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ACL artists to watch: viral sensation Frances Forever and genre-defying band Arlie

Eric Webb
Austin 360

It’s not all about the stages. By the time Austin City Limits Music Festival wrapped on Oct. 10, Austin360 had welcomed more than a dozen artists to our tent in Zilker Park. You can watch several of our interviews, including conversations with musicians like Nané, Kathy Valentine, Dayglow, Jade Bird, Jxdn and more, at Instagram.com/Austin360

Here, meet two exciting up-and-comers who played the fest: singer-songwriter Frances Forever and alt-rock band Arlie. 

Frances Forever's music takes on a life of its own 

We already knew Frances Forever, the singer-songwriter behind viral TikTok song “Space Girl,” could make music that resonates with people. But the artist, aka 22-year-old Frances Garrett, definitely spoke into the soul of ACL Fest with an Oct. 8 tweet, too. 

The artist, who uses they/them pronouns, posted: “why cant they have music festivals in the winter so we can all wear cute jackets and baggy jeans.” 

More:These are our reporters' favorite moments out of ACL Fest

“I'm just sticking with the overall shorts, like all week," Garrett told the American-Statesman after their Weekend 2 set. “I have so many good looks, but they're sweaters and baggy pants. It's a shame that I can't bring out those looks onstage.” 

Frances Forever performs on the Honda Stage during Weekend 2 of the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 9.

They ended up bringing a more yee-haw style to the Honda Stage on Oct. 9 — denim and a pink Western hat — but that’s really beside the point. Garrett, who is from the Boston area, had extensive musical training growing up, according to an interview with public radio station WBUR. Those vocal chops are apparent in the clear, soaring notes that filled the Honda Stage when they performed clever, vulnerable folk-pop tunes. 

While the sonics are downright pleasant, Garrett’s lyrics poetically reveal struggles with mental health, growing up and romance. On the song “My Condolences to Myself”: “You scattered my bones across my front lawn/ Leaving the rest for birds to feed on.”  

As a songwriter, Taylor Swift was “a huge inspiration,” Garrett says. “I've watched hours of her interviews, just talking about how she collects different phrases that she thinks of. Some songs just take years to write, because it's like slowly having all these cool metaphors (come together). Finding different ways to say something really simple is really, really cool to me.” 

They would one day love to write an album like “Evermore,” Swift’s second 2020 album that dipped into indie-folk sounds. 

Garrett also looks to the music of fellow ACL Fest artist Phoebe Bridgers for connection. They went to one of Bridgers’ other Austin shows in the leadup to the “Kyoto” singer’s second ACL Fest set. 

“I totally bawled my eyes out," Garrett says, adding, “I feel like around (the festival), people are passing by and like, ‘Cool folk song,’ but no one's like, ‘Alright, you can cry here.’ It felt very much like a safe space to just experience everything that she was singing about." 

More:ACL Fest apologizes to Phoebe Bridgers for cutting sound, donates to Texas Abortion Funds

Garrett’s own music provides a similar space for music fans to enjoy songs that reflect their experiences. Lyrics to songs like “Space Girl” and “Daytime” contain the kind of LGBTQ representation that’s become more common in pop media, but it’s still by no means the norm. (Garrett identifies as nonbinary.)

Their work also tackles mental health issues head on, like in the aptly named song “Depression.” During the Frances Forever set on Oct. 9, they told the crowd, “Here’s a song I wrote after having a panic attack. We love being gay!”

Garrett tells us, "A lot of people that listen to my music deal with a lot of mental health stuff, and I feel like I've definitely gotten messages from people being like, ‘I'm so glad that you like talk so openly about mental health, because sometimes it's kind of a touchy subject, and not a lot of people are as open about it.’ But I think it's a really great way to make community, to bond with people over having anxiety and then being there to support each other, especially if they were going to a show together.” 

But it’s “Space Girl” that’s taken Frances Forever the farthest, including to ACL Fest, their first music festival. “Space girl, I saw a lunar eclipse/ Looked like how I feel 'bout your lips,” goes a passage from the song, which for a few months was inescapable on people’s TikTok videos.  

Garrett thinks it’s astounding, the amount of art that other people have made on social media from that one song. 

"I feel like the song has definitely taken on a life of its own,” they said. "It doesn't really matter if people know that it's me or not. It's just out in the world, making such a difference in a lot of people's lives.” 

And yes, people did the TikTok dance at the ACL Fest set. 

Talking songcraft with Arlie 

Austin might be known as the Live Music Capital of the World, but let’s all remember that Nashville is just plain Music City. The band Arlie isn’t likely to forget – even if they’re not a country act, the alt-rock artists have been shaped by the scene in that city. 

“We have a lot of friends who are in bands, I think that are pretty good, and being around that, it has a very friendly, competitive kind of atmosphere. Emphasis on the friendly, I think, and the mutual encouragement,” says singer-songwriter Nathaniel Banks.  

Nashville’s also known for its songwriting culture. Banks says that being around people who are serious about their craft also helped.  

Indie-pop band Arlie’s vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Banks sings during the band’s performance at the second day of Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 2.

“I was around that for three years or so before starting to write the stuff that became Arlie,” Banks says. 

Arlie, which played the Vrbo Stage on Oct. 9, is made of Banks, Ryan Savage (writer/bass and vocals), Adam Lochemes (drums and vocals) and Carson Lystad (guitar and vocals). Banks, Savage, Lochemes and and touring keyboardist Noah Luna stopped by the Austin360 tent at the fest. 

Their sound is not easily described, with songs venturing in many exciting directions: sun-drenched guitar pop, spacey psychedelic moments and more. Banks says that the band communicates with each other using Spotify playlists that represent different sonic palettes.  

Banks has built a dialed, expansive world for the band, says Savage, but “I think aspects of Adam’s and my taste and sound end up in the music from producing it.” He adds, “Our role has been helping that be executed in the way that we feel like is the most compelling. … I think Nathaniel's aesthetic sensibilities really define Arlie more than anything else, but it's been awesome to be a part of them." 

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That aesthetic world includes the song and video for “Wait a Minute,” a retro-infused tune that riffs off 1960s boy bands like the Beatles and the Monkees. The video borrows plenty of cues from “A Hard Day’s Night,” too. 

Banks says: "We were really into the Beatles movies as pieces of culture and wanted to kind of shout those out a bit. And shoutouts to Gabe Drechsler, aka Gabe Ruckus, who has taken a lot of our photos and then finally got to direct a music video for us on ‘Wait a Minute.’ It was his vision and our vision combined.” 

More ACL Fest

We've got six days worth of reviews, photos and videos of Austin's signature fall music festival at austin360.com.