Patience is a virtue Frances Cone learnt much about on their album, Late Riser, released last year. Patience with time, with love, with the band itself. The album came out 6 years after singer and founder Christina Cone put out her debut, Come Back, as a solo act. The years in between gave shape to the songs that would end up on Late Riser, as her melodic pop entity grew to include regular players and drummer-turned-bassist-turned-husband Andrew Doherty. With plans to tour on the back of this album shelved, on account of the global pandemic, Frances Cone is drawing on that virtue once again.
“We were supposed to tour the year away, headline a Late Riser tour, and I was really excited for that,” Cone tells American Songwriter. “I want to say I’ve been churning out songs and cleaning out my closet but I’ve just found it to be really tough and I’m not a huge fan of the live stream.” Her honesty and sincerity are part of what’s earned Frances Cone its fans over the years — the singer never shy to reveal her shortcomings within that sweet, sweet voice of hers. Still, the band has persevered through this year, releasing the sublime track, “’93 or ’94,” from a new batch of material destined for the next album.
The song draws on Cone’s contemplating her family history — her father and great-grandfather, both born decades apart on the same day, September 11th, inspired the band’s name. “I wrote it loosely about my dad and specifically about the baby boomer generation of men – men caught between the stoic upbringings of their WWII fathers and the budding cultural consciousness and self improvement trends of the ‘90s, the era in which they raised their own kids. That contradiction has been stuck in my head and I feel like it influenced so many families.”
That idea is the umbrella to the scenes that play out in the song. “My parents were always pretty human to me,” says Cone. “I remember trying to read their faces to understand what was going on (“I could see it in your face, how slow you moved”) but feeling both subjected to, and protected from, their actual struggles. I’ve been thinking a lot about how my father’s humanity was communicated.” He was the pastor of their Baptist church in Charleston, South Carolina, where she grew up. “It only gets more complex with the addition of his father and his father’s father. Unexpressed generational heartbreak is a lot to unpack,” she adds.
The song, which was featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered, also plays on the haze of memory. “I think childhood memories are so subjective. How I internalized something that young could honestly have happened in a span of a few years,” she says. “My brother has an incredible memory and can pinpoint exact dates for almost everything but I swim around in the feelings more. So all of the scenes in this song either occurred in ’93 or ’94.”
For Cone, whose band is essentially her family now, too (she and Doherty adopted an enormous rescue dog named Silvestor in March, “a big blessing of 2020”), songwriting is still very much a solitary process. “[That] can be unfortunate, especially for the town we live in! I can only write something that affects me emotionally and I haven’t figured out how to be vulnerable enough to do that in front of another person,” she says. “Even Andy – although he is definitely my first stop after I’ve figured something out. He’ll take a song at it’s barest bones and give it shape.”
Reminiscing thoughts swirl through many of Frances Cone’s songs, just like in “’93 or ’94,” and Cone says she uses the music she writes to help make sense of the world. “I always feel like the song was written for me instead of by me. Nothing really makes sense until I go back and try to understand what just happened,” she says. Songs are the place she discovers what really hurts and what really helps.
Its songwriting and music that will help gather back that patience the band is all too familiar with, during this time of pause. “I feel like social media can paint the rosiest picture of creativity and productivity in the face of this year and it’s important to be honest that that isn’t always the case for a lot of us,” she says. “If I zoom out a little bit, I can talk myself into a bigger purpose. Maybe we DID need this time to stare into the face of racism; maybe we needed to stare at our own selves. Maybe the emptiness actually is that breeding ground for a big shift. I am hopeful for the big shift.”