In 1969, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair in Bethel, NY culminated in a life-changing experience for over 400,000 people and 32 iconic musicians. Nearly five decades later, young singer-songwriter Shlomo Franklin, born on a farm in Bethel, has compiled influences from the festival he can only dream about. Dotting his work are elements of old-school rock ‘n roll and psychedelia inspired by Woodstock’s biggest acts, but put together, they concoct a dreamy work of art that is utterly Shlomo.
On his latest EP, Rockabilly Radio, three tracks are wildly different but are linked by a woozy growl that becomes its trademark. Beginning the EP is “The Spanish Hotel,” a jumbling rockabilly track heavy with percussive overlay and rapid rhythm changes while we get the first taste of Shlomo’s rare voice, which often makes the natural shift from deep and throaty to smooth wails. Next is the beautifully eerie “Bag Of Bones & Broken Dreams,” with a softened, but seemingly complex, guitar line leading to a shimmery drum beat that makes an innocuous entrance underneath aching vocals singing tender lines like “I watch you cry every night/And we’d always be splitting at the seams/I swear to you that everything’s gonna be just fine.” The third and final track, “The Ghost Of Britney Spears,” is a desperate political number pleading with listeners to improve society. Introducing all-American icons like the “crack whore over by the Coke machine”, Shlomo paints a sinister picture of today’s world and the negativity that too often consumes it. The EP comes full circle with low, tipsy growls building up to warbling rock rhythms.
Rockabilly Radio is music for the mind. Though the quick, elaborate instrumentation and positively peculiar vocals keep our attention, the heavy lyrics beg for it. Shlomo Franklin encourages listeners to second-guess themselves, turning their minds over for an iota of honesty, and then rewards them with old-fashioned rock ‘n roll remarkably his own.
Stream Shlomo Franklin’s latest EP below and read an exclusive (and eloquent) interview with him here:
Elmore Magazine: What is the music scene like in Bethel, NY and how has it influenced your music?
Shlomo Franklin: Bethel, NY is one of those towns where people play music because they simply love it. My friends up here are bursting at the seams with talent. I’ve got a local collaborator by the name of Julian Giamo who I’m recording an album with… The album came about because someone in the community had connected the two of us and we decided to cut a single just for kicks and see where it goes. Fast forward a few minutes into the recording session and he comes out of the control room saying “Hey, do you want to just record an entire EP?” and now we’ve decided to record an entire album with orchestrated compositions throughout so I’ve been laying down the songs and he’s writing out parts for cello, violin, viola, etc…
It’s a real trip and I have no idea when that album will be out but it’s quite typical of my friends up here to have big dreams and dare to follow them in a world that’s so afraid of being passionate and confident, creatively speaking. My friends here are extremely gifted. There’s even a local open mic that starts at 11 AM every Sunday morning at the local Defilippis Italian Bakery. It is by far the only open mic I regret missing when I’m not around. It’s truly something to behold.
I spend lots of time both in the city and upstate but whenever there’s too much noise from the subway and too much talk of money and fame flying around the polluted air of east 14th street, I take the I-95 and make the two-hour trip back home and go play music by the Delaware River with my friends just because we can, we want to, and we uncompromisingly love to play music.
EM: What was the production process like for your new EP, Rockabilly Radio?
SF: The band and I drove up to our friend Keith Lauria’s place on a cold wintery Wednesday morning and spent the day playing our live set in his studio just like we would on stage. Keith’s a really great engineer and has a unique way of capturing a band’s sound. The snow outside helped add to the lyrical theme of isolation and loneliness. It was exciting for us because usually they want you to play all the instruments separately but in this scenario we just plugged in and hit the ground running. I’ve always been a fan of recording live. It’s not the only way to achieve magic on tape but it’s certainly the most direct road to that Shangri-La. We played the songs just like we play them at our shows and I think this EP captures a certain side of the band that no other recordings could’ve quite done the same way. I’m extremely pleased and proud of us. The recordings allude to the palpable energy that’s in the air at our live shows.
EM: How did the collaboration with audio engineer Andy Manganello come about?
