Frances Cone On Breaking Up, Bill Cunningham and Hipster Nude Beaches

Frances Cone

Frances Cone will have you coming back to her music again and again and again with her stunning, soulful voice and candid songwriting. Gearing up for the release of her debut album, the attention is starting to build surrounding Cone and her first single “Come Back”. Since Cone posted the music video on YouTube last month, “Come Back” has premiered on the fashion blog Refinery 29, and Deli Magazine has featured the singer as an “Artist On The Rise.”

Charleston born and Brooklyn-based, Cone radiates warmth in song and in person. Earlier this week, the singer and I met for coffee to discuss (among other things) her upcoming debut album and the single that’s leaving an impression on everyone who hears it:SoundDessert: When is your debut album coming out? Do you have a name for it?
Frances Cone: I hope by the end of the summer. I’m currently leaning towards “come back, frances cone,” all lower case, but don’t quote me on that.

SD: What was the inspiration behind the heart-wrenching “Come Back”?

FC: “Come Back” is mainly about regret and wanting another chance to do better, which I think probably all people feel at some point, all parents feel, all exes feel…it makes me think of regrets my parents may have or wishing for our childhoods back. Who wouldn’t? I wish for that back. I try to rationalize myself out of regret as much as possible, like anyone, but every now and then it slaps you in the face and it really slapped me in the face around the time I wrote this song.  


SD: Is this a recurring theme on the album?
FC: This album is definitely the product of a tumultuous relationship. I guess that’s pretty cliché, but I certainly don’t feel qualified to sit around writing about things I don’t know about, and I know about that: love and loss. Maybe in twenty years I’ll have enough life under me to write some great philosophical, state of the world music, but for now I know what I know.

SD: How did you come up with the concept for the “Come Back” video?

FC: I’m not really into music videos that have clear narratives if you can tell. I wanted it to be intimate, but not necessarily have a clear story line. I like for people to be able to put their own stories into a piece of art, music, film and I felt like showing tiny slices of life, manic emotions, smiles through tears, longing, joy through really quick cuts would give the viewer the opportunity to create their own story. I wanted it to be about everyone’s journey.

SD: Did you record the album in NYC? Who did you work with?

FC: I recorded in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn with Dan Molad, who is the drummer in the amazing band Lucius, and also recorded and produced their album. I heard Lucius play awhile ago and thought they were so incredible and when it came time to find someone to do this album, Danny immediately popped into my head. It’s all about the rhythm and that man is incredible. That is our album. He’s behind the whole thing, it’s ours. I was never really into the recording process prior to this album and he changed everything for me.

Kenneth Harris, my guitarist, also had a massive impact on this album and the way that it sounds. He’s behind the whole thing as well and has had a major hand in the way these songs turned out. I admire him so much as a song writer too. He has a new record coming out, listen to it!

SD: Did you approach Dan Molad the night of the Lucius show?
FC: I met him and then I e-mailed him six months later. He used to be in Elizabeth & the Catapult and Ward Williams, my cellist/ guitarist, toured with them for a while, so I met Dan through him. Ward has been with me from the very beginning. I owe that man the world.

SD: Who are some other artists that inspire you?

FC: I’m a preacher’s daughter and grew up pretty sheltered so I wasn’t exposed to a ton of the music other people grew up listening to, which I really like actually because I feel it gave me the opportunity to sound like myself, not like what had been implanted in me as a five year old. I know so many artists who grew up listening to The Beatles and Bob Dylan and they sound like The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Which is certainly not a bad thing and I wish, in a way, that I had that infused in my brain, but I don’t know, instead I had classical music and gospel music. That was always my deal. Then I moved to NYC and Patty Griffin’s album Living With Ghosts basically got me through my first year here.

SD: Who would you love to tour with?
FC: I would love to tour with The Avett Brothers or Alabama Shakes.

SD: Tell me about your love for Bill Cunningham
FC: That documentary (Bill Cunningham New York) got me. I was a mess during it. I love when he says, “if you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.” I saw it three times in the theater and I rarely go to movies.It’s also so clear that he’s just living through his pictures. All the people, the extravagance. He spends his day capturing that extravagance but his life is so simple.

Also given my upbringing, his implied struggle with religion/ sexuality had an impact on me. My brother, Stephen, made a movie in 2010, called The Wise Kids about religion, sexuality, homosexuality, loss of faith, so these are themes that run through our lives. I think Stephen says that film is about 60% autobiographical and watching it feels like being home. It had a run at the eRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn a few months ago. The Times wrote an amazing review. It’s brilliant.

SD: Who/what else do you love about NYC?

FC: I’m currently obsessed with the beach in Fort Tilden. You have to take about three trains to get there, but now they have shuttles from Williamsburg. It’s a total hipster beach. You can get nude and drink on the beach! For legal!

SD: Do you get nude?

FC: No (laughs). I just like the nudes. No it’s great, they have bathrooms, it’s like $6 on the bus and everything is loose and…it’s just great.

What else do I love about New York? Just all the musicians that I’ve met here too. I can’t figure out how I’ve gotten so lucky that they all play with me.

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Frances Cone

SD: Who is in your band?
FC: Kenneth Harris plays lead guitar, Ward Williams is my cellist and plays acoustic, Matt Brandau plays bass, and Tim Kuhl is on drums. And they all sing!

SD: Your dad was a pastor, so did you go to church every Sunday? Did you sing in the choir?

FC: Yes. I basically had no hope for being anything else. At the age of 3, I was handed a mic and told to sing with my dad, loved it and that was that. I didn’t study music in college though, I was a dancer and a Poli Sci major, and super interested in international relations. But at the end of college, I was struggling with my next move and saw this amazing artist Cary Ann Hearst play in Charleston and I remember standing at the back of the venue and being like “right. this is the real deal. I almost forgot that this is always what I wanted to do with my life.” I was so moved by her, and still am. That’s church. I’ve lost a lot of what church was to me growing up, but every time I see them play I think, “this is the most soul-filling thing out there.”

That show and that person were sort of the tipping point of what I was going to do with my life. She’s incredible.

SD: You are from Charleston and currently living in Brooklyn, NY, what do you miss about home?

FC: The beach, my family. It’s so easy there, but I don’t really thrive on easy, which is why I’m okay here. I need it to be sort of hard to go to the drug store, or all the things in New York that are only difficult because it’s New York. My first year was so hard, figuring all that out, but now I need it. It gives you perspective.

But I love Charleston. It’s a really historic, culture rich, foodie town. But it’s also on the beach. It’s an incredible, gorgeous place. It has a great music scene too. SD: Can you dance the Charleston?

FC: Yes, sort of. I remember dancing with my mom, and her teaching me those moves in the living room when I was little.

SD: Do you have a favorite dance move?
FC: I don’t know. Dropping it?

Big thanks to Frances Cone for the interview! See her live! Cone shares a bill with Ron Pope July 21st at The Studio at Webster Hall.

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