Today (January 28), the electronic duo Neil Frances release their debut album, the cheekily titled ‘There Is No Neil Frances’.
It’s so named because Neil Frances is not one man, but two: the Sydney-born Jordan Feller and South California native Marc Gilfry. It’s the pair’s first full-length album – building on a foundation of singles and EPs built over six years – and it plays like one: this chilled-out collection of electronic indie pop ebbs and flows, glittering melodies surfacing to catch the ear and move the hips.
NME catches up with Feller from a green room in San Francisco to talk about the album’s long gestation period, how writer’s block keeps you “honest” and more.
You met your bandmate Marc 10 years ago, and it’s been six years since you formed Neil Frances. Now that you’re on the precipice of finally releasing your debut album, do you think that it was worth that long process?
“It was. I think, in this day and age, the idea of the album can be looked at a bunch of different ways. If you don’t have an audience that are interested in an album, I think it probably behooves artists to build up that fan base with singles. Marc and I got to a point where we’re pretty excited about what we’re writing, first, on the creative side. And secondly, we were at a point where we were like: let’s do an album. It made sense, we had enough of a fan base that would gravitate towards it. It felt like the right time.
“I think at this point, now, we will move forward into more of an album strategy for releasing music. I think it makes sense for us. Still, consistent singles, I think that it’s really good for bands and artists to always be in front of your audience in some way. Not compromising quality, of course, not putting music just to put music out. But I think a consistent run of singles into an album now feels good.”
You posted on Instagram earlier today about how difficult days in the studio are “necessary” and they keep you “honest”. Could you elaborate on that?
“I’ve recently gotten into TikTok, and I’ve got a funny algorithm where it’s like my personal sort of sense of humour, and then music and production stuff hits me as well. There’s videos out there of people putting stuff together and it’s like: this whole thing happens in a minute, everything’s put together and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, there’s a song. I don’t think that’s necessarily realistic of one, the process, and two, good music. I think time is such an important factor in creating good music.
“Marc and I’ve got a pretty strenuous filtering process. And once we’re happy with a song, it’s not like we put it out the next day. There’s a waiting period. For instance, we’ve got a song or two on the album that we’ve had for four years, and it just hasn’t felt right to release the song until now. An album allows you to do like a little bit more artistic stuff. You don’t have to pick the most popular song or what we think will probably be the most-streamed song. It affords us the ability to do different things in that space.
“And then also just in general, it’s hard to always nail it, you know? I’m in there on my own, or Marc on his own, or we’re in there as a duo trying to write, finish songs and you don’t always necessarily know what you’re searching for. It’s also not every day that we write a great song. That video shows me just frustrated: are we getting anywhere with this? Does this even sound any good? I think days like that are necessary to ground you as an artist. I wasn’t kidding when I was like, there are days where you don’t feel as if you’ve written anything good or weeks where you feel like you’re in a bit of a rut. You feel it and it’s like: am I actually good at what I do? That sort of second guessing and being hard on yourself makes you keep coming back and increases the quality of what you do over a long period.”
You were talking about how with an album, you get the opportunity to do more “artistic” stuff. There’s one track, ‘Thump Thumping From a Distance (Karen’s Interlude)’, which has a really interesting dialogue sample: it sounds like someone made a noise complaint against you.
“I’m gonna leave it a little bit ambiguous as to what and who exactly that is. Marc and I were saying a ways back that we like the idea of the majority, or at least some of our music soundtracking people’s weekends. Or you’ve got a house party, and you can put our music on and it works in that environment. I think that’s really important. And it wasn’t necessarily wasn’t necessarily a sample played against us. But I think the idea of that message speaks to our audience in a cool way – I think everyone’s had or been at the house party where the music’s been too loud, someone’s complained and the cops have turned up and all that. I think it’s a cool thing to represent that in an audio play, because I think everyone has been in that position.”
Yeah, I feel like you can take the album with you wherever you go in the course of your day, and having that sample really grounds it in a particular place and situation.
“I’m a huge rap music fan, and a lot of that early ’90s rap stuff I grew up on and is now become a part of my DNA as a producer of music and listener – using Snoop Dogg’s ‘Doggystyle’ as a reference point, there were little skits that would mix songs together. Not only are they there for being able to play the songs together, but it also gives you, as an artist, a way to project personality in a really cool way. Some of those skits are funny and endear you to them as an artist.
“I think those things are important. And I think maybe in this day and age where things are moving so fast, a little bit of that stuff is lost. So we’re just hoping that taking that time and creating those little moments just sets [the album] apart from 10 songs, one after the other. There’s more than just ‘verse bridge chorus’ songs to choose from.”
You’re currently on a tour of North America. What’s it like to be playing these songs to people?
“We were lucky last year when things sort of opened up before this wave that we’re in right now. We were able to go and play some festivals and it was amazing. Like, it could have been two years since we played shows, we hadn’t seen people or played as a band for so long and then all of a sudden, you’re just playing in front of a crowd of people. The response was like wow, that’s a whole piece of it that we’ve missed.
“Because as an artist, when you’re making stuff, it’s a loop of: I’m making music, and then I finish music, I put it out and people respond to it, which is cool. And then you go and play it live, you get that immediate feedback from the crowd. And then it inspires you to want to get back in and go and write again. Also when you’re performing live, you realise: hold on, we need a song that does this, or a song that does that. It’s a little creative loop, and not being able to go and play live was stopping that loop from getting full circle.
“It’s amazing to be playing shows again and having like a six-person team that cruises around with us. We’ve got two other people in the band, we’ve got a sound guy, we’ve got a videographer. It feels really nice to be in this position and we’re lucky that we can get out there and do this right now, and people are willing – this is what blows me away. I mean, we’ve had two sold out shows in San Francisco, the second one tonight, and it blows me away that it’s a weird time at the moment and people are still willing to like come out to a show. That’s really what it’s all about.”
‘There Is No Neil Frances’ is out now via Nettwerk