Musician and producer Johnny Franck continues to fumble toward happiness in his solo project
“Can we get in really close? Like, uncomfortably close?”
Musician Johnny Franck is seated outside a Downtown coffee shop, speaking to Alive's photo editor, Tim Johnson, about options he hoped to explore for the picture accompanying this feature. At the same time, Franck could just as easily be describing the music he writes and records under the name Bilmuri, much of which comes on like ultra-revealing diary scribblings.
Early albums such as Letters are self-lacerating, dark and despondent. “I feel the pain inside my lungs,” Franck sings on the moody, grunge-indebted “Pain,” “when you take away the ones that I love.”
But, beginning with a pair of 2017 albums — Frame and Banana — the clouds started to part, with tracks documenting the singer gradually fumbling his way toward happiness. “I'm not as dead as I was before,” he sings on “Shoe.” “I stitch up my hand/I can feel my heart again.”
The evolution mirrors Franck's personal growth in the two and a half years since he launched Bilmuri as a documentary-esque vehicle for his innermost thoughts and feelings (the musician said he hoped to release two Bilmuri albums a year until he dies).
“We do change as people pretty incrementally, but maybe you don't really notice it until you look at who you were three years ago and you're like, ‘Wow, I'm different,'” said Franck, who will perform with a backing band when he celebrates the release of the most recent Bilmuri album, Taco, at a Big Room Bar concert on Friday, Aug. 31 (co-headliner No Dice will also be celebrating the release of its new record at the concert). “You have to figure out what you like in life and what you want to do and you work towards that.”
This growth carries over into the music, which has seen Franck drift from the metalcore he explored in his first band, Attack Attack!, as well as the pop-punk underpinning his first post-Attack-squared foray, the March Ahead, into songs that incorporate more lo-fi, indie-pop elements.
“I think the way I approach it is incremental change. Some bands will completely change because they resent their old sound, and it will alienate people that supported them,” Franck said. “The perfect example is Taylor Swift. … If she had released her first record and her most recent record back-to-back, everyone would have hated it. But she added a little more synth on the second record and then slowly changed into something.”
According to Franck, part of growing is also accepting who you are, which he learned early on, departing Attack Attack! just three years into the band's run after coming to the realization that life on the road just wasn't for him (the group would carry on for another three years before folding in 2013).
“I didn't like that lifestyle,” Franck said. “Being on tour, it's all very temporary. The people you're around are temporary. Then you start to get really jaded because, ‘Oh, these guys are cool, but it doesn't matter because I'm not going to see them in two days, so I'm not going to talk to them.' You don't want to build relationships because you know it can't go anywhere, and I didn't like that.”
Now home in Westerville, where he runs a recording studio and works as a producer, Franck is content with a more established routine — “I like being able to go to the same coffee shop every day,” he said —and his increased comfort is reflected in his carefree approach to Bilmuri.
“I want to have fun with this and write songs I like,” he said. “There's no pressure with it. It allows you to be less afraid.”