Artist Spotlight: Francis of Delirium

    Francis of Delirium is the Luxembourg-based musical duo of 19-year-old singer-songwriter Jana Bahrich, originally from Vancouver, Canada, and drummer/producer Chris Hewett, who hails from Seattle and is 30 years her senior. Based on that information alone, it’s no surprise a press release describes their sound as a mix of “Gen Z indie rock” and grunge, as they draw equally from long-running musical traditions (grunge is one of them, emo is another) as well as the new wave of confessional singer-songwriter acts that grew out of them. More than any sonic signifiers, however, Francis of Delirium anchors in the raw dynamism of Bahrich’s voice and visceral songwriting, which are matched with playful self-made visuals and taut production. The duo bring their best qualities to the fore on Wading, their second EP following last year’s All Change, frantically sifting through a range of emotional states in a stream-of-consciousness style while also pointing to bigger questions around identity and isolation. “’Cause every second is a moment I’m fighting within every part of me,” she sings on ‘Red’, and the EP deftly mirrors that internal battle in its short but punchy 14 minutes. Flickers of self-acceptance emerge amidst the clouds of doubt and anxiety, and even if those moments of clarity don’t last for long, a feeling of catharsis lingers long after the music’s over.

    We caught up with Jana Bahrich for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her earliest musical memories, how she formed Francis of Delirium, her influences, and more.

    What are some of your earliest memories of being drawn to music?

    This isn’t a memory, but I’ve been told that when I was a baby, my parents could only get me to stop crying by putting on ‘New York, New York’ by Frank Sinatra. I had a little CD player in my room growing up, and I had two CDs – one was the audiobook for The Secret Garden, and the other one was a CD called Mr. Bach Comes to Call. And in that CD, he says something about chords, like chords that you play on the piano, and my brain is like, “Ah, yes, cords that you jump rope with.” And so, for so many years, I was so confused. I had no understanding about how these jump rope chords work.

    That’s funny. So how did you then start to form an interest in songwriting, and how did that lead to creating Francis of Delirium?

    I was taking violin lessons from the age of five until nine, and then I started to kind of hate the way that teachers taught music. I think it’s a reoccurring theme in a lot of young children who start playing an instrument young and later on give it up. So I gave it up for a while, and I think when I was 11 or 12 I started teaching myself guitar and piano and banjo and a bunch of other instruments via YouTube. And right when I started learning guitar, I don’t really know why, I just started writing songs. Once I started playing guitar, it was just kind of a natural thing for me to do. Then I moved to Luxembourg when I was 13, and one of my friends was playing music with Chris, my collaborator. This was when I was around 15. I saw that they were playing in bars and stuff around Luxembourg and that was always something I really wanted to do. And so one day, she was like, “Oh, you should join us.” So I joined and started playing, we’d play these cover songs in little bars around Luxembourg. And then I started to play some of my own songs along with those cover songs, and I did that up until I was 17. By that time, I’d written more songs and was getting more comfortable onstage. I knew I wanted to make my own band and kind of design the whole visual world and make it really something that was my own. So yeah, when I was 17 I started this band and I asked Chris to join me.

    How did you come up with the name?

    Francis was the name of this woman in my grandparents’ old folks home who would always swear to us when we were younger. She always held a little place in my heart, in the back of my brain. And so, “of delirium,” you know, just this kind of hecticness. But I also like the way that names evolve over time. I feel like visually, the way that the name looks aesthetically to me has changed the more that we’ve used it.

    In what way?

    I don’t know – it feels like it’s mine, more than this Francis person’s name.

    Right, that makes sense. You mentioned your collaborator, Chris. Could you tell me more about that collaborative relationship? How has it evolved in the time that you’ve worked together?

