Francis of Delirium and The Districts Interview Each Other in a Dark Van

The tourmates caught up before going onstage in Detroit.

Jana Bahrich is a 20-year-old artist from Luxembourg who performs as Francis of Delirium (and who just released their latest EP, The Funhouse, last week); Rob Grote is the frontman of the Philly-based rock band The Districts. The Districts’ new record, Great American Painting, came out on Fat Possum back in March, and Francis of Delirium just wrapped up a stint supporting the band on their extensive US tour. Below is a transcript of a conversation they had while on the road, about their musical origin stories and much more. 
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music 

Jana Bahrich: This is actually horrifying. This is, like, the worst way to have a conversation with anyone. [Laughs.]

Rob Grote: [Laughs.] Just in a dark van.

Jana:  We’re about to play in Detroit.

Rob: Feels like we’re about to go rob a bank or something.

Jana: It feels like we’re going to do an English presentation. [Laughs.] Well, because you started so young — there’s that video, obviously, that kind of blew up — I wondered what that was like for you.

Rob: It was weird. We were in high school when we started, and at that point we’d played Philly a bunch, because we grew up an hour-and-a-half from there.

Jana: And you were, like, 16. 

Rob: Yeah. We made a record just with our friends and put that out. We did that video — friends of ours who helped us get shows in Philly filmed it, and they just put it on Reddit. We were at my high school girlfriend’s house and I think someone texted us like, “Hey, you’re on the front page of Reddit.” I don’t even think we knew what Reddit was at the time. We pulled it up and were just kind of freaking out. It was crazy. It was very surreal.

Jana: How long had you been playing shows at that point?

Rob: Probably a good three years — not too seriously, just around town.

Jana: Three years? Holy shit, so you’ve been playing shows since you were 13?

Rob: Yeah, or maybe 14. So, yeah, that was wild. And then that sort of snowballed into some other stuff for us, like getting a label and stuff.

Jana: Yeah. I actually talked to someone and we were like, “Oh, we’re going on tour with The Districts,” and they were like, “Oh, we tried to sign them back when…” [Laughs.] 

Rob: [Laughs.] That’s awesome.

Jana: When did you get your first guitar?

Rob: I had a toy guitar when I was little, and I guess my first electric guitar, when I was getting serious, was fifth grade. I asked for some birthday money, I was 11 or something. How old were you?

Jana: Well, I started playing violin when I was five. And then by nine, I hated it. I just wanted to watch Disney Channel instead of practice. [Laughs.] My mom was like, “Are you going to practice for this recital?” I was like, “No, I’m going to be fine.” I just wouldn’t do anything. So then I kind of quit music for a while. And then, we had a classical guitar around the house, so I think around 12 I started learning guitar through YouTube. A guy called Marty Schwartz — I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him on YouTube before, but he was pretty awesome. 

Actually, I learned it because — you know the song “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers?

Rob: Yeah.

Jana: My friend hated that song. And I was like, This is going to be great. I’m going to learn how to play “Ho Hey” and just annoy her for her birthday.

Rob: [Laughs.] That’s awesome.

Jana: I was like, Fuck, why is this F chord so fucking hard to play? So that was kind of the main reason why I really started to learn guitar. And then I just went from there, and took French horn lessons and learned the banjo.

Rob: Nice. French horn is an awesome instrument.

Jana: Yeah, it’s like the best orchestral one. That one and the cello, I think, are the best ones because they’re not like like — did you play any wind instruments or anything as a kid? 

Rob: Yeah, I did trumpet in elementary school.

Jana: I was just going to say, I fucking hate the trumpet. It’s the worse instrument.

Rob: Yeah, I agree honestly. I kind of wish I played saxophone or something like that.

Jana: Even saxophone — there were, like, 10 saxophones and no other instruments in our school band, so it was just like, [makes saxophone noises]. It’s a great instrument if you can play it well, but if you’re shit, it’s the most horrific noise eve.

Rob: Yeah, totally. You can either, like, shred jazz or be like Bill Clinton.

Jana: [Laughs.] Right.

Rob: Your guitar playing, I really like, and I feel like it feels familiar in some way to me. I’ve been curious, what guitar players you got into?

Jana: Well, I had a massive Pearl Jam phase when I was 12. I really liked the album Ten. I learned “Even Flow,” and then a lot of Nirvana stuff. That’s probably why I’m in drop D all the time as well, it just feels way easier. But I don’t know. I used to really play a lot of Elton John.

Rob: Nice.

Jana: “Rocketman” was one of my favorite songs to just play in my room and sing. Or I love the song “Don’t Know Why” by Norah Jones.

Rob: Yeah, if you guys did don’t know why in the style of Francis of Delirium, that would be awesome. 

Jana: [Laughs.] I feel like it might be a disaster. 

Rob: Do you ever listen to Built To Spill or anything?

Jana: No. I feel like it’s a big gap in my indie musical knowledge, I need to listen to them.

