Franz Von’s Escapism EP explores the many and varied ways that people transcend the struggles of life.
Humans have come up with all sorts of ways to medicate their suffering. And after working as a social worker in some of the most deprived parts of the north of England, Franz Von knows more about it than most.
Escapism, Franz Von’s latest EP, explores the role that drugs, music, love, and ultimately positive thinking have played for both himself, and the people he’s met, in pursuit of relief, release, and escape.
It’s a blistering record with soaring guest vocals from Steve Edwards and Tixxy Bang among others, and fat, intense production value, masterminded by Philippe Clegg.
I spoke to Franz to find out more about the story behind the record.
Watch now: Franz Von – Energy Waves
Tell me how this all started. How’d you become an emcee?
I first started rapping ten years ago, with my friends and brothers and a rapper called Lancelot – he doesn’t rap anymore – but big up to this guy, because he got me into it.
We were freestyling and when I heard it back, and I thought ‘I can do this better.’ So I started taking it more seriously.
What was your rapping like back then?
It was crazy! For one thing, I was rapping in an American accent, because that was mostly what I listened to. There was also a lot of anger in my lyrics.
But now I try to put positive messages out. I feel like if you put out positive messages and get away from the negative situation for a bit it can change your mindset.
All the negative things I used to think about and rap about are still there, but I just try to get away from it. I think that’s why I wrote the Escapism EP. Like, let’s focus on something a bit more positive and see where it might take us.
So what’s Escapism all about? Break it down for us.
Personally, for me music is escapism. It’s about using it to shift your mindset and think in a different way.
The first track is about holding on when things are stressful. Falling is about being in love with someone and using that as escapism. Energy Waves is about picking yourself up – you’ve fallen – now catch some energy waves and move on, more positive now.
But things don’t always turn out well, which is what Nice Trip is about – it’s about being homeless and the cycle of being addicted to drugs and alcohol – it’s a really hard cycle to break for people who are in that position. I used to work with homeless people and kids leaving young offenders institutes, so it’s an issue that’s close to my heart.
Vision of Paradise is about looking ahead, taking all the stuff from your journey so far, and putting it into a new direction to try and create something good.
Watch now: Franz Von – Nice Trip
Tell me a bit more about Nice Trip. What’s going on with the video?
I did a social work degree, and I was working as a social worker for a bit and a support worker for a homeless charity. And if you’ve seen Sheffield city centre, and Manchester, it’s a real issue.
We actually shot the video back-to-front. At first I was sitting there in a suit, and people were coming up to me and chatting and asking what was going on. And then when I came back later dressed as a homeless person, people just avoided me like the plague.
It was unbelievable. The only people that ended up coming to speak to me were a group of homeless people. And they were actually trying to give me money.
I ended up chatting to them about what we were doing, and it turned out quite emotional. One of the actresses on the video ended up crying. She went to give this guy a hug, and he was like ‘don’t touch me, don’t me give me a hug or I’ll start crying’ and he walked off – then she started crying.
Are you still involved with that kind of work?
Not as much as I should be. But I’m planning an event to raise money for the Tent City.
The idea of positive thinking features quite heavily in some of your tracks. Can you tell me more about that?
I believe that if you’re thinking positively then you keep your up head, you see more, you speak to people more, and sometimes there’s a connection there. If you’re feeling negative, you’re more likely to keep your head down and you can miss opportunities – like in a physical, literal sense. People are less likely to approach you if you have a negative attitude.
Since I’ve started thinking that I feel like everything’s changed for me.
So how have you turned positive thinking into a reality for yourself?
If I want something to happen, I say that I want it to happen. And if I say it out just once it’s like ‘I’ve said it now’, and I’m the type of person that if I start something, I have to see it through.
I started rapping really late in my life, and I’m from Jamaica, so I feel like there’s a lot of things against me – racism – so many things. And obviously everybody’s got their own personal things to deal with as well, and a lot of things have happened to me. When I first started rapping I focused on just the negative things.
But once I switched that mentality, then positive things happened for me. I know people will be like ‘it don’t work like that.’ There’s also a lot of hard work with it. It’s like doing what you love with passion and working hard at it and being positive – it all comes together – I feel like it does anyway.
Watch now: Franz Von – Vision of Paradise
You’ve been working on live shows with your band recently. Tell me a bit about how that’s going.
Yeah, they are all Leeds College of Music guys, and we’re just starting to get more shows. The first gig we did was at Hootenanny in Brixton and it just went down really sick. We do the songs from the EP, some new songs, and some live jams. It’s mostly hip-hop with jazz breaks, funk breaks, and a bit of dancehall, ragga, and we just fuse it all together.
What do you think about the rest of the Sheffield music scene?
I think Sheffield’s so, so good for music, but at the same time it’s so bad. I love the music scene, but at the same time it just seems to be just one genre of music that gets mentioned all the time. And I think sometimes other cities can embarrass us with how they put on music and the type of stuff that they have.
At the same time, there’s things I like a lot in Sheffield. I’ve not been able to go but there’ve been some sick gigs at Plot 22 – Yellow Arch always has good nights. Akid, and those guys at Hope Works – kills it every time. The Night Kitchen, as well. So there are some proper pockets of sick nights.
But Sheffield needs someone more from the ‘urban’ – urban in quotation marks – side of music just to be a bit bigger. Compared to other cities that have got that and we haven’t. But in time we’ll have that.
Catch Franz Von with his full band at the Pink Wafer live stage at Peddler Market on Oct 6.