Frances Cone is not a name. Well, it is, but not in the way you might think. You won’t bump into a Frances Cone at the band’s show or dial her up for an interview. “Francis is my dad’s name and my grandfather’s name, and when I was thinking about a band name it felt like the right thing to do in my head at the time,” Christina Cone, the group’s lead singer says. “And then just to confuse everyone, I switched out the I for the E.”
With a name that sounds like a female singer-songwriter, and Cone’s sterling vocals leading the way, comparisons have oft been made to singular heavyweights like Neko Case or Cat Power. While Cone admits that being in the same sentence with those two is immensely flattering, she knows the comparisons aren’t wholly accurate.
Frances Cone’s first record, last year’s Come Back, lends itself to those connections. There are elements of Chan Marshall’s breathy indie rock, and Case’s sharp Americana throughout the 10-song album. It’s not the sound that puts Frances Cone in a different spectrum than other singer-songwriters, it’s the integral role of the band’s two other members.
“I never really wanted to be a female singer/songwriter,” Cone says. “I’m obsessed with so many female singer-songwriters, but that was not my goal. I wanted a band, I wanted a full band sound, but that chemistry can be hard to find.”
Well, sometimes you get lucky.
Bass player Andrew Doherty and guitarist Jeff Malinowski have only been with Cone for about a year, but you wouldn’t know it if you hadn’t just read that. The three sound like old partners who’ve been in the game for a long, long time.
“The three of us just clicked in a way I hadn’t felt before with other musicians,” she says. “I don’t want to detract from anyone I’ve played with before, there’s just something really special about the chemistry with the three of us.
“Andy was really able to get inside my head and figure out what kind of sounds I like. I know them, but I’m not very good at describing them. I remember one night just sitting in his car and being like ‘what about this sound? and this sound? and this song and this sound?’ and he just really got in there and wanted to know, which felt so good and no one had really done that before.”
The chemistry has given the band incredible creative confidence, which comes through in the music, but also in other important ways that are often overlooked. Recording can be hell for bands. Sometimes the frustration of the process, or of simply being in the same room with people you’d rather be on opposite coasts from, can lead to great things (hi, Fleetwood Mac), but more often than not you need to like those people sharing the booth. The friendship between the members of Frances Cone made the recording process of their latest EP a breeze by most bands’ standards. They headed to Nashville in December, stayed for two weeks, and that was all it took. How well you get along in the studio means nothing if you don’t have a captivating sound to put down, though.
Luckily, Frances Cone had a check in that column, too.
The addition of Doherty and Malinowski has allowed Frances Cone to expand sonically, and become evermore difficult to pin down. The self-titled EP, which dropped late April, is just four songs in length, but its sound stretches for miles. You’ll hear everything from folk inspired harmonies, to driving bass drums, to grungy synths, all culminating in an arena anthem, where Cone’s roof-lifting vocals shine. So what do we call this Brooklyn trio, how do we label them? They’re indie-rock, sure. But that seems a disservice when they can shift and morph at a whim.
“I’ve never been able to overarchingly describe what we do, and I like that. The songs I write are based on instinct and I never wanted to try to be a folk singer, or try and be an indie-pop singer,” says Cone. “I just wanted to go and make the songs as good as they could be without being in one particular category.”
Whatever sounds may be spiraling around, there is one element that always comes through: the melody. As a songwriter, Cone hears the melody first in her head and then begins to assemble LEGOs of lyrics around it, often beginning the tunes in the artistically charged borough of New York City where the band is based, but not finishing until she sits before her mother’s piano at home in South Carolina.
“I have so many ideas swirling around in my brain in New York, but the rat race of New York feels overwhelming and it’s just hard to finish things here,” she says. “It’s so calming [at home] and their dog comes and lays by me and I just can finish these songs. In terms of ideas, New York is the best place to plant things in my brain. The heartbreak and the extravagance is so intertwined, everything is always together and it helps me write.”
It seems unlikely for a band like Frances Cone to succeed as quickly as they have. Only being together for a year, having just put out their first recording as a trio, yet they sound connected in ways other band’s only dream of, some never finding it. Then you learn the Cone family history, and the success makes more sense. Christina Cone’s father is a former opera singer, her mom his accompanist, her grandmother a Juilliard-trained organist, aunts and uncles in the Buffalo Philharmonic, cello playing cousins. With bloodlines as rich as the Cone’s, it was only a matter of time before Christina found the right people to figure out the sounds in her head. Now that she has, the goals are headed skyward.
Despite releasing an EP only weeks ago, Cone is looking forward, with hopes of recording a full-length in the fall, though more realistically sometime next year.
“I don’t really like to sit still, I like to keep putting things out there. I have really lofty goals in terms of a timeline that Jeff and Andy sort of laughed at, but hopefully it will happen really soon.”
Whenever a new record comes, expect it to continue on a path of sonic growth, keeping Frances Cone versatile, layered and complex. We may not be able to defiantly define them, but we know this: they’re really good. Go tell your friends, and don’t forget to drop the I for the E.