City guide

Hungarotropical Heat: Fran Palermo’s debut album is out now

Photo : Fran Palermo
Paskál Strandfürdő, homokozó, gyerek

Fran Palermo is Hungary’s one and only vagabond rock ’n’ roll band, with no less than nine members bringing a unique sun-soaked vibe to the local music scene. With inspirations ranging from Primal Scream to Allah-Las, and from tropical rock to desert blues, the band released its self-titled debut album a few days ago. We met with bandleader Henri Gonzalez to ask about his inspirations, the hardships of starting all over again, and about the band’s future plans.

Listening to Fran Palermo’s debut album is like looking through a telescope: ever changing, and although the songs remain the same, you can discover something new in them with every listening session. The band labels its music as vagabond rock ’n’ roll, which could be described as a mix of indie, desert blues, Mediterranean rock, and Afropop. Each song has its own unique atmosphere, and they are mostly dominated by guitar, wind instruments, and keyboards. On “Fran Palermo”, some of the songs sound like they were written during Elvis Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” sessions (“Marc O’Polo”), while others capture the essence of a lazy morning on the beach (“Am I Right Boy”) or a wild night out in Harlem (“Engrossing”).  

Of course, shifting between so many styles and moods can easily backfire, but not on this album. Each song has a certain Fran Palermo-ish vibe and hits the listener like the first days of summer, making the debut the perfect soundtrack for driving down to the nearest beach or for doing nothing on a laid-back afternoon. As the first rays of summer sunshine are knocking on our door, we’re sure that this is the album that we’ll be getting back to again and again. Highly recommended.

Photo: Fran Palermo
We Love Budapest: How did Fran Palermo get its name?  

Henri González: There is an Italian film titled Malèna, and there is a scene in it when the heroine is waiting at a railway station and there is a sign with “fraz.palermo” written on it, and it’s pointing towards a given direction. “Fraz” is the abbreviation of the Italian word “frazione”, so basically, the inscription means something like “in that direction” – like “towards” in English. We were looking for a name, and me and our guitarist liked it. We switched the “z” to an “n”, and voila!

WLB: Last September, you gave an interview to the A38 Ship blog, in which you said that you don’t really plan to write new songs. Since then, you’ve released an EP in November, and now, as we are speaking, your debut album is out, too.  

HG: I was living in London for about two years, where I wrote tons of songs that I wanted to record and perform. And I also had some opportunities in Budapest, so I came home in November, and since we had the time, we’ve recorded five songs in about two weeks’ time. Actually, recording them took about two days, but with the mastering and all of the other stuff, it was two weeks. And we’ve started performing them, and it turns out that people like them. Since the other members also had some songs in their head, we’ve decided to record them too, and make an album. Things just happened that way.

WLB: You’ve already performed a number of times since you are active again – what are your experiences?  

HG: Surprising, I’d say. I saw many bands who can’t really get back into the business after a hiatus, but I guess we weren’t away for too long, and when we decided to pause or activities we were not so well-known that it really mattered. Since we are back, we played some really great shows – for example, a sold-out concert at Akvárium Klub – and they really fire us up.  

WLB: Some members of Fran Palermo play in other bands too, or perform as a singer-songwriter. Does this make it harder for you to play together?  

HG: Not more than any other band with eight or nine members. But, you know, we aren’t just band members, we are friends; we’ve known each other for years, so that makes things easier.  

WLB: We heard that special guests will perform with you during the album-release concert?  

HG: Yes, Béla Ágoston will play on saxophone and steel drums for some of the songs. He already performed with us during our acoustic session for Petőfi Radio. He is a real multi-instrumentalist!

Photo: Fran Palermo
WLB: What would you say about how your style and inspirations changed over the years?  

HG: Our style is ever-changing, and that’s why our main inspirations are bands who can come up with something new with every release. Bands like Primal Scream. One half of the songs have this jungle-rock-ish summer vibe, while others are a bit more melancholic, but with summery instrumentation. I would describe the new album as a tropical, Afro-rock release.  

WLB: Which is your favorite song from the new album?  

HG: I don’t really have one song in particular. We’re lucky, because our debut is kind of an “all killer, no filler” release – I love each song on it. Each of them was a favorite of mine for some time.  

WLB: Future plans?  

HG: What is certain is that we will play at nearly all the major Hungarian festivals. We care about what people think about our music, to see if there is a need for what we do or not.

WLB: And?  

HG: Luckily, most of the reactions are positive. One of our tracks (“Mustangs”) made it to the Magyar Rádió 2 Top 30 – that’s also the first time that our songs got such heavy rotation from a radio station. We were also invited to play an acoustic concert as a part of their ongoing “MR2 Akusztik” sessions, and that also hadn’t happened before. More and more people discover our music every day, so I guess that as things keep getting better and better, we’ll keep playing.

You can listen to Fran Palermo’s self-titled debut album on Soundcloud. The album-release concert takes place on 22 May at A38 Ship.