Francesco Yates: Timberlake, Mendes And Momma’s Pizza

Francesco Yates is part of a new generation of Canadian pop stars. In his mid-20s, Yates has already toured with Justin Timberlake and released his new album Superbad, accompanied by a short film.

Drake, Justin Bieber, Hedley, Shawn Mendes, The Weeknd and Carly Rae Jepsen all have one thing in common — they’re Canadian rock superstars. Each one has become an idol on the world stage. Now, there’s another name to add to the list of Canadian crooners shooting up the Billboard charts: Francesco Yates.

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Yates was born in Scarborough, Ont., on Sept. 11, 1995. He cites the movie School of Rock, which stars Jack Black, Prince and ’70s and ’80s R&B as major career inspirations. School of Rock propelled him to believe that a career in music was really possible. Yates’s parents noticed his enthusiasm and enrolled him in a nearby music camp during the summers. It was there he began learning to play piano and guitar. The first song he penned was called “Jaguars.” By high school, he had joined a band, and a vocal coach helped pave the way to a deal with Chris Smith, who is Nelly Furtado and JoJo’s manager. At 16, Yates had signed a deal with the major recording label Atlantic Records.

His self-titled debut album was released on Sept. 11, 2015, on Yates’s 20th birthday. The album was co-produced by Robin Hannibal and Pharrell Williams. Working with Williams and Hannibal was the ultimate learning experience for Yates: “I’ve learned production tricks from them. I watched how they build a beat. I have a photographic memory, so I made sure to really pay attention in those sessions.”

Perhaps the song that accelerated Yates’s impending stardom is the remix of “Sugar,” which he and Robin Schulz created. “The song started off as a little loop that was sent in and was floating around the Atlantic building. I looked on the label and it said, ‘Baby Bash,’ and I realized it was a sample from the Baby Bash song.” In 2015, his version of “Sugar” spent 15 weeks on the Billboard charts and peaked at No. 3.

Recently, Yates had the stuff of dreams become part of his reality, when he had the opportunity to tour with pop icon Justin Timberlake. For the 24-year-old, the experience was life-changing. Yates loved opening for Timberlake during his The Man of the Woods Tour. “I learned a lot just being with Justin. He’s so attentive to details, from the lighting to his cues. He knows his show inside and out. Watching him manoeuvre and find the time for himself and others is amazing,” says Yates “To learn from a guy like that, you couldn’t pay for this type of education in the business. I’m grateful for the kind of schooling I got.” When reflecting on touring with Timberlake, the moment that stands out the most for Yates was opening for Timberlake at Madison Square Garden. “I was so happy that I was there and was, like, ‘Man, this is what all the hard work was for.’”

Yates recently released his latest album, Superbad, which took him years to create. “It’s easily my most well-put-together album and is a celebration of women.” Yates stumbled upon the name for the album by accident. “While I was singing the chorus, the phrase, ‘My girl is superbad’ just came out. What ties the entire album together for me is the journey between myself and one girl.”

The album was released at the same time as a short film Yates produced as a complementary piece. “It’s a visual outlining of the story in a film format. It’s a got a real cold and psychedelic feel to it. The film walks you through the narrative of the songs. The majority of it was shot in Toronto,” he says.

Yates is quite laid back about the upcoming release of his new work: “This is a time to build and set a precedent. It’s a good starting point. It’s very tough to manage expectations; you really never know where a song will take you,” he says. “Of course, you want it to sell like gangbusters, but maybe it’s a slow build. Really, I’m excited to learn from the entire process.”

Of course, you want it to sell like gangbusters, but maybe it’s a slow build. Really, I’m excited to learn from the entire process.

Many of Yates’s fondest memories are rooted in Scarborough, where he grew up in an Italian family, with his mother being a tremendous cook. Recently, he and his mom found a new Italian restaurant in Toronto they love: “Grazie — it’s the best Italian restaurant in Toronto,” he says. His mother’s Italian cooking reminds Yates of a funny moment that happened during the Timberlake tour, while in Toronto. “I was in the dressing room, and word got around my mom had made pizza for the entire crew. Suddenly, Shawn Mendes was backstage and asked if I wrote something for the tour, and we just got to talking,” says Yates. “When I left to do my thing, Shawn disappeared with a lot of my mom’s pizza. Shawn, I know you took the pizza.”

Photographer: Ben Cope

Styling: Enrique Melendez

Grooming: Archangela Chelsea

Interview by Cassandra Giammarco

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