Austin, Texas’ StumbleDrunk is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em, all-American rock n’ roll band. Derek Pope, brothers Carter and Tucker Francis, Josh Massey and Wayne Zingery drink to excess and jam even more excessively. In preparation of the physical release of their debut record, Monday Evenings, available January 22nd, 2011, I talked with frontman Carter Francis about what it’s like to be in three bands, starting a record label and playing music with your best friends.
Kristina Villarini: What inspired StumbleDrunk? How did it come to pass?
Carter Francis: I took up songwriting at a young age, and as you know, Tucker and I are brothers. Derek and I have known each other and have been best friends, since 6th grade. All three of us played trumpet together. I moved to Austin, and instead of college encouraging me to want more money and settle down, it made me want to write more music and get it heard. My brother moved to Austin, then Derek moved to Austin. I had not seen Derek for 4 years at that point. After that, Derek and I would go “drunk camping” and talk about music. We almost fell off of cliff and died, and Derek said, “don’t get stumbledrunk!” So we named our imaginary band “StumbleDrunk.”
All of my bands were in flux. I bought Tucker a guitar for his birthday, and Josh is Tucker’s best friend in college and plays a mean lead guitar. Wayne is Megan’s best friend and he is a monster on the drums. We rehearse every Monday evening, so we wrote an album, then spent a year recording it. Now we’re trying to profit.
KV: Austin has gained a lot of notoriety in the music scene. How has Texas influenced your sound?
CF: My family is from Ohio, so I love this question. I grew up in Dallas, but the music scene there is just horrendous. It always seems to be very recycled versions of things that happened years ago.
When I moved to Austin in 2004, I had never been exposed to true country (even Willie Nelson!) so I found it easy to delve back into my parents record collection and really embrace the Marshall Tucker Band records and love some stuff I had forgotten about.
I saw more music in Austin in my first year here, than I’d seen in Dallas my whole life up ’til that point. By the time Derek moved here in late 2007, I thought I knew what the state’s music was about–but once we started cranking up live Willie sets and attended a few Toadies concerts, I realized I knew nothing. I really think Austin’s knack for producing some great songwriters stems from it’s ability to embrace sincerity. You can’t do much in Austin if you aren’t on your ‘A-game’ and thinking outside the box. There’s a lot of smart people in this town.
KV: What genre is StumbleDrunk?
CF: I don’t know. Alt-country-indie-americana-rock? I think it’s rock music, personally. I’d have a hard time calling Monday Evenings anything but a rock ‘n roll album. Part of what makes StumbleDrunk so fun is that we all embrace each other’s favorite music instead of shying away from it. Everyone in StumbleDrunk really loves music. A lot.
KV: Is there a difference between playing a venue as large and legendary as Stubb’s versus a smaller bar or club?
CF: I’ve been fortunate to have played at most of the major venues in Austin. It really changes your perception of the whole endeavor a bit. Every show has to bend/give a bit, depending on what the venue/crowd/energy is like. Stubb’s (inside and outside) is a great experience and super fun venue to play. The sound guys and stage hands at Stubb’s made that experience incredibly cool. Playing a set on a stage outside in October in Austin is a hard thing to beat. I think many national acts would agree.
We have a history with the Red Eyed Fly, which is a smaller bar–they have a great booker, Mike Boudreau. We threw a huge StumbleDrunk show there for Tucker’s 21st birthday. Smaller clubs like that pack a real punch when you’re on stage and everyone has a bit of fight in them.
KV: What does Monday Evenings mean to you?
CF: That’s a tough one. I want StumbleDrunk to be about family, best friends, and trying to do a rock band a bit different and more sincere than I’ve seen people do it recently. And so far, it is all of those things. But we rehearsed on Mondays and wrote the record together on Mondays. When the time came to name the project we were working on in May 2009, the name was the first one to get thrown out and it stuck ever since.
Most people hate Mondays. I hate that I hate Mondays. I like Monday evenings because they are an opportunity (like any other time in life) to really try your hardest to do something original. It just so happened to be StumbleDrunk’s debut album.
KV: Where did Posters on Walls Records come from and how is it different from other labels?
CF: We operate amongst friends. We have a big family vibe, and the music is first. Without there being a profit to worry about right now, there is no reason for us to cut artistic corners for any reason. We love music, plain and simple.
CF: When I hang out with my friends in StumbleDrunk, it’s no different than a full-blown rehearsal (except for the guitars and drums, I guess). Practices are a time to chill and be who we are without any one judging you. We take turns writing songs, and no one gets shot down. We are really willing to let this band sound like whatever feels like StumbleDrunk at the moment, and it allows for a truly creative freedom that I’ve never been daring enough to try before.
Whatever comes out of my mouth at a rehearsal is what the song turns into. I don’t think I’ve ever toiled with StumbleDrunk lyrics on paper or written them out. They’re all in my head until we record.
KV: How difficult is it to create lyrics and music for three bands?
CF: It’s actually far easier for me than I ever could have anticipated. It’s almost like little bits of my personality. I’m really lucky to be a part of all the bands. I’ve compartmentalized my thoughts while writing for the past couple of years, and what’s come out is three really clear and honest ways to view the world and perceive experiences.
Lately, we’ve kept as many band members in a room as possible while we write songs, but if I start to work on an idea or skeleton of a song by myself, I’ll instantly know which band it’s going to be for. It usually only takes a couple of lines or a couple of chords to feel it in my gut. “Hotels” and “Through Trees” are both songs I remember thinking to myself, “I’m not sure I would have written that in a band if Tucker and Derek were not here to have my back.”
It’s a cool experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
KV: What do you believe is your responsibility as a frontman?
CF: I can’t fake things very well. I’ve never been one to. I hope that this ends up being a saving grace for my bands, and not the opposite, but I’m straight-up with the audience, fans, band members, and labelmates. Almost to a fault, but I would have it no other way.
KV: How do you cope with the frustrating business side of the industry? And what is more difficult: running a label or running a band?
CF: That’s the hardest part of it all. I’m closing my eyes and just trying to make some great records that hopefully can’t be ignored. That’s what the musician in me says to do. Lately, with the launch of Posters on Walls and our sales increasing a bit, I’m realizing this stance has worked to get us where we are, but we are about to go find some jetpacks and strap them to our backs.
Rob Slater was in The Scotland Yard Sale (Tambourine) he runs our website. I couldn’t do it without him. Megan Smith is my girlfriend and band ‘mama’. She keeps the dudes in check, if they start to get out. She can do it better than anyone. Running a band is far easier.
If I only had to run one band, or if all I had to do was make music and tour? Ha! Don’t make me think of such things, since they simply aren’t a possibility, right now.
KV: Tell me about the decision to give the music away for free.
CF: We are actually trying to sell Monday Evenings at first. Bonus Deluxe Version from Again, For The Win is seeing downloads skyrocket (available HERE) since we started giving it away on September 19th, 2010.
We gave StumbleDrunk’s debut EP “Happy Holidaze from StumbleDrunk” away, but it was a limited physical pressing and we were still learning how to play shows.
Monday Evenings will be pressed to vinyl in the Spring, and we’ll be playing shows in support of it all through 2011, while we write our next release.