Track by Track is a new music feature in which we task artists with breaking down each song on their latest full-length effort Track By Track.
Timing is everything to Frances Cone. Even the band’s moniker is a nod to band mastermind Christina Cone’s family’s own impeccable chronology, borrowing the name from her great-grandfather and father, both born on September 11th decades apart. Then there’s the fact that Cone met her future bandmate and beau, Andrew Doherty, at just the right moment on just the right date — 12/12/12 — for their lives to align.
This acknowledged connection to cosmic scheduling also explains why the duo have been so patient in releasing their follow-up to 2013’s Come Back LP. Due out January 18th, Late Riser “is the result of renewal and growth, of late nights and mornings — a steady incline, a gradual rise,” as Cone explains in a press release. In other words, its the product of allowing creativity to exist in an unhurried space.
It’s a patience that comes through on each of the 10 tracks that make up Late Riser. Carefully crafted soar on indie pop updrafts on songs like “Failure” or the melodic opener “Wide Awake”. “Unraveling”, a lush pop number with gripping harmonies, hints at Cone’s association with Lucius, while “Arizona” hints towards Justin Vernon’s style of songwriting. Then there’s the title track, a beleaguered and powerful folk number that finds Cone at her most aggressive.
Whatever the influence or particular style of sound, each song feels complete, fully realized as a coherent effort from an artist who appreciates the value in taking your time to reach the finish line. Take a listen to the entirety of Late Riser below.
For more insight into Late Riser and the songs therein, Cone has broken down the record Track by Track.
This is the last song we recorded and I knew right away it would be the first track on the album. The melody of the verses and chorus sort of fell out of my brain with placeholder lyrics until I realized I really liked a lot of them so at least 50% of this song feels like it came straight out of the air. Andy wrote that middle section in the studio and we left it bare for a couple days until we heard that Pete Lalish (from Lucius) was in town so we had him come in and work some guitar magic with a couple crazy pedals for a couple crazy hours. Pete and Dan Molad both told us that this song sounds like Solange meets Bon Iver which is a new genre I’m now committed to for the rest of my life.
“Failure” was an incredibly loose idea in my mind when we went into the studio and was hard to explain so Andy and Josh Kaler, our producer and engineer, had to reeeeally trust me. It unfolded like an art project and then Dan Molad gave it additional crazy life after we sent him all of the tracks. It has become the most fun and also comforting part of our live show. It’s so nice to sing to your own failures every night and I’m also just so consistently surprised that my voice can sing those high notes and I think the audience can tell so we just all have a really good time. Also Andy’s bass line is my favorite.
We played “Unraveling” for Dan Molad in his LA studio (his attic at the time) and thought it was just to familiarize him with the song but in fact he’d already pressed record. We ended up keeping most of that first take because it felt pretty magical and we failed at almost every other attempt. The writing process in Brooklyn was quick as well — as soon as Andy introduced the bass line halfway through, it felt pretty done. Adam Melchor added some lyrics to that line in LA and also lended a very emotional voice to round out what has become a very cathartic song for me.
Every verse of “Unraveling” is another story — different people breaking down at different times for different reasons to various degrees. The second verse always hits me hard, maybe because we travel so much. That can feel pretty unsettling, so I’m in love with the character who chooses to stop altogether. I simultaneously encourage that decision and also want her to get back on the plane. And then the last verse, when I get to be myself for the first time and feel everything personally and relish in the breakdown — it becomes so calming to let it all go.
I wrote the chorus for this song on the G train in Brooklyn and ran out to sing it into my phone on the sidewalk. The rest didn’t come as easy — the first recording actually has entirely different verses. I stepped away for a few months, came up with what is there now and Andy and I went back to Nashville to convince Josh Kaler to change 40% of the song. There’s a lot going on — a high strung acoustic, a ’90s omnichord, Clay White’s masterful trumpet playing, Alex Baron killing the drums, Jeff Malinowski playing and singing his guts out. We really threw it all in and Dan Molad gave everything and everyone a space to live in.
It felt important for this song to be the title track because I want the intent to sort of bleed over everything else. We spend so much time fighting with expectation, both self and societally imposed, and I just want to give everyone the chance to breathe. No one is actually late. No one is late.
“All for the Best”:
This song was written by Andy’s cousin, Mark Mulcahy, in 1987 and means a lot to their family. I heard Mark perform it for the first time at Bowery Ballroom and later heard the Thom Yorke version and thought it could be really cool to split the difference of the two. It oddly feels like one of the most personal songs on the record. We recorded it with Ariel Loh in Connecticut and tossed the idea around of using drum machines a la Yorke but Aaron Hamel gave us more than enough with his clever stick work. This is not only a tribute to the great songwriting of Mark Mulcahy but to the music industry that came before us.
In my late teens, I spent a week in the southwest with my brother and while initially a person very secure/comfortable with our conservative Christian upbringing, my belief structure suddenly got pretty rattled for a variety of reasons, including meeting his first boyfriend. All the mountains of ideology I’d pretty blindly built up over the years were suddenly paper thin and almost everything changed. That time was so important to me and my brother is so important to me — it all became the groundwork of who I am, and is “Arizona” in song form.
This song has become bigger than me and is my anchor in so many ways. This is definitely a good time to give Jeff Malinowski the biggest thank you of all time for that guitar melody. The song could not be separate from that riff.
I have really bad migraines with aura where I lose my vision and ability to speak sometimes — basically my brain just gives up. The fear of this happening has launched itself into a larger, more overarching fear of confusion and dementia. This song is a song to my brain.
I wrote this in images, mainly a single middle aged woman in the 1930s in the desert. All of the
colors are neutral and the wind is always blowing and someone else is there but you can’t see their face. It’s about the internal struggle of this imaginary person to fight off the non existent monsters who want to control her life. I wanted the insistence of the drum beat to fight with the melody like she’s fighting for her soul. This song also contains the closest thing to a drum solo one will ever hear in a Frances Cone record performed by Alex Baron.
Andy wrote “Over Now” in our rehearsal space in Brooklyn with just a bass pedaling through chords to accompany the melody. It’s about his two friends who were living off the grid for an entire year in Vermont. He had infrequent correspondence with them during that time but when he did, the images of their lives stuck in his brain. I added the outro chorus to give it room to breathe, to lose the control of the first half of the song. It’s lyrically pretty matter of fact about the conclusion of a chapter since the circumstance changed but the people stuck together. It’s both the sigh of relief and the reluctance to let go of a defining chapter in two words.
This song is about my mom and daydreams about her and her mother who I never met. I wanted to reprise the chorus melody of “Arizona” and find a way to wrap up this album by overwhelming my voice with the strings, to eventually disappear in music. My mom is an adopted only child so our bond is an intense one and I feel the impact of my decisions, particularly the one where I moved far from her to Brooklyn, so strongly. But I know that ultimately she trusts me and has loved me through it all.