SF: I was introduced to Andy through my good friend and fellow songwriter Mikey Bar-Levi. Mikey and I have been close friends ever since we met at a record store gig somewhere out on Long Island over a year ago. We bonded over our mutual love for early rock ‘n roll artists such as Chuck Berry, Elvis, Little Richard, and Fats Domino. We’re in the process of writing an album together for a potential side project but god only knows when we’ll bring that to the public. In fact we’re playing a show together at Pianos in New York City with our respective bands on September 7th and we might do a song or two together, we’ll see. It’s always fun when we play back to back. We’ve got a healthy competition going on because we’re both determined to be great and are consistently learning, changing, and growing.
Anyway, Mikey introduced me to Andy Manganello at a recording studio in Queens and we hit it off right away. I could tell Andy was excited about what I do and understood where I was at artistically speaking so when we were looking for someone to mix the record I asked him if he’d do the honors and thankfully he agreed. Andy is a veteran engineer and producer who has credits with everyone from 50 Cent to Johnny Cash so to have him mix my songs was a real gift and a true privilege.
Throughout life you meet folks who are in the game for the right reasons. People who understand the hunger and thirst and don’t get distracted by all the noise like money and superficial cool. You meet people who are running the same great race as you and you run alongside those people because you’re living on the same wavelength, fighting a similar fight. It’s quite romantic actually. When you connect with someone over something sincere then there’s no limit to what you can accomplish.
EM: Which is your favorite track on Rockabilly Radio and why?
SF: That’s like asking a parent which of their children is their favorite but I’ll totally answer it anyway. If I had to choose, I’d say “Bag of Bones & Broken Dreams” is my favorite song simply because of how many people come over and tell me how much it has touched them. It’s also the oldest song on the record. I wrote it in the winter of 2014 on a stoop somewhere in Brooklyn while waiting for a bus. It’s made a lot of people cry which is clearly my greatest accomplishment yet.
In all seriousness, that’s a real dear one to me. It stands close to my heart. People always ask if it’s a true story but I don’t quite know how to answer that. Thankfully, each song on the EP has different strengths so they’re all special in different ways.
“The Spanish Hotel” is a song that’s still so mysterious to me. It’s about this place in Spanish Harlem we dubbed ‘The Spanish Hotel’. A lot of crazy stuff happened there, and I shall refrain from going into too much detail, but it was close to the water and sort of a crossroads for a lot of different worlds. There was always music being played and always something illegal happening, there was always love and always fighting. It was rock ‘n roll in its rawest form and if I stayed there any longer I wouldn’t have survived. I don’t go there anymore and that part of my life is behind me but it’ll always occupy a certain special corner of my heart.
Elmore Magazine: What is songwriting like for you in terms of inspiration and process?
Shlomo Franklin: Songs are special. Songs are extremely sacred. They’re not intellectual products that people create with their minds: They’re not of the mind. They pass through the mind but they come from somewhere else completely. Each song is a gift and I have very little control as to when a song decides to happen. For me it either all comes in one shot, fast as lightning or I just forget about it and move on. If a song takes longer than seven minutes to be written than I usually abandon it at the side of the road and I don’t change the lyrics either. However they decide to come, that’s how they shall be. I feel like I’m tampering with it if I try to change a lyric.
To be honest I’m probably the last person to tell you about songwriting because it’s all so beautiful and mysterious and it’s hard for me to understand let alone describe. All I know is that when a song comes from the depths of your being, then you don’t doubt it or deny it. Any insecurity I might have is usually about my performance or execution of the song. Rarely am I insecure about the song itself. When a song comes from the spirit of creativity, you hold it close and watch over it. You take it with you wherever you go and you share it with people. Not because it’s fun and not because you want an audience to know about who you are but because you have to and because you have no choice but to share it with its rightful owners, because you want people to learn more about themselves in this song that you’ve found.
I follow the beat poet method which is: first thought best thought. It’s impossible to lie when your writings are stream of consciousness. It’s very hard to lie when it comes out straight and fast, when it comes out in one breath. These are the songs I feel proud and happy to share with people. These are the songs that make it easy for a shy little kid like me to get up on a stage and sing my heart out without any fear or trepidation. My confidence on stage comes from the songs and from wherever they come from.