NONE OF US ARE REALLY LATE:
A Conversation with Frances Cone
by Christopher Wolford
Frances Cone is the indie-pop outfit helmed by Christina Cone and Andrew Doherty. With the release of Late Riser, this Nashville-based band is set to make their mark on the world. I recently chatted with Christina about everything under the sun, including what she looks for in a song, the differences between live performances and studio recordings, and the pressure of being pushed into something you’re simply not ready for yet.
Christopher Wolford: How many songs did you write and record that didn’t make the cut for Late Riser?
FC: Probably around six or seven. When I get to the point of recording, I’m very committed. As far as ones I wrote, I don’t think I could even put a number on that.
CW: Do have any specific criteria when it comes to deciding which songs to include on a record?
FC: Just the ones I like the most. A lot of the songs that didn’t make it were ones where I was like “we should write a song like this or we should have a more upbeat song or we should incorporate this element or we should have a song in this time signature.”For me thinking about songwriting like that doesn’t work. Only really instinctual songs are the ones I am most attached to and that’s what’s on the album.
CW: What challenges came with adapting these new songs to a live setting?
FC: “Wide Awake” for instance is really high, at the top of my range, so we sing that two and a half steps down live. We could do it high but it’s not as impactful cause I can’t belt out the end like I want. I don’t like to hear recordings performed perfectly live. A live performance is supposed to sound live.
CW: You’ve lived in Nashville for a little over a year now. How has living there affected you?
FC: We lived in Brooklyn before. We recorded eight of the ten songs in Nashville. I moved a lot as a kid. Everything’s a little easier here. Things are more convenient.
CW: Do you read reviews of your work?
FC: I read them all. I don’t have any rules about it yet. It’s hard to sum up your own self and it’s hard to sum up your own record so I like to read other people’s takes on it. I’m still getting used to reading the words “pop duo.”
CW: Jumping into the album itself, the album kicks off with the atmospheric, voice-driven “Wide Awake.” Why’d you decide to use that as the lead track?
FC: It’s my favorite song on the album, but I also felt like for the crescendo of the album or the way I wanted it to emotionally play out, it was a good, contemplative introduction. It was also the last song I wrote for Late Riser and I like the idea of reversing the order, reversing history.
CW: “Failure” deals with doubt and reassurance. When making music, do you tend to obsess over every part of a song?
FC: I definitely obsess over all the parts of a song. That one thematically to me is how all over the place my brain is during a show. We were just on this tour where we played for 30 minutes a night and I went through such a variety of emotions during that time. At the beginning, I’d think “this is amazing” and then two songs later I’d think “should I have a different plan for my life?” [The song’s] just really a microcosm of how people generally fall in and out of their self-doubt. Failing and succeeding within a breath. So I wondered if instead of trying to fight all that, we could just accept it and love those crazy ping-pong thoughts in our brain.
CW: Whether it’s intentional or not, it’s difficult not to relate what we hear to music we’ve heard before sometimes.When I was listening to “Unraveling,” I kept hearing Jose Gonzalez’s influence in the male vocals. Were there specific elements of other artists’ music you set out to explore while recording the album?
FC: That track is mostly the first take. It’s the only one we played full band live. If something stands out that is influenced by someone else it’s probably in the recesses of my brain but definitely wasn’t intentional. But now I’m going to go listen to Jose Gonzalez and see.
CW: Why’d you choose “Late Riser” as the title?
FC: I think that one was the one we recorded first. That song to me has had a variety of meanings over the past couple years. I think generally I want to express some sort of patience with time and that none of us are really “late.” We can feel so hurried to get something done or to be at a phase of life before we’re ready or accomplish something before it’s supposed to be accomplished. I liked the theme and wanted it to bleed over the whole album as an idea.
CW: “All for the Best” is a Mark Mulcahy song and the only cover on the record. Why’d you decide to record this one?
FC: Mark is Andy’s cousin and I met him a couple years ago when we saw Miracle Legion play the Bowery Ballroom. They played this song and I was like “Holy. Shit.” I think for Andy’s family that song is really important too so it felt very personal and special to include it on the record.
