

In early 2007, drummer Josh McCabe joined the band, forming the third official incarnation of Hello Kelly – James Watts, Mat Lean, Josh McCabe and myself. Guitarist Daniel Mutter was an honourary member, touring with us off and on in 2007 and 2008. He never appeared in photos, sadly.

In the series finale of The Office, character Andy Bernard says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Looking back on the time spent touring with this line-up, I realize that these were some of the best old days.

Touring with these guys was easy & fun and it came across in our live show. The summer of 2007 saw us play Kingdom Bound – a festival I’d attended often as a teen. The set should’ve been rained out, but hundreds of kids rocked out with us in the pouring rain. It doesn’t get much better than that.

I went from that festival to the Buffalo airport …

… Where I slept on my suitcase and waited to fly to Nashville. My first week of professional co-writes was set up by the label, and I got to submit meal receipts. The best part of being signed was submitting meal receipts.

I quickly realized that I’d been set up with these writers to write Contemporary Christian hits. “That’s what your label wants, so that’s what we’re going to write.”

So, the Christian music industry: I listened to CCM bands like Five Iron Frenzy, Relient K and Skillet in high school. My first band started playing worship music in our youth group before evolving to writing our own songs. Many of my contacts when I started Hello Kelly were youth pastors and churches, so it was easier to book with them. Part of my original vision for Hello Kelly was that I’d be free to write about my faith but always authentic about it. I didn’t like the distinction of being a “Christian band” because I’d seen bands let their fans down by acting “non-Christian” (subjective, much?) and that kind of pressure & expectation isn’t fair to anybody. I’ve come to believe that celebrity and faith don’t mix well. But that’s just me.

I didn’t know how to articulate that in those writing rooms in 2007. The mandate was to write Christian songs and I had a Grammy-nominated writer tell me, “If you put ‘Jesus’ in this song, it’ll be a number one!” Real inspiring.

(Later, I told my manager that those sessions felt like using the Lord’s name in vain. He told me to write a song about it and I did.)

Luckily, one of these writers had to cancel a session, so my rep scrambled to set me up with with someone else. Adam Smith had a NES hooked up to his TV, so I felt at home. We weren’t sure what to write, so I said: “How would you feel about a simple love song?” He thought it was a lyric idea, and we wrote “Simple Love Song.” We also wrote “Fall Over Me” that day, which is a faith-based song but actually came from place of authenticity. I emailed Vacher immediately after the session, telling him I’d found who I wanted to produce the new record.

We played to a crowd of 8,000 that Fall.

It was bittersweet to serve facemelts at Acquire the Fire in Hamilton though, because Mutter had recently announced that he was moving to Australia for school. This was the first time that the line-up was changing for a reason that wasn’t rooted in conflict, and I didn’t like the idea of touring without him.

The show went by too fast, as they often do. Afterwards, we got to hang out with so many kids. It was awesome. After packing everything into the trailer, I handed the cash box and the bank deposit card to Watts. I’d learned how terrible I was with our finances, so I wanted to trust him with them instead. And then we all drove home separately.

I was fifteen minutes from my hometown when I realized I needed fuel. Many gas stations in Ontario don’t require you to pre-pay, so I pulled up and put $10 of gas in the van.

I immediately realized the irony in sending Watts home with the cash box when I tried to pay for my gas. Every card I had was either maxed out or tapped, and I had no cash. Broke.

Cut to me, emptying the van and removing every floorboard, gathering every coffee soaked nickel and gunk-covered dime I could find. After 30 minutes, I’d found $9.46 and the attendant let me go, head hanging in shame.

Sure, there was technically a cash box full of money a couple hundred kilometers away but still, the symbolism wasn’t lost on me. When you’re digging for pennies in between seat cushions, you can’t help but ask, “Is this really my life?”

We recorded in Valparaiso, Indiana.

Adam Smith hauled half of his studio up from Nashville, and we were joined by guitarists Taylor Burns and Travis Wilbourn. Several local studio drummers helped us out, but Hello Kelly drummer McCabe and synth player Lean did make the trip to play on a few tracks. Sadly, Watts, who’d been with the band since the beginning, didn’t get to play at all. Again, I don’t have many regrets but not fighting harder for James to be in that studio is on the list.

2007 drew to a close with Ontario covered in Christmas snow. I found myself reflecting on the coming year: We’d release our first full length, embark on our longest tour ever, and promote to US Christian radio for the first time. Hello Kelly was now aiming squarely for the Contemporary Christian Music crowd. For the next few years, interviewers would compare us only to Christian pop bands, only some of which were good pop bands.


These moves all led me to where I am today, so I don’t regret any of it. Still, you never think money alone will motivate such a big trajectory decision. It sneaks up on you, and it can be hard to see that in your rear view.

  • “Dating that jerk for 7 years probably wasn’t the best idea.”
  • “Maybe combining a McChicken and a Quarter Pounder isn’t the stroke of genius I thought it was.”
  • “Guess I didn’t need this $100,000 degree after all all.”

It’s hard to find these little pearls of wisdom when we’re living it, faces buried in the present. The more I write about my time in Hello Kelly, the more I realize how much time I spent hustling and how little time I took to slow down and breathe.,

There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, being ambitious and working hard – but we aren’t robots!

Despite what the world would have us believe, we’re allowed to back up and look at how we’ve programmed ourselves. Do we like it? Do we wanna change it? The answer doesn’t matter. The point is that we take a minute, be a human, and think for a second. Heck, maybe we even have a conversation about it with somebody else! Novel idea, I know!


I hope you’ve been enjoying this series. If you are, would you tell somebody about it? Not necessarily on social media, though. If you want, you could literally just tell a friend to check it out. That would mean a lot to me!

The next few posts are really fun and I can’t wait to share the rest of this story with you guys. Don’t forget to sign up below so you don’t miss anything! Please leave a comment or email me if this stuff is connecting.

Thanks for reading. Here’s to being a human today and every day!
Francy

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