How do you get to be Franky Perez? Or to put it another way, how do you get to be the guy who lives the role of sensitive singer-songwriter, soulful and scintillating live performer, hard rock frontman and more?
Perez is respected worldwide for his work with Apocalyptica, Slash, Deadland Ritual, Scars On Broadway and for his singular solo career. Now he’s poured a lifetime of experience as a charismatic, engaging entertainer into his fifth solo album Crossing The Great Divide. It’s about to expand his audience even further, especially as it’s accompanied by a unique and moving documentary film of the same name, which charts his musical travels across America during lockdown. More of that to come, but first, back to where it all started.
“Growing up in Las Vegas, one time the people across the street were moving out,” Franky remembers. “They had a son of college age who had moved out, and I guess had told them to sell his vinyl collection. My dad went across the street and bought the entire collection that I still have today.
“It was everything from Glen Campbell and Elvis to James Brown and Chick Corea. It was all over the place. This was a hip kid. You add to that my dad’s collection of Latin jazz and stuff, so every day at home, there was a different type of record. There was something on. So that’s how I cut my teeth musically.”
The bug bit, and music was officially in the young man’s system. But there was a separate and specific spark for his desire, his need, to be on stage, and it arrived when he was just seven. “As an entertainer, I’m a child of the ’80s,” he says, “and I remember seeing Michael Jackson at the Motown 25 performance in 1983. That was it. People talk about The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. That was my Beatles moment. I was a kid on the couch and I saw this one guy, no dancers, no nothing, and the way he controlled that audience, how captivating that was. I knew that day. I think I was imitating him that night for my family.
“Then there was Elvis. A big part of that record collection was Elvis, and I’m from Vegas, so he’s part of the ether here. So he became a big influence. My first performance ever, it was the fifth grade, there was a talent show, and I decided to lipsynch to ‘Hound Dog.’”
Late in 2021, those lucky enough to be at Franky’s London showcase performance saw his full magnetism as a live entertainer. He didn’t just own the stage and the room, he practically blew the roof off with uptempo tracks from Crossing The Great Divide, baring his infectious soul on a version of the Temptations’ Motown classic ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ and bringing the album’s anthemic near-title track ‘The Great Divide’ to life in inspirational style.
The new record runs the gamut of Franky’s many talents as songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. In fact, he played almost everything on it. “That’s something I’m really proud of,” he says. “I probably performed about 90% of the instrumentation on the album and I recorded and engineered it myself in this little room. If I felt that I couldn’t get a certain feel, then I reached out to that particular player to get it.”
One such was esteemed drummer Matt Chamberlain, whose other recent distinctions include playing with Bob Dylan, both on tour and on his Rough and Rowdy Ways album of 2020. “I’d always been a huge fan of Matt’s, so I reached out to him for the single ‘The Great Divide.’ It was done remotely, because remember this was all done during lockdown. He sent it back, and it was exactly what I was looking for. He said ‘I just did a session for Dylan and I already had the mics up, so I just did it.’ Dylan and Franky on the same day!”
The album is full of big melodies, riffs and sentiments that are completely real and often very autobiographical. “Every artist says ‘This is my greatest album,’ but this truly was probably the best experience that I’ve had making an album, and the most honest,” Perez says. “I made a mental note that if I wasn’t feeling it, I’d just leave and go for a walk, then come back. Every performance was very honest and in the moment. So yes, it’s a very personal album, and I think it’s very relatable.”
Many of the songs were awakened by the 2020 ride across the States on his motorcycle that’s documented in the new film. An inspiringly fresh take on the road movie, it shows his frequent stops along the way to play for healthcare workers and patients, and his meetings with fellow musicians and friends including ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, country royalty Randy Travis and comedian Bill Burr.
“There were actually two trips, so it was a pretty prolific time,” he recalls. “I did it once for Ducati where I went to California and then to New York [on a customized Multistrada 1260 S Grand Tour fitted with a case to carry a guitar]. When I did that, I had written a little acoustic record called Suddenly 44. A couple of those songs ended up making it to what has become Crossing The Great Divide. But I was writing riffs and lyrics and poems all the way across.”
What shines from the big screen in the documentary is the simple poignancy of Franky’s personal connections with those on the pandemic frontline in its first, full onslaught. “This project is bigger than myself, and everyone that watches it is getting that,” he says. “Even though it was about Covid, it turned into something else. It’s a documentary about humanity and hope, and Covid is just a small thread of the story.”
The film also sees Perez returning to his roots as a troubadour, more than two full decades after he made his first mark, and signed his first solo deal with Atlantic. “Before I got into the rock world and people started to notice me as a singer for hire, my original thing in the music industry was as a singer-songwriter,” he reflects.
“I’d always been able to sing rock music, but I kind of fell into that role. Looking at my career 20-some-odd years later, I’ve been able to bob and weave through different genres. When it came to doing this album, I basically revisiting that singer-songwriter part of my brain.”
2022 holds the exciting prospect of Franky’s extensive touring, all the more so since he’s as captivating at the helm of a funky, rocking band as he is in a solo setting with acoustic guitar. He’ll also be back in the saddle with Apocalyptica, “probably the most talented people I’ve worked with in my life,” as he describes them. “Imagine the virtuosity, that every night I’m on stage with guys that were classically trained from an early age at Sibelius Academy. I never got tired of it.”
To borrow a title from his new album, Franky Perez is leaning into the wind, standing tall and enjoying the moment. For one of the most engaging artists in the business, there are plenty of those moments to come.Listen on Spotify Book tickets