Timeless and transformative.
From a combination of scorching life events, social transformation, pandemic lockdown, and personal epiphany, David Franz has emerged, like a snake too big for its skin, from behind the producer’s console to the front of the stage. Years of unlocking the creative genius of other artists as a co-writer, producer and record label head has led to the evolution and development of his own artist persona.
Having a voracious appetite for many different genres of music, Franz founded not one but two record labels. Underground Sun covers a wide-ranging catalog of genres but all have a foundation in soul music. R&B, rock, hip-hop, blues, folk, world, electronic and jazz all find a home on Underground Sun. Underground Sol, co-founded with DJ/producer/entrepreneur Justin Paul, is devoted solely to electronic music and the myriad genres within that broad label.
Both labels embrace and cultivate diversity and inclusivity, knowing these are not only at the core of a thriving music industry but also imperative to connecting and empathizing with all of humanity. Both Underground Sun and Underground Sol have a strong legacy of launching musicians from under-represented demographics into solid music careers.
Encouraged by his parents and inspired especially by his grandfather, Franz was always a musician. Although he studied industrial and systems engineering at Virginia Tech, he never managed to stop making music. As a master’s student at Virginia Tech, Franz’s academic thesis wore the unapologetically and magnificently nerdy title, “Markov Chains as Tools for Jazz Improvisation Analysis”. Using painstaking analysis of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” the thesis is an investigation into the qualitative and quantifiable possibilities of mathematics in identifying the musical fingerprints of any given musician. This might illustrate something of Franz’s rigor of thought in the service of his passion for music.
And his technical background paid immediate dividends. As a student at Berklee College of Music, he authored the first book about Pro Tools, “Producing in the Home Studio with Pro Tools”. It provided a vital bridge for both professional and home engineers to make the most of the powerful and revolutionary but difficult-to-master new technology.
An early innovator, the young Franz designed the curriculum for Berklee’s first online music production course based on his first book. He has since written other music production books published by Hal Leonard, online courses for Berkleemusic, lynda.com and LinkedIn Learning, and articles about music for many publications. After teaching at Berkleemusic for almost a decade, Franz was hired by lynda.com first as a course instructor and then as Content Manager for the Audio+Music subject area. After LinkedIn purchased lynda.com, Franz’s position grew into covering a wider range of topics including motion graphics, animation, illustration, and video, all the while learning new video skills and creating world-class online courses. From course author for the first online school to content manager at lynda.com turned Linkedin Learning, he’s never had a job title that existed before it was made up for his new position.
A kinetic spirit and a questing nature have been the engine to his own professional growth and learning, making him that rare creature of left and right brain parity. Creatively, technologically, and temperamentally his passion for music and teaching has helped numerous artists navigate the choppy waters of the rapidly changing music business.
Modern production with a core of soul and blues have always been at the core of his timeless productions, and for his own sound he drifts with the spirit of the desert in its dry air, conjuring energies from both outlaws and shamans. Full of self-examination, self-help, and self-harm, David’s debut album “To The Unknown” puts us all to task to question our own self-talk, bias, and self-determination. It’s a testament that personal growth is necessary for the greater good, and that growth is not at all easy. A confessional at its root, the album is a tale of cactus and catharsis, mirrors and mirages, and the power we all have to change our inner narrative, face our fear, and get out of our own way. By exposing his crooked journey to the light of day, David gives the rest of us permission to do the same. To set free truths locked deep inside. To find ourselves through the process of getting lost.
Filled with raw honesty and self-exploration, his debut offering can't come at a better time for a world struggling with personal and social transformation. “To The Unknown” forces us as listeners to question our own biases. To confront our own demons and determination. To embrace the critical role personal growth plays in pursuit of the greater good. The pain and relatability of this human journey does not dilute, but rather enhances, the moods and visions evoked by the songs. He finds the universal in the particular, and this carefully-wrought album can be seen as a meditation on personal transformation.
