It’s a story Christina Cone, frontwoman of Brooklyn-founded, now Nashville-based indie pop outfit Frances Cone, has only told once live — the story behind the band’s most popular single “Arizona,” a song that had been percolating behind the scenes for more than a decade. Cone had flown into Arizona to meet her brother, and as they drove north to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, he told her he’s gay and she was about to meet his first boyfriend. Not only had she and her brother grown up in a deeply religious home in the South, but the boyfriend, now one of Cone’s closest friends, grew up Mormon, both cultures traditionally rejecting anything other than heteronormative relationships. The revelation began a process of unraveling Cone’s belief system, a story she couldn’t help but share while out on tour last year.
She found herself once again in Utah, playing a venue that was really more like a “glorified shed,” she says. But when she saw the throngs of young people, presumably with deeply religious backgrounds in Mormonism, she felt compelled to explain the song, hoping at least some in the audience might relate.
“I worry about when they realize that none of it is true,” she says. “I wish sometimes that I could still believe in [organized religion] and I just can’t… ”
Raised in South Carolina, the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, Cone has, over the years, cultivated a worldview that she can’t seem to reconcile with the faith tradition in which she was raised. And yet, she continues to pay tribute to her heritage through her music, even if she chose to walk away from most of it a long time ago.
“I don’t resent anything about how I was brought up, so while I can step back and don’t necessarily agree with… Or our truths aren’t the same anymore,” she says, “I still respect it and I feel grateful for that community.”
Forgoing the trend of clever band names, Cone named the group after her dad and great-granddad, both named Frances Cone, both born on Sept. 11 decades apart, both musicians, who “had a lot of similarities,” she says. “I just liked it as a homage to our family.”
In an increasingly polarized culture, Cone seems to balance the tension between tradition and progress effortlessly. She may not resent the way she was raised, but she’s vocal about the parts of the culture with which she disagrees. While she may personally reject some of its tenets, she refuses to reject the people that hold them.
“I think everybody is on a different journey,” she says. “That’s so cliché but you know what I mean.”
It’s been five years since her debut album, Come Back, released in 2013 as a solo project backed by a variety of musicians. Soon after she auditioned Andrew Doherty. While she always liked the idea of a four-person band more than the concept of a “duo” (a title she loathes, yet doesn’t have a better option: “There’s not really an alternative, I looked.”) over the years the chemistry between Cone and Doherty became increasingly obvious, both professionally and personally. Frances Cone is now most decidedly a duo and the two are engaged, planning a wedding and releasing their collaborative effort Late Riser all at the same time.
“We’d played with a bunch of people along the way and just found in the past couple of years that the real core of the band has become the two of us,” she says. “I think it was true for a lot longer than we admitted that it was true.”
The result has been a slow release of new material, beginning with “Arizona” in 2016, as the band toured, played festivals and continued to garner attention for their distinctive soulful sound, built around sweeping harmonies, building drums and electrifying guitar.
There’s a certain authenticity to Cone’s music and life, a willingness to admit her own shortcomings, fears, struggles, as well as joys. It’s mixed with a relatable humility that opens the door for listeners to reconsider assumptions, both about the world and themselves.
Perhaps “Failure” off the new album most embodies this spirit: “It’s a love song to the things that we’re always so worried about ourselves,” she says, and one she usually plays toward the beginning of a set to help set the tone of a show.
“There’s this safety in admitting that it might not go that great. And most of the time when you let that pressure off it just works much better,” she says. “And then we’re better connected with the people and then they don’t have to feel like they have to be perfect either.”
ON THE BILL: Frances Cone — with Whitacre and Susto. 8 p.m. Sunday, April 7, Fox Theatre, 1135 13th St., Boulder. Tickets at foxtheatre.com.