Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

Welcome To B&S



HESTON: Soul Speak

Heston @B&S
Heston @B&S Heston @B&S Heston @B&S Heston @B&S

Currently hailed as the hottest new artist on Atlanta’s vibrant underground soul scene, singer/songwriter/guitarist/producer Heston Francis this month releases his critically-acclaimed debut album ‘Storyteller’.

Born in Dominica but based in Georgia’s aforementioned soul capital since 2001, Heston initially released a self-titled, self-financed EP in 2005 and has taken over three years to write and record his debut, 15-song LP. Which (released in the UK and Europe through Sussex-based UK independent Dome Records) features input from fellow Dome artists, soulstress Angela Johnson and bassist/producer Khari Simmons. Meanwhile, with the mellow vibe of his Seventies-soul-flavoured music already invoking comparisons with Marvin Gaye, Leon Ware and Maxwell, Heston will actually be showcasing his timeless, Caribbean-influenced songs live in the UK for the fist time at London’s Jazz Café this coming April as support to seasoned Californian songstress Chante Moore.

Indeed, boasting live instrumentation throughout and predominantly penned/produced by Heston himself, ‘Storyteller’ has been universally hailed by connoisseurs as one of the best indie-label contemporary soul albums of the last 12 months. And - with moods ranging from its bustling, funky opener ‘My Baby and the ‘What’s Going On’-influenced shuffler ‘Distant Lover’; to the joyous reggae chug of ‘Feel Like Dancing’ and heartfelt anti-war protest of ‘Good Morning America’ - provides excellent subject-matter for Heston‘s introductory ‘B&S’ interview with Pete Lewis.

How would you break down your album musically?

“Musically I just wanted to get back to what the Marvin’s and the Smokey’s and the Stevie’s did. Which was to bring musicians into a room and capture the essence of a song, instead of finding contrived, producer-driven tracks to write to - which is something I’m not a fan of at all. You know, I do need the live instrumentation. Because to me sometimes the errors in live music make it what it SHOULD be! The timing mistakes you can make, or being able to intro or outro a song... That’s all stuff that you can’t really capture as much when you’re programming music. And, in order for me to breathe lyrically and musically, I just couldn’t do it any other way!”

What’s your general approach to songwriting?

“I write music from scratch. For the most part it starts with me and my guitar, and it’s pretty much about whatever it is that I’m feeling at that moment. Like the song ‘Good Morning America’ came about when I was watching the news really early one morning and having a problem with the idea of a 19-year-old going to war and not making it back home for his twentieth or twenty-first birthday. So I just let it flow! Whatever comes COMES, and I don’t try to hide anything or force anything. You know, I’m not an on-demand songwriter where I can just pull something out in 10 minutes. If two verses of the song come and the bridge doesn’t, then I just let the song go until the inspiration naturally comes back to me. I don’t go out of my way to make something happen.”

Has your early Caribbean background influenced your music?

“If you pay close attention to the way I sound, you can’t really avoid the West Indian tone - even if I HAVE lost a lot of my accent! And I think the same can be said for the RHYTHMIC influences. You know, all I ever heard from birth to 10 years old was calypso and reggae. And so I think subconsciously that just comes out, and is what makes my music a little DIFFERENT. Like for me horn and percussions are HUGE! So, even the out-and-out soul stuff I do - like ‘No Way, No How’ or ‘Your Perfume’ - still has those undertones that lend themselves to Latin or Caribbean rhythms.”

So how and when did you become a professional musician?

“To be honest with you, growing up I never really had a strong musical background. My mom sang in church; I sang a little bit in church... But, though at High School I did do plays and win awards for singing and acting, it wasn’t until I moved here to Atlanta in 2001 that I actually first got on the mic with a live band. At the time I was actually working for a carpet-cleaning company, who’d moved me to Atlanta from Florida to help with sales and opening up a new office. And because - when I first came - I was bored, I ended up hanging out at night. You know, there’s a big poetry and live music scene here. And the guy that I was hanging out with - his name is MD - basically forced me to get onstage. And that’s actually when I first realised this was something I actually liked doing more than I’d been prepared to admit! So I decided to just start taking it seriously, look more into it, and pursue it professionally.”

In your opinion, what’s so special about Atlanta‘s thriving underground soul scene?

‘I really can’t put a finger on what’s so special about it. But what I CAN say is, I’ve never seen a place with so much talent! Plus everybody’s completely individual in their style of music and their APPROACH to music. Like Donnie’s music is extremely well-written and well put-together, but at the same time he has a very different style from someone like Anthony David. You know, the scene is very vibrant; there’s a lotta live performing venues like Sugar Hill and Apache Cafe, which was formerly The Ying Yang. So I do genuinely feel pretty honoured to be in the company of such good and talented artists - male AND female - that really do understand the essence of timeless music.”

So why has it taken you until now to release your debut LP?

“While I really wanted to put something out back in 2001 just to see what people would think, at the same time I am a perfectionist. So I wanted to make sure I had everything done right first! I wanted to make sure I packaged it, l mixed it, and I got it mastered to where I could present it as something that can stand next to someone in the store who is signed to Sony. Because I understand that presentation is the key. And that, if you are wanting to compete in that market and get any kind of attention, you do have to present your music as professionally as a MAJOR label artist would do. You know, to me the fact you’re not on a major is no excuse!”

And what’s the story behind you putting out your music independently through your own label Worldsoul?

“Well, one thing I’ve always said is that I always want to be proud of the music I’m putting out. Making timeless music is the most important thing to me, and I’m not gonna sell myself out to some major-label A&R guy to end up making music that I’m ashamed of! And so I ended up HAVING to put my music out on my own! I didn’t have a choice, because - except for maybe my mom and a close friend who thought I could sing and write well - no-one else believed in me enough to finance it! But, though no-one else at the time thought it was worth the investment, after putting it out myself I did end up getting a surprising amount of attention. And, while so far the Worldsoul label has just been an outlet for own music, eventually I do wanna write more for other artists and produce other people’s records. So, if I do find something I feel is worth investing in, I’d love to eventually expand the label so I can release other artists’ material through it too,”

Heston performs at Jazz Cafe, London on April 17 and 18

The album 'Storyteller' is out now through Dome

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

Join the B&S Mailing List

Blues and Soul on Twitter