Frances: An interview with Britain’s latest breakthrough talentCultureMusic
Stemmed from the richly woven tapestries of Carole King’s piano to the moody, ethereal vocals of Florence Welch, out comes Britain’s new international talent, Frances. With the release of her first full length album, Things I’ve Never Said, now three weeks behind her, she has set out on an extensive promo tour of the UK and Europe to perform her uplifting, melodic tunes of everyday struggles to everyone who will listen and relate. We sat down for an interview with her pre-gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and were delighted to see that the prospect of international fame had not marred her personable country girl charm one bit.
It’s quite a step to go from writing songs for friends to co-writing a new album with the likes of Greg Hurston and Jimmy Napes. Were you apprehensive about writing with professionals?
Yeah definitely, it was weird. The first co-writing session that I did, the first ever I mean, was with someone I went to university with. I was so used to writing on my own since I was 12, so it was good to write with someone I knew first. My first time doing it with a professional writer was really weird, because I was like “that’s so cool, you do this for a job, you write songs every day”. That was weird. But it was a good kind of progression in the kind of people I worked with. Still, though, when I went in with Linda Perry or Greg Hurston I was like, “it’s mental, they’re so huge”.
What was amazing about it was that they were so open that anything I felt I wanted to do, they were kind of cool with, which was amazing. I think that’s what songwriters are like: they let you do your thing. Because I play piano it’s quite nice, I can go into a room and I’m quite self-sufficient. I’ll go in and say “this is an idea I’ve got”. They really like that.
Did you learn much from them?
Yeah, so much. As a songwriter you might end up not using a song, which happened a lot. With Linda Perry we wrote two amazing songs but they didn’t end up fitting on the album so I thought I’d use them for something else, I really loved them. But even though I didn’t use the songs, I learned so much from her, and from the day, and that’s the same with loads of other writers as well.
Is this your first extensive tour?
It is, really. I’ve done a lot of touring but it’s been kind of bitty; I’ve done bits here and there but this is the first time I’ve done a proper tour, promoting the new album.
Would you ever write for other artists?
Yeah, 100%. In fact when I’ve finished the tour, I’m going to work on a new album, and that’s what I’m going to do for a few months. Take a break and start writing for other people. At the same time I’ll probably find quite a few songs for myself.
Take the best ones.
Do you have an example of a real-life situation that directly inspired a song?
Yeah, that happens a lot, really random things. I wrote this song the other day – it’s not going to be for me, actually, it’s going to be for someone else. I was in a taxi and there was some guy walking, crossing the street somewhere in Hammersmith, and he didn’t wait for the green light, he just crossed the road. A car had to kind of dodge around him, like “what’re you doing, you’re playing with the traffic!”, and I got home that night and wrote this song about playing with the traffic.
How do you feel about the pop industry nowadays, one hit wonders and manufactured artists emerging from X-Factor and such, as well as the DIY industry?
It’s really hard, there’s no right way to do anything anymore – which is cool because it gives you a lot of freedom as an artist. With streaming platforms you can release whatever and whenever you want. I can come out with an EP now and you’ll be like “cool.” Whereas even two years ago, as an artist like me, you release an album, you release three singles off that album and you wait two years. Now it’s just so different, people can consume things really quickly and that makes it really hard, it means that artists can never stop. I think you have to constantly work on your releases because if you stop, people will be like, “Oh well, she’s stopped going, I’d better move on to the next thing”.
Short attention spans! That’s…worrying. Speaking of which, how do you feel about keeping up with social media?
Yeah, I probably should. I don’t personally do my own Facebook, because I don’t understand it. It’s really scientific, you have to post something at a certain time, formulas and stuff… I reply to my messages and everything but posts are just too much. I mean, my fans always thank me, I meet them and they say “Oh thank you for everything you do on Twitter”. I can’t remember what I did but I made an impact and that’s good. Look at someone like Zara Larsson. She’s on social media all the time, she’s really funny and she replies to everybody.
Do you ever see yourself forming a band or will you be forever the solo artist?
Always a solo artist. I just like to be the boss. I’d be like the Chris Martin of the band, like “do my thing.”
Does this career interfere much with your personal life?
I guess so, but not massively. A lot has changed – I’ve travelled, never thought I would travel that much. I’ve been away more than I thought, but on the whole it’s been a positive experience. My family really love music and some would never make the trip into London but now they’ve done that a few times to see me play. I’m going to do writing in LA in May and my mum, who has never flown further than France, is thinking of dropping by. That’s really nice, she never would have done that before. My whole family benefits from it.
You’ve been called the “next Adele”. Does the prospect of immense celebrity excite you or freak you out?
It doesn’t excite me. I feel like very few people actually want to be famous. Nobody who is musical and loves music starts writing songs when they’re 12 years old expecting to be famous. If I wasn’t doing this as a job I would be writing songs anyway; that’s what I like to do. If it happened that would be cool, I’d probably be really rich. I’m fine though, I’m really happy. We’ll see – I have to cross that bridge.
Any words to aspiring singer-songwriters on how to stand out through such a sparse arrangement?
Say something meaningful that you really believe in. First songs I wrote were really nice and pretty but when I listen back to them I wasn’t really saying anything. They were pretty lyrics but they didn’t really mean anything. They meant something to me (ish) but if I thought about it, there was nothing there that could make someone from London or Amsterdam say “Oh my God I feel exactly the same way”. Every song has to be something that people can relate to, words that they’ve said before.
Do you start songs with lyrics already written?
I used to start with lyrics and melody when I was younger. But I found that I would find a melody that I really loved, that was amazing, but I could never write a lyric good enough for the melody. I would then get stuck with a melody and just have to make it an “ooh”. As I got better I can now start with the lyrics, I think it’s much better to start with the lyrics; you’ve got the thing that you want to say. The lyric is so important. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, if I write a little bit of lyric, the melody will come with it. And generally when I write the melody I can hear where the chords are. It’s different every time, really.
Do you prefer the studio or the stage?
Performing’s great, it’s such a unique thing. Some people prefer to be on stage, but I definitely prefer to be in the studio. That’s not to say I don’t love performing. It’s a special experience that very few people get to have, to sing their own songs to an audience.
You have to talk to them too!
I don’t know, I never plan it. I just make it up on the day. I love singing and playing the songs and the bits in between let people just get to know my character a bit. If I say something and they laugh it just relaxes me completely as well.
What do you see in your future?
I don’t know! That’s the cool thing about it. I think I’ll always be writing songs whether it’s for me or other people. I’ll start writing a second album quite soon, I don’t want to leave it too long, mainly because of what I said before! I think it’s just fun. I haven’t written for myself in about a year so it will be nice to go back to that a little bit.
Thank you so much for speaking with us.
Photo: Guifre de Peray
For further information about Frances and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Say It Again here: