If there’s one thing I like about Zoom - and let's face it, by this point we're scraping the barrel - it’s the details that I catch in the background of my interviewee. From the colour of their bedroom wall to the half eaten bagel on the table behind, I’ve come to realise that there’s a lot you can learn about someone from this one fixed rectangular box. When I spoke to singer songwriter Frances Lion she rocked up having ditched zooming from the house altogether and was instead perched in a van on a secluded beach. She tells me with a grin that she wants to spend Christmas Day surfing. It's obvious that Frances Lion is a free spirit, unafraid to leap to wherever her instinct takes her next.
Her ‘fake it til you make it' attitude and courage to bounce around the world by herself has undoubtedly propelled the singer to take risks in her career that have landed her in the place she's in now. Having caught the attention of songwriter Linda Perry (famous for working with P!nk and Christina Aguilera) Frances found herself flying to Hollywood to collaborate with her a month later - an experience that she describes as being as terrifying as it was exhilarating. She's come a long way from the teenager who was blagging gigs in her hometown of Hampshire. I managed to pin her down and quiz her on moving home to write music, her new found love for LA and her stick and poke side hustle!
Rachel Edwards: Hi Frances! How are you feeling now that we’re in lockdown number two?
Frances Lion: I’m just over it. People are kind of doing things normally, we just can’t do anything properly.
R.E: Yeah I think everyone is by this point! So how did you come up with the name Frances Lion?
F.L: So first of all I had this genius idea to call myself ‘Lion’ and then I realised I’d shot myself in the foot because if you google ‘lion’ I’m like the last thing that comes up… so then I just got my middle name and made it ‘Frances Lion’. Now people can actually find me.
R.E: I think if I changed my name I’d forget and I’d never respond to the new name!
F.L: It is weird - when I was just ‘Lion’ that was the weirdest one. People would call me Lion and I just wouldn’t respond to it and someone would be like ‘Oi! That’s you’ and I’d be like ‘Oh shit yeah’. But Frances is my middle name so that’s a lot easier to deal with.
R.E I loved reading that you’re a self proclaimed blagger because, umm, me too. Has it ever got you in trouble?
F.L: I mean I’ve blagged a lot of jobs, I’ve faked a lot of job interviews. When I was 18 I went out to France to work and I really struggled to find a job in the Alps so I just lied. They asked if I could speak French and I was like ‘yeah you know, a bit’ and then they gave me the job.They just had to have me because they couldn’t send me home by that point!
R.E: It’s just white lies!
F.L: Yeah everyone does it! Fake it til you make it and people don’t question you. How do people expect you to start in the first place? Sometimes you just have to lie and say you’ve got it.
R.E: Exactly! So was this before you jumped on a plane and went to Australia?
F.L: Yeah I went to France and then I travelled around Europe for a couple of years and then I went to Australia.
R.E: Was it then that you discovered you wanted to be a musician or did you know before that?
F.L: I knew before that. I started playing when I was really young. My first performance was when I was around ten and then I started playing gigs. That was another lie actually - my first ever gig. I was 14 and it was two days after Christmas at a local pub. They asked if I could do two 45 minute sets to make it up to an hour and a half with a break and I said I could. I learned all these songs really quickly and I was so nervous that I played them all so fast that I had to run through the set twice.
R.E: [Laughs] And this was before you started writing your own music so you were just playing covers at this point?
F.L: Yeah and I started doing loads. When I was 15/16 I started doing cover gigs 3 or 4 nights a week... I’d go to school and then my dad would drop me off, help me set up my equipment and then he’d have to go to work. All the local people would help me carry my speakers.
R.E: So did you have a lot of support from people around you?
F.L: Yeah my dad is in the entertainment industry, he does Tom Jones tributes.
R.E: Oh my god. Do you ever do covers of Tom Jones? You should do a cover of 'Sex Bomb'.
F.L: [Laughs] That would probably be a really fucking cool cover.
R.E: It could be the next Christmas number one. Especially if you have you and Tom Jones in the music video… although that might be a little bit weird.
F.L: Well, Tom Jones... my dad…
R.E: [Laughs] Yeah maybe not. So how did you go from playing locally to going to LA and working with Linda Perry. What was the transition like?
F.L: I got back from Australia after bumming around there and living this dream life but I was just being such a beach bum and I wasn’t getting anything done. I came home and moved to London with a mission to find a manager and I found one! Then one day I was in a writing session and my manager called me and I was like ‘You know not to call me when I’m in a writing session, piss off!’ and he was like ‘Seriously I need to speak to you. Linda Perry wants to write with you’ in LA and I was like ‘What!’. I mean I used to play ‘What’s up’ by ‘4 Non Blondes’ in my little pub sets when I was 15.
R.E: How fast was your flight booked? Was it like Linda Perry wants to work with you, flight next week kind of thing?
F.L: Yeah like ‘next month she wants to fly you out’.
R.E: How did you end up on her radar, do you know?
F.L: Her old manager knew my publishers and booked it in the diary and then they quit after 20 years or something. So I fly to LA by myself and rock up to her studio expecting this warm welcome and she’s like ‘I don’t actually know who you are’. Her old manager was in charge of her diary and in her old diary it just said ‘Beth. UK’. I had seven days with her which she never does unless she knows someone and she was like ‘I can’t cancel on this girl ‘cos she’s come all the way from London to be here’.