Rob: There’s something about certain things you play on the guitar that are reminiscent of that — not in a derivative way or anything, it just strikes a similar note for me.

Jana: Yeah, that’s cool. Current artist-wise, I like Car Seat Headrest a lot. But I don’t think I’ve ever thought too intentionally about what I’m writing guitar-wise. It’s just kind of what’s easy to play and sing over top of, and I go from there. But now we write a bit different. I used to write just jamming the songs out, and now it’s kind of more on the computer, figuring stuff out. 

I read a little bio of your guys’ — because it was on the ticket thing for one of the venues — and it was saying how for the You Know I’m Not Going Anywhere album, you took more control of the production side yeah. I was curious about that and how it was different from the other albums you did before?

Rob: Yeah, totally. It’d kind of a similar thing. Most of the beginning of our stuff, I’d either have some piano chords or a guitar part, and just jam garage band style.

Jana: GarageBand is kind of awesome. 

Rob: Yeah, totally. Well, I mean more like us being like an actual basement band.

Jana: [Laughs.]

Rob: But GarageBand the program — at some point I just started recording on that, messing around.

Jana: Do you know old you were when you started to do that?

Rob: Yeah, I guess just fucking around with it, late high school. But it all sounded really bad at that point.

Jana: Yeah, sure. Did you have a USB mic, or did you have like a Scarlett interface? 

Rob: No, at that point we used Braden [Lawrence]’s mom’s iPad. [Laughs.] Sounded like garbage.

Jana: [Laughs.] Oh, awesome. 

Rob: We would literally just throw the iPad on a chair and records some drums. [Laughs.] I would love to hear that. But eventually we got Logic and an interface. I guess for a good two years before making that record, I started just recording in my room a lot, and once I kind of got that down, it opened up a whole new horizon of looking at music. Instead of just being restricted to, like, these are my chords, you can really conceptualize the whole song. I was messing with drum machines and got this reel-to-reel tape machine. I had this hybrid setup doing tape loops and stuff. That one’s really the only Districts record that was really made in that way. And really, it’s my favorite way to work. You can piece stuff together in such a nice way.

Jana: Do you find it hard to define what you’re making when you’re working that way? Or do you feel like everything ends up kind of fitting together?

Rob: I don’t know. For better or worse, I don’t think about that very much. I’m a vibes guy. If one song sounds totally different but is a continuation of the spirit of the record, that’s what I see as important. Which I think has led to us having records that are all over the place. But I think that suits our personalities. Have you released a lot of stuff that you recorded that way?

Jana: Yeah. A lot of the songs are written by jamming, but then I do most of the production. And then I work with a collaborator who fills out a lot of the drum parts or, “maybe we should tweak this,” and stuff. But it’s kind of cool though, because if you listen to our discography, there’s just such a massive difference already from the first EP we released in 2020 versus what’s coming out now. We’ve moved from doing drums in the washing machine room — now we record drums at a studio, but everything else is done at a home studio. But sometimes there’s so much freedom in recording just into Logic, I find it not restrictive enough.

Rob: Yeah, it’s too many options.

Jana: Too many options. It can lead to, for me, a lot of self-doubt. Like, Oh, fuck, well, I’m just going to start a new song. So I have, like, 150 20-second songs that I just never finished. But that’s why it’s good to have people to collaborate with, because they can be like, “Oh, this is actually worthwhile.”

Rob: “Reel it in.” It is good though. Having done both working with a producer and just doing it ourselves, there’s definitely things to be gained from both. I love a producer’s perspective and their experience, but there is something really special about the sense of ownership when you just do it yourself with someone you care about.

Jana: Yeah, exactly. Now part of me wants to try with a producer, but then I’m also worried because I’m kind of a control freak.

Rob: You gotta find the right producer. I feel like there’s producers who are really driving, and then there’s ones who are really receptive and kind of just help guide the project — that’s the best one.

Jana: Do you write songs in one go or are you like, I’m going to stop at this verse and now finish it later?

Rob: I guess finishing things can take months for me. But in terms of the core song, when I’m really on a roll recording or something, I can pretty much get the whole bones of a song in one go. I personally find if you walk away from it, you kind of lose the headspace, and then it’s hard to reconnect and get back there.

Jana: Yeah, Normally I’ll get back to it and be like, Well, this is shit. I also want to go back to the beginning: Was it The Districts already at 14? 

Rob: I was in an elementary school — we just played some talent shows, it was pretty much all covers. It was me and another guy that were both lead guitar, and it was sort of a deceptive situation — I thought the band didn’t want to play our next show, and the band was told that I didn’t want to play the next show. So I was sort of by omission kicked out. I think at that point, I was like, Oh man, this sucks. I really wanna be in a band

Eventually, I met these other dudes through a music theory class, and Braden and I went to preschool together but reconnected through this other guy, Mark [Larson], and we started a band with two lead guitars. We made it wok, just shredding Jimi Hendrix. [Laughs.] But we had a long list of terrible band names, and The Districts were like, “This is fine, that’ll work.” And we pretty much finalized the band lineup a week before a show.

