Frances | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, December 14th, 2019  

Frances

Everything and the Kitchen Sink

Sep 01, 2008 Photography by Aubrey Edwards Fall 2008 - Jenny Lewis
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Between the two of them, Frances’ Paul Hogan and Brian Betancourt are in the midst of counting just how many instruments were involved in the making of the Brooklyn-based band’s full-length debut, All the While. They are talking themselves through the numbers like two students working out some difficult mathematics problem, and just as the bandmates are about to settle on a final estimate, Hogan remembers to bring up their song, “Decoy.”

“I totally forgot about ‘Decoy,’” says Betancourt. “There’s a high school marching band on that song.” Sensing the need for an explanation, Hogan describes how he went back to his hometown of Maryville, TN in February and convinced his old high school music director to include the band in one of their recordings. “Basically, on ‘Decoy,’” says Hogan, “you hear the song played by Frances morph into this marching band version of the same thing. So I think if you really want to count all the instruments [we used], we’re probably looking upwards of about 75.”

While Hogan is quick to concede that using his adolescent alma mater’s music program on the road would prove rather costly and problematic, it’s this kind of little bigness that pervades throughout the band’s unique chamber-pop sound. Led by Hogan (vocals/keyboards) and rounded out by Betancourt (guitar), Stephanie Skaff (vocals/sundries), Nick Anderson (bass), Julia Tepper (vocals/violin), and Tlacael Esparza (drums), the members of Frances take a grandiose, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to their music and juxtapose it all against a noticeably genteel disposition.

“I think a lot of these are kind of shy songs,” says Betancourt. “But when you put an orchestra in the mix, it changes the whole dynamic.”

Adds Hogan, “I think that balancing between the vocals and the big band is kind of the key. I think it reflects our personality as a band, or at least what our personality was when we made the record…we love to play loud and cause a ruckus, but we also appreciate the reserved nature of things. There’s earnestness I think to it, a certain emotional quality to the vocals that’s not really trying to slam it over your head, [but where] the music is maybe slamming you over the head.”

While anyone can generate sufficient noise out of the likes of glockenspiels, omnichords, woodwinds, and strings, it’s Frances’ meticulous studio production that puts them on the level of fellow compositional auteur Sufjan Stevens.

“I guess we take pride in being dorks,” says Betancourt, “not just in the instruments we use, but in the attention to detail on the orchestration. We’re not really playing garage rock.”

While initially a bit intimidated on how they were going to adapt the music to live setting, Hogan says he and the rest of the band are already treating each performance as their own thing. Even the thought of lugging around all the necessary equipment is just seen as part of the process. Says Hogan, “The one advantage of having lots of instruments is that as long as you keep them kind of small and you use things like melodicas and violins, it makes loading stuff quite easy. There are a few extra trips, but they aren’t as torturous…of course the guys in the band [still] want me to get a piano.” 



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