Following a summer on the Appalachian Trail and a string of blissful singles, New York’s very own JW Francis has finally released his sophomore album WANDERKID. The artist’s unapologetic persona shines through as he tells candid stories of the people who come in and out of his life, even if just for a moment.
The tracks on WANDERKID were written before Francis hit the trail. Opening with “John, Take Me With You,” listeners are met with warped, pop guitar layers and heavily saturated vocals singing, “John, take me away! John, take me with you!” The melodic theme from the opening track seeps into the second, a looping and lighthearted song called “I Love You.” The percussion transforms into a tight snare, tom hits, light percussive sounds, and a kick you feel in your gut. There are also pulsating analog synths layers that carry the melodic theme forward.
The rest of the album is full of sonic twists and turns that ultimately lead to the record’s finale “Cars,” easily a personal favorite. “Cars” is a downtempo, reflective closing track that uses a fast tremolo on the guitar lines, picking out a captivating melody. Supported by guest vocals provided by rising indie darling Margeaux, Francis ends the album with a soft fade-out, leaving listeners wanting more.
Overall, with its thematic tone, complex structure, and Sahil Ansari’s impeccable production and mixing, WANDERKID is a cohesive body of work that should be on everyone’s radar. We had the opportunity to discuss the record further with the artist and gain further insight into his inspirations and creative journey.
Ones to Watch: Do you feel like the record is one story with a beginning and end, or do you feel like it’s more of an anthology, with each telling song its own story?
JW Francis: I feel like as an emotional ride, the record is one story with a beginning and an end. Hopefully, you can feel it in the energy of the first track and the emotional send-off of the last track. Sahil (my producer) and I always try to make it one cohesive ride that you can close your eyes and float to.
Were all of these songs written and recorded before or during the pandemic?
All the recording was done pre-pandemic, actually! We were very lucky in that respect. All the mixing and milling over the record was done during the pandemic. It was a very nice distraction to escape into.
What or who inspires you, and how did that manifest in this album?
NYC is inspiring. My mom and dad are inspiring. My friends are inspiring. Everything in my life is always pulling me towards the next thing, and I’m just trying to keep up with the feeling. For this record, I felt pulled towards another life, away from the comfort of my job and living with my best friend. So I recorded the record, then quit my job and left NYC. You have to follow the feeling.
Each of your music videos has this vibrant energy that retains a sense of novelty. How did you develop the concepts for your music videos, and do you have a favorite shoot from this album cycle?
A lot of the music videos are collaborations with friends where we bounce ideas off of each other. For the first record, I had specific ideas for nearly every song. For this one, I wanted to know what other people were seeing when they heard the track. For example, Clayton McCracken, who did the “WANDERKID” video, had the idea of filming with a 360 camera and plopping me into all the places I’ve lived. My favorite shoot, though, would have to be “Holy Mountain,” which I made with my cousin Ryan because it features so much of my family.
Which video was the most challenging to shoot or conceptually execute?
Definitely the “WANDERKID” video. Not that it was challenging for me, Clayton just asked me to get a 360 camera and gave me a list of shots to get. When I saw the finished product, though, I was like, “Holy cow, he put a lot of work into this.”
What song is your favorite and your least favorite on the record? Why?
My favorite song on the album is usually the last one because that one is always different. This time it’s “Cars.” It’s a little duet with one of my favorite artists, Margaux. It’s such a sweet song.
I don’t really have a least favorite, but it would be “Holy Mountain” if I had to choose it, because it’s the oldest song on the album. It used to be a song about strawberries. I still love it, though.
What’s your process like when it comes to songwriting? Is it a tried-and-true method or something that developed over time?
I tend to accumulate lots of musical ideas in the voice memos on my phone. A lot of them in the middle of the night. Eventually, I sit down at a computer and try to figure what I was singing about.
Do you have a favorite lyric or a line from the album that resonates with you when you sing it?
There’s a line on “Cars” that goes, “I cannot drive.” Which is something I actually cannot do. Never driven in my life. I didn’t think it was a big deal until I went out on the Appalachian Trail and thought about all of the things I’ve never done. As soon as I got back, I booked a driver’s test.
Can you tell me why you went with WANDERKID as the album’s name?
It actually was one of those “all of a sudden” moments I can’t explain. I wrote WANDERKID on a piece of paper, looked at it, and was like, “Yeah, that’s it.”