Francesco Yates Talks Working With Pharrell on 'Change the Channel': Exclusive Video Premiere

Francesco Yates 2015
Jimmy Fontaine

Francesco Yates

It’s been four years since Toronto’s Francesco Yates was signed to Atlantic Records, and in the interim he’s been searching for exactly what kind of artist he wants to be.

Luckily, Yates is close to figuring that quandary out with the release of his self-titled EP. Featuring a blend of styles, the highlight of the effort is the catchy track “Change the Channel,” produced by Pharrell Williams, and features a mix of rock with subtle retro hints of old-school R&B. Here, Francesco premieres the video for “Change the Channel” and talks about the catchy track, working with Williams, and the recent wave of Toronto-raised talent.

This is your first EP, yet you’ve been signed to Atlantic since you were 16 and now you’re 20. So what took so long?

What took so long is the process to find myself. You kinda gotta figure out what your style is, know what I mean? You need to take time because when you’re signed at 16, some young artists can get thrust into the spotlight and don’t have time to sort out what they want to do musically. That can cause a lot of problems down the road. You can ether pay now or pay later. You gotta find a way to do your time, I guess.

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That’s very smart, considering most people would just rush into it. How does it feel that you have an EP under your belt now?

It’s really good. A lot of stuff on there is stuff from when I was 18 years old. It’s crazy to see it all come together in this way. It’s good because we can use this EP as a sort of tester to see where we go next. There’s so many different styles on it and that’s its purpose. You let the public decide.

Tell me a little about writing “Change the Channel.” It’s a great song.

It’s a close one to me and one of my favorites. It’s the first one I ever wrote with Pharrell on the first day of working with Pharrell, so it was a very joyous moment. Since that was when we met, we talked about a lot of different things -- some totally unrelated to music. We talked about what I did for fun and he kind of read me up and down. The next day we sat there and he gave me an electric guitar and we ended up doing “Change the Channel.” The beauty of it is that it wasn’t overthought...we went with what we were feeling on that one. I’m happy because I think it sounds the most natural.

What’s it like working with Pharrell compared to some other random producer. I’m sure he brings a different vibe from anyone else. Is that distracting or inspiring?

You can sit with him one time to hear him talk and learn so much. He doesn’t know just about music, he knows about history and will quote things from the Bible. People don’t realize he knows a lot about a lot... way more than he would even entertain. With him, he actually knows how to arrange a song from start to finish and he knows how to place things. Most people see things as a beat, he sees it as a full composition. He approaches it from a very music-based standpoint instead of a beat or a loop. He’ll make a loop and then arrange it once it’s bounced into the track. He has great musical instincts, so it’s almost like talking to another musician. He has a producer’s edge and a musician's edge.

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It seems like there’s been this recent wave of superstars from the Toronto area from The Weekend to Alessia Cara. Does being from Toronto inspire you in any way?

I think we as a city are getting our time in the world. Seemingly there’s a couple of us in this movement of an alternative scene; all of us are in our own way part of the establishment and  totally separate from it. That’s the Toronto sound. It’s that color palate that people like The Weeknd to Alessia are embracing right now. I think it’s going to continue to be a good thing. It’s a collective and it’s almost as if one person didn’t start it. It’s the great force and we’re all just in it, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Last question. You rock a pretty impressive fro. How do you keep it tamed?

You don’t. You can’t. You just have to kind of go with it. A lot of it has to with how it dries in the morning. It’s a crazy thing that changes by the day. I’ve had it since I was 14. It grew it one day and I was like, “Ok, you’re staying here.”


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