She stands idle and alone at the center of a black stage with an acoustic Fender six-string around her neck. The flashiest apparel she wears is her pair of red and white Nike kicks that walk life into the rest of her otherwise plain outfit: a white T-shirt and jeans. Her physical appearance is unassuming and pure. The look on her face is half mystified and half terrified as she looks out at a sea of people crowding the basement of BU Central. And then she sings, and the depth within Allison Francis is released.
Her voice is rough—like a smoker who has lit enough cigarettes to make her voice warm and scratchy, but not enough to warrant a laryngectomy. She remains humble when the first song ends, saying thank you between sips of her water bottle before quickly launching into the next folk tune. It is this simple and grateful attitude that sets her apart from an indie-alternative Boston music scene that spins around music snobbery and elitism. What Francis has that the rest are lacking? Authenticity.
Many artists these days spend their time trying to convince other people how ironic their lives are because of how misunderstood they are, says Conor Loughman, the founder of Base Trip Records who signed Francis in the summer of 2008. “There’s a hipster folk scene but I don’t think many of them actually like folk. They’re just trying to be cool,” he said.
The 21-year-old folk singer-songwriter will not admit to being better than the other musicians of her genre, because that would not be her style, and that would not fit her description here. “I think it’s so funny that people take themselves so seriously,” Francis said, and that is about all she has to say on the matter.
Loughman met Allison Francis in a dining hall while she was telling people about her music. While some artists would waste money and time coming up with fancy promotional artwork and designs, she was handing out pieces of paper torn from her notebook with her MySpace address written on them, Loughman said.
In some ways, though, Francis fits the mold perfectly. She presents an alternative image, but only as though it was an accident. She fantasizes about fronting a flashy indie band but worries that it would come across disingenuous. And after spending the entire summer collaborating with other songwriters and playing in parks in and around Boston, she said that she has found new confidence in more natural song writing. “It’s the only way I can really get high these days,” she said.
Despite a more sophisticated musical style and significant street cred among other musicians, Francis is not ashamed to say that she started playing guitar seven years ago because of an obsession with Avril Lavigne—someone to whom most people would not admit listening.
The paradox is thus: she is as much a part of the hipster, indie-folk-rock scene as horn-rimmed glasses and plaid t-shirts, but she sets herself apart from it with her down to earth perspective. The odd thing, Loughman said, is that she is secretly confident. “It’s this weird contrast where she doesn’t think she is better than anyone, but she still knows she is awesome,” he said.
Stephanie Barrak, another singer signed to Base Trip Records describes it as subdued determination. Francis is able to express and share her talent to other people without being overpowering. “Some people whore their music out, but she doesn’t do that,” Barrak said.
The simple fact is that Francis fits into the indie-music scene because that is where she has made friends and set up her life. She enjoys the niche of artists that has cropped up around Boston University, but wishes that there was more of an overlap between genres. “Most people here appreciate good home grown music,” she said, and that is enough to satisfy her.
It is clear, though, that Francis’ relationship with music is more than one of appreciation. “I think music can connect with people in their soul almost. It connects with emotions that they’re not necessarily even conscious of or in touch with,” she said.
Jennifer Brown, the music director at WTBU, Boston University’s student-run radio station, said that Francis offers more than the average indie musician and has the opportunity to fill a void in the music industry that is lacking a female folk musician like her. “She captures something real about the way human beings are,” she said. “She’s not afraid to show who she is in her lyrics and to put it all out there.”
Francis does not have much to say about all of this except that she has nothing to hide. “I do not usually try and disguise what I am saying in my songs.” She insists that music will always be a part of her life and if she is able to make a career out of it then that is just an added bonus. “I just want to make music that connects on a really personal level with people.”
Back at BU Central, the cluster of people who have gathered to see Francis play sit on the floor in total silence, taking in every word out of her mouth and every chord from her guitar. The room is comfortable, like a gathering of friends enjoying some honest music. “I liked that one,” someone comments between songs. Clearly, connecting with people is something that she can check off of her bucket list.