Former IT BITES guitarist and singer Francis Dunnery continues to deliver numerous artistic albums with further brilliance in his talent of writing music with a one of a kind creativity. Francis and his music was greatly influenced by his elder brother Barry Dunnery, who was a member of the band NECROMANDUS discovered by BLACK SABBATH’s Tony Iommi back in the 70s. After Barry Dunnery passing away in 2008, Francis Dunnery went into re-recording NECROMANDUS’ music along with 2 new original songs and a cover version of WARM DUST’s “Blood Of My Fathers” to complete his new album “Frankenstein Monster”. MUSE ON MUSE asks Francis Dunnery about the story behind “Frankenstein Monster”.
Interview / Text Mamoru Moriyama
Translation Louis Sesto (EAGLETAIL MUSIC)
Muse On Muse : Your new album released in 2013 “Frankenstein Monster” was dedicated to your brother Barry ‘BAZ’ Dunnery who past away in 2008. Can you please tell us the reason behind why you decided to record and release this album?
Francis Dunnery : I recorded my brother’s music because nobody ever got to hear it. It was always a frustration for me that nobody got to hear how good my brother could play the guitar. I knew how fantastic he was on the guitar because I grew up listening to him. I used to sit in the house when he was practicing, and all his parts were always fantastic. I just loved what he played, how he played it, and I loved his approach to music in general. His approach to music in general really rubbed off on me and my guitar playing in my life. I don’t think there are many songs that I’ve ever written or performed on that I haven’t been influenced on by my brother. It was just such a great library of music to dip into. When my mother was on her deathbed, she asked me specifically if I could make sure when she died that I got to play on a record with my brother. I never actually managed to do that because my brother was a very difficult guy to work with. He did things his own way. If he didn’t want to do something, he just didn’t do it. So, it was difficult to get him in the same room to record an album. I lived in America, and he lived in England, so it was hard to make things happen like that. So the closest I could get to it was to re-record his music.
MM : What is the meaning behind the album title “Frankenstein Monster”? How did you come up with that title?
FD : The “Frankenstein Monster” title is taken from the Frankenstein movie itself, which was about creating things. If you look back over your life you can see that you had at least 10 lives. There have been at least 10 versions of you at some point. I’m 50 years old now, so in the 50 years I’ve spent on the planet I’ve had about 10 different personalities in 10 different lifestyles that I’ve lived. I thought all of them put together and stitched back together would create a “Frankenstein Monster”. That’s where the title came from. It was basically about being stitched back together. Most people break down in the middle of life. Most people between the age 35 and 60, somewhere in that time have a breakdown of some sort. Their life comes to an end. Some people have divorce, some people get sick, people change careers, and they break down. When they inevitably get back together, they are a product of their past. And so “Frankenstein Monster” was literally about being stitched back together from being broken down in the middle of life.
MM : The cover artwork seems to have a very sad feeling to it, but at the same time resembles deep thoughts and a certain warmth to it too.
FD : I picked the cover artwork because, obviously I’ve got a new baby and a 3 year old daughter, and I thought this new life and new monster that I have stitched back together, I thought it was a beautiful painting of that…the strength that I feel now, holding the young girl. It’s quite a symbolic painting in the sense that you could say that it’s both sets of new lives. In the one hand we have a young girl who is not very old, she’s got a new life. On the other side we have the “Frankenstein Monster” which is new life of all the old life stitched back together. I guess it is a little sad…I suppose. I think it’s quite warm. It has something quite nice really. But very symbolic for my life at the time, especially with my new daughter and the fact that I’m stitched back together ready to play guitar again.
MM : How did you tackle the challenge of recording NECROMANDUS music that Barry left behind? Were there any new discoveries in their music?
