Cancion Franklin is the lead singer/guitarist of his solo band, and though originally from Arizona, it is centered in New York City. He calls the music he creates Americana and he spoke about how he was enticed by some musicians from Rutgers University to relocate from Arizona to the East Coast. He recalled recording sessions from NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest, and the T Time Sessions. Cancion spoke about the stories that inspired the songs on his EP, True As Time Allows, which is out now.
What was your life like growing up in Arizona when it came to your interest in music?
My interest in music came in middle school. At that age I bought every single Beatles CD and learned the words to each and every song. I would sing along in my room, and I was just happy doing that. Freshman year, the people that were popular at that time in indie music were Andrew Bird and stuff like that. I didn’t enjoy it but I really wanted to. I wanted to fit in. I listened to those records and my dad had a girlfriend at that time who owned a music store who was from Indiana. She had this Chicago blues CD, Alligator Records 30 x 30. It was 30 artists from that legendary label with one song from each of them. We are talking Roy Buchanan; Hound Dog Taylor was on there. It was then that I realized this is guitar music. This is the music that expresses me.
At that point I asked for a guitar for my 14th birthday. That’s the first day I ever seriously picked up an instrument. It was a cheap classical nylon-stringed guitar. I couldn’t play a lick on it. I learned a couple chords. I knew I liked A minor, E, E Major, and that dark sound. It would be years before I learned to play 12-bar blues. I had this thought that if somebody taught me something. It wouldn’t be pure. I would sit out in the desert or wherever I could to get some privacy. I would just play those two chords for hours, not even with a pick, just my fingers.
What inspired you to come to the East Coast and how long have you been in the New Jersey/New York area?
It will be eight years this August. I was inspired to come out here when I was 16 on a visit and I played guitar in the subway for a few days. My family was off doing other stuff and I took my acoustic guitar sang and played songs that I had written in the subway. People gave me money. I was busking. I got an opportunity to come to college in New Jersey and I saw that as my way out of Arizona. Basically, I wasn’t really interested in going to school but I saw it as a way to get out. This was Rutgers. I took some general courses and started playing in an R&B cover band at that point.
That was another thing that inspired me when I went to visit Rutgers and I heard some voices singing. I thought it was beautiful, and I followed them and eventually ended up in this building. I opened the door to where the voices were coming from and it was this band. I was like, “You guys are awesome, when I come here for school, I would love to audition.” When I came back to school I ended up auditioning for that band and they let me in. They were called LOM: Love of Music. That is how I met my current drummer who was in that band as well.
You call the music that you create Americana; what do you mean by that?
It incorporates the blues, a little bit of country, some folk elements — there are a wide range of things that could be considered Americana. When you say Americana most people think of a guy in a denim shirt, playing an acoustic guitar, or maybe some harmonies. The genre could encompass everything from the Avett Brothers to Gary Clark Jr. There is an argument that Sharon Jones could be considered Americana. It’s an umbrella term referring to a lot of different genres that are incorporated into one another.
Tell me about the NPR Tiny Desk Contest and the T Time Sessions
The Tiny Desk Contest is a big contest where everybody submits a video of an original song, and it has to have a desk in it. My friend offered to shoot it for us. There was a day in the winter of 2016 where there was this huge blizzard and all the buses and trains had shut down. We ended up walking in the snow over there to shoot that video.
The T Time Session are done by a production company called Khukuri Productions. They take artists that they know, and that they hear of, and shoot videos for them out of their own pocket because they are interested in doing it. They had a cancellation and someone who I had met a few times ended up giving me a call and seeing if I would fill in.
What experiences inspired the writing sessions of your EP, True As Time Allows?
My experience at the time was getting sober. I quit drinking and smoking cigarettes about three years ago. In breaking that addiction, I wrote a lot. I quit my job that was in 2015. I become a subway musician and wrote different songs and composed different stuff. I would throw it against the wall and see what was doing well. As I continued to write, I continued to develop different elements of genres that I liked. “What Is High Is Below” is a straight up outlaw country song. “Back to Texas” is a straightforward blues rock song.
I figured out different elements of music that I loved that felt authentic to me when I started to write. I never sat down and was like, “I’m gonna write a blues rock song, or a country song,” and just sat down to write and those are the songs that came out. My ambition is always to be Freddy King or Stevie Ray Vaughn. When I try to sing the blues or country it just comes out the way my songs are.
What does the title ‘True As Time Allows’ mean to you?
It means everything is subject to change. That is how time works. You have things that you believe, things that you hold onto, as long as you can, as long as they are useful, as well as playing the role that you want them to play. There is no one ideal, there is no one character or element that is not subject to being shaped. What it means to me is very straight forward. Time changes everything. I wanted to say it in a pretty way, in my own words, whatever is true is only as true as time allows it to be in that one picture frame.
“Crown of Rage” gives off a tragic and pain induced tone; was this about something that happened recently, or a reflection on the years you’ve lived?
It’s a reflection of the years I have lived. It’s my way of processing some of the anger that I have come up against in myself in trying to quit booze and my addictive behavior. Thinking back a lot of anger came up in me. The song is my way of blessing the parts of myself that I don’t like. It is trying to process and accept some of the things that I can’t change about myself. I can’t change stuff I don’t like immediately or maybe ever. That song is my way of framing them in a beautiful light instead of something negative.
“Back to Texas” has a great upbeat enduring feel; what was the story behind that composition?
A lot of the time I have felt Texas is my spiritual home. My father lives there on and off in central Texas. I have spent a few months there. Most of my favorite artists are from there. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt. Some of the best guitar players and songwriters are from there. Stuff that I grew up with. Stuff that taught me to play guitar. At the time I was listening to a lot of Freddie King. Sometimes I get inspired by music and it’s not necessarily an artist but it’s a particular song and I get so enveloped with it. I get so upset by it that I have to write something of my own to contend with it. I get intimidated but I also get inspired in a competitive way. That song is my blues rock. It’s my groove. It also incorporates these elements of Texas blues and Texas scenery that I really love and can identify with.
Your song “What Is High Is Below,” is about living in New York City.
“What Is High” is a meditation definitely on living in the city, trying hard, and not necessarily getting the results that are expected. It’s a song that incorporates some of the things I love about country music which it can still have a tone of humor, upbeat and joy, but it sings about things that are not joyous. It has an element of darkness and light. That is one of the things I love most about country music. It encompasses all the elements of what joy means which is a little bit of sorrow, a little bit of great happiness, and just a complete catharsis. It also has some humor, some tongue in cheek, and some wit.
I feel very fortunate to play music, to learn, to study, to have been humbled, or to continue to be humbled by some of the amazing talent in this city and community.
Catch Cancion Franklin live September 12 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City.