Interview with Jon Matte of The Franklin Electric + New EP

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Link to new EP Never Look Back

Upon landing in Veracruz in 1519, to start his conquest, Captain Hernán Cortés ordered his men to burn the boats.  There was no turning back, only victory ahead.

Jon burned the boats when he went all-in financially to create the first album, This Is How I Let You Down.  

Since then, moving forward despite fear is a theme that shows up in Jon’s life repeatedly.

Photo by Vincent Price

It all started when Jon began searching for his superpower.  He wasn’t good at school, and he wasn’t a soccer prodigy like his brother, but music came easy….maybe even too easy. 

“Music was a joke.  I never had to think.  I also never took it seriously.  But that’s usually a sign from the universe saying: You have an ear and a feeling you can connect with music.”

He studied at Vanier for one year, but dropped out, because they were teaching technique, not music, in his opinion.  He now admits he might have been wrong, but Jon had to forge his own path.  

He started by creating hip-hop beats and playing trumpet on the streets, while listening to Miles Davis at home.  

Folk music soon nudged him towards the guitar, and mentors showed him the ropes inside a studio.  That decade of experimentation led to the making of the first album This Is How I Let You Down.  

Jon first worked on his mindset, reading books like The Celestine ProphecyThe Secret, The Prophet and Steppenwolf

“We are constantly going through our lives, creating realities.  When you start to learn how to create the ones you want, instead of being a victim of those that are happening to you, you get to create those that serve you better.”  

Jon could just as easily have been a pilot, but “I went straight, to turn left” and became a musician.  When he wrote Old Piano, the plan was to sell it.  He didn’t see himself in that role yet.

Before Jon could create the reality of an album, he first had to slay the dragon of fear, and his sword were words from a good friend who would soon pass away.  “You have so much information and knowledge, after everything you have done, you have to do something with all of this.”

Unlike the title of the album, Jon did not let his friend down, and hustled for the tens of thousands needed to make that initial album. 

“If you are not willing to max out a $40,000 line of credit at the bank on your own art, you probably don’t deserve it.”  

He went all-in and burned the boats.  

Jon next conquered the fear of dropping something that isn’t right for you by pulling the plug on many of the early recordings.  They were “cookie cutter music, but it wasn’t honest.”  

Without a major label to put marketing dollars behind his sound, all Jon had was his honesty and he wasn’t about to throw that out the window to write pop songs and compete against the mass of existing ones.   

“You are better off getting a banjo, a mandolin, spoons and a tap dancer and speaking from your heart.  People will remember you!”

Money is not the only ingredient to a successful music career.  “It’s also vulnerability.  You peel layers of yourself, vent them into the unknown and the universe will throw something your way.  It might not be what you want, or expect, but there will be a way.  Just keep your eyes open and keep moving forward.”  

He now had an album but needed to find an audience.

Jon paid his dues in the Montreal bar scene, playing the likes of McKibbin’s and Honey Martin learning how to front a stage, gain confidence and make connections with his audience.   

That early experience carved a path to creating The Franklin Electric.

The mental image I get from the name Franklin Electric is the Franklin stove, named after its creator Benjamin.  I have a vivid memory of a roaring fire in my parents’ basement.  I’m sipping on a shot of bourbon while spinning records, specifically Red House by Jimi Hendrix.  

To me, the Franklin Electric is about warmth, the same warmth that gathers in me as I now sip on an Old Fashioned, over 30 years later.

What started as a friend daring Jon to call the band The Franklin Electric, became a reality as he created the Facebook Page.

“The honesty and the feeling of the music gave the name of the band a personality.”

Benjamin’s take on the fireplace was a tweak to the traditional design to project the heat outwards, just like the band projects their form of musical heat towards the audience and we feel the warmth within.

“The basis of where my music comes from is inside of me.  That’s why I threw out that first record, because it didn’t have that.”

Jon will take themes from books and tap into topics that some try to avoid, but true artists since the beginning of time have drawn inspiration from.  Jon is not afraid of putting his hand into the fire to awaken the embers that allow him to create a roaring song.

He will jam for 20 minutes and eventually get to a place where time stands still, and he forgets he is in the process.  Three phrases of pure inspiration, along with five chords become the framework of a song. 

“That’s when I let go, and there is something special about that moment.”  

From some of these sessions, where Jon taps into the deep well of inspiration, comes a new EP titled Never Look Back.  

“After the year we just had, it’s a great title to use right now.”

One can get discouraged looking forward to where you want to be in life, as that target seem to always creep forward, but looking back can help us see how far we have come.

The Franklin Electric had a steady growth, starting at places like Divan Orange, Casa Del Popolo, Sala Rosa, Corona Theatre to ending up with a sold-out MTelus show along with Festivals and tours abroad.  

“At the beginning, we were winging it, but now we have developed a show.”      

It started with raw emotion and people identified with that.  Now, after touring extensively with other bands, Jon soaks up their experience and is constantly striving to create a better and more unique experience for the live shows.  

He learned to be a “chameleon, switching from room to room, adapting to the crowds like water” and both controlling and going with the flow of the show.

Even with the COVID-19 forced break of live shows, Jon will start playing like the last show was yesterday, as he did recently on Belle et Bum.      

The birth of the song Never Look Back came from moving forward despite fear.  

