Francesco Yates is only 20 years old but he’s already received the highest possible recommendation a musical artist could. “He’s absolutely gonna be just a huge, huge, huge pop star,” Pharrell Williams has said of the Toronto native. “But not in the way people have been thinking of pop music in the past ten years.” It’s a lot to live up to, but Francesco does, both in his songwriting and his impressively evocative musicianship.
The young singer has been making music since he was much younger, but everything clicked at age 11 when Francesco saw the movie School of Rock. Suddenly, for him, music became something that was markedly possible, even a potential career path. The musician’s parents enrolled him in a nearby music camp during the summers in Toronto and Francesco began learning to play piano, then guitar. The first song he wrote was called “Jaguars,” and it all spiraled from there. “I’ve never stopped writing since,” he says. “Music was a passion for me that happened all at once. I just wanted to do it all the time. Something clicked in my head and that was it.”
Francesco signed with Chris Smith Management-21MUSIC by the time he was 14 and inked a deal with Atlantic Records at 16. The musician has been working on his debut album, exploring various possibilities for his sound. Working with producers like Robin Hannibal (Kendrick Lamar, B.o.B) and Pharrell in various studios around Los Angeles, the singer has hit upon a deft combination of pop, R&B and soul, bolstered by emotionally poignant lyrics and a strikingly passionate vocal delivery. “Francesco is a perfectionist, as you can hear on records and that takes time,” says Robin Hannibal. “There’s no correction, it’s all live and off the floor. It’s done the traditional, real singing way, where you have to get the perfect take.”
“It was a journey,” the musician says. “It takes a long time to figure out what feels right for your first album but once it clicks it goes very fast. We had such fun times in the studio, especially because I was with other people who were feeling the same energy that I was feeling. We started in a much different place than where we ended up and I’m really happy with what we created.”
First single “Call,” a swoony pop ballad, recalls the evocative crooning of artists like Bruno Mars and Justin Timberlake. It’s a song about having patience for someone you love, an idea that compels Francesco. “You may not be ready to totally accept love, but that song symbolizes someone being there at all times,” he explains. Swaggering, propulsive number “Change The Channel,” a falsetto-driven funk collaboration with Pharrell, was imagined through a conversation the two musicians had about Led Zeppelin. “Pharrell prides himself on being different so we just wanted to be different,” Francesco says. “That song is just 100 percent itself.” The singer’s more introspective side is explored on “Honey I’m Home,” a crooner that took a few tries to land on. “We had to do it over and over again,” Francesco says. “It was funny – the way we got it was on the very last take. I was giving up and a sudden jolt of energy just came through me and we just kept whatever was there. It feels right.”
Francesco’s skillful playing can be heard throughout the album as well as his remarkable vocals. The musician, who also recently played guitar on “Gust of Wind (featuring Daft Punk),” a track off Pharrell’s recent G I R L album, now balances guitar, piano, bass, drums and even harmonica. His love for various styles of music, from Prince to Queen to Michael Jackson to Bruce Springsteen, resonates through the music, but mostly it’s Francesco’s positive sensibility that is conveyed the strongest. “For me, music should be about something that’s positive,” he says. “It’s a vibe. You need to feel good when you hear it and when you play it. I want people to feel good when they listen to every one of my songs.”
“I really want to accomplish as much as I can with this debut album,” Francesco adds. “I want it to be the biggest thing of my generation. It may sound far-fetched and crazy, but that is the end goal. Whatever steps I can take to get there, I’ll take them. We live in a world of complication, and I just want to bring people out of that and get them to have a good time. If I can do that, then I will feel I will have done my part.”