I'm primarily a guitarist. This project is the result of a nosedive into synthesizers, which started as a way to improve my understanding of what kind of parts I could write for one of my bands, King Gorm (https://kinggorm.bandcamp.com/). I started making synthesizer music as a warmup for writing other (mostly rock) stuff, and at some point I just decided to start saving the recordings and posting them online.
2.You have a solo album coming out during the end of May, can you tell us a little bit more about the musical style you went for on the recording?
I had a lot of fun making my first solo album (https://francisroberts.bandcamp.com/album/after-the-storm) and this album was mostly an attempt to do something similar to that. This one was really fun to make, too, so I'll probably keep going. Aside from obvious Dungeon Synth influences, the music is inspired by the music of video games, progressive rock, film scores, and other ambient music. I did all of it in my home studio, and I limited myself to only using hardware instruments this time.
3.I have read that you bring in some of the fantasy and science fiction influences into this musical project that you are not able to do with your rock and metal bands, can you tell us a little bit more about it?
Sure! If you listen to some of my other music (Old Man Wizard's most recent album is a great example) you'll hear that I enjoy making ambient transition tracks between songs. I've done this for other bands, too. I remember playing games from series like Diablo, Final Fantasy, and Castlevania when I was younger, and waiting in a town or a dungeon so I could listen to the music in that area while doing something else. Eventually, my brother and I would start looking for music similar to what we'd find in those types of games, and play it in the background while we had our friends over for Dungeons and Dragons. This album and most of my other solo material is basically designed as background music for that type of situation; I imagine an area or a scene in a tabletop game or a video game, and make music to accompany that vibe or experience.
4.On the album you play a dungeon synth style, most metal musicians that play this style come from more of a black metal background while you come from a completely different metal background, do you have ant black metal influences in your music?
Absolutely. I've never really liked my harsh vocals, so I stopped doing death metal and black metal style songs before I really got far enough to record my bands. Old Man Wizard has a song called “Innocent Hands” (https://oldmanwizard.com/track/innocent-hands-2 ) that is probably the closest I've come to releasing a BM style track. I think I wrote that song after listening to the entire Darkthrone discography or something. I think enough people are doing a great job with both classic and modern styles of BM that I don't feel like I'd have anything meaningful to contribute without blending it with other styles of music.
As far as my taste in black metal goes, I mostly like the classic stuff that is more punk inspired. I tend to find myself coming back to the stuff that's closer to what I guess I'd call proto-black metal, like Venom, Celtic Frost, King Diamond, etc. I like most of the super classic stuff - I mentioned Darkthrone already, but I really do think of Transylvanian Hunger as an untouchable album - but I also like some of the more corny and “polished” shit too. Immortal put out some fantastic material, and Behemoth is a great example of how super fancy hi-fi production can work with a traditionally lo-fi genre.
5.Can you tell us a little bit more about the artwork that is presented on the album cover?
I'd love to! First of all, I did the art. I think it'll be the first album cover I've ever illustrated, which is very exciting for me. I used to try to save some money by drawing up shirt designs and posters for my bands but until recently I never really felt like I was good enough to put my art on the cover of the actual album. My goal was to draw what looked like an area in a 2D video game if it were illustrated in pen for a children's book. The “guardian beast” thing in the corner is an unabashed ripoff of one of John Bauer's trolls.
The artists I tend to rip off most frequently when I'm practicing are Tove Jansson (famous for inventing and illustrating the Moomins; also did a beautifully simple Finnish edition of The Hobbit), John Bauer (pretty much any classic Swedish fairy tale has a version illustrated by him), Aubrey Beardsley (French artist who was heavily influenced by Japanese ink illustrations; check out his erotica, because it's completely hilarious). There are really too many fantastic illustrators to name here, but the last person I'll mention is Valin Mattheis, who I've hired to do art for Old Man Wizard albums. I'd be lying if I said his work didn't inspire me to draw more, too.
