UNC Charlotte alternative hip-hop group Biking with Francis have released three stellar EPs in the span of one year

By Cameron Lee

July 9, 2024

Photo: Jade Ivy

In a little over a year’s time, Biking with Francis, the talented Charlotte-based trio consisting of multi-instrumentalists and producers Max Leonard and Garrett Sparrow, along with lyricist Joshua “Raw” Warren, have released three outstanding projects. Their sound? “It’s like indie pop, alternative hip-hop,” said Leonard. Somewhere between the jazzy bedroom pop of Rex Orange County, the new age funk/neo-soul stylings of Steve Lacy, and the oddball raps of Brockhampton, it’s easy to get lost in the group’s dreamy synths and clever instrumentation.

Leonard and Sparrow, who grew up in Durham, met in high school and started making music together in 2019. Both talented young indie pop artists individually, they met Warren in 2022 through the recommendation of their mutual friend Felix Wood. 

UNC Charlotte students Joshua “Raw” Warren (left), Max Leonard (top), and Garrett Sparrow (bottom) of alternative hip-hop group Biking with Francis set out to release three EPs in early 2023. Photo: Jade Ivy

“The first time we ever made music in person with Josh [Warren] was like July, early July 2022, when he came over to my parents house back in Durham, because we were home for the summer,” said Leonard. “We went back to school and started hanging out more that fall, making more music.” 

There was a clear chemistry and, in early 2023, they officially formed Biking with Francis, a group name that Leonard and Sparrow coined while trying to create a shared email address for the digital music distribution service, DistroKid. Leonard had a song called “Bike” and Sparrow a music project called “Francis.” The trio set out to make three EPs within a year (HONEYDEW, BRUNETTE, and SUNROOF) and they have accomplished that task with flying colors. 

Since dropping their first official single “TYPE TIME,” the group has amassed a fervent following. Starting with HONEYDEW in June 2023, the trio displayed a proficiency of merging a cohesive blend of psychedelic pop, atmospheric instrumentals, compelling raps and harmonies. From whimsical lo-fi rap tracks like “FRUCTOSE” to the more uptempo rock jaunts like “GO BACK!,” it’s hard to categorize Biking’s sound. Leonard’s appreciation for the bright harmonies of the Beach Boys and Sparrow’s love of Todd Rundgren’s unorthodox pop compositions combined with Warren’s infectious lyrics, make for a compelling listen every time.

“No two Biking songs sound the same. And so it’s difficult to put one label around it,” said Warren. 

The group played their first show in the same month HONEYDEW was released, opening for the fast-rising alternative R&B group Weston Estate for their homecoming show in Raleigh. It was a full-circle moment for Warren, who was friends with some of the Weston members growing up in Apex. The experience offered the group the opportunity to perform for a capacity crowd and build a relationship with genre-adjacent Weston Estate, who signed to Arista Records in 2020. 

Following the release of their second EP, BRUNETTE, in January, the trio sold out their first headlining show in Charlotte at Snug Harbor. 

“There were people coming from Raleigh, Durham, like, all over the place to come see us, and we sold 150 capacity…a bunch of friends and fans and family members packed in there to get to see us do our thing,” said Leonard. “We got to put it on our way and have our other friends in Charlotte who make music open. It was just a really cool moment.”

All three EPs feature six songs with each member adorning a cover– Sparrow on HONEYDEW, Leonard on BRUNETTE, and Warren on SUNROOF. The only distinction musically in the three projects is that their latest, SUNROOF, is more sample-driven, which streamlined the album’s production for the UNC Charlotte students. It was also mastered by Charlotte sound engineer, Jeff Thompson (“Jeffontheboards”), who is best known for his work with St. Louis rapper Smino and the 2019 Dreamville compilation, Revenge of the Dreamers III

“It [sampling] really changed our workflow. Max and I approached this EP differently, and we kind of really locked in for it like, ‘We’re gonna just make beats, beats all day, every day.’ And so using the samples just kind of put us in a different space that’s still us, but a nice little detour,” said Sparrow. 

“Wah Wah” is a standout track from SUNROOF, utilizing a more cinematic jazz soundscape that not only exhibits Sparrow and Leonard’s resourcefulness as producers, but Warren’s versatility as a lyricist: “Beachfront drinking Landsharks getting hella bent / Biking in the building catch us in the room like elephants / Third project telling ‘em, we really in our element / Allergic to the trendy shit, somebody grab my EpiPen.”

Now that the group has followed through on what they set out to do at that inaugural meeting in early 2023, they want to let the music breathe, and play more shows locally and in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles.

“We want to go and experience things, take in more music and kind of find our new era…we really want to take our time with the album and have it be the best thing we’ve ever made. No question,” said Sparrow. 

Max Leonard (left), Joshua “Raw” Warren (middle), and Garrett Sparrow (right) of Biking with Francis will take a break to focus on solo projects and school before their debut album is released. Photo: Jade Ivy

While all in their early 20s and still trying to figure out their futures, both collectively as Biking with Francis, and individually as artists, they have measured and modest expectations about what success looks like in music today. 

“We just want to be able to support and live the way that we are living, just be able to afford groceries and, you know, a place to live. I’ll be a happy camper,” said Leonard. “We’re gonna keep doing things our way until the right opportunity presents itself.”

Listen to the EPs HONEYDEW, BRUNETTE, and SUNROOF by Biking with Francis and follow the group (Max Leonard, Garrett Sparrow, and Joshua Raw) on Instagram


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