We have all read about the importance of creativity in child development and fostering creativity from a very young age. What our parents expose us to while growing up cultivates within us, our creative passions.
Frances Madden is a Sydney based jazz singer, piano player and songwriter who performs as part of an eight piece band. From a very young age, her parents encouraged her and her siblings to play one instrument and one sport.
She gravitated towards classical piano which formed the basis for her love of music. With a broadening of interest that comes with age and experience, Frances became interested in jazz and blues which has led her to singing and writing her own material.
‘My parents are really lovely, when we were younger, whenever we had friends over, they would make us perform for them. When I started singing, they were like, okay, now you have to sing and play. Obviously I hated it at the start,’ Frances said.
‘It was really good, it helped us get over that self-consciousness of performing and it taught us the enjoyment of just being able to relax and perform in front of an audience and learning about the energy that the audience gives back.’
Frances believes everyone has a creative side in them and that it’s just a matter of giving it space and time to tap into that creativity. She is a good example of what happens when a creative is given the space and time to develop, captivating the audience with her warm stage presence, a unique style that is very much her own expression and original songs that are engaging.
‘I am inspired by intense emotions or experiences. I am a bit of a hopeless romantic so I write songs about love quite a bit or songs about strong feelings that I have,’ Frances said.
‘I create not because I am looking for a form of creative expression. It was just that music was already there and it always felt natural to me. It always felt close to home, it was always quite easy for me to do and really enjoyable.’
When Frances started writing music and working on her first album in 2014, ‘If This Were a Dream’ the songs came out quite easily. She wrote four songs in a space of a couple of weeks and a few more during the creative process.
She let her creativity flow, she had no idea what genre she was going to be writing in but she had a melodic idea and she would follow that wherever it led. As many creatives know, creativity comes in stages, in ebbs and flows, it surges and then recedes, as Frances came to understand.
‘At the moment, I really have to sit down and give it space and time, it doesn’t necessarily flow as quickly as before. Everyone has different stages in their creativity and mine is sort of changing at the moment or I am still trying to find my voice,’ Frances said.
‘Part of my writing process is that I stay in my room for hours and just work on new material in my own little bubble and I don’t show anyone because it’s obviously a very self-conscious experience.’
‘I just need some privacy and a piano. I feel being alone gives you the space to really relax and make sure that you are being yourself and you are writing from an honest place. It helps you be calm and peaceful at the same time, which I think is kind of important when creating.’
When Frances reaches a point where she can’t possibly do anything else to her songs, she has taken it as far as she could within her creative bubble, she turns to family who help her. Her family offer her some honest but kind feedback. Feedback that’s not discouraging.
Her mother is the first person that she turns to. An honest woman who always say what she thinks. She tells Frances the truth, whether something is good or if she should stop and throw it away because it just doesn’t work.
‘I think it is really good to get outside feedback and I do listen to it quite a bit but also I just follow what I think as well because you have to find a balance,’ Frances said.
Many artists and musicians know what it’s like to feel vulnerable while performing in front of an audience. Being gripped by a sudden shyness, a self-consciousness that could overwhelm a seasoned performer.
We read about other artists and performers and how they have battled shyness, where it’s almost a condition that needs to be treated if they want to keep working.
‘I think it’s two different mindsets, performing and creating. When you go out to perform, you just have to let your guard down and be confident and have confidence in what you do,’ Frances said.
‘When writing, it’s a much more personal thing and you’re pouring your heart out onto the page for the first time. For some reason, it’s a little more revealing. You have to pick what you want to show and what you don’t.’
After years of performing professionally, selling out venues and writing her own material, her music fell into the hands of Judi Morrison. The wife of jazz legend, James Morrison. In 2014, Frances received a little Facebook message from Judi, inviting her to record a few songs in James’s studio in Warriewood.
