Pledging Free Mansonry: The Songs of Francisco Lopes
Or, at least lend him your ear.
For the past eight years Francisco has been writing, recording and performing as the creative force behind Free Mansons – an eclectic fuzz-folk entity that has travelled and transformed along it’s own beaten path. A path which stretches from Nova Scotia, to Francisco’s home of Western Massachusetts, to the mountains of South America, and back again.
With earthy tinges of roots rock, the songs of Free Mansons have drifted between various recorded fidelities, but have always preserved a unique and dream-like take on a heartland sound; one that’s sugared tastefully in psychedelia, and communicates with consistency from under any layer of fuzz.
Blue Horizon is a perfect continuation of Free Mansons‘ shimmering suit of fringe folk rock. After several releases across an eight-year span, Blue Horizon carries a glimmer-in-the-eye determination that Free Mansons still have a lot ground they wish to explore.
We corresponded with Francisco Lopes to discuss the detailed history of Free Mansons including the extensive travels, both physical and spiritual – as well as the ritual of recording, and expressing art as a form of magic.
Firstly, if you could introduce yourself.
My name is Francisco Lopes. I was born and raised in the USA in Western Massachusetts — in a suburb of Springfield. I moved to Halifax in 2004 to attend NSCAD where I studied painting.
Does painting still play a role in your life?
I very recently have been working to finish a couple of paintings for a show, however this is the first time I’ve been really working on painting in a while. I always thought that I would come back to it when I was much older, like a retirement plan.
When and where did the musical endeavour of Free Mansons begin?
Free Mansons began in 2007 in the days of myspace, as a solo home recording project. I was living in Halifax and playing drums in the band Scribbler and we had started the Radiator Collective as an outlet to release our music. I was recording and mixing a lot of that stuff at the time, so it was natural to be experimenting with my own ideas.
Where did your interest and pursuit in recording and producing come from?
Basically since I’ve been playing music, I’ve been recording it. So, my pursuit of engineering and creating music has largely been parallel. It’s recently expanded beyond that, and I now see engineering as more of its own creative outlet. It has been a way to stay immersed in the creative process without having to necessarily provide the spark.
Did engineering and producing begin solely to serve a personal purpose of capturing your own songs in a home setting, and then evolve into working with other bands?
Yeah, exactly. Most of my experimenting has been with my own material. I have always been a fan of lo-fi sounding stuff and I think that has been conducive to trying some unorthodox approaches.
When I was in high school I started to record stuff with this Tascam four-track. I spent hours bouncing tracks down and overdubbing. Eventually I moved to an eight-track and that is what I recorded some of the first Scribbler songs on.
And Free Mansons is solely based around your songwriting?
Yeah, I write all the songs.
Give us a brief rundown on the history of the Free Mansons – how has the project and it’s line-up changed and progressed throughout the years?
The line up has really varied through out the years — different friends, family and musicians have contributed at different times depending on where I was living. It has mostly been a solo project, but my brother Thom has been my most consistent collaborator.
In 2009 I moved back to Massachusetts, built a tipi, formed more of a band to perform live with, and was doing a real folk rock kinda thing. That band consisted of Jesse on drums, Mohamed on bass, Thom on guitar, and this dude Mikey [who] played horns and keys. With that crew I recorded the TEEPEE EP.
Tell us about the tipi you built, what kind of purpose did it serve?
The teepee [sic] was like this act of practical magic. I built it as an attractor of Aquarian energy to amplify my will — an outward manifestation of my personal intention. I lived in it, and cast spells in it. It was really a very magical space. It’s an incredible feeling to be outdoors in the winter with a fire raging inside.
You mentioned practical magic, and that is a common theme I’ve picked up on surrounding your musical identity. Where does your interest in magic come from, and what role does it play for you artistically?
I guess you can say I’ve always been drawn to the mystical. I was raised in a Roman Catholic family, and that was in many ways my indoctrination into magic. I’ve stumbled upon a few books and people who have guided my interest.
Synchronicity happens. Astrology is real. Practice yoga, read the tarot, take psychedelics. Perhaps by seeking experiences one can become open to their possibilities.
For me, art is an expression of my unwavering intention — therefore in many ways it is an act of magic.
In the fall of 2009 I did a little tour with Fuck Montreal in the eastern U.S. For those shows I was performing a more freaky set with Thom on noise guitar and my now wife Chrissy on tambourine and percussion.
In 2010 I moved back to Halifax and had left my band behind in Mass, so I performed a few solo shows, and then a few with Craig Currie (Scribbler, Chief Thundercloud) on drums, Matt Samways (Pig, Transfixed) on guitar and Chrissy on tambo. We were performing the fuzzed out stuff that ended up being THEIR SATANIC MAJESTIES THIRD REQUEST.
In Novemer of 2013 I took a gig with Friendly Dimension and asked Seamus Dalton (Monomyth, Nap Eyes) if he would play drums. We played a few shows after that as a two-piece before adding Al Mac on bass.
At the time we started jamming I was considering giving the project a new name because it seemed a bit different — less folky I guess, and I had been inactive with Free Mansons for so long. But in the end, perhaps out of laziness, I just kept it.
As I made my way through the Free Mansons bandcamp discography, one thing that stuck out to me was the Travel Spaced release which is noted as being “recorded on a battery powered tape recorder, documenting a trip to Ecuador back in 2008.” Can we get the back-story on those recordings?
In 2008 I spent six months living in South America, mostly in Ecuador, but I traveled down to Peru to Lima Cusco and Machu Pichu. I lived in Quito the capital of Ecuador high in the Andes for a few months, and for a couple of months I was living in this very remote village in the amazon. I had a lot of time on my hands, bought a shitty guitar, and did a lot of reading, sweating and drinking giant cheap beers. I even took some ayahuasca with a Shaman.
But yeah, I planned ahead and I brought this battery-powered tape recorder down with me, and a few C90’s, and did a lot of field recordings and sketching out tunes. Sometimes I would just set the thing up and leave it somewhere for an hour and see what I got. I ended up with a lot of weird stuff. Some of the stuff I liked the best I put on TRAVEL SPACED.
Of course, I have to ask about the Shaman ayahuasca experience…
Lets just say it confirmed my belief in the existence of in-organic beings.
I was pretty happy to be apart of that comp because it had a lot of bands on it that I actually just really like. Some of my favourite releases recently were from Walrus, The Everywheres, Shadow Folk, Best Fiends and Monomyth.
Last year I started working at the Echo Chamber, and was helping out with some sessions for what will be the new Walrus record. This was around the time they were compiling tracks for the comp, so they asked me if I would like to put something on it. I also mixed the Craig Currie track that’s on it. I can’t say enough good things about the Poncho guys!
I also recently recorded an album for another Poncho group THE AGE, so yeah I look forward to keep working with Poncho.
What’s in the books for Free Mansons? What does the future hold?
Some new music. About a year ago, I recorded some songs at the echo chamber with engineer Dave Ewenson. Just Seamus and I. Then I sent them down to my brother, Thom who added bass and some guitar. These are essentially the Free Mansons first studio recordings. I have been taking my time mixing them, and am now looking for someone to release them. I have got a bunch of new songs to record too, so expect something this summer for sure!