You Me At Six’s Josh Franceschi: Climate Change, Veganism And Getting Heavy Again
Two weeks ago, the world saw a different side to Josh Franceschi. As a singer known best for writing gut-sore songs about relationships and loss, new standalone single Our House (The Mess We Made), which arrived unannounced earlier this month, is the first time that we’ve ever seen the You Me At Six frontman get political.
With stirring lines such as, ‘Prophets with problems / Smart mouths don’t wanna solve them,’ the bass-thumping electronic track calls out political leaders not doing enough to prevent climate change, while lauding young campaigners.
“I’m not going to get on my soapbox and say that I’m Bob Geldof,” says Josh on his slight tilt towards activism. “It was just an idea that moved me. I think that music sometimes, especially writing it, can help you understand an issue.”
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The song was released to help raise money for WIRES, an Australian wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organisation, after the bushfires that devastated the country. Listening to him speak, it’s clear that climate change is an issue that has grown important to the singer – a strict vegan of six years – although it was a chance encounter on a flight back from the United States that set the ideas for Our House in motion. Kerrang! caught up with the frontman so he could talk us through it, and where it fits in with the Surrey band’s plans for album seven…
What was the initial inspiration behind Our House (The Mess We Made), Josh?
“In March last year we were on our way back from our U.S. tour, and I was on the plane next to this guy, a geologist, who had just come back from a big summit. We were just shooting the shit, and he saw that I had a vegan meal on the plane so he asked why I was vegan. I went through the different reasons and we got talking about what we both did. He was saying about how he’d been to quite a depressing summit [about climate change], where it feels like people are really understanding what stands in front of us and the repercussions of not acting or doing anything about it. It was very insightful, but fundamentally he said, ‘It won’t be in my lifetime, but in your lifetime and I’m sure in your children’s lifetime, there will be large parts of the planet that will be uninhabitable for humans.’”
Why did that resonate so much?
“The conversation hit home because, although the awareness of it has changed drastically even over the last 18 months – there’s not a single big chain of supermarkets or restaurants that don’t have inexpensive vegan options now – what he was saying to me was that, fundamentally, the big nations aren’t taking this as seriously as they should be. They’ve been aware of the issues – this conversation’s been going on for at least the last few decades – but there is a point now that if we don’t really shift the needle, then it’s going to be irreversible.”
How did that message find its way into Our House (The Mess We Made)?
“There was a night while we were out in Thailand. We went out there for creative headspace, to see what would come out. Dan [Flint, drums] and I were working in this room in the studio. I was having the same conversation with him while we were making the song, and I just felt compelled to write about something that You Me At Six historically have never really touched upon, [something] environmental or political. It wasn’t like I set out to do that, but it was more to put pen to paper on things that I’d been thinking about. People have different opportunities to do what they can. If you’ve got a platform and you don’t stand for anything, what’s the point? That was my take on it. I’ve always been moved by music; I think many of us are moved by music. Sometimes that can be one of the most powerful tools, and that was the incentive to put out this song.”
How would you describe your stance in the song – are you angry, hopeful, pushing people towards change?
“What you take from music is always going to be subjective, but what I hope for is that people who are aged 14 and above who feel that they’re being let down or not listened to, that they know that it’s not going unnoticed and people are responding. There are people older than them that are looking and realising that we need to do more.
“Can we drastically reduce our fossil fuel emissions and our carbon emissions from putting out this song? The answer is no – that’s not going to happen. But if from this song there’s a conversation between a group of friends where they all go, ‘Well, you know what? There is something that I can control, and that’s my diet and by not consuming animals. I’m going to do that because that’s better for the environment.’ I think it’s a sentiment of: we all have to try something.”
You’ve said that the song also celebrates young activism…
“During that time, last November, just as we were leaving [Thailand], there were loads of marches taking place for climate change all over the world. It felt like it was important to celebrate the youth in that sense and how they’re making their voices heard. [They are] making the point that you lot may not care – and by ‘you lot’ I mean the older generations, or more specifically those that line their pockets while knowing that what they’re doing isn’t necessarily good for the environment – and saying that enough’s enough, because we want our future, we want to be able to live and work towards something that has been thrown into dispute at the moment. I think there has been a shift, especially in our generation: there is more understanding and appreciation that we do have to be more responsible. It was just one of those things that took hold of me.”
