James Franco has been James Dean, Spider-Man pal Harry Osborn, Hugh Hefner, “127 Hours” climber Aron Ralston and, soon, the wizard of Oz. But his latest role is in music — and, no, he’s not acting.
The Academy Award-nominated Franco is half of Daddy, a musical project with Tim O’Keefe, a friend and classmate from the Rhode Island School of Design. The two recently released their first EP, the Motown-flavored “MotorCity,” and both are hoping there’s more to come.
In fact, Franco tells Billboard, “We have another project that we’re working on. I guess if we complete all the songs it’ll be a full-length album, 10 to 12 songs. We’re working on that right now. It’s a little different; the style’s not quite Motown but has a similar vibe.”
O’Keefe, whose Providence-based Cozy Music label released “MotorCity,” adds that he and Franco are “still figuring out what the next thing will be about. We’re definitely exploring a couple of things.” But he does predict that Daddy’s motif will be “only doing music within a certain genre or era” each time it records. “On (‘MotorCity’), we’re not trying to be Motown. It’s more of a tip of the hat,” O’Keefe explains. “It’s something we both have a lot of respect for.”
Franco says the bulk of “MotorCity,” which includes a remix of the track “Crime” featuring Motown legend Smokey Robinson, was conceived and composed while he was in suburban Detroit last year starring in Sam Raimi’s “Oz: The Great and Powerful,” which comes out in March. But he says it was a computer hard drive crash prior to that, which rendered the bulk of his music collection in accessible, that led him to delve into Motown’s catalog.
“I stopped kind of actively trying to find all the new bands and new songs and I just thought, ‘Let’s stick to a time and a style and just explore that,’ ” he explains. “So that was one of the reasons I started listening to Motown a lot, and once I got to Detroit it made even more sense. It’s not like I was going out and hearing Motown in any clubs or anything like that, but I think just being there and knowing the history made me want to listen to Motown more. I’ve always been a fan of it, and I thought if we used Motown as an influence it might be… unexpected.”
Getting Robinson involved, meanwhile, only took an e-mail and a phone call from Franco, who had met the singer some months before. “He had said he would work on something with me, but I never brought him anything solid,” Franco recalls. “When we started doing (‘MotorCity’) I asked him if he would sing on one of the songs, and he said, ‘Sure.’ We sent the songs to him, and he really responded to ‘Crime.’ “
O’Keefe says Robinson “was the sweetest man I ever met in my life” at the spring recording session in Los Angeles, while Franco marvels at the ease with which Robinson treated their song. “He just went into the booth and kinda grooved over it,” Franco remembers. “He went over it a whole bunch of times and gave us a bunch of stuff to pick from. It was great to see a master, somebody who had been doing it for decades and was just one of the best.”
Moving forward, Daddy will have to compete with the two men’s schedules: Franco is currently directing an adaptation of William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” and is also teaching at UCLA and USC. But he and O’Keefe have every intention of continuing, and the latter even hopes to turn Daddy into a live entity, though he predicts that will “be in connection to some kind of installation type of work that’s in more of a gallery or a museum setting. It’s not like, ‘OK, we’re a band. We’re going to put out a record and go on tour.’ But it’s a nice way to kind of connect with all the different things you’re working on and put them together in unique ways.”