There is a sign on Australia’s Blue Mountains that warns:  Experienced walkers only – High level of fitness and navigational skill required, minimum 3 in group. Advise friends or police of route and destination times.

It was on the ledge of Blue Mountains, a lethal drop to Jon’s side that he had to decide:  Do I go forward, despite the fear I am feeling at this moment, or do I go back to safety?

“I can’t freeze up” was the mantra that kept speaking to him, and kept him moving forward, despite the fear.

“Turning back wasn’t an option.  It would mean going back through the heaviest cliffs of the day.”  

Sometimes, in life, we have an irrational fear of moving forward into the unknown, almost preferring to return to the dangers we just passed.  

Jon’s journey was almost over, but that fear kept tugging at him to turn back, even if moving forward was the true path for him.

He did move forward, eventually finding a body of water, removing his shirt and shorts and jumping in.  It was a rebirth, releasing the fear into the stillness of the water.

As a parallel to his perilous journey, Jon was also dealing with the cliff of a relationship.  Just as terrifying, one can sometimes find themselves with the same choice:  To not look back and move forward towards the unknown, or return to what might be a dangerous path, emotionally.

Jon did not let that emotional release drift into that body of water.  He instead bottled it up, and poured it into a beautiful song, which at around the 3:45 mark gave me goosebumps.  

Another new song is Just Ain’t Mine where Jon sings: “I see my reflection but it just ain’t mine.”  

“I think everyone struggles being the authentic version of themselves.  Sometimes we are changing but holding on to the idea of who we used to be, or who we would like to be, but denying the change within ourselves.  Sometimes we look into the mirror and we don’t know who that person is.”

Jon’s advice is to stop trying to find out who we are, because we don’t know.  “Being the sum of the story of your experiences can really hold you back.”  

There is a belief that many of our decisions are based on past trauma, regardless of importance.  We need to reframe past trauma, and see what we learn from it, and then imagine a future self, the person we want to become and take decisions today, based on that future self.  We will then, eventually become that person.  

(Taken from the book:  Personality Isn’t Permanent.  Note:  This is an affiliate link.  You can also just Google the title on Amazon.)

When Jon started the band, it was overwhelming.  “Baby steps.  Every time you make one authentic baby step, then another, you never look at the big picture.  The big picture is who you are.  You can’t look at it and understand it.  You can only look at your next baby step.”  

Not only did this philosophy get the band in a forward motion, it helped Jon evolve as a human being.

He remembers travelling to the Saguenay this summer and speaking with what he would previously call “small town folks.”  Compared to the opinionated big city rhetoric, it felt more authentic to spend time with these ones, then those trying to be modern authentic, that Instagram authenticity that is somewhat shallow.  

While they might be ignorant of the world around them, they are authentic in a way that those that are trying to be authentic are failing.

The world today is people debating on opposite sides of the pendulum, but according to Jon: “We are all on the same team:  Team Love.”  

Jon states that it doesn’t matter if it’s politics, gender roles, racism or even masks that divides us more than unites us.  

It reminds me of the sayings:  You don’t have to agree, but you can be agreeable.  

People can be entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.  

In the video for Just Ain’t Mine, there are pictures that are morphing and changing.  Our memories, like our opinions, will often change and we might even take on someone else’s memory as our own.

The most vivid memories that Jon has are alive again during the meditation of his earliest and happiest moments.  

Jon remembers playing in the fall leaves, his brother wearing a wool sweater.  He remembers playing piano at an early age and having bunnies on a popsicle stick, teaching him musical notation.  He remembers water sports on his dad’s boat.

With Spindle, another new song, letting go is the goal.  Some cherished memories you want to hold onto, yet others you want to let go despite all the emotions you invested in them.  

“Spindle is getting caught up in the ideas of love, like a washing machine or dryer.  You are stuck in it and going round and around.”

There is also a deeper meaning about the mercilessness of the universe.  “Things go on without you.”  

After experiencing grief from the death of loved ones, Jon went from the childish thought of death not being the end, to accepting what the universe has taken away.

In the end, it makes us be grateful for the life we have, and that our time is short, so we must make the best of it.

Jon has a lot to be grateful for, and look forward to, including live shows, hopefully in 2021.  He made good use of his pandemic time by writing new songs while in Vancouver. 

He also looks forward to travelling for which he not only discovers new places but discovers things about himself while on the journey.

He continues reading.  When asked about what book he has most gifted, he speaks about Allen Carr’s book How to Stop Smoking, which helped him quit that bad habit.  

Leonard Cohen Poems are a favorite for Jon.  As he brings the book towards the camera, you can see pages of notes, bursting from its pages.  Are these future songs?  Possibly.

We ended our conversation on a quote I found from someone Jon’s respects:  Chet Baker

It seems to me that most people are impressed with just three things:  how fast you can play, how high you can play, and how loud you can play.”

Like Chet, The Franklin Electric doesn’t try to impress most people. Both Chet and Jon had a softer, yet more powerful sound.  

The combination of the new songs off Never Look Back, along with softer versions of some past ones really amplifies the heat.

We thank The Franklin Electric for sharing that fire within during these cold times.

Writer: Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube. His Podcast RockStar Today helps musicians quit their days jobs with out of the box advice from Ted Talk Speakers, Best Selling Authors and other interesting Entrepreneurs and Creatives.

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