Bay Area songwriter/recording artist Francesca Lee and her producer Michael Winger do a wise thing by highlighting Lee’s lovely, engaging voice in each tune on her new album, The Pieces Left. At first listen, Lee has the kind of almost-familiar voice that may remind listeners of artists they’ve heard before, but a more discerning listen reveals a unique, emotionally brave vocalist and songwriter who handles quite well the delicate task of evoking both strength and deeply felt passion, as well as vulnerability and thoughtful restraint—sometimes within a single song.
The daughter of a Polish mother and Japanese-born Korean father, Lee has been calibrating and fine-tuning her unique combination of influences and interests since high school, where, according to her press materials, she “kept to herself and wrote songs.” Since graduating from the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (the college founded by Sir Paul McCartney) in 2002, she has been performing with her band, The New Believers, all over Northern California, making headway in major venues and broadcast outlets.
The second track on The Pieces Left, a local radio favorite called “Maybe Today”, is an apt introduction to Ms. Lee’s introspective dream pop aesthetic, featuring a simple, catchy melody, ethereal guitar textures, and a light but head-bobbing groove, with Lee’s vocals front and center. It’s a great place to start for folks looking to check out the work of a wonderful new songwriting voice.
What was the first song you fell in love with, and what is your current relationship to the piece?
“Dreams”, from the album Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. It is a song I could never get tired of and I still listen to it to this day. When I was just starting to play gigs here in San Francisco, I used to play at this little bar in the Mission (district), and that was a cover I played there every night.
Who is your favorite “unsung” artist or songwriter, someone who you feel never gets their due? Talk a little bit about him/her.
I would have to say Leona Naess, amongst many others that I feel don’t get the recognition they deserve. I stumbled upon her first album, Comatised, on the discount rack at a local music store here in San Francisco and it was like discovering a buried treasure. I think she has one of the most beautiful yet fragile voices in pop music today. The inflection of her voice is what resonates with me the most, and I have learned a lot from her as a vocalist. In addition to that, she is a great songwriter and the production on her records is always lush and beautiful.
Is there an artist, genre, author, filmmaker, etc. who/which has had a significant impact/influence on you, but that influence can’t be directly heard in your music?
Jon Brion gave me a lot of inspiration when I was developing the arrangements and vision for the production style for my album, The Pieces Left. He is a brilliant record producer, songwriter, and musician. I first discovered him by his production work on Aimee Mann’s Bachelor No. 2 album and his compositions for film which include the movies Magnolia and Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind. His music is so orchestrated and cinematic. He really knows how to create a subconscious world within the music. As a pop artist, I wanted to incorporate the dreamy nuances in those records, and by studying his work, I learned a lot about musical arrangement.
Do you view songwriting as a calling, a gig, a hobby, other…?
I definitely view songwriting as a calling. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been creating songs in my head while observing the world around me. Ultimately, music has always come naturally to me, and I feel blessed to have been given the gift to do what I love. I have a friend that always tells me I think too much, and I think that in a nutshell, that’s why I became a songwriter. I love giving a voice to my subconscious interactions with the world around me. In a song you can take the simplest of words and put them into a melody and they have the power to do everything from heal, to inspire, to provoke – words are incredibly powerful.
Name one contemporary song that encourages you about the future of songwriting/pop music.
“Weird Fishes”, by Radiohead, from the album In Rainbows. Radiohead is one of my favorite rock bands of our generation. They are absolutely brilliant. Their constant innovation and willingness to take chances is inspiring for an independent artist like myself.
To hear and learn more about Francesca Lee, visit francescaleemusic.com.
// Notes from the Road
"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.READ the article