Rough Francis: an older album sparks a new band

It’s not too often that local bands get into the national spotlight, but Burlington’s Rough Francis has pulled off that feat, appearing in the March 15th edition of  The New York Times.Their story is a unique one, centered around the current and past musical prowess of the Hackney family. It begins in Detroit in the early 1970s, a place then renowned for both massive cars and a burgeoning hard rock music scene.  In those uncertain times in American history, the elder Hackney brothers Bobby, Dannis and David were some of the first to play music that we now characterize as punk.    Thirty-five years later, Bobby Hackney’s sons, Bobby Jr., Jewels and Urian, have used Death’s 1976 album as both an inspiration and a launching point for Rough Francis. After convincing their father, they negotiated a re-release of the Death album with Drag Records, coinciding with the first Rough Francis shows of late 2008.”We wanted to start a band even before we knew about the Death stuff,” Bobby Hackney Jr. said, sipping a coffee at Muddy Waters. “Once we heard it, we were like; ‘we really have to do a band.’  That was kind of the catalyst for it.”The brothers studied the album closely throughout the summer, learning to play such raw, high-energy-and-tempo Death songs as “Politicians in my Eyes” and “Freakin’ Out.” The experience, Bobby Jr. said, served to both develop Rough Francis’ sound and to pay tribute to their father’s band. It readied the band — consisting of the three Hackney brothers, Steven Hazen Williams and Dylan Giambatista — to begin playing shows around Burlington, including two at The Monkey House and one at Club Metronome.”When we were playing out we were playing primarily Death tunes,” Bobby Jr. said.  “We had a couple originals that we’d mix in our set, but now what we had to do was start writing our own material.”They’ve begun to do so, and hope to record several 7-inch singles by the summer with modest production goals.  “We’re really into the analog sound.  When you have your music on a piece of vinyl it seems more final, like it’s etched in stone,” Hackney said.  “We want people to commit to our music.”The band’s influences center around three seminal acts — The Who, MC5 and, of course, Death.Their sound maintains the “very gritty, edgy, barebones Detroit rock ‘n’ roll,” Bobby Jr. said, while adopting certain elements from the British Invasion and Motown classics like Eddie Holland. As they transition into their own songs, he acknowledges that it will be a critical time.”I hope that people don’t expect us to sound exactly like Death,” he added. “Whatever wegive out it’s going to be 100 percent.”For now, they’re focusing solely on writing and recording.”All of us have a hand in writing the music,” Bobby Jr. said. “My lyrics could be anything … you can pretty much turn anything into a song.”The band plans to do more shows around Burlington and tour around the Northeast, hitting the major spots — New York, Boston and Montreal. Record labels have already expressed interest, inviting Rough Francis to play as far away as St. Louis.On April 15, they’ll be featured on WRUV 90.1’s weekly Exposure, playing original songs as well as discussing their music.