Gillian Frances shapes a heavy, vast world with a light touch. A second-generation musician – born to Portland grunge scene veterans in the genre's heyday of the 1990's – she's had plenty of time to craft her musical identity since first hitting her father's drumstick against a snare when she was five years old. She's an alumnus of Rock and Roll Camp for Girls' Portland chapter, is classically trained in violin and has logged in miles with bands like Surfer Rosie and Black Belt Eagle Scout.
The melancholy beauty of Frances' debut EP Born Yesterday cascades under the deep orange of old streetlights, follows the wagging tail of a runaway cat trapped in a dog's body, and reels from stomach pains due to eating too many butterflies. Young love carries the light scent of vanilla and freshly burned cigarettes. Diaphanous harmonies and field recordings fizzling in the distance augment the timeless configuration of voice and guitar, enveloping around the gentle, roving images of bodies pushing and pulling and "100 pounds of blue shit in [her] veins."
Now, the Anacortes-based slowcore singer/songwriter's latest tunes sound as golden as a sunset over Deception Pass.
The glacial soundscapes making up Miles Away From Myself -- out June 19th on Decency Den Records -- were recorded by Nicholas Wilbur at the renowned studio the Unknown and fleshed out by Brody Mennito (guitar), Kyle Bates (bass), and Alexandra Geffel (drums).
Born Yesterday's gentle opener "Blue Shit" is ever-so-slightly reimagined as the closing track on Miles Away From Myself, delicate brushstrokes, and blooming guitar interplay swaddling Frances' lyrics about love and tender bodies. "Blue Shit" builds the bridge between her earlier work and the vast peaks her music is headed toward on her forthcoming LP. The remainder of the album holds a collection of slow-burning tunes dwelling in the cavernous space known as human emotions, the lump in the back of a person's throat holding its place in the throes of feeling many things at once.
Grief, dysmorphia, anxiety and depression, codependency, and heartbreak. "Friend" examines nostalgia in the face of a friendship lost. "Child" searches for answers only to find them buried in the ground underneath a pair of feet. On the epic "Hunting Ground," Frances opens the song by softly singing, "We are all fucking each other or stressing each other out." A striking emotional complexity shifts into feelings like seasons; as one storm passes, a glimmer of light shines through before the clouds move in again.
These shifting seasons are represented fully in the variety of musical tones on Miles Away From Myself. The most uptempo tune on the album is aptly titled "Pop Song," rife with mellow guitar interplay and an extended, rumbling coda, like a free-jazz band crashing a college party for which Chastity Belt is the house band. Much of the album contains downtempo stunners like "U R Nothing" and opener "New Bones," evoking the same spacious introspection of Photo Album/Stability-era Death Cab for Cutie. The droning, dreamlike "Lake" is a meditative examination of grief, down to the emoting in the wordless vocals ferrying the song to another place. A guitar solo rips through the end of "Loose" and "Hunting Ground," the latter changing from a gorgeous, super downtempo indie-rock ballad to a skyward alt-country stunner. Frances' voice is somber and comforting; the hand on your shoulder offering solace while you cry your eyes out. As its title clearly suggests, Miles Away From Myself is prone to put you in a reflective headspace, a map for you to dive deep within yourself on a long drive or a solitary evening at home.
We recently reached out to Frances about the video for "Lake" and here's what she had to say:
Currently trapped in this social distancing time warp, I reflect upon a lot of days fondly…but the day we shot "Lake” holds a particularly soft feeling in my heart. That day was vulnerable for me, because not only was I shooting my first music video, but that song is about some really dark, difficult stuff. I wanted the music video to be simple, ethereal, and haunting to match the song. I felt lost when I wrote it, so I wanted to project a similar feeling to the viewer. “Lake” is about witnessing the death of someone close, and about my resulting shift in perception of the world around me. My stepmother Peggy was the catalyst for the creation of this song; she passed in the summer of ’18 due to a combination of alcoholism and mental health issues. That was a dark, dark time for me. I lost the ability to see support and beauty in the world without Peggy in my life.
Shooting that music video was intimidating because I was afraid of having those past emotions arise. I made sure, however, that I surrounded myself with strong, empathetic, incredibly kind, patient, and creative individuals. The four of us— Yaara who directed and performed in the video, Hunter who filmed it, Crystal who was in charge of hair, makeup, and other supportive tasks, and myself, stood on the beach of Sauvvies Island, praying that it wouldn’t rain and admiring the novelty of wearing fancy clothes on a beach in winter. We were brave though, and we got through it.
At one point I looked back and Yaara was on her hands and knees in the water, and I just watched in awe as she looked at me and yelled out between gritted teeth, “doing it for the art!” After we finished filming, we all went to Common Ground— a communal sauna/soaking space— and defrosted our bones. The contrast of cold to hot was amazing. I diffused my nerves, we group hugged and all went our separate ways. Those three humans helped me share a deeply traumatic experience, transmuting it into a communicable, digestible dance between water and earth, dark and light, lost and found, death and life.
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