Francis Cheer on balancing mediums of art and mind

Tuesday 06th, December 2016 / 15:44
By Michael Grondin

Painter and songwriter John Gerrard’s first release in two years as Francis Cheer tackles mental illness with optimism.
Photo: Nicole Irene

CALGARY — “Art etc,” simply states the biography of Calgary’s Francis Cheer, the melodic folk-rock project of John Gerrard, a visual artist with a love for creation.

Painting is his visual medium, exploring urban spaces and crowds. Gerrard’s art and his music explore different sides of his creativity. “I approach them both very differently,” Gerrard tells BeatRoute. “Music is much more of a controlled, meticulous thing where you can do takes over and over again, kind of in a control freak sort of way.”

Francis Cheer’s new album, the introspective and uplifting Black White and Grey, is an immersive, warm, collection of humble stories carried by melodic guitars, piano and Gerrard’s inviting voice.

“The idea was to express different moments, different ideas across a wide spectrum on the record,” explains Gerrard, who recorded a bulk of the record on his own, playing the majority of the instruments. He enlisted the help of Chris Dadge to play the drums, and Blake Enemark on pedalsteel. The songs were then mixed with Pat Palardy at Public Lunch Studios in Calgary.

In eight diverse, driving folk songs, Gerrard does showcase a deeper side, exploring mental health, neuroses and a relationship with reality.

“Lyrically, there are some different themes. Some of the lyrics are poetic and abstract. Some are more literal, you know, things I have gone through, kind of like diary entries. The content varies,” he explains. “It’s not a concept record, but one song is about my first experience with psychosis, which is ‘Deep End.’ The song ‘All 3,’ like when I first started getting sick, I started to become obsessed with things in triadic arrangements.”

Though some heavy ideas are explored, Gerrard infused the songs with positivity. “I do like my pop music, and melody is central to the songs. I definitely took an optimistic approach towards the writing of this record,” he says.

Gerrard is happy with the outcome. Going forward, Gerrard is going to keep “plugging away,” and keeping “bounc[ing] back and forth between music and painting. I don’t know what to expect really. I just love the recording process, I love playing, and I love to paint,” he says. “My art is much wilder, you know. There’s a lot more going off your intuition, going off your energy. Lately, I really want to bring that same energy from my painting into my music.”

Though Francis Cheer has not played a live show in some time, Gerrard says that’s where he has set his sights. “I hope to get a band together for some shows soon,” he says. “I think that’s going to be the next step for the project.”

Francis Cheer will be playing alongside Cold Water at Wine-Ohs on Friday, December 16th. Black White and Grey is out now.

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