Lost Gems: Mission: Tonight – Francis Ford Coppola

Back in college, I had a small group of friends who were as hardcore in love with music as I was, and who were as strongly opinionated as I could be. My friend Rob and I agreed on a few acts (Gin Blossoms, Johnny Cash, old school punk), and disagreed on many more. But we did our part to introduce each other to new music, and one he shared with me that has stuck with me these last twenty plus years are Mission: Tonight.

Hailing from Rob’s hometown of Bakersfield, I don’t remember whether he had a personal connection to the band, but I was always honest with my thoughts on the bands he shared with me, and I genuinely liked the few songs I heard from the band. The group’s three albums were released between 2001 and 2003, with certain songs carrying over to future releases. One of these that stood out to me most was the dark, twisted-obsession rocker “Francis Ford Coppola”.

From the start, the track unsettles you, beginning with an intricate acoustic guitar line, before breaking into heavy riffs and monstrous drumming. Next thing worth mentioning are the completely unique vocals from the group’s guitarist/frontman Elijah Jenkins, which I can only think to describe as if Eddie Vedder got a bit tipsy and attempted to sing with a light Eastern European accent. They’re captivating, with just the right mix of menace to pull off the song’s vengeful narrative.

And what is this narrative? It seems to be a revenge fantasy against famed Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Sung from the point of view of a man feeling wronged by FFC for failing to meet him at a park. The stalker gets angry by the rebuke, and pursues Coppola in his car, beginning a dangerous chase (“Swerve now, Francis Ford Coppola! I’m not enjoying just seeing you sweat”). Some lyrics still leave questions in my mind, like “I bet if I gave you another little chance, you’d meet me in Cuba after teaching me to dance”. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand what this means, but it hasn’t kept me from pondering it these last two decades.

This is all theorizing though, so thankfully when I reached out to the band’s Jordan Rude, he was kind enough to provide me with some information about the band, and the elements that brought “Francis Ford Coppola” into the world:

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Indy Review: How did Mission: Tonight originally form, and what were some of your shared musical influences?

Jordan Rude: The formation of Mission:Tonight with the song “Francis Ford Coppola” has a semi-long history. I’ll try and sum it up for you quickly. Mission:Tonight was really 2 bands. The first version included Fracina Dominguez on vocals. Fracina moved on to start a family. Francis Ford Coppola was one of the songs we originally wrote for Fracina to sing, but it was just at the point when she was ready to exit the band. Now that I think of it, we had 4 tunes that we wrote with Fracina in mind for vocals. She moved on and we were in need of somebody new to collaborate with, and tapped our friend from high school, Eliajh Jenkins. We kept the name Mission:Tonight (I don’t remember why we didn’t change our band name at this point. In hindsight, we probably should have) even though the band sounded different in it’s new lineup. Our shared musical influences were all things 90’s. We liked bits and pieces of alternative rock, punk, hardocre, metal, hip hop, what used to be called “emo” at the time, which now we might call post punk, post hardcore, or indie rock. 

IR: What was the Bakersfield scene like in the early 2000’s? Where did you usually play and tour?

JR: Nu Metal (unfortunately, in my opinion) was still festering everywhere, but there was a supportive community of bands in the early 2000s that we were friendly with. To be honest though, Mission:Tonight never fit in any scene. There was the (nu)metal scene going on that we thought was ridiculous, and then there was the subversive and poignant punk/hardcore scence that we all admired, but didn’t fit into either. We were contemporaries with those bands that we would probably call post-punk and/or post-rock by today that didn’t quite fit into those other carved out scenes. 
We played a lot of shows around Bakersfield at “Jerry’s Pizza” and “The Gate” and “The Boiler Room.” We didn’t go on weeks-long tours, but we did do plenty of show exchanges with other bands, where they set us up with a show in their home town and we returned the favor. In that way, we played up and down California, and made it to Las Vegas a time or two. 

IR: What was the genesis of “Francis Ford Coppola”? What inspired the narrative?

JR: The music for the song came from that beginning chord that I pick out on the guitar at the very beginning of the song. I thought it was pretty, and then I tried to take the single notes from that high-pitched chord, and make each note a chord heavy riff. Tom heard me messing around with it, and came up with the idea that the guitars and drums should play in different time signatures. We knew when we were working on this song that we were turning a corner in our songwriting, and we knew right away that we had a song that could be really great. The song is a good representative of the songs I like to write. It’s got elements that are atmospheric; there’s a thematic, distorted, rhythmic guitar riff; and the song is rough but also melodic and (I think) pretty. 
I don’t want to speak for Elijah when it comes to his lyrics and how much he does or doesn’t want to go into detail about what the song is about. He has told people this much in the past: He was inspired by watching a documentary on filmmaking, which highlighted Francis Ford Coppola. Elijah felt that Coppola came off as pompous, elitist, and arrogant (maybe Coppola has earned that perspective, or not, … I don’t know). So the lyrics speak to interacting with an elitist artist, and Coppola was the symbol of such an artist. I don’t think it’s meant to be taken literally as Elijah’s opinions on Coppola. I know that when we sent Elijah the music, and he came back with his performance, it felt complete. 


IR: What led to the band’s dissolution/break-up? Have you guys played any shows together since? 

JR: It’s difficult to remember now, honestly. ha! We called the band quits while we all navigated our way through many milestones of early adult life (starting families, starting real careers, graduate school, etc…). It became more difficult to keep the band going and take on all of our burgeoning careers. We have done 2 or 3 reunion shows with the first version of Mission:Tonight (with Fracina, and pre Elijah and the “Francis Ford Coppola” version), but never with the version of Mission:Tonight where we played the songs from Zimovia (album title). Everyone who had been in Mission:Tonight -except for Fracina- played in a band called Catastrophist that I think was the best music that we made together. It’s a shame that we (Catastrophist) did not’ record all of our songs, but you can find 3 of them on Bandcamp. 
We DO support each other’s current musical endeavors and remain friends. It’s much more likely to see all of Mission:Tonight in the crowd at each others shows. 
Elijah has a killer band called Cities you Wish You Were From that have a released an EP, and LP, and have a new LP coming really soon. https://citiesyouwishyouwerefrom.bandcamp.com/
Mikee (bass in Mission:Tonight)  has a killer band called If It Kills You that have released a couple 7″ and a great album, with a new album on the way https://ifitkillsyou.bandcamp.com/
Mikee, Tom (drums in Mission:Tonight), and I (and our friend Destiny) have a brand new band called Worse things by Better People. Our first EP is currently being mixed, and I’m really excited about it.  https://www.facebook.com/worsethingsbybetterpeople

IR: Any plans to ever get your songs up on other streaming services like Spotify/Apple Music?

JR: Enough people have asked about that now, so I will probably extend access to the Mission:Tonight discography across some other platforms like Spotify.

** 

Until it is available to listen to on the major DSPs, Mission: Tonight do still have an active Bandcamp page, so you can find their music (including “Francis Ford Coppola”) there for streaming and purchase!

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