6.With this project you record everything by yourself while you also have plenty of experience playing in actual bands, how would you compare the two?
This is much easier! No rehearsals needed; I'll just record parts as I learn them, and as soon as I have what I feel is a good take, I'll move on. Also, drums are a fucking nightmare to mix, so the post production here is a breeze. Playing in a full band is really fun and rewarding, though, and I've found that there's really no other good way to capture a “live” vibe on a recording. I've tried so much stuff to get that feel from multitracking and at this point I just think it can't be done.
7.You have a live show in November, what can we expect from the stage performance?
That'll depend on whether I drive or fly to Seattle for Dungeon Siege West. If I book a tour around the fest, I'll probably bring some more stuff to put onstage, but if I fly, it'll be minimal; just me and my synths.
8.Are there any touring or show plans past November?
I'm actually doing a last-minute album release show here in San Diego on June 2 at the Tower Bar (one of my favorite small spots to play shows). I'm still deciding whether or not it'll be worth it to book a tour in November. I think I'll do at least a couple of pacific northwest dates; I have a few friends in Portland that have been very supportive of this venture so I'd like to play this music there.
9.On a worldwide level how has the reaction been to your solo music by fans of dungeon synth that have heard it so far?
People seem to like it! The community is quite welcoming. I'm working on new tracks for two different compilation tapes, and I'm making a bunch of new friends as a result. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have made a second DS album if the community wasn't so cool. Supportive people are inspiring.
10.What is going on with your other bands these days?
Old Man Wizard actually has a new album totally written (you might have heard it here first? I don't remember if I posted that publicly anywhere else). We just did two songs from it at a show on Wednesday and so far all of the new songs are a blast to play. We have no plans to record it yet, but I think it might happen sooner than any of us expected.
King Gorm actually has a studio album recorded, mixed, and mastered. It should drop sometime this year, but I don't have the details on that yet. It's my favorite album that I've recorded so far, so I can't wait to share it with everyone.
11.Where do you see yourself heading into as a musician in the future?
I'd like to get more into soundtrack work, specifically for games, and probably even more specifically for fantasy or sci fi games. I'll keep playing in bands, too. What you hear now is probably just a smaller scale version of what I want to be doing.
12.What are some of the bands or musical styles that have had an influence on your music and also what are you listening to nowadays?
I think the biggest influences for most people are the things they “grew up” with as a musician, rather than as a person. So, the stuff that made you feel cool for listening to, because you felt like you “discovered” it rather than having it spoon fed to you from the TV or something. For me, those are bands like King Diamond, Motorhead, Jethro Tull, Queen, and Opeth. Obviously we all dig deeper and the list has grown too long to curate, but those five are probably a great representation of the bands that made me feel like music that I genuinely like could become popular. That, and video game music. I think Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Age of Empires, Diablo, and Baldur's Gate were all games that made me realize how cool music was.
Lately, I've been exploring a ton of stuff I missed out on by being a pretentious metalhead when I was younger. For example, my favorite album to come out probably in the last decade is Random Access Memories by Daft Punk. I think that it's on par with Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon as a sort of modern classic. As far as rock and metal, I'm enjoying a lot of the sort of NWOTHM bands here in California like Gygax, Haunt, Hellfire, Great Electric Quest, etc. Again, too many good ones to name, but I have fun listening to bands I can actually afford to go see live.
13.What are some of your non musical interests?
I like making stuff (art, stories, ideas) and I like playing games (video games and tabletop games). I try to go to the archery range sometimes, too. I occasionally read books and watch video reviews of music and studio equipment. I guess it's somewhat musical, but I spend a lot of time nerding out on signal routing and optimizing equipment that I use to make music. I like computer programming but I don't really make time for it.
14.Before we wrap up this interview, do you have any final words or thoughts?
I'm just happy that I finished another album, and people care enough to buy it or talk about it. I'm having lots of fun making this stuff, and I hope it ends up on somebody's tabletop gaming playlist. Thanks for your interest!