Arts writer Caroline Rutten Zooms with Lillian Frances, talks debut album
It has been a year since I last interviewed Lillian Frances, the brightly-colored synth-pop Davis artist. At the time, we met up at the Starbucks at University Mall: She was a force of energy from the moment she entered the coffee shop. Dressed in a blue velvet collared top, a stand-out Davis local by all accounts, she even knew the barista’s name and ordered tea to fill her reusable mug.
Now, under different circumstances, we Zoomed from our bedrooms. Lillian’s genuine and eager energy transferred easily over video. As an independent artist, her bedroom doubles as her recording studio — as well as her managing office, production hub and sewing station (she makes stuffed animal fanny packs which she posts to her Instagram). The various paraphernalia used for her role is scattered across her bedroom. After discussing the mundane perils of “quar quar,” Lillian’s name for the California shelter-in-place order, we picked up where we left off.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The California Aggie: What’s been going on since we last talked? What have you been up to?
Lillian Frances: In September, I realized I have enough music for an album. I dropped my last album two years ago, and so began the process of releasing this album. I’ve put off songwriting for the last eight months, and I dove into finishing my tracks and getting all the arrangements down for all of them.
I moved back down to [Los Angeles] in January for six weeks, and I went back to the music production school where I originally studied music production. I went there to take classes on mixing and mastering. I learned how to mix all my songs, because that’s something that really holds me back in terms of my actual creation of music. Now, I feel super confident with mixing all my own sh*t, which I’m really stoked on. And then [I] came back to Davis and spent January through March of this year finishing up the songs.
TCA: I’m so glad to hear things have been busy, and the album release is exciting. Can you give me a glimpse into the “Moonrise Queendom” album?
LF: I released “Timeism” two years ago, so May of 2018. Immediately, like a month after, I went and I walked the Camino de Santiago, which was this beautiful walk across Spain. And the purpose of that was to restore all my creative juices. I had pushed so hard on the album, we worked so hard to release it. I needed to just do something fun, get inspired. So that’s where it started, that’s kind of the impetus for [the album] in some ways.
I’m also obsessed with the moon and tracking the moon. I’m always thinking, where’s the moon rising? Where’s it even setting? But especially on the full moon, wherever I am, I will go and make a date with myself or whoever I’m with to watch the full moon rise. And after making all these songs, I realized that “Moonrise Queendom” and all these songs are the links to that full moon rise. The full moon rise, for me, is a place to sit and meditate and think about where I was last month and then think about where I’m going the next month. One month is such a great little period of time to reflect on yourself. All of these songs [are] the stories that I told myself and I worked through while I was watching the moon rise. “Moonrise Queendom” for me is a place of utter creativity. Whatever you want to make, you can. The album starts with an intro, the sound of me walking while whistling, and then it blends into “Raincheck Summer” and then it goes from there. At the very end, it’s me, walking out of this space [while] whistling, so you’re literally entering this queendom.
CR: That’s fantastic. What does it mean for you to now have a full album under your belt? Are you one step closer to your goals as an artist?
LF: It’s similar to walking Camino: It’s about how I am taking time to my destination. I am moving toward them one step at a time, and I’m climbing to my goals. My goal has been Coachella, but I want to go very slowly so that every time I’m granted a new opportunity, I’m ready for it. I don’t want to be catapulted, I don’t want to go viral. I don’t want any shit that I’m going to get there before I’m prepared. The album really is about taking your time to get there and really enjoying the experience and knowing that it’s going to all work out.
TCA: Let’s break down your song “Raincheck Summer,” since you just released a music video for it.
LF: It is funny now because the song is a little bit counterintuitive to how I initially imagined it. I was making fun of people hanging out together but not being emotionally attached to each other. And now [because of coronavirus] we’re on this totally opposite spectrum where everyone’s dying for personal connection and emotional connection, but we’re physically separate. It’s this whole new question of how are we finding connection and like authenticity in our relationships during this time of isolation?
TCA: The music video is so whimsical, almost cartoonish. Was that what you were going for?
LF: My entire aesthetic is very colorful and cartoony and that kind of goes back to my appreciation for childhood and the creative nature of children. I f****** love SpongeBob. I love animation. I love that playfulness and that curiosity that children have. That’s something that I try to do during my day-to-day and my songwriting. So the visual just blends into it.
TCA: I also saw that NPR Tiny Desk Contest tweeted your submission video for this year. Tell me more about that.
LF: I was on a Zoom call with my family when I found out, so I couldn’t really react right away. It took me a second when I looked at the tweet and I saw their name and then my name. I was trying to put it together in my head why they were placed together.
Unfortunately, I think that if they featured me on Twitter, I’m not going to win. That’s just what I’m assuming. But Bob Boilen and the Tiny Desk crew saw my sh*t. This is also my fourth time [submitting for the contest], so I know that they had to have listened to me.
The revelation is that I’m literally not gonna stop. I was like, “Girl, you were doing this five years ago. That’s wild and you’re still doing it today.” l am just going to keep going in that direction. I can’t back out from this kind of thing, I will keep moving forward. But it’s funny, the first one I submitted — and they’re all on my YouTube — was me playing my guitar and one of my roommates filmed in Spain. Then a couple years later, I submitted ‘Phone Keys Wallet,’ which is the first time that I caught Sacramento traction with Capital Radio.
CR: What should we expect from you next?
LF: Next summer is going to be the festival circuit. With quar quar, I had three festivals signed up this summer, which I was super stoked on. But I know next summer I can have way more. Especially with all the groundwork I’ve been doing and an album that’s coming out, I can get traction and get more followers. Then, next summer, I can really get on the festival scene.
TCA: I have to ask, what is up with the fanny pack stuffed animals?
LF: I originally wanted to make bananagrams bag into a fanny pack. Then I was like, “What else can I make into fanny packs?” And then I guess it was stuffed animals. So I did this thing where, anytime I’m near a thrift store, I will go in and I will look for cool stuffed animals. Then I come home and I sew them. This is my “Raincheck Summer” one [writer’s note: the fanny pack was made out of a cute brachiosaurus stuffed animal]. Every song on the album has its own unique fanny pack.
“Moonrise Queendom” was released on Spotify on June 5. For old time’s sake, check out Lillian’s Couch Concert she did with us last year here.
Written by: Caroline Rutten — firstname.lastname@example.org