FD : The NECROMANDUS music was a tremendous challenge because it’s very difficult to play. The guitar parts…it’s almost as if somebody wrote them who was left-handed. They always do something different. Often times when you play music you can almost second guess what’s going to come next…what sort of chords people are going to play, or what shapes they play. With the NECROMANDUS music I realized that my brother was always playing very odd weird shapes and never what you expected. The challenge was to retain the spirit of what they did in the 70s, but give it a new flavor so I could modernize it. I also thought I wanted to make it a little bit more accessible to the general public. So I added a little bit of melody to it and we slowed some of the tracks down because I felt they were a bit fast. Certainly, when NECROMANDUS recorded these songs they were only 21 years old. They were full of youthful exuberance. At 50 years old, I just felt the songs could have more grace. So we slowed them down a little. We made them more musical and we put some more harmony into the whole project. So rather than being rock’n’roll or just out and out screaming rock, it became a little bit more musical I think. I discovered a whole bunch of things about my brother that I never ever had thought. I’ve never actually tried to work those songs out before in my past, so when I sat down and worked all the guitar parts out I discovered just how fantastic he was, and how amazing the guitar parts were. Any guitar player who listens to this record, they’re going to want to sit down and learn how to play these tunes because the guitar parts are tremendous, what my brother did.
MM : For most of the songs you recorded that were taken from NECROMANDUS’ “Orexis of Death”, the song titles have been changed…”Nightjar” became “Don’t Look Down Frank”, “Orexis of Death” became “Leaving the Depot”, etc. Was there any particular reason or concept behind changing the song titles?
FD : The song titles that I chose were the original titles of the tracks. I was only 9 years old when NECROMANDUS were recording these songs. The titles I knew were “Don’t Look Down Frank”, “Leaving the Depot”, these were the titles. But what happened was when the album was released later in life they were released on a death metal recording label and so they wanted to have titles that tapped into the Black Sabbath market. So they made titles like “Orexis of Death”. All these kind of dark, weird titles that had this occult or death metal kind of angle and feeling to them. NECROMANDUS were never about death metal. They weren’t about that. Most of the song titles of NECROMANDUS were a lot of fun. There was a lot of fun in those tracks. They were joking all the time. There was always a joke and they weren’t death metal at all. So I didn’t pick the titles or changed them. I simply went back to the original titles that they always were.
MM : NECROMANDUS was discovered by Tony Iommi who produced “Orexis of Death”. What do you remember about NECROMANDUS and Barry at that time? Can you share some memories with us?
FD : I don’t remember too much about NECROMANDUS because I was too young at the time. Probably when they wrote the album I was about 6 years old. And by the time it was released I was about 8 or 9 years old. So I just remember going to a few rehearsals and things like that. I remember my brother going away down to Birmingham where they recorded the album. And I remember one concert in particular in our hometown at Whitehaven City Hall. I remember I must have been 8 or 9 and I was allowed to go and see my brother’s band play then. But I don’t remember that much about them. My brother used to take me to some rehearsals, so I would go to NECROMANDUS rehearsals when I was a kid. But I didn’t really know what was going on. I was too young. I remember the songs. I grew up with these songs, but I don’t remember that much about them. I remember that band would always come around to the house, so the guys were always in my house. My mom and dad were very youthful in spirit, so our house was where everyone used to hang out. So they’d come around our house and smoke cigarettes and drink beer. I kind of remember waking up in the morning with hippies lying on my floor! [laughs] Our house was the place where everyone used to stay at. Everybody used to come and stay at my house because my mom and dad were very progressive in spirit and very liberal, and they would allow everyone to stay at our house. But that’s about all I can remember.
MM : By listening to their original album, you can tell NECROMANDUS definitely has a very versatile style of music played with virtuosity, which also seems to remind the listener of your musical style. Has Barry’s playing and songwriting influenced you in any way?
FD : My brother was hands-down the biggest influence I’ve ever had in my life. I mean, he’s responsible for every piece of music I ever did. I just thought the way he played guitar was just something else. I don’t know anybody who could do what he did. He just had his own way of doing things. I think later on in his life when he discovered Allan Holdsworth he lost a little bit of his originality because he was so impressed with Allan Holdsworth he ended up playing a bit like him. But my brother always had a blues style to him. So my brother’s original style was blues like you hear on NECROMANDUS. There’s no music I’ve every recorded that hasn’t been influenced by NECROMANDUS. IT BITES was influenced by NECROMANDUS even thought the guys in the band don’t realize it, because a lot of the guitar parts were heavily influenced by NECROMANDUS. I’ve done many songs and there hasn’t been one that hasn’t been influenced by my brother in some way or form.
MM : Your recent albums/music have not featured much electric guitar, but “Frankenstein Monster” definitely features some of your great performances on the electric guitar.