Jana: How were you booking these show?

Rob: This was just in our high school cafeteria, through the art club.

Jana: And were you playing original stuff already, or just covers there?

Rob: It was mostly covers. We didn’t all agree on that much music — my stepsister got me into old school punk rock, and I wanted to do something like that. But then, the place we could all come together on was Jimi Hendrix, so we played, like, four classic rock songs and then one original song.

Jana: That’s pretty cool. When that video popped off, were your parents like, “What the fuck is happening?”

Rob: They were excited.But really, with the parents thing, we booked our first tour the year we graduated high school, with a friend’s band, and we got a call from a label on that tour. And so we all called our parents and were like, “Did you pay any down payments yet for this college thing? How do these loans work? Can we not do this?” So they were nervous, but they supported us and let us do our thing, and we just pulled out of college and started touring. 

So were you in bands in high school? Or is this your first band?

Jana: Well, I did a School of Rock type thing called Rock Club. 

Rob: Hell yeah.

Jana: My friend in French class, I saw like on Snapchat stories of her playing in bars in Luxembourg. I was like, Oh, that’s kind of cool, and kind of jealous. I told her, and then she was like, “Oh, you should come and play with us.” We did our first show and it was just covers — fuck, I can’t remember what the name of the one song was, but it was just way too low for my voice, you couldn’t hear anything coming through the speaker. I didn’t let my parents come to the show or anything. It was just really bad.

Rob: Almost like a secret. 

Jana: Yeah, oh my god — I like to start things in secret so that, if it fails really quickly, it’s fine.

Rob: And there’s less pressure. 

Jana: There’s less pressure. I also read this thing that was like, if you tell people you’re going to do a big change, then you fail more often. Because you’re like, Oh, I told them that I’m going to do this, so I already did part of the work. Like if you’re going to start running every day or whatever. When I started this band, I didn’t tell anyone. I made an Instagram page for it and I was like, I hope no one I know follows this page, or it comes up in their feed or something

Rob: This bodes well for my secret meme page.

Jana: [Laughs.] Yeah. You’re going to be just raking in the cash pretty soon. But yeah, I just played covers for a while and then eventually started writing original stuff and kind of mixing that in with the covers that this School of Rock was doing. Then there was a kind of a battle of the bands type thing in Luxembourg, where you play the biggest venue and then booking agents from the venues will book some of the acts that play there or whatever. So I made the band specifically for that battle of the bands — like Francis of Delirium was made to enter this competition. I was like, I’m going to do a gap year and just like play music for a year and then go to school.

Rob: And now you’re touring the States! Being two people that started music pretty young, how do you feel about other people’s perceptions? Does that create pressure for you that you don’t like, or is it something you shrug off?

Jana: I find it kind of terrifying. It causes me a lot of stress. Just in general, anyways, I’m a more anxious person, and I find just releasing music to be one of the most stressful things that I can do. I don’t know if this is really answering your question at all, but I find playing shows to be the most relaxed I am, but releasing music is peak stress. I also put a bunch of fake pressure on myself to make stuff that is meaningful to me, and I hope is meaningful to other people. Before we released our first song, I freaked out the night before. I was like, Fuck, have I done? This is literally the worst thing ever. This music video fucking sucks. What are we doing? I don’t know if that’s answering the question.

Rob: I think it is!

Jana: How would how would you answer that question if I asked it to you?

Rob: My take on that stuff has always been, we put our first record out being 16 or whatever. The funny thing with that is, I think there’s been this internal thing, both personally and as a group, where there’s almost like a stubborn rebelliousness against ourselves. Because the first one, we were just trying to make stuff that we all saw eye-to-eye on. And then once people liked it, we were all like, “Oh, they all like the song we don’t want to be like!” And so other people’s expectations or perceptions has been this sort of funny dynamic, where it’s like you’re kind of like trying to navigate this process of who you are and becoming yourself, while also sort of rejecting who you currently are because it’s become identified with other people’s perceptions. 

But as time goes on, I feel you do start to learn how to navigate allowing yourself to grow in spite of what other people might expect of you — and also not just in spite of it, but in relation to it, because it doesn’t have to be this bad thing. It gives you this opportunity to surprise people. You can deliberately subvert your own expectations or other people’s and sort of play with that, which I think is fun.

Jana: Yeah. I have a lot of side project fantasies. I start a lot of ambient stuff, or like, I want to make a really folky, down to earth, shitty Bon Iver in the woods fucking thing

Rob: Hell yeah. I can see you songs being good like that.

Jana: I find a lot of peace in that. Like, OK, whatever I’m doing now doesn’t have to be what I’m doing forever, and if people perceive us as a rock band, I can just bow out and make a new project. But I think there’s probably way more pressure when you have fans that are expecting something from you that we just, I don’t think, have. Maybe you need to talk to me in a couple more years.

Francis of Delirium is a band from Luxembourg fronted by Jana Bahrich. Their latest EP, The Funhouse, is out now.