Sometimes when you start a new school, you already recognize a few people in your class (from orientation, from the internet, from life on the outside). Sometimes, one of your classmates has an IMDb page longer than your reading list, and a very public, multi-hyphenate career as an artist, teacher, writer, and teen heartthrob. Sometimes, your classmate is James Franco.
"To be honest I wasn't that familiar with James' career beforehand," says musician Tim O'Keefe, Franco's other half in the conceptual band Daddy. O'Keefe, as it happened, enrolled in the same MFA program (Digital+Media) as Franco at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2011. "I recognized James' name," he recalls, "but didn't connect it to his work."
During a bathroom trip on a class break though, says O'Keefe, the two got talking — about their projects, the music they liked, their ambitions for the course — and eventually they began collaborating. Daddy, their joint musical venture, is the ultimate art school band: experimental, slightly inexplicable, and founded on a shared joy in the act of creating. Its approach, the duo explains,"moves beyond the 'art of sampling' into the act of appropriation." Most notably, the outfit's debut album, Let Me Get What I Want (due out March18), is a compilation of songs based on poems written by Franco and inspired by the music of The Smiths.
Here, we premiere the new video for the album's track "You Are Mine" (an ode to teen longing), and talk to Franco and O'Keefe about their own experiences of being angsty Smiths-listening high-schoolers.
Can you both describe your first meeting? What were your first impressions?
James: I can't remember the very first time. Or maybe, in some intro class. Knowing Tim, he probably said something sarcastic. Tim was already deep into music when we started grad school. That's what I remember. We started doing the music to go with videos we were making.
Tim: The first time I saw James was the first day of class at RISD. The group of students in our program was pretty small, about 12 of us. James was pretty quiet, almost shy, but friendly. In retrospect, I thought it was interesting how all of these strangers show up in a room. None of them know anything about one another, so we're all forming first impressions. But in James' case, everyone thinks they already know who he is, they have a preconceived idea of his persona formed from their exposure of him through his work and the media. I thought that must be an intense pressure to deal with on a 24-hour basis. Especially when it seems like some people have made it their life's work to talk about how much they don't like James Franco.
Ha! What would your arts school selves think about your 2016 you's, and how your careers are playing out?
James: It wasn't that long ago, but it's awesome to be in a place where we can just work on the things we want to work on.
Tim: It's been interesting for me to watch James' career develop since I met him five years ago. I had no idea we'd be collaborating on various projects like Daddy, or the film and museum work I've scored for him.
What did The Smiths mean to you both growing up?
James: They're the perfect mix of earnest emotion with an ironic subtext. Listening to their songs was a way to feel teenage angst without being cheesy.
Tim: The Smiths was one of my staple bands growing up. They meant a tremendous amount to me and still do. I was even a vegetarian for seven years starting in eighth grade. I totally related to the feeling and mood of the lyrics and music. It was part of my adolescent survival kit.
This track actually features The Smiths' bassist Andy Rourke — how did you reach out and what was his initial reaction?
Tim: Connecting with Andy was a bit serendipitous. My former manager told me she had met Andy at SXSW. At the time, James and I had just started working on the record. I asked her if she thought he would be interested. She reached out to his manager, and Andy was interested. We all met for a dinner to discuss the project, and from there we just started recording. Andy and I are working on some new material now since we had a creative chemistry on the Daddy record.
The lyrics for "You Are Mine" are about teen longing — how much can you both relate to that feeling personally? Were you lovesick teenagers?
James: Yes! Super lovesick. My heart was broken every other day.
Tim: I was totally lovesick as a teenager, actually starting in third grade. I'm even lovesick as an adult occasionally. I'll be discreet about the last time I was lovesick — I need to protect the innocent, even though I think that was me.
This is a song based on a poem based on a song. Is this album the most meta project you've both worked on? If not, what is?
James: Ha. Yeah, When I wrote the series of poems they were inspired by Smiths songs, and then Tim put them to music. I've been pulled into other meta wormholes, as when I was on General Hospital playing a character named Franco, but this album is pretty meta.
Tim: Very meta. James has this one.
Can you tell us about the video direction? How did you want the visuals to relate to the music? And who created the artwork?
James: We had my mother run a class of high school students who directed adaptations of the poems. The students went to my old high school, which was where the characters in the poems went (they're loosely based on people I knew). Then we re-edited the short films they made into our own videos.
Tim: James made all the paintings, one for each poem. As James mentioned, his mother's students developed scripts from his poems and shot the films for each song. That material was then given to Irene Su and Beth Wexler, two editors we brought in to work with us on the final edit of our film concept. They took the footage the students shot, the lyrics to our songs, and worked with us to form the film's overall narrative.
Text Alice Newell-Hanson
Image courtesy Daddy