FD : Sometimes, if you are a guitar player and you just play the same stuff all the time on the same guitar, you just end up doing the same things. I think it’s important to put yourself outside of your comfort zone so you just don’t do the same music over and over again. Many times I’ve seen great artists in the world, and they get crystalized in their past. They become almost like a fossil. They harden and they don’t change anymore. They just do the same thing over and over again. Sure, some people like that and that’s fine. But for someone like myself, I’m just not interested in doing the same thing over and over again. I just don’t think it’s very productive and I don’t think it’s very creative. I don’t want to be on my deathbed at 90 years old and look back and think of all the opportunities I could have had to do new styles of music and branch out and do new flavors and try new things, and (instead) I just sat there and did the same thing over and over again. It would be very sad for me. So I think that in order to play electric guitar again…I mean I don’t really think there is that much. In terms of IT BITES, I did a lot of guitar playing already. I kind of put my color down on an album. And I wasn’t really inspired to play electric guitar for at least 10 years. There was nothing inspiring for me. I just heard the same things. There are many guitar players that I deeply admire. People like Joe Satriani, I think they are incredible players. Steve Vai, I think he’s an incredible player. I love Steve’s playing. It’s fantastic. There are lots of players…Gary Moore, Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, there are tons and tons of players. Derek Trucks…just really amazing players. But when I go to see these guys play, after 3 songs I want to hear a “song”. I’m kind of tired of listening to the guitar and I just want to hear a song. I’ve always been more interested in songwriting than I have in guitar playing. I’m more interested in melody than I am in showing off. I really admire them for it but, people like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, they are dedicated to the guitar. I absolutely respect that and admire that a great deal. But I just can’t do that. I much more interested in songwriting than I am in guitar playing. So “Frankenstein Monster” the guitar playing, for the first time I was really inspired to let loose. I felt like I had a reason and a purpose for it rather than just doing it for showing off. I think this is a real guitar players’ album. If you’re a guitar player you’re going to love “Frankenstein Monster”.
MM : Were the title track “Frankenstein Monster” and “Multicolored Judy Green” new songs written exclusively for this new album? Please tell us about these 2 songs.
FD : I wrote the 2 new songs, “Frankenstein Monster” and “Multicolored Judy Green” as I wanted to use them as book ends. I wanted to have my brother’s music inside of my 2 songs on the outside. I think the 2 songs work well on the album. “Frankenstein Monster” in particular, I’ve already talked about what that’s all about. I think that says a lot about the album, about being stitched back together. “Multicolored Judy Green” I just felt my brother would have loved to hear that song. And my brother is on the guitar playing at the end. If you listen to the song “Multicolored Judy Green” you’ll hear a Hendrix riff at the end. When my mother was on her deathbed she asked me if I would make sure I played on a CD with my brother. Well I never got to do that. But when I was recording “Frankenstein Monster”, one of my friends called me and said that about 10 years ago my brother had gone to his house to help him set up his recording studio. And my brother was playing around on the guitar. He was playing Jimi Hendrix. And he asked me if I would like to have the track of my brother playing Jimi Hendrix. So he sent me just the guitar part of my brother playing Jimi Hendrix. So if you listen to the song my brother plays a solo on the album. So, I did finally make my mother’s wish come true by making sure we were both on the same CD together. Then the solo after the Jimi Hendrix solo is my brother’s son John. John plays a solo, and then my brother’s grandson plays a solo. Then I play a solo. Then the claps at the end of “Multicolored Judy Green” are every member of my family. I asked them all to clap on their iPhone and send it to me on an mp3. And so they all clapped together on an iPhone, everyone they were in different parts of the world but they all did their claps. And I put them all together so it sounds like a crowd clapping. But they are all members of my family giving my brother a send-off and saying good-bye to him. And that was the purpose behind “Multicolored Judy Green” having every member of the family sing to my brother and give him a sending off that he deserves. My brother was such an amazing guitar player that it was just such a sad thing that he never got heard. So we were just applauding his life and letting him know that we loved him in our own way.
MM : Please tell us about the musicians (other than yourself) that are playing on the album.
