Hooray for Francis Cheer

Local singer-songwriter asks big questions on new EP

Musician poet and graphic designer John Gerrard a.k.a. Francis Cheer got his start as an entertainer by acting out in Calgary’s resident theatre companies. Enticed to pick up his first guitar in the sixth grade he learned the songwriting craft as a member of bands such as Local Hero which he describes as silly dalliance mired in 10-minute guitar solos. Innately artistic he would go on to earn his stripes co-founding the heavy metal act Nikola Tesla screaming in Alivia playing bass for The Evidence and rebel rousing with punks The Martyr Index.

“I value those memories of blowing off steam at all-ages shows and all the crazy things I did during that fun time even if some of it is embarrassing to look back on” Gerrard says. “The idea of going it solo originally occurred to me almost six years ago. I spent a lot of time honing my instrumental and writing skills but I haven’t really felt that my material was strong enough to present until this point. Now I’m eager to show the world the results of my hard work.”

A labour of love and necessity Gerrard left no aspect of his deeply personal solo outing untouched. Distilling raw expression into sanguine satisfaction the young troubadour took pains to ensure that this followup to his stirring debut Typewriter would offer his listeners a heady blend of emotional substance and intellectual stimulation.

“When it comes to making a record I like to do all of the work on my own because I find that it’s less stressful” he says. “For the most part I tracked this Seabather EP by myself — playing guitar bass a little Fender Rhodes keyboard and organ — and then sent it off to a producer named Jon Anderson in Langley B.C. He’s a talented multi-instrumentalist who seemed like a great guy to entrust with fleshing out mixing and mastering the songs for me. A lot of material I write has to do with the process of making art and kind of struggling to create lyrical poetry with broad strokes but using those gestures in a way that isn’t negative or stereotypical.

Seabather features fours songs in total; three are going to be on my upcoming full-length CD — I’m not sure about release date for Mapmakers yet — and the fourth cut is called ‘Maybe (Will Be Gone)’” he says. “It’s a tune about God but it could also be about a girl. I like that paradox of passion and ambiguity; exploring the maybes and uncertainties of life. ‘Maybe’ contradicts the idea of heaven being all good. The question it poses is inspired by Dostoyevsky. Basically ‘If I was in heaven would I still wanna smash shit?’ After all you can’t simply take the bad out of humans; we’re not so black-and-white.”

A post-modern grisage of folk country pop rock and broken soul Seabather is the tip of the metaphoric iceberg for Gerrard. Brought to life in a video thanks to the interpretation of filmmaker and photographer Nicole Irene Dyck the title track illustrates the florid imagination of the artist who takes his stage moniker from a combination of his middle name and his mother’s maiden name.

“The persona of Francis Cheer is a character that I’ve created. He’s a reflection of me” he says. “I’ve been to art school and I’ve worked for a commercial design company and I can appreciate both deconstructionist Dadaism and commercial pop spiritualism. As an artist you’ve gotta prioritize one but if you’re speaking a truth that no one understands your message will be lost. I don’t think it’s uncreative to stay within structure as long as you’re conscious of why and how you’re relying on it and being honest with yourself. You can think your intention is one thing but it might be another. My lyrics serve a purpose; they are fluid and abstract but are built to serve as dynamic and didactic propaganda pieces. It’s my vision my voice.”

Still Gerrard acknowledges the value of his many musical peers. “I may be the chairman of the board when it comes to my music but I love collaborating too” he says. “My good friend Brian Van Staalduine (Sons of Bears) who was in Nikola Tesla with me plays drums on the new album and will be joining me on my cross-Canadian tour. Josh Daignault is lending me his expertise on electric guitar and as an added bonus the entire cast of The Collapse will be celebrating with me as my back-up band when I launch my album live.”