Track by Track: Gillian Frances — ‘Miles Away From Myself’
Posted: by The Editor
Back in 2018, Gillian Frances released her debut EP Born Yesterday, a gorgeous collection of lo-fi folk that rarely raised above a murmur. Armed with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and an apparition of a voice, Frances lays her soul bare on tracks like “Blue Shit,” the hushed opener to Born Yesterday, detailing both the beauty and chaos in life, and most importantly the moments in which those two things intertwine. Of all of the songs that Frances has recorded as a solo artist, none are more important to understanding her evolution than “Blue Shit,” a song that literally bookends her entire discography. On Miles Away From Myself, the debut full-length from Gillian Frances, “Blue Shit” is reworked into an alt-country shuffler, giving the song an almost entirely different meaning.
It’s the perfect lens to view Miles Away From Myself through, which is louder and more haunting than anything Frances has made beforehand, and is also one of the best debut albums of the year. Frances grapples with some pretty heavy topics on Miles Away From Myself, and she’s able to turn her own experiences into a catalyst for self-relection on songs like “Lake” and “Child”. It’s an album that pairs an unflinching honesty and sincerity with smoldering arrangements that borrow elements of freak folk, slowcore, and free-jazz. Songs like “Pop Song” morph into frenetic pulses of raw energy, perfectly mirroring the anguish and uncertainty of these current times we’re living in. Miles Away From Myself is the perfect companion for the changing of the seasons, serving as a beacon of light in the darkness it was birthed from.
Stream the record below and check out our track by track breakdown of the record with Gillian Frances.
All songs on Miles Away From Myself were recorded in the spring of 2019 at the Anacortes Unknown Studios. Nich Wilbur recorded, mixed, mastered and aided in the production of the album. Kyle Bates (Drowse) played bass iv, Brody Mennitto (Toim, Inni) played lead guitar and Zanny Geffel (The Cabin Project, Secret Drum Band) played drums and percussion. All songs were written by me, Gillian Frances, between the years of 2015-2020.
1. “New Bones”
Gillian: This song was written about four years ago when I was living in a house with 5 other people in Northeast Portland. I was in a rare phase of my life, one that I will (hopefully) never enter again; I was going on dates with anyone who was remotely interested, desperately seeking validation from others because I was not able to find it within myself. I wrote this song after I had gone on a date with someone who had rejected my request for a second one. I felt like a sad, rejected hollow human, walking from one date to the next looking for someone to love me. At that time, it didn’t matter if I liked them; I just wanted them to like me, and that would be enough.
2. “Hunting Ground”
Gillian: I wrote this song when I was sitting on a bus in New York City. I was cold, tired, and listening to some teenagers behind me talking shit about everyone and being obnoxious and loud. Their young egos were filling up the whole bus, unchecked yet by the reality of adulthood—which is what inspired the crass, child-like lyrics in the beginning of the song. “Hunting Ground” has gone through so many phases of band members, so many different voices but my favorite version is by far the one that we recorded at The Unknown. This song is always so fun to play with Kyle on bass, Brody on guitar and Zanny on drums; we lock into a jam that feels like an endless time warp. Zanny, the drummer on Miles Away From Myself, sent me a couple of lines about her experience with “Hunting Ground:”
Zanny Geffel: One of my favorite things about playing with Gilly and this band is the ability to enjoy the space and time in our music. When I play drums and I feel like I have infinite space to explore, I can truly sink in and let my body do what it wants to do. This song, to me, is about floating above the world—gliding, observing others, our society. It’s not about binaries, it’s not about judgment. It’s about experiencing ever-expansive moments, seeing them from all the angles. My interpretations lie within exploring those moments within music.
Gillian: Oooooh okay, so I don’t want to say too much about the inspiration behind this song, but the demo to this song features my really good friend Cat talking to me about ‘Pizza Man’…its really trippy and weird and still makes me laugh. The ending of “Friend” is maybe my favorite moment on the whole album, though. We all lock into each other so well, it feels amazing. I hope others can experience the serenity and happiness that I do within those closing moments of the song. It reminds me of Kurt Vile’s “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” which is one of my favorite songs of his. Also, my sister created the most amazing music video for this song. It hasn’t gotten as much attention or plays as it deserves, so go watch it if you can!
