Couch Concert: Lillian Frances

LILLIAN FRANCES / COURTESY

Electronic engineer and singer speaks on broken phones, finding herself

Lillian Frances, a 25-year-old Davis-bred electronic musician and singer, constantly takes notes on her phone: phrases she likes, Instagram pictures of babies in retro bright blue outfits and irregular ideas.

“It is all inspired by day-to-day life,” Frances said. “I like to be an observer of what is around me and package it into a song. It’s just random shit that comes to my mind that is remotely interesting or funny. I try to think of little things that everyone would identify with.”

Her synth-pop, experimental electronic music is just as dynamic as she is, so she gets her inspiration from anything and everything. No idea or thought process goes unrecorded.

She listed some song title ideas she had brewing to prove a point: “Your Boyfriend Likes All of My Instagram Posts,” “You’re Literally the Worst,” “San Francisco Smells Like Marijuana and Parking Tickets,” “Fuuu— That Dude,” “It’s Not Called Being Polly It’s Wanting to F— That Dude,” “Has Anyone Ever Found the Emoji They Are Looking For” and of course “Google Docs are Where Ideas Go to Die.” Quirky and relatable, it is obvious that Frances’ music is an unaltered reflection of her. She does not present herself as anything more or anything less.

An acoustic guitar player since the age of 12, her passion for music solidified and expanded after moving from Davis to study urban and environmental policy at Occidental College in 2015.

“It wasn’t until college when I started writing my songs on acoustic guitar and recording them at our student-run recording studio,” Frances said. “But my senior year, I went to go see Sylvan Esso at a free music festival in Los Angeles. They are huge now, but I had never heard of them at the time in 2014. It blew me away. I never had electronic music vibe with me so hard. It plucked every string in my body. I was vibrating for days. That senior year I started taking Music 100 and electronic music classes at my college.”

Extending her formal music education, Frances took electronic music production classes at the Beat Lab Academy in Los Angeles post-graduation. Then, through a teaching program, she moved to the northwest corner of Spain for a year, which allowed her to improve her Spanish language skills. Dual language competency diversified what she could say in her music and how she wanted to say it.   

“Even though I got better at the language, it is really hard to express yourself and your personality in a second language,” Frances said. “Especially since so much of myself is expressed through nuances in language and bad jokes, translating that into Spanish can be hard to tap into. When you’re stripped of language from fully expressing yourself, I learned how to express myself more with my energy. That process of translating yourself through your essence pairs really well with songwriting. Having Spanish as another method of expressing myself in songwriting is liberating. There are a lot of things I can say in Spanish that I can’t say in English and vice versa.”

Because of her experience in Spain, many of Frances’ songs feature her singing in Spanish, like “Bailamos con el humo” off her second EP “Timeism.” With musical introspection accomplished during her time abroad, she returned to Davis in 2017 ready to focus on her electronic music career. Indeed, her first performance of said genre was that summer at the Davis Music Festival.

“I don’t see a lot of young women doing what I’m doing,” Frances said. “Electronic music is unique, different and fun.”

However, such official branding as an electronic musician was forced after developing tendonitis in her hand.  

“I had always been an acoustic artist and I was planning on moving into this electronic sphere but with my guitar,” Frances said. “I love my guitar so much, it was like a limb. Losing this part of me required to lean into electronic music.”

While Frances’ tendonitis has healed and she has begun to take guitar classes again in order to incorporate electric guitar melodies in her new music, such moments of transition and altering identity became the subject of her song “Phone Keys Wallet” from “Timeism.”

“We all lose pieces of ourselves,” Frances said. “It’s about how we separate ourselves from an identity that we always held.”

The beauty in France’s “Timeism” is its ability to package such complex, even lofty ideas into something digestible and relatable. Emotional crutches are equated with a millenial material necessity.   

“It was a looking glass into what I see in my little millenial life,” Frances said. “An invitation to see things through my eyes, which is kind of funny, playful and a little tongue and cheek.”

Even down to her hypnotic high-pitched vocals, she does not overcomplicate or take the album too serious. It’s not laziness, but strategic realness.

“My voice is super wonky and I have to sift through [vocal recordings] alot,” Frances said. “But you should keep the imperfections because people latch onto imperfections. You know that one part of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ and he hits a super wonky note and he snaps in that one place? They kept it in on purpose to show his imperfection.”

Such is another prime example in Frances’ ability to bring herself and her music back down to earth.

“Everything that I do [that] is awesome is a mistake,” Frances said. “I am not at a point where I can decide what I’m going to make. If I mess things up I’m going to get things I never even thought of.”

With this mindset, Frances stays experimental in her sound — no criteria to meet, no structure to follow. She’s all the more exciting to follow, to witness the development of an artist.

“I’m not at the point yet where I have found my sound,” Frances said. “I think ‘Timeism’ has a sound, it’s great and I’m proud of it. But other than that, it’s whatever comes to me. I would say it’s synth-pop. It’s experimental electronic. It’s pop, but it’s not vapid. I would love to do more hard-hitting electronic, more party bangers. I’m always trying to do that, but haven’t been able to pull it off. I’m loving my new stuff and think it’s better than anything else I’ve done before.”

Her new album initially was going to be based on her solo El Camino voyage that she took immediately after releasing “Timeism” in order to gain new songwriting inspiration.

“I wanted to leave ‘Timeism’ at home, absorb new energies and then crank something new out at home,” Frances said. “The idea was I would take a bunch of sound field recordings across the Camino and take a bunch of notes. But at the end of the Camino, I broke my phone and lost all of my information. So the new album will not be set on the Camino, and there’s not set sound to the new album. It will be me finding myself through music.”

Releasing her first full-length album will be a transformative moment in her music career, releasing an item that represents her.

“I have never released a full album,“ Frances said. “I’ve done two EPs, but I really want to get something out there with my name on it … I really just see myself as a different girl from two years ago. I admire her for her vulnerability and strength, but I feel like a different girl. My album will be my next stage and next sound. It will still be a similar electronic sound but more refined.”

In whatever form her first album reveals itself as, we can be sure it will be something authentically Frances — the good, the quirky and the raw.

Frances will be performing at Beatnik Studio in Sacramento on Jan. 25, and at the Holy Diver in Sacramento on Feb. 8.

Written by Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org