Frances has been special right from the start.
The singer has a quiet, unassuming manner, which combines with her softly self-deprecatory sense of humour in a quite charming way.
Playing shows across the country, Frances - and her piano! - has slowly, steadily built up an imposing fanbase of enchanted onlookers.
Debut album 'Things I've Never Said' is out now, and it's a wonderfully humane, refreshingly natural full length offering.
Clash caught with Frances to discuss studio sessions, her recent release, and some incredible charity work.
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Making an album has been an ambition for a lot of young musicians, was this always something you wanted?
Yeah definitely. I’ve always been an album person - I bought singles when I was really young, but I’ve always been a person that kind of listens to a whole album. It’s definitely one of my ambitions to make an album. Super happy that I managed to do it!
How does the album project test you as a songwriter?
I think it was kind of good for me, because I didn’t really realise I was working on an album until quite late in the process. I think because I was just so kind of caught up in the whole thing of getting signed and kind of doing everything for the first time, that I was kinda literally focusing on song by song. And then I realized, I think after about a year, that ‘oh God I actually have to write an album if I’m gonna end up releasing one!’
And I had to think more about what I want it to be about. Then I kinda realised that, actually, this is my first album and I just want it to be a really true representation of my writing at that point. I think that’s what I managed to achieve in the end, but it definitely is a different thinking process to think about a whole album. And I think I’ll definitely find that a bit trickier, maybe, for my second and third. I probably want them to be a bit more themed in some way.
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This is my first album and I just want it to be a really true representation of my writing at that point.
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Did you find with this album that themes naturally emerged?
Definitely, yeah. I write all my songs from a really honest place and personal experience. And I had some kind of sound or style that had been developing I guess since I was a child almost, ‘cause I’ve been writing on a piano since I was really young. So yeah, I think they do all tie together naturally because I wrote half the album on my own and the other half I wrote with co-writers. In the end they’re all coming from a similar place I guess.
That honesty is one of the threads that runs through it, I think.
That is something that I’ve always been conscious of from the beginning – If I don’t believe in what I’m writing then I can’t expect someone who listens to it believe it or relate to it. So I’ve always tried really had to be honest with all of my lyrics, and to find the kind of most honest and relatable way to words and feelings is my ultimate aim. Listening to it, it feels like a very natural record.
Is that something you were looking for in the arrangements as well?
I think for my first album I didn’t want to over-shadow any of the songwriting or my voice, I didn’t want to over-crowd any of the songs. I just didn’t wanna over-produce anything. I just, I think my sound has to come from the songs and me kind of playing with my voice. I think there are so many loud albums around, and I wanted to make an album for the songs that I believed in and hopefully people can relate to. And I made the production just what the song needed, hopefully. And won’t do any more or any less - I guess, that’s what I try to do anyway.
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As you mention you’ve been writing songs for a long time. Is there a particular song on this record that you remember writing and made you feel as though you’d reached a certain level as a songwriter?
There was a song called ‘Last Word’, and I wrote that in a period of time where I also write a song called ‘Don’t Worry About Me’ and one called ‘Cry Like Me’ and it was really weird. It is quite prolific, but also felt like I had a really good bank of lyrics and I was just kind of feeling about all over the place. But especially with ‘Last Word’, I feel quite proud of that one because it’s so clear in its message and I love singing it live. People find it really emotional and that’s rewarding for me as a writer.
There’s a directness to a lot of the lyrics on the record, too - is that something that has been important to you during this process?
When I first started writing I really used to be too poetic, which isn’t a bad thing. I think being poetic is amazing and a lot of artists do it so well, but I’d do it to a point where people didn’t necessarily understand completely what the song was about. And so just as an experiment I tried writing a couple of things where I said exactly what I wanted to say and didn’t try to dress up any of the words, but found a way of saying something that perfectly sums up how I felt. Since I did that I just ended up doing that ever since. That definitely shines through.
Is there a track on the record that you had particular trouble with finishing?
Probably. There’s one called ‘Under Our Feet’ which we experimented with a lot in the studio to try and get it to sound right. It kind of builds quite a lot and has quite a lot of elements, so I couldn’t kind of decide how far to go with it. So we tried a few different things, I guess. And there were a couple of songs, actually, that we kind of battled with in the studio and they didn’t end up making the album... I think they weren’t meant to be, I guess.
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I feel quite proud of that one because it’s so clear in its message...
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You mentioned a couple of times that you see yourself making more records. Is that the kind of thing that appeals to you, to have a catalogue?
I’d like to make albums for the rest of my life! As long as at least a couple of people are still up for it, then I’ll make them. I’d be doing this anyway, I think. If I wasn’t an artist – professionally - I’d be sitting at home writing songs all the time. It’s just what I do, so if people want to listen to it then of course I’ll always carry on making them.
You’ve just launched a new video with the charity Refuge – how did that come about?
I played SXSW last year, and I played my song ‘Grow’ last. And when I came offstage this guy came running up to my manager and flashed his business card at us. When we kind of got back to London this guy emailed us, and when he said he was putting together this campaign with Refuge there was like, no question that I wanted to be involved in such amazing work.
So this amazing animation team put together a video to go with my song and it’s about a real lady who was a victim of domestic violence and about how being a victim of domestic violence makes you feel invisible. The animation kind of takes us through her story in a very kind of creative way: she’s kind of invisible to everybody until a woman who represents Refuge comes to her and actually sees her for the first time and helps her though it.
You’ve also got a huge tour planned - I saw you play about 18 months ago at the Servants Jazz Quarters in London, and it was just you and a piano.
Oh yeah! I kind of vary the show depending on the gig, I guess. So the principle remain the same: like, I sit at the piano - that’s where my home is, I guess - but I do have musicians with me as well. It’s just the three of us, and it’s really good to add to the songs.
Some of them I still do just on my own but they’re there most of the time. And for this tour I added a drummer which is really exciting - I’ve never really played with a drummer before, but there are drums on the songs on the album so it just felt right to give fans the drums in the live show.
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Frances' debut album 'Things I've Never Said' is out now.