    I think a lot of it is just trust. The way we used to write a lot of the songs was, I was coming up with the chords and the lyrics and melodies. But a lot of times, it was just us jamming. So he’d be on the drums and I’d be singing and playing guitar. And I think just having that energy from the other person in the room, or them going, “What we did there was cool, let’s go back to that” or “Maybe we should try something like this.” I think it changes the process completely. Also, I trust myself, but when I know that he also likes the song or he also agrees that “Yeah, this is cool, we should keep working on it,” you feel even more confidence about it and more willingness to try other things.

    You mentioned the visual world as well, and how that’s such a big component of the project, because you do most, if not all, of the accompanying videos and the artwork. We talked a bit about the musical side of things, but how did your interest in visual art and animation in particular develop? Are you self-taught in that respect as well?

    Yeah, animation was just – I tried doing a stop motion video for ‘Quit Fucking Around’, which is up on YouTube. And that was the first time I think I’ve ever animated something. So that was last year, very beginner in the whole animation field. Earlier this year, I had a huge revelation, I was like, “I’m gonna become an animator, this is what I’ve been called to do.” And then, you know, “I’m not gonna do that.” [laughs] But my mom is an art teacher and an artist, so I grew up around – I mean, she would take me to museums all the time. And I was like, “Oh, this is really boring.” And now I love it! She wakes up in the morning and the first thing she does is just draw for hours and hours. I think just being around that creative energy and just a need to make art all the time was super inspiring.

    In what ways do you feel the visuals are connected to the music? Is it something that always comes afterward, or do you sometimes write the songs with a visual in mind?

    They do come afterwards, but it lets me place the songs in a visual space, which just feels so important. I think I also appreciate when other artists do that too, because you get more of an insight into how they view the music aesthetically. It’s more about world-building.

    Can you name some of those artists that have inspired you in that regard?

    I love the band Sorry from the UK, I love the videos that they do. And then someone like Sufjan Stevens – I think he did it did a stop motion video for the song ‘The Greatest Gift’, and that was cool. Basquiat, as well, I think you can maybe really see his influence on the art stuff that we do.

    I wanted to shift gears a little bit and ask you about the themes of the EP. I feel that the songs revolve around feelings of anger and isolation, and the dynamic between those two, how they almost feed off one another. How do you go about tapping into those emotions and releasing them?

    A lot of my songwriting and lyric-writing process is completely subconscious. It goes back to the way that that we write songs – Chris is on the drums, I’m on guitar and vocals, we hit record for like a whole session, and then sift through that. So, a lot of the time, we’ll be doing something like writing the song ‘Let It All Go’, and the lyric “let it all go” will be there, or something that I feel like is cool and I feel connected to. And then I’ll go in afterwards and refine them and make sure everything that I’m saying is what I want to be saying.

    Is that partly why you think the songs feel so present, like it’s connected to that moment?

    I think so. If I’m writing a song and I don’t feel immediately connected to it, then it’s tossed away. When I listen to the songs, I can feel it right in my chest, like I’m experiencing those emotions all over again.

    “Right in my chest,” I think that’s a good way of putting it. And I think all four tracks have that, but ‘Let It All Go’ is a standout for me in that regard, just the way the song builds and how the confidence in your voice grows. How did it feel like when you finished writing and recording it?

    Well, some days it was like, “This is incredible, I love listening to this song. I feel like this little spot in my chest opens up and light pours out and I’m floating up.” And then other times, there was one time where we listened to all four of the tracks, and I was just sobbing. So it comes in waves, you know. Sometimes it’s like a complete catharsis. I remember that when we were writing the song, because Chris had his own kind of association with what he felt like the song meant to him and I had my own, we both felt an immense amount of catharsis in the beginning stages of it.

    I also wanted to discuss ‘Lakes’, partly because of the video, which is quite different from your other videos. For this one, you used footage your grandfather took in the 70s, as well as clips of yourself as a child and of you now. In the statement about the song, you talk about how it explores identity and losing that sense of self as a result of isolation. Firstly, I was kind of curious if that isolation was in reference to the pandemic. And then also, if could talk about creating the music video, going through all that footage, whether it helped you reconnect with that sense of self in any way.