Frances went in with a producer, John Spence, and a couple of songs to record and the process felt natural and she ended up writing a few more songs during the recording stage of her album. All up, she wrote eight songs and the rest were carefully chosen covers that people know and love, while staying true to the music that she loves.
‘We found the songs ended up fitting together and the album had a natural direction and sound that I felt was really me,’ Frances said.
‘It was a stressful process. The first recording day went for about 12 hours and I got really sick. When you put yourself under that pressure and you go through a period of intense change and improvement, you come out of it and you just have to catch up with yourself. It was definitely worth it.’
Frances performs as part of an eight piece band. Each musician is very talented in their own right, and bring something unique to the show, something that the audience can enjoy in their individuality. There is a synergy and an energy and they feed off each other to entertain.
‘In jazz and blues there is a lot of improvisation and spontaneous creativity that is happening in the music. It’s the sort of music that you couldn’t write by yourself, it comes from being able to play with other people,’ Frances said.
‘It’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to collaborate, it helps you grow as a musician as well.’
Frances performs often in a little jazz club in Ultimo called, Foundry616, which has become a ‘home club’ for her and the band. She loves the intimacy of the venue and the room and the vibe of the place. Her shows at the venue have been successful and have either sold out or come very close to it.
‘I was invited to play as the headline act at Sydney’s iconic jazz and blues venue, The Basement, in October, 2015, selling it out. The show went really well, we’ve been invited back to play again in a few days, 19th of March,’ Frances said.
Last year, Frances and her band went on a little tour of Melbourne, which she funded and organised herself. They played in three venues and filled two of them. The Paris Cat and the Boite World Music Café in Box Hill.
‘I took the risk really, as ‘market developer’ to improve my profile in Melbourne and because the city seems to have a stronger and more supportive jazz scene than Sydney,’ Frances said.
Frances has also played in major events such as the Manly Jazz Festival. Last year, she opened the show with her band, for the Fine Music 102.5fm 40th anniversary concert. A live to air simulcast at Sydney Town Hall. They were the only jazz act of the day.
Frances has developed her understanding of putting a show together, which is balanced and a set that showcases a variety of her influences that would be enjoyed by the audience but also enjoyed by her and the band as well.
‘Some factors I try to keep in mind is balancing the songs in terms of their tempos, their different feels and also having a range of my own original music versus covers of classics that people recognise and love,’ Frances said.
‘The backbone of the set is in jazz but we also throw in some blues, swing, folk, ballads and RnB and putting that in a sequence that works.’
‘On top of all this, there is also the consideration of making sure that everyone in the band has a moment where they are the centre of the audience’s attention and letting them shine, where the players really get to improvise.’
Frances and the band will be playing at The Basement this week. There will be songs where the whole band will be playing on stage and really grooving with lots of energy and there will be songs with herself and the backing vocalists and some solo numbers.
‘There will be ballads, slower songs and moody moments. There will be up-tempo swing, some RnB, there will be some really emotional bluesy numbers, something for everyone,’ Frances said.
‘We will also have some new originals which I am very excited to debut them. One of them is a light hearted romantic swing that would really be at home in a 50’s musical. The other one is a dark smouldering blues number that would be at home in a 1960’s Chicago blues club.’
Frances wants to keep performing around Australia this year. In April she will be going down to Melbourne with the band, to play at this new jazz club, Birds Basement.
‘I have a few songs on the back burner for a new album and I am hoping to go back into the studio at some point this year and start working on the next album,’ Frances said.
If you want to find out more about Frances Madden and where she will be playing next, visit her website she is also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and she also has a YouTube channel where you can see some of her live performances.
‘I’d love for the audience to have a really great night and the music is something that they can enjoy and connect with, that brings them closer to themselves and the people that they are with, even for just that evening, that would be lovely,’ Frances said.
For readers in Sydney, Frances and her band will be playing at the Basement this Saturday 19 March. thebasement.com.au
For readers in Melbourne, Frances and band will be appearing at Birds Basement on Wed 6 April. birdsbasement.com.au