Q&A: Frances8

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How did you come up with the name of the band?
Why the name Frances8? Ever see the movie Logan’s Run? It’s set in a world where people with names like Logan5, Francis7, Jessica6 and Holly13 are trapped in a dystopia where they’re not allowed to live past 30. We don’t know if a movie released in 1976 needs a spoiler alert, but here’s one anyway: Singer-songwriter Nicole Laby dreamed up Frances8, a woman who breaks free of the youth-worshipping death culture and confronts the task of living a life in full–the bittersweet gifts of passing years, the heartbreaks mingled with happiness, the strength that comes from sometimes thriving, sometimes just surviving. What kind of songs would Frances8 write? What sort of group would bring those songs to life, and share them with the world? We’ve been exploring those questions since our first album Twilight Beggars, and have have continued to do so in recordings and performances ever since.

How would you describe your sound?
Homespun melodies fueled by evocative lyrics, wafting swells of fiddle, and a riveting rhythm section. The organic yet driving music of Frances8 appeals to a growing audience moved by intimate, honest depictions of love, loss, and everything in between. The genre-straddling acoustic/electric group is unafraid of the sparse moments that linger long enough to expose the heart and soul of the song. We’re kind of our own thing. But streaming services and radio programmers regularly play us alongside Cowboy Junkies, Lucinda Williams, Cat Power, Mazzy Star, Iron & Wine, Neko Case, Big Thief, and Calexico.

When did you first become interested in playing music?
There are 5 members of Frances8 and each person has her/his own music journey. Generally speaking, however, we all caught the music bug in adolescence or younger.

What’s the strangest or funniest thing that’s ever happened to you at a show?
My former band from the 90’s, See Jane Run, once produced a ten band event celebrating David Bowie’s birthday at Slim’s. All ten bands played original music and a few covers of Bowie’s music. We hired various local favorites to help sponsor our event, giving them an opportunity to market their businesses as well. Between bands these various local businesses would take the stage. One of the businesses, SF’s Good Vibrations, performed a Dildo fashion show with models adorned with dildos strutting down a cat walk they built on the stage. One of the models was my 120 pound Great Dane-Rottweiler mix. He wore a harness around his mid-section, sporting a purple dildo that shot up on his back! Hilarious!

What are you listening to these days?
Big Thief! Big Thief! Big Thief! The entire band is drawn to this wonderfully dark and sometimes instrumentally quirky band with incredible lyrics and unique vocal style. Other music: Tom Waits, Beth Gibbons solo music (Portishead), Ephraim Bugumba, The Dead South, Wye Oak…

What does music mean to you?
Music is essential. For me personally (Nicole Laby/singer-songwriter) music is part of my daily existence: writing songs, cooking while listening to music, listening to my kids’ playing piano/singing and/or writing their own songs. I write music because I have to—it feels strange or unnatural if I go too many days without writing new material or practicing existing songs.

How’d you guys first get together to play music?
In the early 90’s I started an original indie-alternative rock band called See Jane Run. Michael Tornatore, SJR drummer, joined me in a new project—which was the original version of Frances8. Revi Airborne-Williams, violin/viola/back up vocals, joined this band as well. The 3 of us formed the core of Frances8 with other band members joining over the years. Fast forward ~25 years later, we now have guitarist Mark Fassett (who was part of my former bands “Entamoeba” and “WaterSaw” for 15 years) and Jason Roberts, our fantastic upright bass player.

San Francisco is full of music history. Who are some San Francisco musicians who inspired you?
Paula Frazer of Tarnation has been incredibly influential!

What’s the biggest challenge in becoming a musician today?
It can be challenging to keep up with marketing the band through social media. Social media platforms require regular postings and updates in order to sustain interest. Another challenge sometimes is finding complimentary bands to play with. There are so many talented bands out here—it’s just hard sometimes to find a good mix/line up for shows.

What are some of your favorite Bay Area music venues?
Strings—an iconic underground listening venue in Oakland, Hotel Utah, Bottom of the Hill, Slims, Great American Music Hall…

Where do you like to get creative in San Francisco?
I find that I’m most creatively inspired in the mission and historic mission districts of SF. Even though SF was my home of 20+ years, I still find the trolly cars especially inspiring. Since I live in Oakland now I guess I’m officially a trolly-going tourist!

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to find out about you?
I’m my spare time I like to defy gravity and levitate. No—not really! Hmmm, something someone would be surprised about? I’ll have to think more on that one 🙂

Is there anything you’d like to plug?
YES!!! Frances8 is having our new record release party at Strings, the iconic underground listening venue in Oakland CA on Friday, August 19th. PLEASE visit our website for more details: Frances8.com

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.