With success comes stress, and the ordinarily blissed-out crew at Anew Airship is getting their first taste of both.
Jeremy Francis, the band's singer-songwriter, has just flown in from Los Angeles, where he spent three weeks recording demos with Peter Prilesnik, a producer who's worked with acts like Sarah Harmer, Big Sugar and Great Big Sea. The Prilesnik hookup is really big, but Mike Ritchie and Mark Bachynski, the group's lead guitarist and drummer, have been out of the loop and now they want to know: Is this big for Anew Airship or just for Jeremy Francis?
"It's not you I don't trust, man," says Bachynski, "it's the music industry."
"Look man, the best way I can put it is that Peter is part of the project now, just like you," Francis says, gazing intently at his bandmates. "And I just want to keep vibin' with you and see where this goes."
Vibes are precisely what has carried Anew Airship—playing two shows this weekend—so far aloft; that, and a clean, melodic sound that blends jazz-funk and west coast folk-pop with touches of alt-hip-hop and dub. With their EP Demonstration in hand and a string of shows in Halifax, Montreal and Toronto under their belts, these three, along with bassist Phil Mackenzie, have been flying high.
The group debuted last spring, after Francis moved here from Toronto, seeking a smaller community in which to establish a spiritually oriented pop band, one devoted to spreading the mystic vision he found during a 2004 sojourn in India, under the tutelage of Art of Living guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
"I wanted to downsize," says Francis. "Toronto is like, there's so much to do, and everyone is just opening a NOW Magazine and running around the streets catching shows. It's a cool scene because it's buzzing, but at the same time it's a little unfocused and you might never get the same people back to your shows."
Moving into the north end, Francis hooked up with Mackenzie, an Art of Living ashram mate, and soon afterwards approached Ritchie and Bachynski to record a demo EP with the duo's basement-indie production company, Nightowls Productions. As the two sat in on some tracks, it became clear Francis had found the second half of his band.
The four spent a fertile summer gigging at venues like the BusStop Theatre and the now-defunct One World Cafe, all while recording the tracks for the gender-bending EP, Demonstration, available for free, online at anewairship.com. Their soulful live performances quickly won them a devoted following of lyric-mouthing fans, with the local Art of Living crew among them: whirling girls in diaphanous dresses and long, tangled tresses, boys who dress like Phish-heads and beam like Mormons.
Airship has since expanded their range of venues, playing as far afield as Toronto's El Mocambo. These days the band tends to draw a more diverse crowd of people attracted by the melody-driven songs, simple chord structures and clear vocals. The net effect is poppy, even commercial, which is exactly what they're aiming for.
"I kinda just want that three-minute songy-song," Francis says, "You get your verse, and it's dancey, and you get your chorus, and everyone is kind of vibin' the dance and then you get your second verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus, wow, it's over, and by the time the song's done people feel great."
Francis's intense on-stage charisma and voice, capable of carrying both rhythm and melody—along with his ability to write catchy pop tunes—is why he's drawn the attention of an industry figure like Prilesnik, with whom Francis is in the process of drawing up a production agreement. This, in turn, is why Ritchie and Bachynski—while proud of Francis and excited by the prospect of a commercial deal—are worried he'll be spirited off to LA by some big-money Svengali.
Francis reassures them his heart is with them in Halifax. "I understand it's an intense place and that you guys are uncertain. But all I can say is to trust the forces that are at work," he says. "What matters now is to be at the Seahorse this weekend."
Chocolatada w/Anew Airship, Kojo, Ghost Bees, Mary Grace Koile, Friday, January 4 at North Street Church, 5657 North, 7pm, $7adv/$9 door. With Heavy Meadows and Luke Morris, January 5 at The Seahorse Tavern, 1659 Argyle, 10pm, $5.