Zanny Geffel: Gilly and I met at Portland’s Rock and Roll Camp for Girls and then ran into each other again at Pickathon about a week later. We immediately started talking about music and our interests. We enjoy similar artists, and we’ve always wanted to collaborate together. Having finally been able to get that opportunity after nearly 8 years has been a joy. I know this song’s “Friend” is not about me, but I enjoy its meaning of lasting, bending, twisting relationships. Every one of us in the band is from a different musical scene and have our own influences, but it was a magical time creating and collaborating on this music for us all. I’m thankful to Gilly for bringing us together.
4. “U R Nothing”
Gillian: This is one of my favorite songs on the album. I wrote it many many years ago, after having witnessed the decline and death of my grandfather Roger. As the cancer progressed throughout his body, he grew weaker and weaker every time I saw him. Watching this strong, capable, brilliant man turn into a human skeleton with a feeding tube was a really traumatic experience for me, as it was the first death that I had witnessed. This song opened up a lot of darkness for me as I reflected on my family, and the lyrics touch on a lot of things that my family has experienced; drug abuse, addiction, death, separation, aging, depression. The structure of this song reflects those heavy topics in a visceral, tangible and emotional way, and this song is definitely one that has helped me find some healing.
Gillian: Now we’re getting into some darker stuff, which I guess is inevitable when talking about the process of songwriting (at least for me), but apologies in advance for the heaviness that proceeds this sentence (and major trigger warning in regards to suicide and alcoholism). A little over two years ago now, my step-mother Peggy fell into an alcohol-induced coma, one that she would never come out of. I had no idea that her alcoholism had reached the point of no return until I received a call from my dad while I was at work, telling me that we needed to go to the hospital immediately. The next few days were a total blur, in which we all put the story together of how and why she ended up in the ICU. It is a tragic story, one that changed my life forever. I miss Peggy eternally; she was such a bright, shining light with the sparkliest heart you will ever meet. Her demons were strong, and surging, and in the end she could not defeat them. It broke my heart.
6. “Pop Song”
Gillian: This song would not be the way it was if I had not had the band that I do. Before I brought this song to them, it was a weird abstract ambient, drifting song. Olives, who was the guitar player in the band at the time, came up with this strange poly-rythmic guitar melody, told Zanny to make a kind of upbeat and Can-inspired drum part, and then Kyle somehow wrote that line and it all came together. I remember them all counting out the time signatures together, trying to figure out how the song was structured, and I had absolutely no idea how I had written such a rhythmically complex song. Olives left the band and we taught the guitar melody to Brody, who kept it alive with his own spin on it. This song is totally bonkers and I love it.
Brody Mennitto: Its title is only about half true, maybe a third. It’s upbeat and kinda dance-y in parts, tricky and abstract in others, and perhaps the only song on the album that’s driven more by the music than the lyrics.
Gillian: There are a few moments on the album where we’re locked in a groove, but the one on the verse is my favorite. An ethereal, subtle funk almost. I played it for a friend who tried to goof on it in the first few seconds.
“Ha — what a riff!”
They eventually retracted their jab.
“Oh, cool polyrhythm…”
I hear lots of both joy and sorrow on the droning bridge part. It sounds very raw and real, chaotic but very beautiful. Everyone is really wailing here, really in it. I get a little nostalgic hearing this part, remembering how connected I felt to everyone in that moment and realizing that we all haven’t been in the same place since then.