FD : The musicians on the album are…first of all second guitar was played by my nephew John, who is my brother’s son. He did a great job on that. The bass player was a friend of mine called Paul Brown, an amazing bass player. Paul doesn’t play very much bass. He can play incredibly well but he just doesn’t bother. He picks his projects he wants to play on. If you listened to the album, he did an amazing job on the bass parts. Absolutely incredible. On the drums I had Tony Beard. Tony is a guy who can play very intimate and very technical drums. But he can also play rock. You don’t often find that. Usually the rock drummers can’t play very technical and usually the jazz players can’t play rock. But Tony can do it all and he has an incredible groove and pocket to his playing. He’s probably my favorite drummer. Tony plays drums like how I would like to play the drums but I’m not good enough to do it. [laughs] I think Tony is absolutely phenomenal. If you listen to the drums on the album he did an incredible job on this record. Really amazing.
MM : Many of the songs on the album have complicated arrangements and progressions. Nevertheless, all songs have a very tight band sound. Please tell us about the preparations and approaches prior to getting into the studio to record this album.
FD : The songs came together quite slowly because I was constantly learning things about the songs. Just when I’d thought I understood the song something else would show up and I would have to go back and readdress it again. And so we wanted the album to sound like you were in the room. We didn’t want to process it, we didn’t want to put compression to it. So, there’s no compression on any of the tracks. There’s a tiny little bit on the vocals, but apart from that there is no compression on the drums, there’s no compression on the guitar nor the bass. We just wanted it to be real. We wanted the tracks to sound like exactly like you were in the room with the band. And I think we achieved that. All of the preparations were really just to be able to play them authentically. It’s very difficult to play this music and be authentic. It’s very hard. People think you can just play songs and they sound good, but they don’t! There are subtleties in this music that if you don’t do it, it just doesn’t sound right. I think we went a long way into making sure that we got every tiny little piece of information and we made it on the album. So we went into a lot of detail in order to get the right feeling and right sound.
MM : Of the NECROMANDUS songs that you recorded on this album, which song made the biggest impression on you, and why?
FD : I think the song that made the biggest impact on the record was a song called “Ho Ho Your Sandwiches”. I remember my brother’s guitar solo. I remember when he came home and played that solo. He played it to us. And I remember just thinking “Wow! That’s the most amazing guitar solo I’ve ever heard.” So to play that solo again and do it justice. I really felt good about my playing on that track. It was authentic. It didn’t sound like a copy. I still managed to put my own personality in it. But I felt really good about that, about that solo. So “Ho Ho Your Sandwiches” is one of my favorites on the album simply because of the solo that my brother did.
MM : “Blood Of My Fathers” of WARM DUST was featured on the album. Why did you decide to have this song on the album?
FD : The reason why I chose to do “Blood Of My Fathers”, which is a WARM DUST song, was because when NECROMANDUS were recording those songs I remember my brother used to play this track. This was one of the tracks that I always remembered. It was one of those albums lying around in our house that was always on the stereo. So I remember it really, really well. It was one of those songs that burned into my psyche. It would be impossible to think about that time of my life without that song. It was a very important song in our house and a very important song even in my relationship with my brother in a weird way. He would bring home all these different types of music and we would listen to it. It was almost a connection to my brother. So “Blood Of My Fathers”, I just thought the NECROMANDUS record would be complete if it had that song on it. AND it’s just a fantastic song anyway.
MM : “Frankenstein Monster” features some of your great guitar performances documented with impressive technique and emotions, and I’m sure this is something that the fans have been waiting for. What do you plan to do for your next album?
FD : I don’t know what I’m going to do with my next album yet. I’ll have to wait and see. I have an Irish folk record that’s ready to go. The songs are really, really good. But I need to put together an Irish folk band with accordions, fiddles and mandolin. I may do that, I don’t know. What I may do with a rock record I don’t know. I mean I don’t think I can make anything better than “Frankenstein Monster” right now. I think that’s about as good as I can do for now. I think the guitar playing on it is fresh for me at least. It’s inspiring for me. Everything about the “Frankenstein Monster” album is very inspiring for me, so I wouldn’t like to ruin that and just go out there and copy what that is. I would like to try and step outside of my comfort zone once again and create something else, something new and something which challenges me as a musician. Something that puts me in another arena, here in the folk arena and see how that does. But I actually don’t know. I really don’t know. I haven’t thought about that yet. I’m still enjoying “Frankenstein Monster”. I think it’s the best record I’ve ever done guitar-wise in my life. I think it will take some beating for me to do better than that right now.
