The last time we caught up with Christina Frances Cone, she'd just released the sweet, soulful album, Come Back. Since then, she's added bandmates, developed a heavier sound, and dropped a revamped, self-titled EP.
"I've always wanted to be in a band, but I didn't want to force that to happen," says Cone. She began playing with Andrew Doherty after meeting the bassist/vocalist through a mutual friend in Brooklyn. Guitarist/vocalist Jeff Malinowski and drummer Alex Baron joined the mix a little later down the road, filling out the sound and putting an end to the rotation of studio musicians. "I just wanted it to happen naturally and meet the right people at the right time," Cone says. "I started playing with Andy, and our current lineup feels like what I always wanted it to feel like."
Co-writing with Doherty has also helped Cone loosen up more. "Andy and I were sitting in the car one night, and he played 20 different bands and quizzed me on which sounds I liked," Cone says. "It really helped me. I'm much better expressing myself."
Another challenge for Cone is telling the other musicians when to play less. "It's hard for drummers to not want to play all of their instrument," she says. "I used to feel bad telling Alex to just play one drum, but the sound we're going for really is stripped-down percussion, not generally the sound of the whole drum kit. Eventually, I was like, 'Well, I don't play my whole keyboard, because I don't need to — so it's the same thing."
Cone thrives on the collaborative effort, however complicated it may be at times. "I'm just not a solo person. It's not in my personality to want to do things alone," she says. "I don't think it's fun. I like to work in groups. I still get insanely scared before almost every show I play, but the group element is so important and it helps me selfishly in those ways. It's also good to have a lot of voices in the project."
That group element has really flourished for Frances Cone, the band, developing into a much bolder project. While Come Back offered a softer croon, the new EP adds a slightly more upbeat indie-pop ingredient while still delivering Cone's signature ethereal overlay. "June" takes a similar approach as the first disc, yet offers a richer sound instrumentally. "Better Man" stands out as a key track, featuring a synth backdrop and spacey guitar segment, while "85" builds up with intensifying vocals.
For Cone, lyrical inspiration comes in the form of novels, among other things. "I re-read all of J. D Salinger once a year. He makes the words go around in my brain," says Cone. That love for books blossomed well before Cone's Brooklyn band days, when the artist was a Chucktown native, living with her parents in West Ashley and attending the College of Charleston.
She actually has Charleston to thank for her first collaboration up in NYC. Ward Williams of Jump, Little Children was the first person she ever played music with in her new stomping grounds.
"I was new to New York and could have started music with basically anyone. I was so lucky it was him," Cone says. "He was such a good person to start writing with and figuring out songs with." After Williams started going on tour ("With people who actually paid him real money," Cone adds with a laugh), she started playing with a series of other local musicians who forged her direction as an artist.
She also joined up with former Charlestonian and French Camp-er Owen Beverly. He toured with Cone after Come Back, but then left to play with Oh Land, leaving Cone without a guitarist for two really big gigs. That's when Doherty came into the picture, filling in and then staying for the long haul. "After the second show, I was just like, 'Can you please play forever?'" Cone says.
As for The Royal American show, Beverly will be there too, performing as the co-headliner. Until then, Cone is busying herself with making casseroles all week for Friendsgiving before she heads back to her hometown.
"Charleston has always been one of my favorite places, so I'm happy to come home to it," says Cone. "Brooklyn — the Williamsburg area where I live — seems like a grungier version of King Street. There's that same artsy feeling. More art, less money."