Gillian: I wrote this song when I was feeling defeated yet excited, confused yet confident. I had just spent an awesome couple of months doing a shit ton of yoga, meditating, really getting into my body and feeling so good about life. It was maybe one of the only times I’ve been like, “yes, I’m single and I love it!” And of course, when you’re in a groove like that, the person of your dreams comes along and it all disappears. I fell into a relationship so quickly, one that I wasn’t sure I was ready for but that I could not put the breaks on. All of this new-found ‘self-discovery’ that I had been working on cultivating was totally overshadowed by the growing love I was experiencing for this person, and it was both scary and really exciting. Thus, “Loose” came into the picture, with some lyrics that I think reflect exactly what I’m talking about: I don’t want to lose myself in you, the ground is under me not you. It was a mantra I was telling myself, trying to remind myself to stay grounded in my own reality instead of losing myself in theirs. Kyle, who recorded bass on this album, shared some words with us about his experience playing Loose.
Kyle Bates: Loose highlights a lot of things I love about Gillian’s music and this album. The song is all about motion, evolving from tender guitar picking to a blown out Neil Young meets MBV jam over the course of five minutes. Many of Gillian’s songs have this unique ability to be both fragile and massive sounding. Loose also has a certain quality that characterized our recordings at the Unknown: the push and pull between Gillian’s masterfully structured songs and Zanny, Brody, and I’s “loose” semi-improvisational playing. The way the band played with this dynamic makes the recordings on Miles Away From Myself feel vital.
Gillian: Recording the drone with the band was such an awesome moment. Nich pushed record in the control booth and then came down and started taping keys down on all of the crazy organs that he has. Drake, my partner, participated in the drone too, which was really nice. Zanny was bowing the vibraphones and doing who knows what else, while Kyle made some crazy loop on his huge pedalboard and Brody and I riffed off each other. It was just a really fun break to get to play around in the studio.
Kyle Bates: I’ve had a few opportunities to drone out in the giant converted church that is the Unknown. Playing at high volumes with the resonant frequencies of that room is an experience unlike any other, an echoing present moment. Our drone was very long and only makes a short appearance on the album, but that appearance is enough to form a memory-picture in my head: all of us sitting on the floor with our instruments, laughing as waves of sound dance around.
Gilllian: This is another song that was written after the death of Peggy. There was a time in Portland, after her passing, when I was dealing with a lot of drama, and I wasn’t really given the space from my peers to recover after experiencing the loss of a parent. “Child” talks about that; about being so bogged down by other peoples’ shit that I didn’t even have space for my own. My best friend Vee, who lives in LA, was visiting me in Portland at the time that I was working on this song and she helped me write the bridge. She’s such a genius with music and I’m so glad she got to make her mark on this record.
Brody: This is my favorite song on the album. Lots of brooding and eerie tension. There are a few loud moments throughout, but this is where it gets heavy. It starts sounding like it’s happening in a dark basement, streaks of light coming through the floorboards, and Gilly’s down there waltzing for some reason.
The band appears.
Zanny and Kyle really shine on this one, going from subtle and ominous to totally crushing at the end. I love Zanny’s cymbal swell with the mallots right before the break, catching it at the last second. I thought it was production stuff when I heard it back the first time. Nope! Kyle’s ear for textural effects is on display throughout—from the cello sound on the verse to the layer of swirling feedback at the end.
I first heard the droning/tremolo picking stuff I do at the end in Sonic Youth and Velvet Underground’s “European Son.” It’s one of my favorite guitar sounds—I use it all of the time. The end result sounds somewhere between dreamy and menacing.
10. “Blue Shit”
Gillian: The first iteration of this song is on my first EP, Born Yesterday, and we revived it on Miles Away From Myself with the full band. We always play it live, and the idea of doing another version of an already-recorded song was exciting. Zanny, Brody and Kyle just add so much to this song (and I think Nich added some keys to this song too!) I don’t know where I would be—musically, personally, emotionally—without the support of those guys, so a major Thank You to all who were involved in the creation of Miles Away From Myself, and to you for supporting it.
Miles Away From Myself is out tomorrow. Pre-order it here. Profits from the album will be split between Black Lives Matter and Thirteen Moons, an organization that provides mutual aid (free medicine and fresh produce) to members of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
Michael Brooks // @nomichaelbrooks
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