Local musician Etienne David Franc is determined to capture his song ideas… even if it kills him.
“Almost all of my writing happens—very dangerously—while I’m driving,” the bassist/guitarist/vocalist/rapper confesses.
Franc does a huge amount of his composing on iMaschine, the phone app version of a drum machine/sequencer/controller that is changing the way producers make beats and perform live. “I’ve been starting 90 percent of [my latest] music on my phone when I’m in a parking lot, waiting for my wife and kids to come out of Home Depot or something,” he says. “It’s actually ridiculous how much my iPad and iPhone are these core tools for me right now. I still practice my bass and my guitar; I still sit down in front of dots on a page; I still transcribe and I still do all that hyper-nerdy, ivory tower, music studies type stuff, but on the flipside, I can totally make music just by yelling into my phone.”
Some purists might balk at this approach, but Franc reasons, “At the end of the day, it’s all coming from me. Nothing [in the technology] is writing my lyrics; nothing’s giving me the vocal ideas; nothing’s [writing] the pattern I come up with or telling me how to swing that beat or program it.”
Franc, who studied music at Cabrillo and at Los Angeles’ Musicians Institute, creates his electronic music under the name Roksta Orkestra—a moniker that he admits is mildly boastful. “There is some swagger,” he says of being a self-proclaimed rock star. “I’m an MC by nature, and I have enough confidence and enough cockiness to be willing to put myself out there [as a performer]. But I try not to think of it as an overblown, grandiose thing, but as sort of a seizing of power: saying, ‘I’m the rock star in this situation.’ Sometimes I’m like, ‘Roksta—can you say that? Is that okay?’ I’m not going to lie—it kind of sticks in my throat a little bit. But I won’t let go of it. It means too much to me.”
As a former member of a reggae/rock/hip-hop band that performed for massive audiences all over the world, Franc has earned the title of rock star. That group, Atlantic Records recording artists OPM, had a hit that reached No. 18 on the Billboard charts and cracked the top five in three nations, toured with bands like Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Good Charlotte and Eve 6, appeared on Top of the Pops and played a televised concert for 70,000 people.
Adding to his boasting rights, Franc has appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show with X Factor finalist Chris Rene and toured with the major label acts Soulstice and Aimee Allen, as well as with actress/singer Leighton Meester (Gossip Girl). As a member of Meester’s band, he once earned $20K in a single day for making a webisode TV commercial for the smartphone manufacturer HTC. Other groups he has been a part of include the Valerie Joi Quartet, Naomi & the Courteous Rudeboys and the backup bands for electric blues/reggae artist Rusty Zinn and Afrobeat musician Danjuma Adamu.
These days, Franc is as musically promiscuous as ever. As well as being the bassist for the “Americana soul” group Check in the Dark, the Afro-samba-funk band SambaDá, the soul/gospel quartet Paradise Soul Savers and the kirtan singer Girish, he’s R&B/soul/hip-hop singer/songwriter Gina Rene’s bassist, guitarist and music director. He was also recently appointed as music director at Aptos’ Inner Light Ministries, where he has served as house bassist for several years.
And, of course, there’s his solo stuff, which is a return to form of sorts. “I went into Cabrillo wanting to learn enough jazz to make great hip-hop beats,” he notes. “I forgot all about that, became a jazz nerd, ended up playing a million different styles of music, and now here I am, ready to make beats again and rhyme on them.”