Tuesday, Jan 23, 2018
Lovers of Music
Freddie and Francine play Bozzini's Jan 29
By Freddy and Francine
Freddie and Francine will be at Bozzini's Monday, January 29.
While romantic entanglement hasn’t been exactly uncommon when it comes to successful musical duos — we might mention Buckingham and Nicks, Sonny and Cher, Bonnie and Delaney, and Goffin and King simply for starters — Freddy & Francine, or, as they’re known to family and friends, Lee Ferris and Bianca Caruso, have built a career that’s been intertwined with their feelings for both their music and each other.
Naturally, that romantic roller coaster offers the potential for plenty of inspiration as far as their songs are concerned, but real life doesn’t always play according to the rules. Nevertheless, the duo’s latest full length album, aptly entitled Gung Ho, offers a celebration of sorts, one that now only finds the couple reunited after going their separate ways, but also on the verge of ascending the next plateau. Recorded — where else — at Gung-Ho Studio in Eugene Oregon with an all star cast of players that includes renowned producer and multi-instrumentalist Todd Sickafoose (Anais Mitchell, Ani DiFranci), drummer Ted Poor (Andrew Bird, Bill Frisell), guitarist Kyle Sanna (Chris Thile, Yo Yo Ma) and keyboardist Rob Burger (Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Rufus Wainwright), it purveys a joyful, uplifting, harmony-drenched sound that reflects their commitment to Americana, and to each other. Echoes of Lone Bellow, the Civil Wars and the Swell Season are apparent in its grooves, but the inspiration, originality and enthusiasm are obviously their own.
“We had each gathered so many new experiences and influences in the time we were apart,” Bianca, AKA Francine, explains. “I had been listening to a lot of Todd Sickafoose’s work with Anais Mitchell. So, when it came time to record, I couldn’t wait to share these sounds with Lee. We interviewed a lot of potential candidates, but we both decided that Todd would be the dream producer for this project. Surprisingly, he was only a couple of phone calls away, and when he agreed to come on board, we couldn’t have been happier.”
It’s been their audience’s enthusiasm that have propelled them all along, even in the very beginning. Ferris originally pursued a solo career in his native L.A., performing a combination of what he describes as roots, swing, and “less commercial music that was obscure but fun.” In 2007 he was asked to audition for a role in the 40th anniversary revival of the iconic counter culture musical Hair after a producer caught one of his live performances. Although he had never acted professionally, he was quickly cast for the lead role of Berger. That’s when he met Bianca, who was also featured in the show. The two clicked immediately, and when Bianca expressed an interest in writing some original music together, their professional partnership began in earnest. “It was very apparent right from the start that we had musical chemistry,” Lee recalls. Bianca agrees. “It wasn’t always easy,” she suggests. “But the end result was worthy of our efforts.”
Once the run with Hair concluded in 2008, Lee recorded and released a solo album, Introducing Lee Ferris, produced by Christian Nesmith (son of Michael Nesmith). However it soon became evident that they were at their best when performing together. Both had been classically trained, Lee at the Berklee School of Music and Bianca trained in the vocal performance program at Los Angeles Valley College (“I dropped out to be in Hair,'” she chuckles. “Just so I could ruin my voice and forget everything I learned.”). However, the defining moment occurred when Lee asked her to join him onstage to sing one of their co-compositions, a song entitled Over and Over. They dubbed their sound “50s prom rock” and assumed a new guise, calling themselves Freddy & Francine to capture that fanciful spirit. Their newfound fans played along with the ruse, calling out to the duo by their adopted handle. Needless to say, the name stuck.
“It’s transitioned along with our musical trajectory,” Lee observes. “When we started, the environment was chock full of super cutesy pop music in and around L.A. Our music evolved out of that, but the name still seems to work. Sometimes it feels kind of like a tattoo that we’re still forced to explain.”
Freddy & Francine’s self-titled debut EP appeared in 2008, followed by a full length set entitled The Briar Patch the following year. Recorded over the course of nine days at a cabin in northern Arizona and largely self-produced, the album was an immediate success, courtesy of airplay on the influential L.A. radio station KCRW, which also placed one of its songs, Brownstone Alley, as its Top Tune of the day.
The two had not yet become romantically involved, and they remained friends and musical partners while setting out to record their next album, 2010’s The Forest and the Sea. Nevertheless, it was quickly becoming clear that their relationship was evolving in a more personal direction. “In many ways, that album was autobiographical,” Lee reflects. “We had written these songs before we realized we had feelings for one another. In the past we had assumed certain fictional characters in order to inhabit our material. But with this album we were stepping into new roles, as ourselves. It was subconscious at first, but it soon became evident that what we were doing was wrestling with a sense of entanglement and struggling with ways to keep our distance and preserve our boundaries while still facing the fact that we were now totally romantically dependent on one another.”
“It was a kind of catharsis,” Bianca recalls. “It helped us make sense of the things that were playing out between us. It plotted out course for the future.”
Except that it didn’t.
As the pair point out, it was the beginning and the end… of both the band and their relationship. They played a sold-out album release party and then broke up, personally and professionally.