MM : Please tell us about your gear. What guitars, amps, effectors, foot pedals did you use for this recording?
FD : On the album I used a Laney amplifier. A Laney Lionheart 20W. They are absolutely phenomenal. They sound really, really good. I loved it. And it’s got that English sound to it, which I love. So I used that and I used a T-Rex Michael Angelo pedal for the rhythm guitar. For the solo guitar I used a RAT. I’ve used a RAT since I was with IT BITES. I love the RAT pedals. I think they’re nasty and they’re really good. I love them. That’s kind of it. That’s all I used. I didn’t use anything else really. A Cry Baby Wah-wah pedal, that was it. A couple of flangers from T-Rex, a chorus pedal. The main guitar was the clean channel of the Laney Lionheart with the Michael Angelo T-Rex pedal, which is phenomenal. Really great.
MM : Do you still continue studying and practicing to keep up your guitar skills? If so, what kind of studying/practicing do you do everyday?
FD : I never practice guitar. I never pick a guitar up unless I’m working. I don’t do any practice at all. I never have. When I was younger, when I played with IT BITES, I would practice the IT BITES tracks, but unless I’m doing something I never pick a guitar up. I just don’t. Right now as I answer this question, I haven’t actually touched a guitar for like 4 weeks. I’ve been doing other things. I’ve been doing psychology, astrology, and I’ve also been doing a marketing course. I’ve been looking after my daughter. I like to do that. I’ve been doing a lot of other things. When I go back to work, I’ll pick up the guitar again, and start playing then. But I don’t really practice at all. Maybe I should. Maybe I’ll take a year to learn classical guitar better and learn my reading skills. That might be something I’d be interested in. But just playing guitar, I’m not really interested in that right now. I think there are other things that are more interesting right now.
MM : You not only have highly technical guitar skills but also have the ability to write great songs. It seems that many technical guitar players tend to focus too much on their techniques and lack focus on their songwriting and arrangements. What would be your word of advice for maintaining a nice balance between technique and songwriting, just like you have?
FD : Well, I don’t think I’m in a position to advise anybody on how to play the guitar because I think everybody has their own way of doing things. Someone like Paul Gilbert, who is a phenomenal guitar player…Paul is just one of those guys who feels more comfortable with a guitar in his hand. He loves it, he loves to play all day. You can tell. You can tell when you watch him play. He probably knows every single song that was ever written and he can probably play them. He’s a phenomenal guitar player. I remember a long time ago when Paul used to come around my house when I lived in Los Angeles. Even back then he was very young but he was an absolutely amazing guitar player. I don’t want to tell anybody what to do, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying for me personally I like songs. I just love songs. So I’m more interested in songs and different melodies than I am in playing loads of guitar. And I find also a lot of the times many of the great guitar players who play great things on guitar don’t really get acknowledged for that. People like Glen Campbell, nobody really acknowledges what he did. He was a phenomenal guitar player. Or people like John Mayer…John plays great things. He plays very melodic guitar, but nobody really acknowledges what he does on the guitar because what’s classed as a good guitar player is somebody who plays fast and does all that stuff. Kind of like what I did on “Frankenstein Monster”…everybody says my guitar playing on “Frankenstein Monster” is the best guitar, blah blah…But in reality if you listen to some of my earlier albums like “The Gulley Flats Boys” that’s incredibly technical to play. It’s incredibly difficult. It’s much more difficult to play than the “Frankenstein Monster” even. But “Frankenstein Monster” sounds more impressive because of the speed of what’s going on. And there are some great things on “Frankenstein Monster”. I think there’s a lot of tasteful guitar on “Frankenstein Monster” so maybe that’s a bad example. But, sometimes I if I go to play the guitar, and people might be impressed by something that I play, in actual fact some of the songs on “The Gulley Flats Boys” are far more difficult to play. But it just doesn’t sound like that. So, I’m just a big fan of “Do what you love”. If you love to write songs, then write songs. If you love to play fast guitar, play fast guitar, if that’s what you love. But I would just suggest that you don’t get crystalized or fossilized in your own style from the past so you can’t grow or create any new material. Because otherwise all you’re going to make is one album for the rest of your life. And even that’s fine. You get bands like AC/DC, they play the same stuff year in and year out and it’s fantastic. They do AC/DC better than anybody else. So you really can’t tell anybody what to do. For me personally I just like songs.
