There Is No Neil Frances, there was never a plan for a Neil Frances and that’s also the name of the Los Angeles duo’s debut album coming January 28. Comprised of Australian producer Jordan Feller and SoCal native, vocalist Marc Gilfry, the guys intended to be songwriters when they teamed up upon moving to LA the same week, Feller from the UK and Gilfry from New York. But the two have known one another for a while, and have enjoyed rising success in recent years with tour slots alongside Jungle, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Poolside and a recent sold-out night with SG Lewis at the Shrine Auditorium as well as a recent date at Outside Lands. Tonight they embark on their first headlining tour across North America starting with The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and later in the week they will make their way to SOhO in Santa Barbara (1/28), the Fonda Theatre in LA (1/29) and The Constellation Room in Santa Ana (1/31).
Neil Frances music continues a welcome trend of “designer dance music”, tracks that encompass a range of genres and sounds, rhythms and vocals, focusing heavily on composition and songwriting, production that is glossy and nearly perfect. Their music borrows from funk and disco, hip-hop and rock, soul and house. They are very much on the rise with a bunch of other talented acts, adopting obsessive song precision over tracks highlighting drops and beats, like Jungle, Rufus Du Sol, Bob Moses, Crooked Colours, Caribou and a handful of others, carefully balancing alluring vocals with tantalizing production.
With a number of hits to their name, the guys of Neil Frances do not shy away from sampling tracks of the past (Bobby Caldwell on “Every Day WIth You” and Patrice Rushen on “In The Starlight”) and completely nail it on their 2021 remake of French house act Stardust’s “Music Sounds Better With You”, embracing the thrilling late 90s track with more of a live sound, heavy bass and some 80s synth for a new generation of fans.
“I guess it is slightly below the radar,” said Feller. “I think it came out in that weird bubble where the internet wasn’t really around, so even though it’s a commercial song, I think it did insanely well worldwide but it is still slightly unknown”.
“Jordan was the one who suggested we cover it,” recalled Gilfry. “And I remember him talking about it before we went to the studio that day and he was like ‘I really want to do a cover of this song’. Once I heard it, I was like ‘oh yeah, yeah’. For someone who was not a practicing DJ at the time, probably less into electronic and house music than Jordan was at the time, it was a bit of an unknown for me”.
“That song, when I was growing up, I was into rap music and then from time to time there would be the house anthem like that that would somehow break into the Top 40. And like that song in particular, I was like ‘what is this shit?’ I had never heard looped-up disco how they did the production and stuff, I was like ‘what the fuck?’ The film clip was super weird and captivating as well, it was a good one,” said Feller.
The short-lived dance craze of the mid-late 90s faded but the current one feels like a dominant culture in the U.S. and globally. Neil Frances, along with others are ushering in a new sound that is here to stay due to experimentation with sound, appetizing song length, accessibility of music on the internet and of course festival culture.
“In the early 2000s in Australia there was kind of a boom with festivals over there and then I remember when I got into DJing, which is what I did previous to Neil Frances, when I came out here to tour, I think it was just really starting to kick off where there was a new dance music festival every weekend”.
“It seems to me that like electronic music had its thing in the 90s and it was very kind of dance music and kind of rave focused, made for dancing, and that happened, maybe faded a bit and the resurgence in the 2000s brought more of a pop sensibility to the music,” added Gilfry. “And for that reason, in my very humble opinion, it kind of branched out to a broader group. Some of the most popular stuff that kind of dominated the festival circuit and kind of dominated a lot of electronic music in the States in my experience was some of this dubsteppy, Skrillex stuff —Skrillex, he was doing electronic music but it was like verse/chorus, like the structure and the songs were three or four minutes long as opposed to like six or eight minutes so I think it came back more palatable, as less of a dance-focused thing and more of a song-y/writing thing. Maybe that brought more people to it”.
Whatever the case, dance music has evolved and Neil Frances are part of the progression, with their high-brow aesthetic. On new song “be free.”, the guys opt for a bass groove with complex percussion and falsetto rather than repetitive song structure that crescendos.