    First question – no, that isolation was more a result of just the shift from leaving high school or leaving a structured life, and kind of going out into the world and going, “I don’t really know who I am or what I’m actually connected to.” And feeling confusion, not really feeling a sense of place because of that shift.

    And yeah, editing that video was very emotional for me. I’m a Cancer, I cry a lot. I probably cry at least once a month [laughs]. And yeah, it was really cool. My grandpa isn’t alive anymore, and it was a really cool way to look at things through his lens and just feel connected to a part of me that maybe I wasn’t as connected to before. I just didn’t expect to feel such a sense of place and a rootedness from editing and making that video. So it was cool to do that after we finished the whole EP; this whole EP is about not feeling that sense of place, and then getting to the end of it, making this video and feeling a little bit more connected to yourself.

    I wanted to lean on that sense of community that you talked about – you mentioned that the isolation wasn’t necessarily a result of the pandemic, and that made me think about, I think it was in a press bio, but your music has been referred to as “Gen Z indie rock.” I’m wondering if that description feels fitting for you – more than just the sound, do you think there’s something about that isolation and looking for a sense of self that feels generational to you?

    I don’t know, it’s a hard one to answer. I don’t even feel like this is something I speak to other people about, really, like, “Oh, do you feel connected to yourself?” I mean, the go-to answer would be, “Oh, we’re on our phones, we don’t know to communicate with each other anymore.” I don’t know how true that is.

    I guess the one thing maybe that is generational is that there’s no huge artist collectives like there were before, or like a big scene. I feel like, you know, in the 90s Seattle was doing that whole grunge thing, or in the 50s you had the New York school with like, Pollock and Rothko and everyone. And right now, I feel like the only real music collective is PC Music. That’s something I’m a little sad about, because I really want there to be a strong artist community.

    I think that touches on a really interesting point – my follow-up question was actually going to be about whether you feel a sense of belonging in any musical communities. Because, you know, your music is obviously influenced by grunge and to an extent also emo – genres you could say are very tied to place and local scenes, or at least were initially. So I’m wondering, what was your first encounter with those kind of influences? Was it connected to a live music scene, or was it more online, the process of discovering those artists?

    I think that’s maybe why there’s less a sense of place or a sense of a real physical community, because everything’s uprooted and online right now. But I didn’t really start going to shows until I was 15 and started to go see live music. And I was in Luxembourg, which gets a lot of good musicians coming through, but obviously the Luxembourg scene is pretty small, so you start to see the same people over and over again. But the first time I was experiencing grunge music was, we listened to Nirvana all the time as a family on family road trips. And, I hate to say it, but Guitar Hero was pretty good for like, rock music. I had the little DS one.

    Wow, the DS one? I think I remember having the mobile phone version. But I was firmly in the Rock Band camp.

    Everything I know about music comes from Guitar Hero and the School of Rock movie.

    Oh my god, yes. I don’t think I’d even be here talking to you if it weren’t for that movie.

    [laughter] Yeah, I think I personally agree with that statement, for myself as well.

    Moving on from that, I wanted to talk about the response the music has been getting so far. And obviously, the EP is not out right now, but how does it feel to be getting that attention at this stage in your career? And I’m not just talking about, you know, reviews, but also people connecting to those really vulnerable emotions that you’re channeling.

    I guess it’s hard to process. I mean, it’s really cool to get to talk to you and like, put a face to someone who’s enjoying music, but we haven’t been able to do that, so it’s hard to process that people have actually been listening to the songs. In my mind, it’s like, my mom listens to my music and that’s it. So I’m really thankful that that people are listening.

    What do you hope people take away from the EP?

    I hope they feel that sense of relief that I felt making them and listening to them. That would be really cool.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

    Francis of Delirium’s Wading EP is out on April 9 via Dalliance Recordings.

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