My first interview with Atlanta-based singer, songwriter, artist, Heston Francis, commonly known as Heston, was in 2004, around the time of his self-title EP, which made quite a splash on the independent soul/R&B scene featuring jewels such as fan favorite, IF, Angel and Radio, to name a few. The project was an introduction to a soul singer in the truest sense of the word – a voice infused with passion, sincerity, empathy and life experience – adeptly employed and immensely engaging. Heston himself in that interview affirmed, “My emotions are on my sleeves and nothing that I write or nothing that I sing is meaningless. Everything that I say out of my mouth and every word that I write is through experience. It’s heartfelt. It’s my life. It’s my release.” On every subsequent and acclaimed project since (three including his full-length debut smash Storyteller) happily really nothing has changed in that regard. It’s no doubt the reason for the success and loyal fans he’s garnered, with a healthy touring and performance schedule around the world as a by product. But even at a time now when use of the word soul often seems more like a popular promotional catch phrase than a real strand in the music or artist its employed to describe, Heston is savvy enough to embrace the recognition of the qualities without need for necessarily adopting the label, “soul singer.” “I’ve not really given myself that label, but yeah, if you are to take the true meaning of the word, I would have to agree,” says Heston. “Because it’s [his music] heartfelt, it’s not phony, it’s not made up, its just what it is.” He goes on to explain, “Because for me, the people that I’ve always loved are like your Otis Redding, or your Beres Hammond or Marvin Gaye and you can tell that they bleed music and I know for me, behind the scenes, behind the curtains, I bleed music. Like it’s some kind of curse and a blessing for me because I love it so much.”
Needless to say, when searching for what name to give to his new project, now days away from its U.S. release, the genuineness in his music that everyone has come to love is what inspired it being aptly titled, Transparency. “When I speak to people even if its just a friend or family member, a music lover, a music writer or someone conducting an interview, I’ve just always continued to hear through the years that there’s an honesty to the music, there’s a sincerity in the music, there’s true passion, there’s honesty in your performance. If there’s a review for a live show, it’s always saying the reason why people connect is because it seems sincere, so I think it was just appropriate for me to name the album Transparency because it’s just an honest interpretation of my experiences through music.” Indeed Transparency, which will be released in conjunction with the highly regarded Purpose Music Group/Nia Distribution, is all that, with Heston’s cleverly poetic take on life and love amidst a musical backdrop that blends soul, R&B and hints of Caribbean flavor on some tracks, which is not a stretch for the native of Dominica. On the project are the ebbs and flows in relationships as with the intensely moving Every Time I Look Around Here and the additively, up tempo, Contradiction in which he ironically proclaims “You’re my contradiction/with you/ I lose/even when I’m with winning.” There’s also the impassioned romantic desire displayed on tracks like the seductively persuasive, Stay, one of the several tracks sure to serve as a soundtrack for intimate opportunities.
Mind, Body and Soul, the official first single from the release, and another fuelled by his own personal revelation, scores a journey many of us make. “I think I’ve gotten to a stage in my life where I’m definitely able to value relationships much better than I used to some years ago” says Heston. “Same thing with When A Man Knows [another track from the project], it’s just that I’ve gotten to realize – you have to pick someone- you have to make a choice – that there’s a women out there [for you]. You turn around and you look and you can find someone and when you do, you have to put all of yourself into that relationship if you want to make it work.”
And then there is Dear God, which Heston reveals was actually released as a kind of song to test the waters and prep the fan base, but might likely speak most to the title of the project. “It probably is the most transparently honest song on the album,” says Heston. He then goes on to describe a moment one might call magical or perhaps in this case and more appropriately, spiritual. After sharing some interesting background of his family’s heritage and visit back home on a reservation in his native Dominica, Heston recalls that time. “I went to sleep in a very, very small wooden house, I wouldn’t even call it a house, it’s just boarded it up with wood, floor, ceiling, no kitchen, no nothing and I must have woken up at three o’clock in the morning, pouring rain and this song just literally came right out, and the moment I was done the rain stopped. But I was just honestly; I was just crying and crying. I don’t know where it came from or what the purpose of it was, but the moment that the song was complete, the rain just completely stopped. What was even crazier, by the time I woke up the next morning the ground outside was completely dry.”
The fact is, true to Heston’s assertion and the title of the project, personal back-stories, his thoughts, desires and beliefs make up Transparency. It’s really the only way he knows how to do it. And what he hopes to accomplish each time out is still now what it was in 2004 – Make quality, entertaining music, that stands the test of time and is a true representation of himself. “For me, it’s just about making sure that the integrity of my music last and it’s consistent and so far I can honestly say that’s been the case,” he maintains. “Anything that I’ve put out, I’ve honestly been proud of. Obviously, I always want to grow as an artist. I always want to grow as a writer. I always want to grow as a singer. But the quality of the music that I leave, and you know, the story has never changed. It’s always been about the integrity of the music for me.”
I think it’s fair to say Heston’s all in with Mind, Body, and so much Soul.
copyright ISPYSOUL 2016
TRANSPARENCY is available now on iTunes! Just click here
And to learn more about Heston go to his website @hestonmusic.com