That could have been the end of the story, and for the next three and half years it appeared that it was and that indeed their common bond had been forever fractured. Lee went on to play Carl Perkins in the hit Broadway show Million Dollar Quartet, while Bianca moved to New York City, and then back to L.A. where she founded a musical comedy duo called Zabruso with her friend Jen Zaborowski, leading to a TV development deal and monthly performances at the house Joni Mitchell once occupied in Laurel Canyon.
In that entire time the two didn’t speak. The ice was broken when Bianca decided to record a solo album, which she dubbed Bravado. She included a song called I Wanna Go Home With You, which she and Lee had co-written several years before. That led her to ask Lee to join her in the studio, and in an instant, their music was rekindled.
Now that the two have released 2016’s Gung Ho and an EP, Don’t Just Stand There in 2017, and have featured sets scheduled this year at Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Sisters Folk Fest and others, it appears that a happy ending is indeed at hand and the sky is the limit for Freddy & Francine.
Read more about Freddie and Francine and watch some YouTube clips at
What They're saying:
“Americana/Soul, complete with tight two-part harmonies, engaging songs that will shoot deep into your heart, and a musical chemistry that is second-to-none…” — No Depression
“…the kind of perfect harmonies that send a gripping shiver down the backbone of the listener” — Deli Magazine
“They evoke the strong swelling songwriting of Neko Case, the soulful impulses of fellow folk singer Ray Lamontagne, and are both possessed of honeyed voices in the ageless vein of Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra. Add a dash of that old renegade country sound. Sounds like a tall order, but they deliver in spades.” — SFCritic
“You probably haven’t seen this much chemistry since your required high school courses. LA-based “soul Americana” duo Freddy & Francine have the type of pull towards each other that transforms individual talent into a collaborative fire, offering lush harmonies and an unspoken romance beyond the lyrics but in the melodies as well.” — Elmore Magazine
“We’re always delighted when we discover fresh songwriting and great vocal harmony talent, so when we heard Freddy & Francine’s upcoming album, Gung-Ho, we were tickled pink.” — Wide Open Country
“Those kids can wail, y’all. They’re bluesy, they’re folky, they’re just their own damn thing.” — Folk All Y’all
“There is a palpable chemistry between these musicians — their vocals blend like milk and honey, forming a sound they coin as “Americana soul.” It is no wonder these two hit it off both on- and off-stage.” — No Depression
“Freddy & Francine are a folk/pop duo with sincere, relatable lyrics driven home by the duo’s down-to-earth personalities. The duo captivated the room with a simplistic setup of two microphones, a guitar and four stomping feet. Freddy & Francine have a musical connection that radiates on stage and draws listeners in.” — Music Connection
“Some voices just seem made for each other with the ability to weave into a singular force of vocal performance. Ferris and Caruso have found their respective vocal soulmates, the kind of perfect harmonies that send a gripping shiver down the backbone of the listener.” — The Deli
“Sometimes a romantic relationship can lead to great art…and sometimes the end of that relationship can lead to even greater art. But when a fractured professional couple get back together, at least to make music, it can be amazing. And that’s the case with Gung Ho, the newest release from Freddy & Francine.” — Popdose.com
“…a palpable chemistry between these musicians, with their vocals blending like milk and honey” — No Depression
“Ferris and Caruso have found their respective vocal soulmates, the kind of perfect harmonies that send a gripping shiver down the backbone of the listener” says The Deli Magazine.
“Freddy & Francine once again commanded the full attention of their followers with their passion and energy … The two lead singers (Lee Ferris & Bianca Caruso) channeled this passion and energy surrendering themselves to their music like Gospel singers at a revival.” — www.examiner.com
“With the soulful depth of Aretha and Whitney’s humongous lungs, Caruso has got it, how you say, goin’ on. Ferris has the volume of both, and we’re sure he’d appreciate the comparison. This duo out of sunny LA bring it all out on stage from a lullaby so sweet you’d swear a choir of angels were harmonizing just for you; to gut-busting, foot stomping tunes befitting of a New Orleans gospel choir.” — Flagstaff Live
“Freddy & Francine bring sweet vocal energy, catchy melodies and a fun stage presence to their performance. You can’t help but just love them and wish you knew the words to sing-along to their delightful lyrics.” — Grimy Goods
“We found out that Freddy & Francine were from the outskirts of LA and on tour on the East side of the country for a run, and boy were we lucky to happen upon them. Part Johnny & June and another part soul & fire, the duo blended a fierce mix of harmony that shook and stirred the audience, burning on the way down, but leaving a sweet aftertaste that drew you in for another sip.” — Red Line Roots
No Depression says, “Freddy & Francine currently top my list. There is definitely a palpable chemistry between these musicians, with their vocals blending like milk and honey.”
National audiences continue to be drawn to the duo as they “bring it all out on stage from a lullaby so sweet you’d swear a choir of angels were harmonizing just for you; to gut-busting, foot stomping tunes befitting a New Orleans gospel choir.” – Flagstaff AZ Daily Sun