I N T E R V I E W
By Indira Neville
Francisca Griffin, known as Kathy Bull until the mid 1990s, was bass player, guitarist and vocalist for 80s Flying Nun band Look Blue Go Purple. She was bass player, guitarist and vocalist in 80s - 90s band Cyclops, and in January 2019 she released a fantastic album as Francisca Griffin entitled 'The Spaces Between.'
Her current band, the fantastic 'Francisca Griffin and The Bus Shelter Boys', are currently on a tour of Aotearoa NZ, including a show on April 24th Kirikiriroa Hamilton's Nivara Lounge, with Bitter Defeat and The Biscuits. HUP thought it would be a good idea to ask Indira Neville of The Biscuits if she was up for interviewing Francisca. Happily she was! Over to you, Indira...
I am interviewing Francisca Griffin and trying desperately to ask her things that she’s never been asked before. It’s tricky given her long and legendary music career and the numerous interviews she’s done, but I give it a go. I inquire into what song she’d sing if she was on American Idol. She responds, “Ghost Boy, and then I’d just win”.
That out of all the songs in the Universe, she chooses one of her own, reflects Francisca’s confidence and comfort with herself and with her music, “I’ve always done it” she says, ”It’s just part of who I am”.
“What do you think Katy Perry would think of Ghost Boy?” I ask next. With the same self assurance she states, “Katy Perry would say ‘how much do you want? Let me record this song! I’d say ‘sure’ and then my awesome publisher Songbroker would make sure I got 100% of the royalties”.
I dare to hope that maybe she hasn’t been asked about American Idol before and so stay on the topic. I wonder her if she likes the show? She likes the audition rounds, before “…they get polished. The rejected ones are the ones I like”.
Francisca’s ‘pre-polishing preference’ comes from her solid punk background; the music she’s made, the DIY process of making it and the Dunedin music community she has long been part of. She talks emphatically about the unequivocal support Look Blue Go Purple got from the “blokes” and that there was absolutely no culture of sexism within the 80’s Dunedin scene. This meant that when the band went on tour and did experience, “The odd fella…” they didn’t take it, “We just shut them down”.
Obviously then I ask her about the sexist and abusive male behaviour currently bubbling to the surface within Aotearoa NZ music. She believes it’s part of an ‘industry’ that just wasn’t around in her early career, that just like on American Idol, young women musicians and performers now get ‘polished’ because, “They all want something; managers, publicists, venue owners, and so there’s abuse of all kinds. They abuse your creativity, your body, your potential, your bank account…”. She says, “It’s a no brainer…”that if there’s one thing she could change about the Aotearoa NZ music scene it would be this, “I’d disappear all that bullshit and also this idea that for some reason a man is better than I am”.
I assume this is in-part why she says shape-changer when I ask her what superpower she’d choose. She says she’d transform into all kinds of things including a man, so she could experience what it’s like to have privilege and power by default. But also she wonders what, “…those dangly bits…” would feel like. It’s something I’ve always wondered too.
Probably hoping to impress her with my feminist insightfulness, I follow up this discussion with a rant about the name of her current band, ‘Francisca Griffin and the Bus Shelter Boys’. I wonder out loud if putting her name up front and the fact that it’s in bigger letters on the current tour poster is a statement about ‘female power’ but with a ‘nurturing aspect’ yada yada yada… She looks thoughtful and tells me that no, the name comes from a blogger who reviewed a performance and said, “She looks like she found her band in a bus shelter” and they all thought it was funny and decided to adopt it.
Francisca insists they’re not a backing band. She describes the band’s process; she writes something on guitar and takes it to them, and then because they’re “experts in jamming” it morphs and continues to be written as they play it. And so the final version is something they’ve made together. She does laugh however, and say “I am the ‘band boss’. That’s just the way it is”.
The songs Francisca takes to the Bus Shelter Boys are written in her own way. When she comes up with a tune she plays it over and over and over until it’s “…glued into being”. For the lyrics she consults her pile of notebooks, playing with the words she’s constantly collecting from books and matchboxes and her head and heart and anywhere.
She loves playing live, describes it as “buzzy” but points out she’s a musician not a performer, because, “I want to do it. It’s not really for the audience. I’ll happily play for lots of people or six people and either can be amazing”. I don’t doubt this is true but when I’ve been an audience member, I’ve never noticed that Francisca was not playing for me. Instead it feels like she is sharing her music and that I’m really lucky she’s doing so.
I do agree though that she is amazing.
Grab yourself a ticket to see Francisca Griffin and The Bus Shelter Boys on tour around the country, (see poster below), by clicking through to Under The Radar HERE.