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deFrance ups their game with new vocalist and deeper dive into a classic rock sound

deFrance plays The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in Bloomington Thursday night
David Yerby
deFrance plays The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in Bloomington Thursday night.

The Camden, Arkansas-based rock outfit deFrance returns to Bloomington-Normal on Thursday night with an even deeper classic rock sound than they’re already known for.

Band leader Drew deFrance told WGLT the change includes a new band member, potentially a game-changer.

“Yeah, absolutely. We have a new singer, whose name is Charlie Askew,” said deFrance of the vocalist who was a contestant on season 12 of "American Idol."

“He's an amazing vocalist that gets a lot of comparisons to Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, and some of the greatest vocalists of all time. I'm really excited to bring this big rock and roll show to Bloomington.”

deFrance said a couple band members quit during the COVID era while the rest of the band was ready to essentially have more fun with their rock and roll and guitar work. It also hit them that their new songs could use a bigger voice with more range.

“And it just worked out. I knew Charlie was in town and you know, I hit him up and asked him if he would come to the studio and try out a few songs and see how this goes. And he came in and he nailed it. It gave everybody goosebumps, you know, so we were like, man, let's move forward with this. And we've been rocking ever since,” said deFrance.

The band is currently working on their new album “Long Live Rock” and gave WGLT a preview of three songs that will land on it, including the title track. It feels more like their rockin’ 2019 album “Second Wind” than the 2020 follow up “No Longer a Stranger,” which incorporated Americana and even Beatle-esque pop-rock. The three songs deFrance revealed definitely sound more akin to Led Zeppelin and even Rush than Jason Isbell.

“Absolutely, during the pandemic everybody just wanted to rock out and have fun,” said deFrance. “So we went back to what was fun and it's not that the Americana stuff wasn't fun it was just a different direction and a different art form at that time. I was feeling … moving forward … we should just have fun and rock out. I got into Deep Purple again wanted to emulate that.”

“Easy Rider” is the second of the three songs he shared. And though it is a return to their classic rock roots, there seems to be even more fun in the songs, figuratively letting their hair down more than before. deFrance said he had gone back to AC/DC’s “Shook Me All Night Long,” the first guitar solo he learned.

“I really wanted to learn how to rock out and play these rock and roll tunes like Led Zeppelin and all those bands we named. We got really into the whole idea of a more complex kind of classic rock thing but select sets will have a pop sensibility, which really is Deep Purple right there. I got really into those guys and have just been trying to move our sound more … kind of evolved like they have. Not a copycat or anything, they were just one of my favorite bands,” said deFrance.

Noted producer Tom Hambridge signed on to produce this upcoming album. You may know his work with Buddy Guy for years. He also worked with Susan Tedeschi in the late 90s when she was a solo act, and he’s worked with many, many others. Must have been a trip in the studio?

“It's pretty amazing man,” said deFrance. “He's a great guy and has great ideas for production. He really uplifted all of our songs and took them to a new place. I met him through my buddy Charlie Huhn, who's the singer of Foghat and formerly with Humble Pie. Charlie was also with Ted Nugent. And was really cool that he's been able to give us a bit of mentorship. And was like, Yeah, I think I can hook you up with Tom. And the cool thing with that is, Tom had worked previously with my mentor, Michael Burks, who was Alligator Records recording artist and international blue star. He was also from Camden, Arkansas, just like me and the guitar player,” said deFrance.

When asked to point to one of the three new songs as an example of what Hambridge brought to the recording studio, deFrance revealed that Hambridge hasn’t touched the new mixes yet. What we heard was deFrance’s mix, already impressive.

“So, we haven't let out what we've got with Tom yet but you're going to be able to hear the difference because Tom just took it to a whole new level because he's such a better mixing and mastering engineer and he's got so much more experience with it. He just He made the drums way bigger. He made the acoustic sound so much clearer. He placed everything differently than I did. I can't wait for you to hear what he did with those versus what I did,” said deFrance.

You can get a live preview of these new songs and other deFrance favorites Thursday night at The Stable Music Hall and Lounge in downtown Bloomington.

Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.
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