“I think that maybe part of that is the jaded appreciation for like the bass drop”, said Gilfry. “There was like this moment in time when at least the big resurgence in the U.S. was so much about the drop and I think you can only hear so many thousands of those before you start to be like I’ve heard this before, I know exactly where this is going. So maybe that caused people like us to think maybe we want a little bit different of a songwriting approach, something a little more musical that doesn’t have to beat you over the head”.
“Also, after a while, you start looking for more”, said Feller. “I was like that when I was young and first started discovering music, like I want the most insane thing that I’ve never heard before and then you as you grow up a little bit your taste starts to get a little bit more refined and you start to look for something a little bit on the outside of those sounds”.
The guys recorded There Is No Neil Frances at their Echo Park studio with their band and some guest vocalists, but when they formed, it was to create songs with other artists in mind. While on tour in the States, Jordan met Marc about 10 years ago in Los Angeles, knowing he was a great singer and he did his own thing in London while Marc was in New York. Years later, they happened to move to LA the same week, burnt out on their individual music plans. Marc had beats and vibes and he sent them to Marc and headed over to his parents’ place in Rancho Cucamonga where his father had an office and they cut some demo vocals.
“I always say with this project it’s been this very organic sort of push from behind, we’ve never really pushed it or extended ourselves in a weird way,” said Feller. “There’s always been serendipitous things that have happened, starting with Marc and I both coming back from where we were in the same week to LA, we sent the first five or six demos under the premise of someone else singing the songs. We sent them to our mutual friend who is now our booking agent and he sent those demos to Chris Douridas at KCRW. Chris then rips a song off a SoundCloud set and a buddy let us know we were announced on the radio. Little things like that kept snowballing it along”.
This led the guys to 2018’s Took A While EP, released with the standout “Dumb Love” followed by some other tracks and in 2021 Neil Frances’ Stay Strong Play Long EP birthed the funky track “Falling For You” and memorable covers of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops” as well as “Music Sounds Better Than You”.
Though the guys crush new tunes like the nu-disco “It’s Like A Dream”, they really champion other stellar vocalists, like with Toronto alt-pop artist GRAE on “Finding Rhythm” beautifully matching Marc on the vocals and Benny Sings complementing Neil Frances’ lead on “Where I Become Someone”.
“The project started with us trying to write songs for someone else to sing,” said Gilfry. “When we started writing songs together I was under the impression that I wasn’t going to actually be singing these songs, that we were just songwriters, mind you we had no experience doing any of that, we didn’t really have anyone to shop it to but somehow that’s the idea we got in our head. I was even —to be honest, trying to sound like a girl, singing falsetto, because I was imagining a female voice. So early on, Jordan and I thought OK Neil Frances isn’t really about my voice per se, it’s just about writing good pop tunes so we’ve been very eager and ready to collaborate with people we respect and like. Some of our better songs are really coming from those sessions where we were writing with other people”.
The guys look forward to their 24 live dates back on the road, showcasing their debut record, live vocals and getting fans moving on new tracks like the moody, psychedelic “dancing”. Gilfry does all the singing with drummer Rhythm Luna joining him on some backup vocals.
“To be honest, I wish I had three or four backup singers on stage with me,” said Gilfry. “We have some great songs that have such a big sound with harmonies that I wish I had more people singing. But it’s kind of the compromise that we’ve chosen to make, the live show is a little bit different than the record, particularly because we decided early on that we didn’t want any tracks playing on stage, so it’s all live. We do some interesting MIDI sequencing stuff with our analog synthesizer and the drum machines, obviously that’s automated and it’s robotic but there’s no Ableton session, there’s no click track happening, there’s no background vocals coming from a computer. I wish we could afford to have more musicians on stage but we will at some point, I’m sure.
Gilfry and Feller envision additional vocalists and a 30-piece string orchestra one day, but for now there are plenty of dizzying dance songs to keep fans vibing in clubs across the U.S. and Canada. If anything is for sure, electronic music has evolved into a legitimate genre for live performance and Neil Frances is part of it. As for writing songs never intended for themselves on a record that came to be organically, Gilfry said, “This is going to be our identity, there was less pressure on the process. It’s kind of an important part of the story on what is Neil Frances”.
Tickets to Neil Frances’ Fonda Theatre show January 29, 2022 are available for $25.00. Support act Luke Wild joins Neil Frances on their North American tour.