It's a chilly night on a quiet street around the corner from Top 10 Records in Oak Cliff next to Selena. Kenneth Everette Pritchard offers band mate Gabriel Jordan a cigarette.
He lights one himself and begins talking about his latest project, Frances Heidy, which started as a small bedroom project when his more well-known group Dead Mockingbirds was rising to its highest critical acclaim.
"I went through a very, very difficult time at about the end of 2016," he says, "and most of these songs were derived from that time."
Pritchard doesn't say much to elaborate on that difficult time, and he has a hard time getting the words just right.
"We're resurrecting my grandmother and her idea of music," he says. "It's supposed to tell a story, but it shouldn't be a happy story so that you can learn from it. She is Frances Heidy, that's where the name comes from.
"It's a marriage of this very dark time and the memory of my grandmother."
Fans of Dead Mockingbirds will recognize at least three-fifths of the Frances Heidy lineup, which consists of singer and guitarist Pritchard, drummer Matt Crain and keyboardist Trinidad Diaz — the three members of Dead Mockingbirds. Added to the mix is Duo Contra's Gabriel Jordan on bass and guitarist Stephen Ketner.
"(W)e move so far away from the sound of Dead Mockingbirds that we just didn't feel like these songs really fit with it." — Kenneth Pritchard
"The members of Dead Mockingbirds are very, very open-minded," Pritchard says. "They are constantly searching out new sounds, but we move so far away from the sound of Dead Mockingbirds that we just didn't feel like these songs really fit with it."
Making Frances Heidy an extension of Dead Mockingbirds was not the original point of the project. That was something that Pritchard credits to the project's organic growth and his desire to work with musicians he thought were good and people who liked him.
"I think with any solo project you have all these ideas you can put down in the recording or on paper, but when you start working with other musicians, that's when you really see the full potential of a song," Pritchard says. "They bring their own ideas, lines and voices to it, and if you have an open mind to it, you find that you can take those songs to the next level where you really feel like you're evoking emotion."
In complete contrast to rock 'n' roll ethos of Dead Mockingbirds, Frances Heidy has a softer indie-rock feel like that of The War on Drugs or The Walkmen with introspective songs about loss of life and loss of self.
"I want to take a step back from trying to grab onto a feeling and just see what the feelings were happening to me at the time and what they would become as song," Pritchard says. "That song 'Message from Natalie' is a phone recording on my voicemail and her sounding truly desperate. At that time, I really felt like there was nothing I could do to help this person. I was truly feeling helpless."
To bring these songs to life, Pritchard turned to Jordan, first as a drummer, before ultimately deciding that he would be a better fit on bass.
"I didn't take that as a demotion or anything because I was able to play off of these really cool harmonies that Kenneth had written," Jordan says. "It's probably some of the most fun I've had playing bass with any project just because of how I'm able to work around the music."
Jordan's move to bass opened up a spot for Crain, who had been playing in a Pearl Jam tribute band in the early days of the project, but his addition gave Frances Heidy the solid backbone it needed.
"I hope I bring consistency to the group," Crain says. "I always wanted to be part of playing. So with it being a rotating lineup, I like to try to secure my spot number one. I like being able to play different styles of music with the same kind of core group at the same time, which adds a bunch of variety and you get more out of it that way."
It's hard to say when exactly we will get the first full-band release from Frances Heidy, but Pritchard assures us that as soon as he has the funds, it will happen.
Until then, the band will continue to build structures around its jam sessions, trying, failing and always building toward a perfect sound.
"We're stumbling," Pritchard says, "but we've got good shoes."