This week, pop songwriter & producer Mr. Franks is enjoying hit success that is truly remarkable. He co-wrote & produced an impressive nine songs on Ariana Grande’s new album Positions, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. He co-wrote the single “Positions,” which debuted last week at #1 on the Hot 100 chart. On top of this, he co-wrote Justin Bieber’s current hit “Holy” featuring Chance the Rapper, which recently reached #3 on the Hot 100.
With Grande’s new album debuting on the charts this week, it has propelled most of the songs on her album onto the Hot 100 chart (due to massive streaming results). Because of this, all nine of the songs Mr. Franks co-wrote are on the Hot 100, including “34 + 35” (#8 on the chart), “Motive” (#32), “Off the Table” (#35) and “POV” (#40).
The current success of Mr. Franks (whose birth name is Steven Franks) is the culmination of a long journey, starting in his home state of Minnesota. In his youth, there was a time when he was homeless, but his passion for music helped him to forge ahead, learn the skills and gradually develop the contacts to have music success. He spent time working on his music in Georgia and North Carolina, before eventually moving to Los Angeles.
Mr. Franks had a breakthrough about five years ago, when he met top writer/producer, Tommy Brown. He teamed up with Brown and started to get cuts with artists, including songs on Grande’s hit album, Dangerous Woman. Mr. Franks also co-wrote Grande’s Top 10 hit “Boyfriend” featuring Social House, and he co-wrote songs for Grande’s holiday EP, Christmas & Chill.
Besides his work with Grande and Bieber, Mr. Franks had another recent hit, co-writing the single “Ice Cream” for popular K-pop female group Blackpink, which featured Selena Gomez. He’s also co-written songs for Machine Gun Kelly, Monsta X, Chris Brown, Meghan Trainor and other artists.
Mr. Franks recently signed a new music publishing deal with Reservoir, who has represented him since 2016.
We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with Mr. Franks. He tells how he got started in the music business, and how he co-wrote the current hits “Positions” and “Holy.”
DK: Congratulations on your current hits with Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber.
Mr. Franks: Thank you. I’m absolutely floored, because we just found out that “Positions” is number one in Billboard, and Ariana’s album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 album chart. And “Holy” for Justin Bieber is at #10.
DK: You grew up in Minnesota. How did you get started as a songwriter & producer, leading up to your current success?
Mr. Franks: It was a journey…a weird journey. My life just led me to music. I was actually homeless in my younger years. There was this park that I would go to, and there was this guy who’d sit on a park bench and play guitar. And I remember that being my one moment of comfort…just sitting and listening to him play music. It made me think that I should learn how to play. So I asked him if he would show me how to play, and he showed me some stuff. And after that, my life started to get a little better. I moved with a family member, I had a guitar and I learned to play the chords, and that turned into me wanting to hear drums and stuff behind it. So I found a way to get a laptop, and started learning different programs.
Then I found out about this school, called HSRA—High School For Recording Arts. I was like…Wow, maybe I can go to this school, and they’ll teach me everything that I’d want to know. So I went to this school and sure enough, they did. They taught me how to engineer, and how to use all the programs to produce, and I graduated with my Pro Tools certification.
After that, I reached out to (artist & producer) Ryan Leslie, and somebody on his team started believing in me and what I was doing. Eventually, he heard something that he liked, and he flew me out to North Carolina, where I produced and honed my skills there. Then I went back to Minnesota for awhile, and I ended up going to Atlanta, where I worked with (producers) Infinity, Dallas Austin and Jazze Pha. So I got to learn even more when I was there.
Here’s the video of Ariana Grande’s #1 hit “Positions,” which was
co-written by Mr. Franks.
Still, after four years there, I hadn’t got any placements, so I went back to Minnesota. When I was back there, I found out there was a song I did in Atlanta that ended up being for (hit artist) Ciara. [People found out about it], and then I got a call from (top producer & manager) Barry Hankerson. He’s like, “Hey, do you got a second to talk?” And I was like, “I do.” Then he said, “Cool, can you hop on a flight in like 30 minutes?” He wanted to talk in-person.
