John Francis, whose album “The Better Angels” was recently reviewed by Kimberly Burge, spoke with Sojourners editorial assistant Betsy Shirley about his calling as a socially-conscious musician.
BS: Your lyrics have won several awards for social consciousness. What are the challenges of writing socially conscious music in America today?
JF: Well, most people don’t want to hear it. In concerts I joke about hoping to win the socially unconscious lyrics award, but I’m afraid the competition is a little bit too steep in that category. We’re an “entertain me” kind of culture…it’s not that popular to speak out or tell sad stories. But if music is good, and if I can do it in way that’s poetic—a really empathetic way that’s compelling, and not this paint-by-number kind of protest music—then people are going to listen.
BS: Is there a difference between “protest music” and “socially conscious music”?
JF: I’m not a protest singer. It’s not a soapbox. I’m just trying to be honest about what I see in the world around me. There’s a line between art and propaganda. And I think there’s a way to do both well, but I’m an artist, not a propagandist. I want to tell the truth in my music. If I can do anything with my music and my songs it’s to give voice to people who have no voice. Or give a louder voice to people who are on the margins
BS: When you tour internationally, do people in other countries react any differently to your music than they do here in the states?
JF: Yeah, I think people in Europe are especially drawn to a sense of story and storytelling. Certainly there’s the element of novelty, because they love American music and they really roll out the red carpet. But it goes deeper than that: I think in general America has kind of commoditized and dumbed down popular music to the lowest common denominator. We’ve forgotten what it’s for.