Christopher Wolford is a music fan and writer, in that order. He is the Managing Editor for BULL and a frequent contributor to Split Lip Magazine. He lives in Bloomington, IN. You can find him promoting all his favorite artists here.
CW: Regarding “Arizona" Stereogum said “it is impossible to ignore the genuine emotion in Cone’s voice" which is really a statement that can be applied to the whole album. Given your background, are you your biggest critic when it comes to your vocal performances?
FC: My family is in the classical music world so I definitely grew up trying to make my voice do a certain thing but at a certain point, probably around the end of high school or early college, I realized my voice doesn’t work that way. I’m just going to let it have all the grit, if we’re calling it that, but whatever’s in my voice naturally, I don’t want to fight that part and just let it be there. I don’t feel super critical. I love sitting with the engineer picking vocal tics, which is probably frustrating for them. I like to pick the takes that don’t seem too perfect cause it’s nice to sound like a person and not take away the emotion. I get frustrated when I fall in love with a band live and then I hear their record and somehow through production they don’t sound like people anymore.
CW: “Easy Love” is the barest track on the album, consisting mostly of your voice, a strummed acoustic, and some background swells. What made you decide to take such a stripped-down approach for this one?
FC: That one to me felt too emotional to add anything. If we’d tried to make it this sweeping ballad with a bunch of extra stuff on it, it would’ve felt manipulative. I just wanted the words to be the words and not to get too cheesy.
CW: Your voice has more of a raspy, road-worn element to it on “Waterline,” with the sound of someone who’s gone through struggle and comes out stronger on the other side. As we discussed earlier it’s been a few years since your last record, what were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome making Late Riser?
FC: For me I can get so lost in whatever’s happening in the moment. Obviously it took time to finish this thing and when we’re on tour, I’m just on tour. It’s helpful for me to live in the moment and not think too much in terms of finishing a record. If I’m too lost then focusing on a show can be hard. Even making a music video, and I’m sure other artists feel like this, but you write a song, sing it, perform it, and all those things make sense, but there’s also marketing yourself, being good with people so you have a band that wants to play with you. And then on top of that, make a small movie! I’ve gotten lost in lots of music videos. I do like it but it’s a totally different art form.
CW: The penultimate track “Over Now” is driven by the harmonies between yourself and your partner Andy . How has your professional relationship changed the most from the time you started working together up to now?
FC: We weren’t a couple originally and now we are. We didn’t become a couple until about ten months in. But he helps focus. His commitment to figuring out all the sounds. I’ll be like “Andy, what’s this sound on this Phosphorescent song?” and he’ll spend hours figuring out exactly what it was and how to make it. Also, he plays all of the instruments very well. We were gone for about eight weeks during this last tour. On a free day [on tour] we went to a bank in Colorado and he just goes “I can’t believe I still like you” and I said “I can’t believe you still want to hang out.” It’s just so much time with one person but we’re still fucking kickin’ it.
CW: Did you have trouble presenting songs to him originally?
FC: No. Especially in a one-on-one setting, I just felt supported. He wrote almost this whole song. I don’t know if he’d say it’s hard for him to present something to me, but he showed me “Over Now” and I loved it.
CW: The final track “All Along” ends with you singing “I am your mother and I have loved you all along.” I know family has played a critical role in your development as an artist. Your mother was a music teacher, your grandmother studied organ at Julliard. Did you initially set out to write this track from one or both of their perspectives? Also, why end the record with this?
FC: The melody reprises the “Arizona” chorus, a song that’s about my brother, and because it came out a few years ago, I wanted the culmination of the album to revisit that, but in a different way. I wrote it mostly from the perspectives of my mom and her mom, who I never met. I had this whole thing with [my grandmother] who was such a mythical creature in my head cause she died a year before I was born and my mom was adopted. I was an only child so I feel a lot of emotional responsibility for her that she doesn’t necessarily put on me; I gave myself that so if she reads this, no blame. I think sometimes mothers and daughters can have fraught relationships, which we don’t have, but there is conflict because of the nature of two strong-willed women.
Late Riser is out now via Thirty Tigers. Buy the album and find tour dates at francesconemusic.com.