The map has always been wide open for Denver’s Carmine Francis. The 33-year-old musician grew up in Pittsburgh and studied music at Berklee in Boston, but the Mile High City is where he brought his love of music to life.
“It got to a point where I didn’t know what to do after school, really, and it was either New York or L.A. or Denver,” Francis says. “That’s what brought me out here. We did [the band Scatter Gather] for about seven years, and then we did [another group] Definitely, Maybe and kinda split.”
In addition to fronting those local bands, Francis has spent a recent stretch of his last 12 years in Colorado honing his engineering and producing skills at a studio in the building that was once home to the beloved music venue Park House. He has stayed busy recording other artists, building his collection of gear and generally “doing [his] own thing.”
Now, after more than a decade on the Front Range, Francis is preparing to move to New York City, where he’ll crash with his brother in the West Village until he finds a place. “I’ve always wanted to give New York a try,” he says. “And it feels like the time right now.”
To that end, Francis will take what he can of his recording setup with him to the Big Apple. He plans to pursue the production and engineering side of the music industry, but he’s “feeling it out” as part of what he calls a “restart.”
Ironically, as he prepares to leave Colorado, Francis is releasing his first solo record, an eponymous labor-of-love EP made with well-known Denver musicians from bassist Kramer Kelling (Kory Montgomery Band) to drummer Carl Sorenson (Dragondeer).
“I was set to record a solo album and then COVID happened,” the multi-instrumentalist says. “I kept doing the studio stuff, working with different bands mixing, and eventually my own space came together. This album is a product of being in that environment. It came to be by working with a lot of the people I was working with at the studio already. It was sort of this snowball.”
When one door closes
While Scatter Gather fell more on the indie-rock side of things — often drawing comparisons to the ’90s flagship act Pavement, which Francis says annoyed him — his own music is more slow-paced and piano-driven. Not only is his self-titled EP less rock than his previous bands, it’s also more personal.
Francis’ voice is sweet and deep at the same time. It’s also whimsical, but not silly — almost as if another Pennsylvania native, Rodney Anonymous of The Dead Milkmen, had chosen to bear his soul instead of singing about volcanoes and “The Thing That Only Eats Hippies.”
“In the past, a lot of my process was around writing songs to be played with a band, specifically with a musical partnership I was in for nearly 10 years,” he says. “With these songs, the process was more about writing songs I needed to write for myself. There wasn’t a conscious, ‘I’m working on this thing because I’m a songwriter.’ It was more like, ‘Oh, this is here and it’s coming out of me because it needs to.’ Then I was fortunate enough to be able to shape my ideal Denver band around the material.”
Francis was listening to a lot of Jim James, Blake Mills and Father John Misty while making his debut, but rather than obsessing over certain influences, Carmine says his original music tends to spring naturally from his listening habits.
“So much of the actual creation is just filling the well in your off-time listening to different types of music,” he says. “And then something emerges from that, rather than being, like, ‘This is who I like, and this is my sound based off of that.’”
Although Francis is leaving Colorado, which he says got him into plant medicine and subsequently “stillness, patience and developing consciousness,” he hopes the EP resulting from his experience on the Front Range will help carve a new path on the map for his future endeavors as a producer.
“I do feel this album is sort of closing a chapter,” he says. “And at the same time, opening a new one.”
ON THE BILL: Carmine Francis EP release show with King Bee and Moon Atomizer. 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 11, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California St., Denver. Tickets here.