A New England native, Francis first came to fame in the late 1990s as a founding member of alternative roots powerhouse Dispatch, whose remarkable rise from Middlebury College to Madison Square Garden helped rewrite the rulebooks for modern indie bands. It was the sheer joy of the band’s legendary early performances that helped the band’s fan base swell online. That joy has been recaptured on Pete Francis’ newest solo venture, entitled Neon Light Blind.
“In this new group of songs I wanted to write from my heart to other people’s hearts in the most direct way possible,” Pete Francis says.
Neon Light Blind follows his 2023 release PTRN SKY as Francis’s second self-produced project. You can smell the home cooking on Neon Light Blind as it was self-recorded at Dragoncrest, the studio in his Connecticut home. The album features Pete’s backing band, with Kenny Shaw on drums, Andy K on bass, Ben Higginbotham (of Cypress) laying down the rhythm tracks and vocal harmonies, and Pete’s wife Katie on vocals. The songs on Neon Light Blind were co-written with Grant Michaels (Weezer, Sia, Banners), and take influence from reggae and soul standards that have always been a part of Pete’s musical identity. To that point, the EP is slated for a Spring 2024 release on reggae imprint Dubshot Records via ADA/Warner Music.
"Reggae bands and the music of great songwriters have been an influence on me since sailing on my Dad's boat as a kid. There were five CDs in rotation: Bob Marley's Legend, Van Morrison's Moondance, Dire Straits' first album, and Joni Mitchell’s Blue. We sailed in the Caribbean with my Dad at the helm all around St. Vincent and the Grenadines. On one trip, Grenada was the final destination. I remember Bob Marley's Legend playing over and over and over again. Reggae and Caribbean music have always influenced my music. I toured in the early 2000s with Ziggy Marley and Steel Pulse. I remember standing on the side of the stage watching and feeling how deep the groove was."
Following several home recording sessions, Francis traveled to Noble Steed Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama for a week-long collaboration with Craig Alvin (Kacey Musgraves, Hanson, Brittany Howard) and the Shoals Sisters. This experience anchored the project around its influences in what Pete calls one of the greatest moments of his musical career. “I had heard about Muscle Shoals in my 20s, but I didn't know the full story until I watched the documentary in 2014. It’s one of the best music documentaries out there. Muscle Shoals is all about passion and being in the moment - musical magic happens automatically there.”
In discussing the influences for “Smile” the EP’s lead single, Francis cites Bobby McFerrin’s 1988 hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Francis opines, “Don't Worry Be Happy” is such a beautiful song. I always admired how simple yet profound that song is. When I wrote “Smile”, I wanted to channel that positivity and impact. Similarly with Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” the melodies soothed and comforted me for as long as I can remember. The modern world has veered off course from a heart-centered mentality to a more cerebral, calculated, and categorized world… It makes me feel lonely and chaotic at times. I feel strongly that human beings are truly grounded by love and that our source is love. And that's where we find our deepest nourishment."