R.E: Were you quite intimidated of her when you met her then? Was she scary?
F.L: She’s like a really really really big character.
R.E: I can imagine.
F.L: And she’s straight to the point like ‘See the guitar over there. Pick it up and play me a fucking song’.
R.E: Oh my god the pressure! But then did things click into place?
F.L: Well I played her some demos and she just wasn’t feeling it at all and I thought she was just going to kick me out and send me home. And then I played her a song and she was like ‘Oh okay that’s the fucking Beth I wanna work with'.
R.E: It’s probably good in a way because if you can go through something like that - that kind of fear - at the start of your career then everything after that point will seem like a breeze. Did you like LA by the way? Can you imagine living there?
F.L: It took me a few times going. I’ve been there five or six times now. The first twice I just thought ‘wow this place is massive and weird’. It’s a lot to take in. Once you get your head around it it is an amazing place. I would definitely like to just go and live there for six months or a year. Everyone is so driven.
R.E: Yeah nobody’s afraid to say ‘This is who I am, this is what I do’ which is the opposite of the UK where everyone’s quite apologetic.
F.L: [Laughs] Yeah we don’t really show emotion very well.
R.E: Your music is pretty rock ‘n’ roll. Do you live a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle? Do people still throw TVs out of windows these days?
F.L: [Laughs] If you’re that much of a knob and you’ve got enough money on your credit card then go ahead, chuck a TV out of the window, just check that no one’s walking under it first. I feel like the rock 'n' roll lifestyle doesn’t exist as much in this world anymore because everyone knows what you’re doing all the time and nothing’s a mystery anymore. I think the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle was so big back in the day because people were a mystery and you didn’t know everything about them. All you saw were the headlines - ‘doing loads of drugs and chucking TVs out the window’ but now you have to be nice!
R.E: It’s true and maybe because people who do it now know they have an audience it changes it from being this spontaneous rock ‘n’ roll moment and it becomes about catching it for Instagram! I really like your song ‘Self Control’ - do you actually have good self control?
F.L: No, I absolutely don’t. I have very little actually. I just have very big FOMO. If I’m at a party I can’t just go to bed if people are still up but since lockdown I’ve been waking up super early and getting shit done and it feels so good. From this I’ve turned into a bit of a grandma.
R.E: Me too, 10pm feels like a late night now! What’s your favourite song that you’ve written and which song do you think fans connect with most?
F.L: I think my favourite song I’ve written hasn’t actually been released but I did play it on my first van session and it’s called ‘Warpaint’. It’s super stripped back, it’s not like any of the others. It means a lot to me and every time I play it live it’s the song everyone loves the most, but it is super depressing…
R.E: Why do you think people connect to it?
F.L: I’ve had some really beautiful messages about it. It’s about people going through stuff - maybe you’re depressed or anxious - but when you’re around your friends you just put on a face and no one actually knows what you’re going through. You put on your warpaint.
R.E: I think more than ever that song is so relevant for this generation. It’s easy to curate a perfect image and filter out the bad stuff. What are you working on at the moment?
F.L: I’ve been writing loads with my brother so we’re all together in my family home! He does more of the production side but he’s amazing. Although it’s been hard because we’re both at home with my dad… there’s six of us living here and it’s a lot harder to write when you feel a bit trapped.
R.E: Have there been any big arguments?
F.L: Well me and my brother always bicker about music but it’s just what happens when you work with your sibling. They’re never big arguments - we’ll disagree but we’ll make up in a minute!
R.E: So what are your main future goals post lockdown?
F.L: I want to get some music out! Hopefully this will happen next year. The last year has been hard and it makes it harder to write when everything’s on your hard-drive! I want to get a song out every month next year.
R.E: And if you had to listen to one song on repeat for the rest of your life what would it be?
F.L: Wow! That’s really hard. Right now I cannot stop listening to ‘Seventeen’ by Shannon Van Etten. I listen to it at least three times a day. Or ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys! You can’t help feeling better after listening to this if you’re in a bad mood.
R.E: It’s true! I saw that you do stick and poke tattoos as well!
F.L: [Laughs] Yes this is my ‘what the fuck is going on with the world in music I need to quickly come up with a side hustle’. In the first lockdown I reassessed life a bit and I started to do things I used to love. I love painting and drawing and hadn’t done it in years. Then I bought a tattoo kit and begged my boyfriend to let me tattoo him. It was kind of a joke at first and then I was like ‘It’s actually not shit’ and I really love doing them.
R.E: Since then has your boyfriend been asking you for more?
F.L: Yeah he’s got loads! Since then I’ve basically filled in every gap on his arm and now he wants them - I don’t even have to ask him!
R.E: Have you tattooed your lyrics onto anyone?
R.E: That’s still to come. That would be a cool moment right?
F.L: And also a really narcissistic moment.
R.E: [Laughs] Okay my last question for you… What is your favourite F word?
F.L: I mean I don’t wanna say the obvious but I do say it too much I have such a potty mouth… although I also love the word fabulous.
R.E: Yeah that’s a good word. Or you could go with Frances but that wouldn’t help the whole narcissism thing.
F.L: [Laughs] Yeah everyone’s going to read this article and be like this girls a fucking arsehole… Let’s go with fucking fabulous!
R.E: OK I’ll let you have two...