Coachella 2016: Frances On Big Ballads, Comparisons & Her Debut LP
It’s bold to perform at a music festival with just a piano and a collection of gut-wrenching ballads, but that’s exactly what Frances did on Day 1 of Coachella. And the 22-year-old, who has been hailed as the UK’s next break-out star, pulled it off through sheer sincerity and the undeniable quality of her voice. She brought a moment of calmness and serenity to the Gobi Tent, before the DJs and rock bands took over.
The Brit talked me through her captivating Coachella debut after the performance and promised to bring a full band the next time she’s on the bill. Which seems like a certainty given the huge buzz her 2015 EPs (Grow and Let It Out) have generated. Frances also explained her affection for ballads, put a positive spin on the weight of expectations and gave a couple of insights into her upcoming debut LP. Find out more in our Q&A below.
How did you feel after your set?
I loved it. I was quite nervous and when I came off I was like, “That was really good. I just played for Coachella!” It’s really crazy. Now I’ve done it once, I’m really excited for next weekend, because I know the score now.
Are you going to switch things up at all?
I think I might. Just for fun. Maybe I might just change the order, it depends. Today I saved one of my songs for another time when the tempo is a bit more full on. That’s what’s really fun about festivals, because you never know what you’re going to get.
Which acts are you excited to see?
Well, I just missed Years & Years, which I’m mad about. So I’m going to see them next weekend. They’re so good. James Bay tomorrow. I’m pretty excited for that. Disclosure obviously. They’re incredible. There’s so many. It’s crazy. Alessia Cara. I’m so excited to see her. I love her.
Are you going to do any of the parties?
I don’t know. I’ll see. Maybe I’ll end up somewhere. No, I’m a good girl. We’ve got a nice house with a pool that we’re staying in.
Your music is so intimate. How does that translate to a festival situation?
This year, because it’s still really early in my career, I wanted to come with just me and a piano because I felt like there probably aren’t a lot of artists that would come to Coachella and do that. Also, because I was playing quite early, it’s almost like that little moment of calm for everyone I guess.
I think it’s nice for the afternoon stuff, but I think next year, if I play next year, I’ll have a band with me. Because I know I’ll be further along. I’d love to come back next year with a band.
Your EP generated a lot of buzz. How far along are you with the album?
It’s nearly done. We’re so close. There are two or three things that just need tweaking and finishing. I’ve got to master it and then it’s all done, which is weird. It’s come around really quickly, but I’ve been working on it for so long.
Do you have a timeframe in mind?
Kind of towards the end of this year. The last few months of the year is the plan at the moment.
Is it going to be all new material or will there be songs from Let It Out?
I think probably “Let It Out” and “Grow” will probably be on there, and then the rest of it will be new stuff.
Who have you been working with?
I think about half the album is songs I’ve written just on my own and then there’s one or two on there that I wrote with Jimmy Napes. I’ve got one track with Greg Kurstin, which I played early in the set. Some of the songs I wrote while I was in university. It’s really cool to mix the stuff I wrote three years ago with stuff that’s really new. It’s a cool place to be in.
Is it nerve-wracking to finally release something you wrote three years ago?
No, it’s really good because I think when you write things before you sign a record deal, you kind of lose hope of them making an album. But there are a couple that managed to stay around, so I’m really happy.
Are there going to be more upbeat tracks like “Borrowed Time”?
Yeah. I’m really excited about it because everything that I’ve released so far has been fairly ballad-y. I mean there are probably about three or four songs on there that have quite a lot of rhythm, which I’m really excited about because people haven’t really heard that side of what I do yet. It’s still all kind of piano-based, but there’s a lot more rhythm in my playing and there’s a band behind some of it. I wanted to make a varied album. It needs to have peaks and troughs.
Where does that connection to old-school balladry come from?
I think it’s just something I naturally gravitate towards. Or maybe because I started writing just with me on piano. I think piano can lead you more to writing ballads whereas guitar you kind of strum away. Pianos tend to write slow things.
A lot of your songs are quite sad.
I’m just quite reflective, I suppose.
Do you only write from personal experience or will you be inspired by a movie, for example?
Sometimes, but I think they never really are the best songs. The best songs are when I have actually felt it because then I can write about it honestly, and then I kind of found that people are more likely to relate to it if I’m really honest writing it.
What has the reception to your music been like in the US?
It’s really great actually. In the UK they aren’t really receptive, but they’re quite polite about things. So if they loved a show they’d be like, “Oh, thank you. That was lovely.” But then in the US, they might be like, “Oh my God! That was amazing!” And they’re so animated so it’s really cool to see the difference. I love US crowds. They’re so much fun.
What about the musical landscape as a whole?
It’s really exciting. Every territory, every country is so different, which is so interesting. I was touring around Europe and playing in Germany is so different to playing in Holland. It’s bizarre how much can change just literally a few hours down the road, and people are culturally different. It’s amazing.
Many critics peg you as the Next Big Thing. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
I guess so. There are two sides — there will be pressure and it would be quite easy just to sail along and maybe not have those things, but actually there’s always going to be pressure. I put pressure on myself or I will imagine pressure when there’s not pressure, but… it’s a really good pressure. It’s encouraging, and it makes you want to work really hard so it’s good.
Do you get annoyed when people compare you to Adele or Emeli Sande?
No, it doesn’t annoy me at all. I think they’re the females who have come out in the UK who have done the best job at amazing ballads and writing heartfelt songs, and have been incredibly successful, so to be compared to them is an amazing thing. Oh my God, it’s amazing. But then, you just have think, “Well, maybe one day they’ll be like, ‘Oh, she’s the new Frances,’ or whatever.” You just have to think about it that way, and just be encouraged by it.
What’s your point of difference from these other artists with amazing voices?
Do you know what? I don’t know. I have no idea because I’m just doing my thing and if people like it then that’s amazing, but it’s kind of weird because if people didn’t like it, I’d probably still be doing it anyway. I think I was really conscious of wanting to be that kind of artist… there hasn’t been a female for a while who’s kind of sat and whacked at a piano. Maybe since Carole King or Kate Bush. There are a lot of singers, but not a lot of real female musicians who are kind of playing and meeting a band and doing the whole thing.
What’s your favorite song on the new album?
I have a song called “The Last Word.” I played it in the set. It’s a really sad one. I wrote it on my own. It’s probably one that I’m most proud of. It’s basically about saying goodbye to someone, but I wanted to keep it really open so it could be like if someone was ill or they’re dying, or the end of a relationship, or the end of a friendship… anything. It’s basically about not wanting to say goodbye.