Francesco Yates

When you grow up wanting to be the next Michael Jackson, then have Pharrell Williams tell you you’re a lot like him, it isn’t a coincidence. For 19-year-old Toronto native Francesco Yates, it took a lot of determination, good advice and, most of all, passion. “Passion is what makes an artist an artist – not the talent. Because it’s the passion that creates the talent,” says Yates.

Search his YouTube page and you’ll find everything from Leonard Cohen’s emotional “Hallelujah” to Marvin Gaye’s classic R&B hit, “What’s Going On”. Yates explains, “My sound is a mixture of old and new. There are quasi-modern influences and also older throwback stuff.”

His latest hit, “Better to be Loved”, was heard all over the radio this summer, and his debut EP, co-produced by billboard-topping “Happy” Pharrell Williams and Danish record producer Robin Hannibal, is set for release on September 11th. But that’s just the beginning for this emerging Canadian artist.

Yates recently talked to Georgie about his sound, working with Pharrell and his upcoming debut EP.

G—You’ve stated that you have loved music from an early age. What do you think played a role in you wanting to pursue this passion as a career?

FY—Music was always around me – kind of dormant in me. I was always singing… not well, just singing out. But it never really clicked for me until two things happened: first, watching School of Rock, and then performing for the first time at a music camp that kind of resembled the movie. I’ve been hooked ever since.

G—Is that when you decided to take music more seriously?

FY—I remember telling my dad at age 11 that I was going to be the next Michael Jackson, and he kind of laughed and said, “Michael Jackson sold millions of records, but if you believe so, then you can do it.” But I had a will of iron, so I was determined to do it.

G—How would you say you got “discovered”?

FY—It was kind of a string of events, really. I was working with a vocal coach who really taught me how to use my voice properly. One day, she brought me to my management, they brought me to the label, and here I am. It was like an opportunity meets readiness sort of thing.

G—Unlike most artists trying to catch a break, you kinds of did things backwards and got signed by a major label right away. Do you think this has made your journey easier or harder?

FY—It’s funny how the whole timing of things worked out. I did get signed first, so now I’m playing catch-up and getting my music out there through YouTube and other means. Most people do this kind of stuff before, which becomes a profit to the label. I was lucky enough to sort of bypass that – to have people who believed in me, even without all that.

G—Has YouTube been a helpful platform in introducing your music to the world?

FY—Well, I just started doing YouTube videos. The stuff I have out there now is pretty new. I spent so much time in my basement learning to play like Eddie Van Halen that I forgot that there’s a whole world of resources I can use to get my music out there. So I’m just learning about social media now.

G—Recently, you performed at Parliament Hill on Canada Day. Tell us about that experience.

FY—That was a great show – unbelievable. It was the largest crowd I ever performed in front of. There’s something strange about me that makes me very comfortable performing in front of large crowds. Right after I finished “Better to Be Loved”, I closed my eyes and opened them again, and there were 100,000 people in front of me. I’ll never forget that moment.

G—Your sound is a diverse mix of soul, pop, R&B and rock & roll. How would you identify your sound?

FY—My sound is a mixture of old and new. There are quasi-modern influences and also older throwback stuff. What happens when you put those two together is (I think) what makes my sound. (Laughs) Kind of a Back to the Future type of sound.

G—You lent your vocals to Robin Schulz for his latest single, “Sugar”, a rework of Baby Bash’s 2003 hit, “Suga Suga”. What is it about the early 2000’s pop and R&B you love most?

FY—This is the perfect example of my love for old meets new. Normally, I’m not one for singing samples, but when I heard this, it just felt way too good to change. Some things you just have to go with. And this just felt really good from the get-go.

G—Pharrell has been a huge advocate for you. What would you say is the biggest take-away you’ve had from working with him?

FY—He just kept telling me to play my guitar, and that this is who I am and what I need to do. It kind of restored my faith that I can bring my guitar into the mix and make it work. And it has. It’s a central piece in who I am. So props to Pharrell for that.

G—He’s been quoted as saying you’ll be a kind of popstar we haven’t seen in ten years. How did it feel hearing that from him?

FY—It’s just such a huge compliment. He really believed in me, so it’s just cool to know he feels that way.

G—Are there any other producers or collaborations on your debut album we can look forward to?

FY—Pharrell and Robin Hannibal are producing the album, then – and this is the first time I’ve told anyone this in an interview – myself. I’m also helping produce it, so it’s going to be good, hopefully!

G—Your hit, “Better to Be Loved”, is all over the radio. What was it like hearing your song play for the first time?

FY—I actually just heard myself on the radio for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was late night, and the song came on in between a mixture of “Uptown Funk”. It’s crazy to hear yourself on the radio, but I am very happy to have my songs picked up and to have radio’s support.

G—What can we expect from your debut EP?

FY—It’s a lot of house meets up-tempo. The balladry is kind of a Marvin Gaye feel mixed with modern elements of almost hip hop music. It’s an interesting blend. We’re going to put it out and leave it up to the public. And that’ll dictate what the album will do.

G—What do you think has been your strongest asset as an artist?

FY—Ultimately, I think my passion. Passion is what makes an artist an artist – not the talent. Because it’s the passion that creates the talent. If you’re passionate about something, you want to learn everything about it.

G—The hair…

FY—(Laughs) I’m Italian Canadian, and I’m not sure where it came from because no one in my family has hair this curly. I’m not a diva, but my hair needs a full entourage to manage it.