Lillian Frances rolls with the punches. When she developed tendonitis, losing the ability to play guitar, she knew it was time for a shift musically. Her resulting sophomore EP Timeism is light-hearted romp on an electronic playground, made for early summer days by the pool.
Like many artists nowadays, Frances is in tune with her image, curating it from the ground up, musically and visually. Her collage artwork features the dishwater blonde amongst flying saucers or carefully placed atop a Polly Pocket toy. It’s this tongue-in-cheek attitude that translates easily to sound, displayed openly in tunes like “Netflix + Chill”.
We sat down with Frances to talk about her life in Davis, California, finding inspiration in Death Valley and how Spanish speaks poetry in a way English never could.
AF: I have to start out with a strange question: Is Lillian Frances your given name or your stage moniker? A google search brought up Lillian Frances Smith, a Wild West sharpshooter, so I was curious.
LF: I love that google tells you that. My middle name is actually Frances, and my real name is Lillian. So BAM! I’d say one in eight people tell me their grandma is named Lillian. Which is nice because I feel like I’ve already made a good first impression with them.
AF: Definitely a good first impression (#GrandmaStatusUnlocked). You grew up in Davis, California and you currently live there. Can you give us a little glimpse into life in Davis?
LF: You probably already know Davis because your cousin’s best friend studied agriculture there. But Davis is really a quaint town. Bike capital of the US. Surrounded by fields and farmland and we get the BEST tomatoes in the summertime. There’s not a huge music scene, but there are tons of students so the demand for music is always there—it’s just not really concentrated anywhere. We’re also right next to Sacramento, which has a much doper music scene.
AF: When did you first show an interest in making music?
LF: Apparently I was singing when I was two. And when I was a kid I would have my musician uncle notate music with me on the piano. I would love to find that sheet music now! So I’ve always sung, and picked up the guitar in high school. I started writing my own songs in college, and recording at my student-run recording studio.
In 2014 I saw Sylvan Esso perform at the Make Music Pasadena festival, and lost my gourd. I loved it. And standing in the crowd I was like… that looks like the most fun thing I could possibly do and that is what I am going to do. So after I graduated college I went to music production school at the Beat Lab Academy in LA, and I’ve been honing my craft ever since!
AF: Tell us about a song like “Bailamos con el humo.” Where does the song begin? Do you start with a beat, a melody, lyrics?
LF: Dang, where did that song start? I was just messing around making beats and playing with melodies. Collaging my sounds, you know. Basically anything I make that sounds good is an accident. I never go out to make a particular sound. I focus on experimentation, and eventually something sounds good or interesting, which to me are basically the same thing. So for “Bailamos con el humo,” when I ended pulling it all together it just hit. And I loved the melody.
Then I went to Death Valley with some friends for New Years. It was so beautiful. On New Year’s Day we all took acid and walked into the canyons surrounding the valley, and had a really fun and intimate experience with mother nature/each other. That sunset, as we walked out of the canyon, we watched the full moon sail out from behind the mountain, illuminating the world. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.
That night we danced around the campfire and smoked weed and just jammed out. I felt so full of life and love and new energy. When I came home, the lyrics immediately tumbled out, and matched that melody I had been working on. And I wanted to write it in Spanish because it felt more poetic to me. There’s a line in the song that goes “my name in cursive, escapes from your lips,” —which is how I imagine my name is spoken when someone really knows and cares for me. And for me, hearing Spanish feels like listening to cursive. So it just matched the vibe.
AF: You recently participated in NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert competition. What was that process like?
LF: The process is me hitting up my homie and going “Let’s make a video” and him going “Down!” So we just set up shop in my bedroom and recorded a session of me performing “Phone Keys Wallet.” The sun was shining through my window at just the right angle, illuminating my sequin jacket and turning me into a human disco ball. It was better than we could have planned! It’s my second time participating in the contest. It’s been an great experience, and I’ve made a lot of connections in the local music scene through my submission and by watching others. I already have two shows set up with people I met from the contest.
AF: “Phone Keys Wallet” is about you getting tendonitis and losing the ability to play guitar. Did your music change drastically in terms of story/tone as you shifted into the electronic space?
LF: Yes, absolutely. I think my story changed because I was just at a different place in my life and was experiencing different things. But in terms of tone, oh yeah. I had this whole new palette of colors I had never had before. The vibe is super different, it’s so hard to compare!
Electronic music lets me tell the story I want to tell a little more precisely. You immerse the audience in truly any world you want to imagine. That allows me to be very specific with the vibe and energy I want to invite the listener into. With an acoustic guitar… it’s always gonna sound like an acoustic guitar. I mean, in its unprocessed state, of course.
AF: I love the collages on your Instagram. How does visual art impact your songwriting?
LF: I am always fishing through magazines, cutting out images, and scanning them into my computer. Then I edit them in photoshop. The way I approach visual art is similar to music production. Because I’m not necessarily a trained artist in any sense of the word, and I can’t draw or paint with precision, or just play any instrument I touch, I rely on collaging to create these visions and textures and concepts that I wouldn’t normally be able to articulate.
In Ableton (the music production software I use), I can paste together and manipulate all these sounds to get a really unique soundscape, and I’m not held back by my lack of, say, bass skills. It’s the same with collaging—I get to use pretty pictures other people have taken—and give them a new life.
AF: What artists do you have on rotation right now? Any up-and-comers we should be aware of?
LF: Currently jamming out to Kali Uchis. I literally have not stopped listening to Isolation since it was released a couple weeks ago. Been listening to a lot of Milo lately. I heard his song “Souvenir” and it felt like a little puzzle piece slipped into my body I hadn’t realized was missing. Billie Eilish. All day every day.
AF: Do you have any plans to tour in the immediate future?
LF: I’ve got a lot of upcoming shows in the Sacramento and Bay Area, and then mid June I jump off to Spain for the summer, so my live shows in the US will be on hold… but we’ll see what I get into overseas. I’ll be doing the summer festival scene next summer, though!
Lillian Frances’ new EP Timeism is out May 4th.