Pharrell-endorsed Canadian teen Francesco Yates ready to drop debut EP
Nineteen-year-old pop singer Francesco Yates
Nick Patch, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, July 8, 2015 8:10AM EDT
TORONTO -- Nineteen-year-old Francesco Yates has recently been dispatched into his first tour of promotional duty in support of his upcoming Pharrell Williams-produced debut EP. Certain questions have been pitched his way with such regularity it feels like batting practice.
What's the deal with his halo of frizzy curls? What's Pharrell like? And the question that Yates himself believes he receives most often: What's the inspiration behind his shimmying, '70s-recalling dance-pop?
Inconveniently, that's also the question he finds most difficult to answer.
"I wish I could say something cool, like: 'Aliens come and they give it to me and we make a deal, and sometimes there's discounts,"' the cheerful Yates said in an interview this week.
"One thing I will say about the inspiration is I can't control it. It can come anywhere and anytime. I can't sit down to write a tune."
Yates was fascinated by music in his youngest years growing up in Scarborough, just east of Toronto, attending a "rock camp" at 11 and landing a high-profile manager in high school.
His association with Pharrell started soon afterward, and the visionary Neptunes producer's signature sound is echoed by Yates's groovy early singles "Call," "Better to Be Loved" and "Nobody Like You."
Yates says his debut EP -- co-produced by Williams and Robin Hannibal -- will be out Aug. 21. He'll also perform as part of the Pan Am Games' Panamania on July 25.
He talked to The Canadian Press about his upcoming new music, his lack of Wikipedia presence and, yes, Pharrell, whom Yates calls a "serious music dude."
CP: What do you think Pharrell saw in you?
Yates: He wanted to do something different with me. I wanted to do something different with him as well.
He said that I hadn't played my electric guitar on any of my projects. He made me more comfortable to do so.
He described me as a lion in a safari being caged -- it's still a beast, but it can only do so much when it's in a cage. But when you let it out in the wild, it's in its environment.
CP: How did you wind up playing guitar on his song "Gust of Wind"?
Yates: We were walking to the elevator of Jungle City Studios one lonely night and he was getting into the elevator to leave, and he said: "Oh yeah, you should do this guitar part with --" and then the elevator closed before he could finish.
So I had to now go back and go: "Oh man, I hope I know what he was talking about." I could only go off what he had done -- the Daft Punk stuff -- so I decided to give it that flavour.
Luckily, he kept it on the record.
CP: Kanye tweeted "Skateboard P is the God" recently (referring to Williams).
Yates: He is the God. I will say that it was crazy to see the God that everyone talks about, but it was also crazy to see the human being.
I was so privileged and so happy to see him in a normal light. I saw him with his wife and his kid. I saw him talk about real things and I got to see both sides of him.
He is a really, truly down-to-Earth person. Probably one of the nicest people in the business.
CP: Justin Timberlake praised you too -- have you met him?
Yates: Not yet but I'm glad that he did vouch for me. I thought people were pulling my leg when they texted me about his tweet.
CP: Will you stick around in Scarborough, and if not, what will you miss?
Yates: Every place has a different sound, different vibrations.
I'm getting heavily into production; I have all the toys. And there's a certain esthetic coming from Scarborough that can't really be duplicated.
I think I'm going to keep my base here in Toronto.
CP: You don't have a Wikipedia entry yet.
Yates: When the time is right, the Wikipedia will come. I will summon the Wikipeople.
Answers have been edited and condensed.