The languid, eternal sounds of singular Austin artist Stefanie Franciotti.
Back in late 2009, Sleep ∞ Over was a trio just starting to make sweetly melodic, fuzzy lo-fi pop. Austin-based multi-instrumentalist and singer Stefanie Franciotti, who used to front local band Silver Pines, had recruited Sarah Brown and Christa Palazzolo to accompany her in a new project: “I didn’t know them very well until we got the band together,” Franciotti explains. “The idea came about because I was playing with my friends – who are now in Pure X – in Silver Pines and they got busy, so I wanted to start a new band. I supplied all of the equipment and got everything rolling with it pretty quickly.”
Sleep ∞ Over’s first releases included 7“s on Light Lodge and Forest Family before Brown and Palazzolo separated from the band earlier this year to work on their own project, Boy Friend. It left Franciotti to record ‘Forever’, her upcoming debut LP on Hippos In Tanks, solo. “There was some hesitation about it, sure,” she says, but “I wanted to see the songs I had written [happen]. The whole experience was pretty soul-crushing at the time but we’re all over it now.”
It’s good she moved forward; ‘Forever’ is haunting and more clearly transportive than any of Sleep ∞ Over’s early material. The dreamy subtleties, hushed vocals and harmony are still there but it seems a paring down of the line-up gave way to something rich, eerie and painfully lovely. Franciotti’s voice, so close to Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser’s in its ability to become an instrument all of its own, feels inches from the listening ear. It renders the seemingly impenetrable soundscapes accessible, and the hallucinatory soundscapes, though anthemic, feel as intimate as whispers. It is the stuff of dreams.
The album came from a perfectionist’s work ethic, from months of reworking and reformatting. Says Franciotti of her recording process: “I wasn’t intentionally trying to sound ‘different’ but I was trying to next level how I did things on these recordings. There were literally at least five drafts of every song, each one sounding drastically different from the last. I just kept plugging away at it in my room until I felt okay with it, then I would send it to Al Carson in New York and we would go back and forth on the mixing. It was extremely tedious, so in that way I’m glad that I made the record by myself because it would have been a lot to put the rest of the band through.”
The constant reshaping was worth it; ‘Forever’ defies categorical lumping. “I try not to get too attached to a specific sound; I feel like resigning yourself to doing what is expected of you rather than pushing yourself produces total garbage and I’m not interested in that. Generally, when you are creating something, whether it be a work of art or a song, it’s helpful to be willing to throw everything out and start again after you can finally stand back and take everything in.”
The heady synths and bombastic beat of single Romantic Streams (listen above) offsets its transcendence; you can bop your head as easily as you can daydream to it. Of the ethereal quality of all her work, Franciotti says: “We live in an age where everyone is so entirely disconnected from reality that we are all struggling to reclaim some sense of our mystical self. I think that’s what people have been grasping at, and why are our contemporaries have been using effects to elevate ‘pop’ songs to this seemingly esoteric realm.” It’s an understandable goal: “The influence and energy that music holds over human reality is impossible to grasp. Our bodies vibrate unknowingly sympathetic to inaudible frequencies that affect our physiology and psyche and are the basis of our entire sense of perception. I’m personally very sensitive to tone, frequency, BPM – which is why I listen to a lot of non-lyrical composition: Chopin, Bach, Upper Astral, Stars of the Lid, Ray Lynch, Harold Budd, Steve Roach, Enya…anything that wouldn’t hinder creative stimulation and personal reflection.”
This is why ‘Forever’, despite its mostly analog production, is so shimmery. “I’ve been using effects for a long time – my dad was a big gear head in the ’90s. He had a wall of amps in the garage and a rack of pedals perfectly organized so he could plug in and zone out. When I was a kid…I thought chorus on guitar was the cheesiest-sounding crap in the entire world. It was only after years of trial and error in other bands that I came to the conclusion that all of that stuff was necessary to fill out the sonic space that most rooms you are going to play in lack. Overall, it’s been a result of experimentation, obsession, and experience.” When pressed to find out more about her songwriting techniques, particularly her lyricism, she admits, “I hate writing lyrics. It usually just comes out all at once, but if it doesn’t, that’s a one-way ticket to dark baby land, if you know what I mean. I’m curious if people are going to complain about the lyrics being inaudible yet again on this record, because to me it’s all pretty intelligible stuff.”
Though Franciotti admits “I’ve been accused of not knowing what I want when I’m working, and I would say that it’s true to some extent”, both her method of creativity, practically speaking, and her understanding of the listening process are clearly intuitive. ‘Forever’ is as grounded as it is otherworldly, simple in its construction and sublime in its completion. Discussing the ways in which she began recording, one gets the sense that this has been her intention all along: analysis and definition is unimportant. It is the reflective essence of the creation of the song, the response to those inaudible frequencies, that guides her. “It’s the same way that I approached synthesis; any of the theory to what I’m doing [is] second to the physicality of the instrument itself.”