Cape Francis’s Facebook bio says he’s “pretty sure the world unanimously decided a long time ago that Kevin is a super lame name,” but thankfully he does answer when I call it from across the room.
(If you read that it in the Home Alone voice, you’re not totally wrong.)
I’d caught Cape Francis — né Kevin Olken Henthorn — play during SXSW 2018 and open up for Savoir Adore at Rough Trade last summer, but there was no performance happening on this October evening at Bushwick’s KCBC. He had already wrapped his second album, Deep Water (officially out today!), and this time, rather than a stage between us, there was just a picnic table — one which became increasingly cluttered with empty beer glasses as the evening wore on (a recurring, totally unexplainable phenomenon during these interviews).
Over Beggar’s Gold and a few other brews that, quite fittingly, I don’t remember, we discussed his second album, Bon Iver-sparked epiphanies and where to find Brooklyn’s best banh mi.
And then we played a couple games of Crazy Eights while a herd of costumed dogs paraded through the bar. So pretty standard Thursday in Bushwick, basically.
On Deep Water and how it differs from his first album, Falling Into Pieces…
Well, they’re both depressing titles!
There’s a point in Falling Into Pieces where it dives into work life to some degree, and this whole album is kind of about work life and learning how to be okay with living the double life as a working artist.
There’s this weird shame involved in having to work a day job and also be an artist — you never want to tell your fans that. It’s all fucked. I don’t know if you saw the Geoffrey Owens thing? That’s another example. He’s the actor from the The Cosby Show who got kind of shamed for working at Trader Joe’s, and it’s fucked up. He’s a dude that’s just doing his shit, you know? I feel like if people actually cared, they’d put stock into music instead of not paying for music… but the reality is we need to work.
The whole thing is kind of centered around that, which isn’t a really sexy topic, so I don’t know how it’s gonna come out, but it’s done. I’m working on the third album now, so I’m mentally over it.
On making the transition from band to solo project…
In Stone Cold Fox [his previous band], we had so many cooks in the kitchen at some point that it just got hard to actually know what direction to go in, and you didn’t want to overstep… you just wanted to make sure everyone was included.
With this project, it’s easy because it starts with me, so I can just write the songs, but I still have a really awesome band that plays with me. We have a horn player, we have a bass player, a synth player, a guitar player. As far as the recording process, there’s more of a clear thing — I know what I want, but I know their talent. Some of these guys are more talented than I’m ever gonna be.
With the first album [Falling into Pieces], I was just starting to get it all together. With this album, I’m just learning to be the head more, without the baggage of being in a band-band. But it does still feel like being in a band sometimes, which is nice. You compromise, and working with people leads you to better places. We had a song off this new album where the bass player had an alt bass line that was really beautiful and we made it an interlude — I never would’ve thought of that.
On his writing process…
Instead of practicing, I try to write stuff that’s challenging and work at it that way. If writing felt as though it didn’t have to lead to anything, I could explore it a little more freely. Everything’s kind of a scrapbook. Every day is a new thing, and over the course of several months I have 20-30 ideas, and if four or five of them sort of Frankenstein together, that’s a song. I think that takes the pressure off and means you can just constantly do it.
On ending up on Sleep Well Records…
Oddly enough, we [he and Alyse Velturo, who started Sleep Well] used to work at the same place at The Orchard, a music distribution company. I worked right next to her and didn’t say a word to her. I just like came in and did the work. And then I ended up leaving for an editing job and then just sent it to her randomly. I heard she was doing well, I heard she’d started a small label. I didn’t think much of any of it. I was just like, “I don’t know if this is good, do you like it?”
She’s been amazing. She’s been absolutely amazing.
[Editor’s note: Pronoun, Alyse Velturo’s project, is also amazing.]
On the name Cape Francis…
One of the last songs we wrote as Stone Cold Fox was called Cape St. Francis. My guitarist had this awesome studio that I still record at in Connecticut, and we used to just play there and project stuff. We were watching Endless Summer, that old surf doc — does not hold up, PC-wise, at all… really uncomfortable moments, looking back — and they went to this spot in Africa called Cape St. Francis. It’s a real surf spot where the waves are kind of just perfect.for a really long time, an abnormal amount of time. They’re just perfect waves. The idea of having a spot like that was just really appealing to me. I don’t even surf. I tried when I was a kid and I was horrible at it. I just thought the idea of a place… had a lot less to do with any ego. I have a big enough musical ego as it is.
On the artists that influence him…
The band had just broken up, and all this bad shit had happened at the same time, and I saw Bon Iver play in Red Hook.
I hadn’t seen ever him live. I’d always been kind of a fan, but I was so in the indie-rock mindset. And when I saw that, I realized there’s so many other ways to use space in music and emotion to drive a song instead of rhythm guitar — it doesn’t always have to be rhythm guitar to prove that it’s a chorus. It took me far too long to realize that, and seeing that concert totally jarred me.
On the musical results of Brooklyn living…
Almost every place I’ve lived, there’s been someone living 10 or 15 feet from me in any given direction, so not being able to play loud and then finally going to record an album out in the woods when you can finally be as loud as you want is amazing. That type of pent-up energy is something that happens in almost every record that I’ve done, I think, because of living here. I bottle myself up and when it comes time, there’s a lot of energy.
On his favorite Brooklyn venue…
I really like Baby’s All RIght, but I love playing Rough Trade. I just love that venue. I think one of our last group of gigs as Stone Cold Fox, we played Rough Trade and sold it out, and it’s a great feeling. It’s just a great room. It’s a perfect-size venue…
I’ll hopefully have a different perspective on that in a couple years [laughs] but right now it’s the perfect size.
On what’s next…
I’m a pessimist, and I never think anything’s going to go well, so I’m just going to keep writing. And if the second album does better than I thought, that’s awesome, that’s amazing. But even if that does well — say it does really well — I would never want that to fuck up the stuff I’m trying to explore now. I’m going to write anyway. I work, I come home and I write, I work… just keep going and not worry about it.
Feature image: Ben Curry
+ CAPE FRANCIS DOES BK
Kings County Brewers Collective (KCBC)
I’ve been in Bushwick for something like six years now… as soon as KCBC opened, me and my friends started always going here.
I feel like I’ve lived in three spots in Bushwick but always around the same area, and KCBC has been a staple of a friend hangout. Like there was one year everybody had their birthday party here. It has games, it has beers, it’s great.
381 Troutman St, (929) 234-6557, kcbcbeer.com
Yours Sincerely is another spot. It’s pretty much diagonal from the place I lived for four years. It’s draft cocktails, which can turn some people off, but they’re pretty good, and their happy hour is like $5 for a margarita, so yeah — I don’t give a fuck, this is great. Their El Nino is good… everything is good there.
41 Wilson Ave, yourssincerely.co
Interboro Spirits & Ales
It’s kind of a trek, it’s kind of no man’s land, but I love it. It’s so chill. On the weekends, you don’t get that whole Jefferson L crowd. It’s also near my practice space, so it’s a good one. I usually start with a pilsner here.
942 Grand St, (877) 843-6545, interboro.nyc
“Nam Nam is the best Vietnamese banh-mi in the city, in my opinion. They’re cheap, like they should be, and they’re so good. They do two things: banh mi or noodles. Either/or, it’s fucking great.
My old producer used to live right next to there — we were also in the same band together.
We started going there so much. Then my friend moved and we ordered takeout from there and the guy came through like, ‘Oh shit, this is where you guys are now.’ Like okay, we’ve been eating too much of this. But they’re great.” – Cape Francis
109 Montrose Ave, (718) 302-9200, namnam.weebly.com
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]