San Francesca turns off the computer, flips on the synths, takes a look in the mirror
Examining the cover of San Francesca’s latest release, you might observe that the nine, evenly spaced square images—which, in turn, form a larger square—were taken using the popular photo-sharing application Instagram. You’d be wrong.
“None of us own a smart phone,” shrugs Cody Rhodes, drummer for the San Jose-based alt-rock trio, as he sits behind his kit in the band’s Campbell rehearsal space. San Francesca is practicing for a short string of upcoming shows in San Francisco, Las Vegas and at The Crepe Place on Jan. 13, with Moon Eater and E V Kain (members of Hella, Cigar and Broken Bells).
While the aforementioned photos were, for the most part, taken with a film camera, the fact that they are reminiscent of Instagram shots provides an unintended clue into one of the album’s major themes: feeling alienated and alone in a highly connected world.
We Live In Public is San Francesca’s (pronounced Fran-chess-ka) second full-length. According to singer and lyricist Harrison Russell, he borrowed the record’s title from the Ondi Timoner documentary of the same name. The film, which received the Grand Jury Prize for a documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, examines the way people’s behavior changes when they know their every move is being captured on video.
Similarly, San Francesca’s latest effort weaves together stories that ponder what we are becoming in an age where information and screens are omnipresent and people are willingly broadcasting their every move and emotion.
“I guess that was just a pervasive thought in my head while writing the record,” Russell says. “So much of your life is on the Internet. There are good things about it, but it tends to also warp people’s perspective. I think there is something that is lost when people put everything out there with no filter.”
We Live In Public is a bleak, mumbled meditation on how nothing is sacred anymore, insomuch as nothing is private anymore.
“All the lights, all the screens, all the blindfolds,” Russell sings in his shaky baritone on the record’s title track, as guitarist/keyboardist Star Quach triggers synth loops and deep, pulsating bass notes—a kind of analog-electro juxtaposition that works well to drive home the album’s themes.
The record also considers the ways that the burgeoning human population is literally living in public. Themes of homelessness and the urban world are explored. “Every corner of the street another failure’s exposed,” Russell continues. “Empty bottles, alligators in a dead sea/of discarded products and debris and faded newspaper ink.”
The songs on this collection are brooding, dark meditations, with plenty of quiet whispers to offset the wall-of-sound swells—none of which could really be accomplished without the aid of technology. The band, which began as just Quach and Russell, sounds much larger than it is, thanks to myriad samples and synth sounds, which Rhodes keeps time with by plugging a click track into his ears. The band isn’t anti-tech, after all.
But, in their mid-20s, the members of San Francesca are part of a unique generation. It is a generation that began adolescence with memories of using land line phones and walking over to a friend’s house to knock on the door after getting a busy signal, and an early adulthood that began with the explosion of YouTube and social networks, and continues to charge forward into a realm where 12-year-olds are given smart phones for Christmas.
Of course, We Live In Public isn’t entirely about the encroachment of modernity. The record touches upon that most perennial of rock ‘n’ roll muses. “It’s also just kind of about girls and stuff,” Russell says to laughs from Quach and Rhodes.
San Francesca will play at 9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 13 at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $8. For more information, call 429-6994.