How would you describe the sound of the song and what you were aiming for?
“To be honest, we were just fucking around. We weren’t expecting anyone to come in and hear it and go, ‘Oh, can I put some guitars on that?’ We weren’t expecting that because we were both pretty fucked and we didn’t want to be sitting around doing nothing with our evening. Sometimes when it’s 2am, you can’t explain or recall the headspace. I wouldn’t be able to sit here and tell you exactly what we were thinking when we were making it because I can’t remember. I just remember it feeling good and us just getting excited.
“I had someone say to me earlier that it’s kind of a strange song because it’s musically quite uplifting and almost like it’s tongue-in-cheek. It’s slapstick a little bit; it’s a dance song, but the mood of the lyrics and what is being said isn’t so much. There’s an element of, ‘We are all coasting here and the time to ignore it isn’t now.’”
Do you think climate change and other political issues could influence your songwriting in the future after this?
“Potentially. You never know when a song is going to happen; the song writes itself. Historically, I’ve just drawn from my own personal experiences, but, of course, there’s every chance as life continues to play out that things might happen or things might change and I’m provoked to write more about it. I only plan for things to be authentic; I’m not assuming something. If it comes to me and it feels right and I mean it – you have to mean what you’re saying – then that’s the way you’re going to move people. You have to be real.”
How have these issues resonated with you on a personal level?
“For the last five or six years I’ve been vegan. One of the things that I say to people when they try and poke holes in veganism is, ‘Well, I’m taking responsibility as much as I can on a basic level. Your diet can have an impact on your carbon footprint.’ I guess people could say, ‘Well, you fly and use buses for your job.’ We can’t all change our lives that drastically, but there are changes that can be made, [such as] making sure we use reusable plastic, or not plastic at all if you can avoid it, and your diet is something that you are in control of. When I got my dog, that really changed the way I looked at my food consumption.”
What was the rest of your creative experience like in Thailand?
“[2019 standalone single] What’s It Like was a song where we didn’t really know what was going to become of it, if we were ever going to put it out. Then eventually we just got drawn to the mindset of, ‘Fuck it, let’s just put it out.’ So Thailand was just an opportunity for us to go away and work on some more ‘fuck it’ ideas, and if that becomes the record that we’re making, then it will be that. I think it’s too early to tell where we’re at with everything, though. We need to make sure we’ve got it right. With the last record that we put out, VI [in 2018], we were in a good place and everyone was feeling great, so we made a record quickly and we just put it out. We didn’t want to overthink anything, whereas with this we want to be a little bit more pragmatic, a bit more methodical about what we’re going to do. But the stuff we’ve got feels really good.”
Are you hoping to have something new out before the end of the year?
“One hundred per cent. We probably would have had music out in the spring anyway in terms of songs, without Our House. There is stuff that feels ready and there is stuff that feels right. I don’t know if we’ve finished the record yet. I don’t feel like we have. There’s still that elusive thing that people in bands are in pursuit of, which is their masterpiece. You sometimes don’t know if you’ve made it or not until years down the line someone goes, ‘Yeah, that was great.’ Or not just one person but a whole massive society goes, ‘That was fucking amazing,’ and it’s lauded over for years and years. But I don’t feel like we’ve done that. None of us feel like we have. So I think we’re still in pursuit of trying to attain that.”
Is Our House a good indication of the headspace that you’re in?
“No. This record is probably the heaviest we’ve been since Sinners [Never Sleep, 2011] – the stuff that’s been put together is the rockiest record we’ve had in a long, long time. So Our House actually couldn’t be further away from it. That, again, is why it’s a standalone single and why we’re using it in the way we are, because it just wouldn’t work with all the other stuff. When [the record’s] right, it will come out, basically. We’re still working towards that. But everything feels good in the camp!”
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