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INTERVIEW: Paulo Franco

Hi Paulo, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Great, and thanks for the opportunity to talk about my new record with you.

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Leaving The River City”?

It’s a song that started with mostly music, and then the chorus started to form, she’s leaving the river city.  Over and over.  I didn’t know who this woman was, why she leaving or where she was going.   One day I was listening to Chris Knight, who is by far one of my favorite song writers.  He has this song called Rita’s Only Fault, about a young guy who falls in love with the Prom Queen.  Problem is, she leaves him for the QB.  The Prom Queen and the QB wind up together, and he turns out to be a serial abuser and a drunk.  There’s a line in the song that goes, “he used her for a doormat, when he was sober enough to walk, as far as I’m concerned he was Rita’s only fault.”  Rita kills the jerk, gets hauled off to jail.  So the young guy is the only person who visits her in jail.  It’s really heartbreaking.  I didn’t like the result of that song and figured Rita could have used a better lawyer.  So I used my education and experience as a lawyer and knew right away where the woman in Leaving The River City was going, why she was running and where she was running to.  Once that inspiration the song came out pretty quickly.

Did any event in particular inspired you to write this song?

It wasn’t any particular event, but in the 27 years that I’ve been practicing law, I’ve come across a few cases that dealt with serious domestic abuse.  My secretary at work also works for a shelter that helps abused women.  It’s such a horrible scourge in our society.  I just don’t understand how any man in his right mind can think it’s ever okay to beat a woman.  Be mad?  Sure, that’s part of human nature.  But to be so mad you hit someone, especially someone you purport to love?  The thing about a song like this, is that it’s just a story I made up.  But it happens everyday.  Even to women you may know and even men.  My song is just words put to music.  At the end of the day, the lesson I take from this song is that words can hurt just as much, if not more, as a fist.  So be careful with what you say.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Indeed, I do. It will be released very soon.  We shot it in Richmond.  My daughter stars in the video as the woman leaving, and a good friend of mine, Andy Vaughan stars as the jerk.  Andy is a wonderful songwriter in his own right, and fronts a great original honky tonk project called Andy Vaughan and the Driveline.  He and I also play in a side project with Andy’s pedal steel player, Slim Stanton, called The Burrito Riders League. It’s a tribute to Country Rock of the 70s and All Things Gram Parsons.  Andy had the look – big guy, great sleeve tattoos, long hair, and he was even more menacing in a sleeveless T shirt.  When not playing a jerk in a video, he is a gentlemen and a great guy.  We had a lot of fun with the shoot.  My friend Nick Baker, who is also a great singer songwriter in his own right directed and shot it.  The producer of The Last Card, Bob Rupe, supplied the bad ass early 60s Ford Pick Up.  The video will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.

The single comes off your new album The Last Card – what’s the story behind the title?

The Last Card is a song I wrote shortly after my best friend in the world passed away unexpectedly.  The song only took a couple of hours to write, but it was very difficult.  I enjoy playing cards, and have used cards as metaphors before.  Each of the playing cards in the song represents someone.

How was the recording and writing process?

The writing process was played out over time.  Some of the songs on the new record I had been playing for a while.  They needed a home and it had been about four years since I had released a record.  I had worked with Bob Rupe before.  He was a founding member of the Silos, one of my favorite bands back in the late 80s and early 90s.  He agreed to produce.  That was a really incredible experience.  He brought such a wealth of experience and talent to the project.

You brought some really special guests – did you handpick them or how did they come on board?

It was a combination of things.  I knew I wanted keyboards on this album.  I had met Daniel Clarke from Ryan Adams and the Shining through a mutual friend.  He was also a neighbor and we used to run into each other now and then.  Last year when Ryan Adams played a show in Charlottesville he was wandering around in the audience and I ran into him.  I asked him if he would be willing to play on my record and he said yes.  It was the same with Charles Arthur.  He was playing a show with Slaid Cleaves that I went to see.  I had met him before as well previously so after the show I asked if he was available and he said yes.

I had worked with Johnny Hott before and he and Bob are good friends, so that’s how that came about on drums.  Same with Dusty Simmons.  I’ve known Dusty from the local scene as well.  When I asked he is into it.  He is playing in the Cris Jacobs Band now.  Cris was in town this past weekend and I got to do an opening slot. That was a blast.  As for Stephen McCarthy, he and Bob had worked together before back when they were in Gutterball.  I also knew his wife so Bob brought him on board to play on Leaving The River City.

What did they brought up to the table?

TONS of studio experience.  They were able to listen to the tracks, figure out what the songs needed and executed in a few takes.  Most of what you hear is one take.  These guys have been around the block.  They also added some suggestions for making the songs tighter.  Dusty Simmons, especially.  He had some terrific ideas on the groove and arrangement that made the songs so much better!

Known for blending different genres together – does one tends to shine out the most depending on the lyrics’ themes?

I’ve been hearing a lot from friends and fans that they are really enjoying the songs in Spanish.  I’ve even had someone suggest that I release an entire record that way.  I am definitely going to be writing more songs in Spanish.  I get a kick out of singing them for sure.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

Most of the time a song comes to me when I pick up the guitar.  A riff will develop and then I will hear something lyrically.  When that happens a songs tends to build up around that.  That’s the normal writing process.  I’ve had a few that have come to me without being near a guitar.  Where lyrics and melody come together.

As far as inspiration goes, my family is  a big inspiration.  Anything For You is a song I wrote for my wife, Sonia.  Rolling Back to Raleigh is about dropping my daughter off for college a few years ago.  She just graduated. Married in a Black Dress is a song I wrote with Shane Cooley off our Green Porch EP.  That’s the story of my parents wedding by proxy.  My dad was in the States, studying medicine on a student visa.  He could not leave the US to marry my mom and bring her back.  Her mom would not let her travel alone.  So they got married by proxy and my dad’s brother stood in.  My mom didn’t’ think that was very romantic so instead of a white wedding dress, she wore a black cocktail dress!  My first record, By The Light Of A Paper Moon has three songs on it that tell the story of a very difficult period of my life emotionally.

A lot of these songs are also just observations of things I see out there. I try to write as much as I can, knowing that not everything that comes out will see the light of day.  I have a bunch of new material for another record already, and have plans to cowrite with some friends in the coming months.  I truly enjoy the collaborative songwriting process!

Any plans to hit the road?

Yes.  The hard part is finding a way to making it work. I started this late in life.  I have a career as a prosecutor for the Virginia State Bar (I prosecute lawyers for ethical violations).  So finding periods of time to hit the road and tour is tough.  I will definitely be storing up some vacation days and doing short little tours up and down the east coast, maybe a bit down south and the Midwest.  My buddy Shane Cooley lives in Austin, so I plan on doing to some shows in Texas as well.

What else is happening next in Paulo Franco’s world?

Aside from trying to figure out how to build a working mouse trap in the music business, I am going to try and get another record rolling in 2017.  I really enjoy studio work immensely!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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