So he gets me a flight, and I came to California and sat with Barry. And from that day, I literally never left. That was about 10 years ago. My journey for the next few years was kind of the same thing…producing and learning, although not getting any big placements. But I was meeting tons of cool people along the way, and that led me to (top writer/producer) Tommy Brown. Tommy heard some of my stuff, and he wanted to get together. This was when he first started working with Ariana (Grande). That was about five years ago, and we became instant friends and started to work together. We made “Drunk Texting” for Chris Brown, and we ended up doing half of the Dangerous Woman album (for Ariana Grande).
DK: On your new hit “Positions” for Ariana, how did you, Tommy Brown and the other writers create that song?
Mr. Franks: Ari was over at the house, and she was here a lot throughout quarantine. She had expressed interest in trying something with (writer/producer/rapper) London on da Track. So London came over, and (hit songwriter) Nija Charles came with him, and he started an idea. Then he and Nija went upstairs to one of the other production areas, and they came back down with the bulk of what that song should be. And everybody was floored—it’s almost there, but things were things missing. Ari heard and liked it, but she didn’t cut it yet, So Boom, we end up taking the song and just producing it out. We were changing kicks or adding snares, high-hats, strings, and I replayed guitar moments in there. Then we played it for Ari and she said, “This is it, I’m cutting this.”
DK: You and Tommy Brown did nine songs together with Ariana. What was it like, doing all these songs with Ariana?
Here’s the video of Justin Bieber’s hit “Holy” feat. Chance the
Rapper, which was co-written by Mr. Franks.
Mr. Franks: It’s amazing, working with her in general, because she’s so easygoing. Honestly, she’s family, so it’s literally like hanging out and being in the studio, and throwing paint and seeing what comes out. And what came out was beautiful…everything was just beautiful. We’re really excited by it…it’s hands down my favorite thing that I ever worked on.
DK; Currently, you’re also on the charts with Justin Bieber’s hit, “Holy.” How did you and the other writers create that song?
Mr. Franks: That was like a random moment that we had last year with (hit artist/writer) Jon Bellion. We had a writing camp with Jon, and a couple songs came out of that. We did one with Monsta X, and then “Holy” came out of that. Randomly, Jon made the connection there between Justin and everyone else. But actually, me and Tommy didn’t know that “Holy” was going to be Justin’s song. Then somebody gave me and Tommy a call and they were like, “Do you want us to handle the song splits on this “Holy” song?” And we made a joke…”Oh yeah, is it gonna be the single for Justin?” (laughs). We literally had no idea…we were just talkin’ crap (laughs). And they were like, “Yeah, so that’s perfect, we’ll get all the paperwork done.” And we’re like, “Wait…What? It’s for Justin?” And they’re like, “Yeah.” I’ve got goosebumps right now just saying that again, because that moment was so surreal. It felt like we just spoke that into existence. (laughs).
DK: Also, you co-wrote & produced two songs with Blackpink, including the hit “Ice Cream” featuring Selena Gomez. How did you work with them?
Mr. Franks: We were at a writing camp for Blackpink…we weren’t sure if anything was going to turn out. But I went in with Bekuh Boom, who did their biggest song to date, “How You Like That?” She gave me the background on them, and I ended up playing the scratch beginning of the “Ice Cream” beat. And she was like, “Okay, that’s it.” Then (hit songwriter) Victoria Monet came in and started writing with Bekuh, and they came up with “Ice Cream.” Then we went back to the house, and Ariana came over and happened to hear this song. She was like, “Whoa, what’s that”? She ended up writing a verse on it, the part that Selena sings. Then Tommy went to Korea, got the girls to cut on it with (Korean writer/producer) Teddy, and they finished producing it out. That’s how that one happened.