Frances: From Country Life to Bright Lights

A year ago Frances made her name under Parisian label Kitsuné, but this unabashed Belieber is already on her third EP, and it's her boldest collection yet.

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Oct 13 2015, 1:52pm

There’s a 21-year-old newbie to London town who’s charming the population with a voice like edible paper—stick with me on this one—a voice that's both delicate and delicious. Her name is Frances, she tinkers at pianos like a young Carole King and the dance world loves her too—ever since on-the-money Parisian label Kitsuné were first to pick up on her, releasing moving slowburn pop number “Fire May Save You” last year (which we debuted, natch). The EP boasted the singer’s debut single of the same name, a piano-led ballad that hints at Feist and wouldn’t feel out of place during a rom-com break-up scene. Those savvy Kitsuné cats backed the track with a few remixes and set Frances up for a collaboration with downtempo, post-dubstep trio Ritual—it’s a stand out track that you’ll find on her Communion Records EP Grow. This week Frances will release her third EP, Let it Out, so we went to have a cup of tea with the burgeoning pop star to find out more.

The first thing you’ll notice about Frances is her flowing mane of red hair which is today swept to one side. Reclining on a big sofa, her auburn locks are offset by her attire: she's decked out in head-to-toe black, which we dub gothy—much to her amusement. “Do you think I’m gothy!? Because I’m wearing all black? No… it’s literally all I could find this morning,” she says chirpily. Raised in the English countryside with many hours spent making music and going for long walks, Frances’ demeanor is accordingly laidback. Her upbeat outlook—and use of the phrase “good fun”—could be mistaken for naivety, but something about her quick yet carefully worded answers tells me this ruddy-cheeked country girl is not as green as the vistas from which she hails.

Noisey: How did a sweet country lass end up in the big, bad world of music?
Frances:
I couldn’t do anything else. I did alright in school, but I used to do the bare minimum of homework to get by so I could spend my time writing songs.

Didn’t a pesky day job get in the way?
Since I could get a job, I’ve had a part-time job. When I was at university I was living off baked beans and spending my student loan on music equipment, which is probably not what it’s for, but it meant I worked everywhere—Waitrose, New Look—I’m a little checkout girl at heart.

Not any more!
Yeah, weirdly.

Now you’re a full-time music maker, but where did it all begin?
I started playing piano when I was 10 and before that I played the violin. My dad would buy me songbooks of the artists he was listening to—Radiohead, Coldplay, a lot of piano-based songwriters—and I’d learn them on the piano. As soon as I could play well enough, when I was about 12 or 13, I started writing my own stuff. The first few songs were rubbish, obviously, I sound like a little chipmunk.

Beside Alvin and co, who else has shaped your tuneful journey?I’ve always been inspired by female soloists—girls doing it for themselves. In that kind of genre it’s fairly male dominated, but you can pick out three or four women doing it, like Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell. Carole King is my ultimate inspiration, her song “So Far Away” is incredible. It’s about long-distance relationships, which I did with my boyfriend when we were at university, so I’d listen to it and think, “You’re so right Carole.”

Did it work out with said beau?
Yeah! I know—nailed it. It’s been six and half years, which is over a quarter of my life!

Eurgh that makes me feel ancient, let’s talk about something else. Is Frances your real mononym?
Frances is my middle name—Sophie Frances Cooke. I wanted to give myself an identity to have onstage because I used to have quite bad stage fright and I’d been Sophie all my life at school, I just felt young as Sophie.

How was school? Did you ever get bullied for being ginger?
No. I think that’s because if anyone tried I’d be like, “WHAT!?” [She snaps her head round in mock anger.]

Were you one of the badass popular kids?
Not really. I had my group of friends and we were fairly uncool. Every break time I would sit in the piano room on my own. It’s sad isn’t it? But I went to quite a small school and there weren’t many other people who did music, so maybe that gave me a bit of an identity within my year.

Continued below.

You recently covered Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean?” on the BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge…
I love that song! I’m 100 percent a Belieber. I’ve always been a Belieber and I don’t understand anyone who isn’t. I think he’s incredibly talented and because it’s so different to the kind of music I’m making I thought people wouldn’t expect it and I could make it my own. But it was good fun. I loved it.

You grew up in the countryside, but you now live in London—what spurned that move?
I made the risk move to London last year and lived in an awful flat above a window shop. It’s a great glass shop apparently, but to get to the flat you had to go behind all the shops and there was a fish restaurant next door that used to brush all the dirty water from the restaurant into the alleyway.

Ritual are from London too, is that where you got to know them?We were put in a writing session together because we have the same publisher. Jez, the guy who sings, his voice is ridiculous, and they all play piano, so for “When it Comes to Us” I let them take the lead. Tom came up with these piano chords and I started humming and realized I’d written something similar—the first half of the chorus—in the bath the night before, so I got it up on my phone and it worked.

Woah, woah, woah… You were using your phone in the bath!?
I didn’t have it in the bath, I had it on the toilet seat.

Are you saying you record all your baths?
I’ve learned that when you’re not thinking about songwriting, that’s when ideas come, so I’ve started putting my phone on record when I get in the bath. I’m writing all the time. Everywhere. About me and my life and conversations. I have to be honest in what I’m writing because I think people can tell if it’s come from me and relate to what I’ve been through.

Your new EP Let it Out is released soon, so have you been busy rehearsing with a live band to tour it?
No, it’s just me. I’ve had bits of drums [in the studio] and I got to record a string quartet from the London Symphony Orchestra. I was going to play too, but these guys were so good I didn’t want to muck up what they were doing, but I arranged all their parts and scored them all out. But all my live stuff is just me. I will have a band at some point, but at the moment I want it to feel intimate, like people are coming into my living room and watching me tinker away. And I enjoy it on my own. It’s good fun.

Let it Out is out via Communion Records on 10.16.

Danielle Goldstein is only 12 percent a Belieber. She’s on Twitter.