The sound is definitively California desert rock, but not the heavier vibes of the low desert sound like QOTSA and their ménage. Instead it’s born in the high desert, and Joshua Tree National Park provides the iconic landscape for David’s sonic vision quest. Imagine if Kevin Parker (Tame Impala), Jim James (My Morning Jacket) and Dan Aeurbach (The Black Keys) took peyote and wrote songs with Daniel Lanois as the producer.
It is not an accident that the album cover is searingly, almost hallucinating red. The influence of this time in the desert can be clearly heard in the album, sometimes through psychedelic almost shamanic currents, sometimes with clear notes of outlaw and rebellion. Throughout the album David uses his impressive aural palette to create a music vocabulary that arrives in the brain almost visually, with a clear-eyed intensity of purpose and a powerful, sometimes dark story to tell. Love and life and longing are all here; self-pity is not. There is no room for self-pity in the crucible of the desert. Yet for the mindful observer, desert winds can reveal hidden treasures in the dust, or themselves be reflected back in the mirror-like heat shimmers.
The transformation was also born of a thirst to grasp his changing consciousness. Following a life-long habit, David turned to learning and self-education to better understand himself from the inside out. He took deep, sustained dives into the seminal texts of the Dalai Lama and Viktor Frankl amongst others, and, motivated by the modern explorations of Tim Ferris and Tony Robbins, he was brought to a greater appreciation of himself as an artist, a thinker, and a person. In this new light, thoughts and experiences took on a different cast and the urge to communicate the journey began bubbling up like an oasis in a parched land, irrepressibly and, most naturally, in the medium of his life’s work: music.
During the pandemic, another factor in the genesis of the album was born through David’s characteristic flair for innovation, his strong work ethic, and willingness to plunge headlong into new worlds of learning: in this case, of video production. There is not much surprise to this, as, despite Shakespeare’s “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” the two major elements of David’s professional life - learning and music - are both, fundamentally, acts of optimism. As many artists took to the internet to perform, David, ahead of the curve in technological savvy and internet agility, produced an immediately popular monthly music-streaming show featuring a cavalcade of artists. He also conducted a series of in-depth interviews with storied local musicians in his hometown of Ojai, and hosted a web show called “The Mixdown” focusing on different elements of music production. Presenting these shows introduced David to a whole new set of challenges, and exposed him to the audience on a substantially different and more vulnerable level than he was used to in performing music. Meeting these challenges also played a major role in the inception of the album.
Although David is himself a multi-instrumentalist and wears many hats on the album, joining him are some top-drawer musicians. GRAMMY-nominated producer Will Robertson (John Mayer, Sean Mullins et al.) plays guitar and keys and Jesse Siebenberg (Supertramp, Lady Gaga et al.) also plays guitar and keyboard. Daniel Wright (Radio Skies, Mia Dyson et al) joins on bass, Tim Arlon (Sting, Wilco, TD Lind) plays organ and Brendan Willing James (Grizfolk) plays baritone guitar. Erin “Syd” Sidney (Radio Skies, The Pullmen) and Fernando Jaramillo (Nick Carter, Beto Cuevas et al) are on drums. The album was engineered and mixed in Carbonite Sound studio in Ojai, CA by the formidable Jason Mariani, and mastered at The Bakery in Culver City, CA by Grammy-winning mastering engineer Eric Boulanger.
An examination of the heart of self and the subsequent emergence of a transfigured, healed whole, is strongly represented in the album’s artwork, created by frequent collaborator, Dustin Byerley, whose command of semiotics artfully complements the album’s ethos: a labyrinth meanders the seeker on a seemingly futile but ultimately purposeful path; the snake, the ultimate emblem of the desert, represents transformation, the shedding of the old, regeneration and rebirth, the miracles of the ancient world, and the real, sometimes sharp tooth of the new.
A personal journey turned universal, “To The Unknown” captures a timeless spirit in a time of great upheaval, and ignites a fire to help examine our truths and lead us towards transformation from shadow into light.