When Frances added the finishing touches to “Grow” in her shoebox sized London bedroom - which only contained a bed, a lamp and a keyboard - she had no idea it would go on to become one of the most cherished slow burners of 2015, a stripped piano meditation on tender love, spun over 1.5million times. Now, with two EP’s on Communion, a debut album in the making, and a memorable live lounge rendition of Justin Bieber’s “What Do You Mean”, the Berkshire songstress is shaping up to become one of the most gifted young singer-songwriters in the UK. Her sound striking a chord somewhere between the exuberance of Carole King and the ethereal tones of Imogen Heap, but enough youthful whimsicality to happily fleet from keyboard confessions to jilted funk-stained electronica.
Frances’ soul-bearing vocals stand out as a key component in her sound, and though barely in her twenties they carry the depth and complexity of a veteran. By 8, she was playing violin; by age 10, piano; by 12 her dad had bought her a songbook of tracks he liked. Not your standard kid’s songbook though; we’re talking sheet music for acts like Radiohead and the aforementioned Carole King. “I developed a little understanding of chords. Once I could do that, I started writing my own things.” By only 15, there was a seed in her creative imagination, and from there a love for real songwriters, like Beck, Thom Yorke and Chris Martin grew.
She studied music at LIPA in Liverpool, alongside other rising talents like the producer SG Lewis, but by year two her eyes were being drawn to London. Writing sessions turned into meetings, meetings turned into songs, and within no time, the sound of Frances’ voice was floating through label offices all over London. She moved into a tiny spare room above a shop in the capital.
“It was so tiny. It was just a bed, a desk, my Nord keyboard, and some little speakers. To get to the flat, you had to go down an alley behind the street. It was full of potholes and muddy and disgusting. The fish restaurant would sweep all their water into the alley. I would go to play shows and have to drag my keyboard down that alley. But it was home for a while, and I made a lot of tunes in there. You could hear cars and takeaway mopeds going past in my demos.”
Songs like “Let It Out”, the lead single from her second EP, were first conceived in this cubby hole bedroom. And both the necessity and limitations of her surroundings are audible in the naked sound, the limitations no doubt forcing her to develop her core songwriting craft. It’s stunning to think when you hear “Let It Out”, instantly more arresting and majestic than “Grow”, with crafted lyrics and sparkling with a clean pop production, that it was conceived in a room that could barely fit both a bed and a chair.
But while many of her songs are dreamt up on the piano, and then remain there through to their release, others venture into more electronic climes, thus bringing out more versatile, richer tones in her voice. “I Care”, the latest song from the Let It Out EP was crafted alongside Canadian producer Pomo, and sees Frances’ voice glide soothingly over a funky, soul-tinged beat. It opened a window to a different side of her artistic realm, and it’s a space she expands even further into on forthcoming track “Borrowed Time”. Written alongside Howard Lawrence from Disclosure, it’s a rhythmic and electro-flecked disco track that chugs hypnotically to pulsing synths and a snapping beat.
Away from her credentials as a vocalist and pianist though, one can’t overlook Frances burgeoning talent for pure and direct lyrics that smack you in the solar plexus. The maternal beauty of “Grow” unfolds in such a powerful way that it can be a song for both lovers and loved ones. “My lyrics are close to the heart and honest,” she says. “I can tell if they aren’t honest enough.”
The end of 2015 saw her embark on her first UK headline tour; a laid bare experience with just Frances alone playing piano. And though these shows were kept small and intimate, it didn’t stop rather big names from attending. At her London show at Servant Jazz Quarters, Sam Smith was seen in attendance. In July, she was invited to support Sam for a special gig in Thetford Forest, and now Frances is on tour across the United States with James Bay.
In her short time in London, the 21-year-old has found herself in sessions with seasoned pop songwriters like Jimmy Napes, Jonny Latimer and the aforementioned Howard Lawrence, and she’s determined to blend all that experience with her own blossoming talents to create a debut album that smacks with honesty, authenticity and straight up melody. A feat that must seem a little less intimidating, if you’ve been writing music for fun since 15. With lyrics that can touch hearts and vocals that can knock walls down, Frances has all the signs of another powerful British solo artist to be proud of.