Paint Us A Song

Singer-songwriter Piers Faccini: his art, his age, his new album


By the age of 36, many musicians have scrambled up the ladder of success, only to tumble headfirst down the other side. English-born, Paris-based Piers Faccini knew at a young age that he wanted to write and play and sing music, but it would only happen when the time was right. That time is now. Faccini spent the summer touring through Europe opening for Ben Harper (occasionally sharing the stage with him) and just released his second solo album, a beautiful collection of songs titled Tearing Sky. Though he has a host of collaborators on the album (Harper, Jack Johnson drummer Adam Topol--who is touring with Faccini--and producer JP Plunier, to name but a few), Faccini played most of the instruments and wrote all of the songs.

Boise Weekly called Faccini at home in Paris the day before he left for his American tour.

Boise Weekly: Have you played in Boise before?

Piers Faccini: We played in Boise in August. I was opening for Culver City Dub Collective which is Adam Topol's band. My record [Tearing Sky] hadn't come out and I was just getting a feel for playing for American audiences. It's all kind of new for me in the States. I'm more established in Europe.

Was last summer your first time touring the States?

It's the second time. The first time I came out and did some dates in California and then we did South by Southwest in Texas in March. We did the August tour with Culver City and since then Tearing Sky has been released. Before, there was an EP called Streets of London which was a version of a record that came out in Europe about two years ago put out by Everloving [Records]. It [Streets of London]was very much kind of a teaser for Tearing Sky.

What's the main difference between playing for American audiences and European ones?

In some of the countries here, the crowds know the music a little bit better, which makes for a different vibe. One of the things that I really like about playing for American audiences is that I play in a lot of countries that don't necessarily speak English. Even when I play in the UK, I'm playing in front of French, Belgian, Italian Dutch ... the relationship to language isn't there in the same way ... there's that thing where you're singing in your first language and the audience's first language: things are communicated on a level that's much more subtle. Even if people don't really pay attention, the lyrical content is there, but sometimes people really clock into [the lyrics] and there's a really nice kind of attention that just drops on the audience.

Have you ever thought of doing a French-language album?

There's a real misunderstanding on the part of the press in America. Some people think I'm French but I'm not. I speak French, I speak Italian, I speak Spanish, but I really wouldn't want to sing in any other language than English because that's the language [in which] the words come to me. And, just because you speak another language doesn't mean you can write in it. Really what [I'd be] doing is translating ... something would be lost and it wouldn't be quite as powerful.

How do you write your songs? Do you always carry a pen and paper on you or do you sit down and write all at once?

I tend to have moments ... like a two- or three-week period two or three times a year where I'm writing. I write a lot of material. I'll just put it aside and then I'll come back to it. When I write, I have a guitar and a notebook and a pen and sometimes a lyric will come first or a melody will come first or an idea. It can come in any different number of ways. I like to write a lot. I get a lot of inspiration and I just go with it ... and then like a month later, I'll sift through it and I'll find stuff that I like and stuff that I like less and the stuff I like less I'll throw in the bin and the other stuff I'll work back into.

Why did you make Tearing Sky the title of the album?

Well, generally, I like [album] titles that somehow suggest something but you don't know exactly what it means or what it is. I think an album title should be enigmatic ... like an invitation for you to discover the real stuff. The title is a way of suggesting something mysterious, something unknown. "Tearing sky" is a lyric in [the song] "Sharpening Bone." And I just like it because it's very imagistic ... it's suggestive.

I saw your paintings on your Web site ( Do you ever write a song and think you have to find a way to put that feeling on canvas?

It doesn't happen in that literal of a way. But the paintings create a kind of atmosphere and I find sometimes when I'm writing, I want to create that same kind of atmosphere. Sometimes I write narratives, but I like more to paint an atmosphere of something familiar but unexplained. I think that's a very painterly approach. In painting, you're describing something, but it's not as clear as words. You're using symbols of representations of the world: it could be a hill or a tree or a person or whatever. They're not words, but yet at the same time, they describe something very precise and specific. I've taken from that when I write music, if that makes any sense [laughs]. It's hard to talk about.