MM : There were rumors that you were going to return to IT BITES in 2006. After all, John Mitchell joined as guitarist/vocalist and the band resumed their activities. Would you mind telling us what happened at that time?
FD : Well, we tried to put IT BITES together again for a little project in 2006 but I don’t think the guys were comfortable with me in the band. I think they’re much happier doing it their own way. I think they like it better with John Mitchell as the guitarist/vocalist and that’s totally fine. I think John’s a great player. John plays IT BITES songs better than I can play them. And he’s a good guy. It wasn’t really anything terrible. We got together and did a few rehearsals and then Bob and John didn’t want me to play in the band because they were uncomfortable with me being in the band. Maybe it reminded them too much about the past, I don’t know. Bob gave me a call and just said “We don’t want you to be in the band.” So I just said alright. I mean I was quite sad at the time because I really liked to play some IT BITES stuff, but I think in hindsight it was for the best. I think they are better off with John Mitchell anyway because I couldn’t stick to the same style as what IT BITES were doing. I couldn’t do that. I would have to try and make IT BITES grow in some way or do something more progressive than just keep repeating the old IT BITES songs. I think they’re doing a great job and people in Japan who go to see IT BITES I’m sure understand that the band sounds great. They’re doing a great job.
MM : What do you have coming up next? Tell us about your upcoming schedule.
FD : I’m writing a book and right now my schedule is mainly caught up with putting together some new websites and getting the book together. I’m always doing house concerts all the time throughout the year. I do counseling at a clinic in New York City. I’ve also got a tour in England in the end of May doing 5 or 6 dates. And I’m playing with Steve Hackett in New Jersey. I’m excited about that. The Steve Hackett band is my favorite band right now. I absolutely love what they do with the old Genesis songs. They play them beautifully. Absolutely amazing! I go down and I sing a couple of songs with them. I sing “Dancing With A Moonlit Knight” which is an old Genesis tune from “Selling England By The Pound”. And I play the end of “Supper’s Ready” with Nad who is the singer. He does a great job doing the Genesis songs. It’s fantastic. I love Steve Hackett’s band. I’ve been trying to get to Japan for a tour but there are no promoters. It’s very difficult to get in touch with the Japanese promoters because of the language barrier. We can’t find a promoter that wants to bring us over. Every time I want to contact one, I don’t know whether it’s just Japanese custom, every time I start talking to someone they just stop e-mailing. And it’s not because of anything I’ve said or anything I’ve done, it’s just I think there’s a whole weird social aspect to Japanese culture which I don’t think they like disappointing people. I don’t really know what it is. But we would love to come to Japan. If you could find a promoter out there who’d want to bring us over, we’d love to do that. That would be a great thing to do. We want to come to Japan!!
MM : Please give a message to the Japanese fans.
FD : Hello to all my Japanese fans out there. I hope you guys are doing fantastic. I really miss you and I’d love to come out there and see you. You’ve been supporting me for a long, long time and I deeply appreciate all you support and good energy. Hopefully we can come out to Japan soon. I’ve been trying and trying and trying but it hasn’t really happened. Maybe I need to try a bit harder, I don’t know. But I just want to say thank you very much for all your support and all your great energy and commitment over the last 25 years. It’s been a great pleasure to make music I hope you like. Hopefully I’ll see you guys soon. Have a beautiful day. I love you and I’ll see you soon! Thank you very much.
Francis Dunnery official site : http://www.francisdunnery.com/
Frankenstein Monster / Francis Dunnery
1. Frankenstein Monster
2. Don’t Look Down Frank
3. Leaving The Depot
4. I’ve Been Evil
5. Limpet Man
6. Marijuana Make Those Eyes At Me For
7. Wum Wop
8. Big Fine Lad
10.Judy Green Rocket
12.Blood Of My Fathers
13.Ho Ho Your Sandwiches
14.Multi Colored Judy Green