Was Charley Marlowe (a band Faccini started in 1997) your first foray into music?

Kind of. I had my first band when I was 17. Then I went to art college and decided to pursue painting more than music. I carried on writing songs all the time but mainly for myself. And then about 10 years ago, I started Charley Marlowe with Francesca Beard. We played together for about five years in London before I moved to France [about three years ago]. At one point I just felt like I didn't want to write songs for a duo any more. It [the band] just kind of naturally came to an end. People often say to me, "You're in your thirties and you're only on your second album," but I've been writing since I was 13. People think that just because you have an album out that somehow if that's your first album, you never really wrote songs before, but it doesn't work like that. Some people get the breaks early. With me, it just took a while before I could be in a situation where I can tour, play in different countries and work with a great producer like JP Plunier [who has produced albums for both Ben Harper and Jack Johnson]. What I often say is that I could have made three or four albums before this one, but I think they wouldn't have been of the same quality. I recorded that first solo album when I was 33 and I feel like I've made two records that I'm really proud of.

Do you have a favorite song on Tearing Sky?

Not particularly. Each song is building to a whole, which is kind of an old-fashioned way of looking at music. The iPod generation often listens to just one song--which is cool: one song is better than none--but I love listening to [whole] albums. They're like books made up of chapters. But, I think there are certain songs [of mine] that are elegant and well-formed and balanced. "Each Wave That Breaks" has a real simplicity and harmony about it and a structure that I'm happy with.

How many people will be on stage with you when you perform?

It's a trio, actually. I play guitar and sing, Jose Esquivel on bass and Adam Topol on drums so it's very stripped back. It's kind of bare, but strong and that's how I like it; kind of cutting to the essential.

Is there anybody in particular you're listening to right now?

There's a whole bunch of stuff I listen to habitually, that I constantly come back to whether it's Leonard Cohen or Timbuk 3 or Dylan, but I also really love Bonnie Prince Billy. I think he's a great talent. Musically we don't have that much in common, but there's a kind of similar intimacy through the voice and the text. I listen to a lot of classical and world music.

How was the experience of opening for Ben Harper in huge arenas?

Of course, I forgot to mention Ben Harper as someone I listen to [laughs].

Of course. That's a given.

He goes without saying. He's someone I really admire. The tour was great. He's an awesome guy, very friendly, very humble, very open. It was really nice to just hang out with him. Sure, it was nice to play in front of big crowds, but I just do what I do. Whether it's in front of 10 people or 10,000, I just try and keep it the same, but it was quite an experience to play in front of such big crowds. And I sang with Ben. He invited me to play during [some of] his sets. We did his song "I Shall Not Walk Alone" and also we sang "Masters of War" by Bob Dylan together.

I saw Ben Harper once in a huge outdoor arena. There were thousands of people, but when he sang, you could have heard a pin drop.

Cool. That's the kind of atmosphere I like to play in. When you open [for someone], every time it's a challenge. The audience throws down the gauntlet to you and you have to be able to rise to the challenge. Ben Harper's audiences are the kind that listen, but if they don't know you they're going to drink beer and chat with their friends. You have to find a way where they kind of go, "Hey, who is this guy?" [Opening for Harper] it worked really well. His fans are people who are really into listening to music. That makes it easier. By the end of my set, I was singing a capella and when I finished, there was beautiful silence.

Is there something you want people to take away from your album?

I want them to feel that I'm sharing something with them that they already know, like I'm singing about them. It's a universal thing. A song like "Each Wave That Breaks" is not my own personal experience. It's a song all about life. If people get the music, I want them to feel that they can relate to it, that the music is about them. I think that's the power of music. That's why I make music.

Thursday, January 25, 9 p.m., $4, with opener Nathan Jay Moody, The Bouquet, 1010 W. Main St., 208-345-6605.