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(Credit: Emelie Eriksson)

Music

Doctor’s Orders: Maja Francis prescribes her nine favourite records

@TomTaylorFO

Sweden is a region that has always punched above its weight musically and in recent times that has been more apparent than ever. Signed to Benny Andersson of ABBA’s RMV label, Maja Francis is an emerging artist who couples the pop sensibilities of her forebearers with the wistful introspection of the current Swedish folk boom. This first registers on many peoples radars when she teamed up with First Aid Kit for covers of the Leonard Cohen classics ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’ and ‘So Long, Marianne’. 

Now, she has teamed up with First Aid Kit once more for the single ‘Mama’ and carried that dreamy sound into her own record, A Soft Pink Mess. The album offers up the sort of emotional escapism that proves bliss doesn’t have to be ignorant and the sort of sonic wry smile that says reflection doesn’t have to be dower either. As her mantra goes,  ‘to be vulnerable is to be powerful’ her unique sound is an embodiment of that right down to the filigreed production.

Once you discover the nine albums that Maja Francis continually turns to for solace or exultation in her Doctor’s Orders feature, you’ll have a greater understanding of her musical DNA and the comprehensive sound of A Soft Pink Mess. After all, as she says herself, “Here are some of the albums that I’ve cried / danced / listened / grown / broken down / healed / gotten stronger / escaped / dreamed / gotten inspired to.”

Continuing with our Mental Health Awareness campaign, Far Out Magazine has teamed up with the suicide prevention charity CALM to help connect you with your favourite artists and hear how music has helped them during their darker times and day-to-day lives.

The organisation, with the full working title of ‘Campaign Against Living Miserably’, offer a free, confidential and anonymous helpline for those most in need of mental health support. Now lockdown measures have eased, that doesn’t mean that impact of the last eighteen months has ended, and CALM still needs as much help as possible to carry on with its excellent work.

We at Far Out believe in music’s ability to heal. It could be the moment that the needle drops on your favourite song and provides respite from a chaotic world, or, conversely, it might be the fanatic conversation you have with friends about which guitarist was the greatest. Music, it’s safe to say, has always allowed us to connect with one another and ourselves.

In support of CALM, we’re asking a selection of our favourite people to share nine records that they would prescribe for anyone they met and the stories behind their importance. Doctor’s Orders sees some of our favourite musicians, actors, authors, comedians and more offer up the most important records, which they deem essential for living well.

If you’re able, and if you can afford to, please consider a small donation to help the CALM cause. £8 can answer one potentially life-saving call.

(Credit: Milkdrop)

Maja Francis’ nine favourite albums:

Tori Amos – Live in Montreux

As a classically trained musician, Tori Amos is a singer-songwriter who pairs the complexities of tonality with the simpler side of popular music. Nowhere is this more apparent than her live shows and it was this mix the allured Maja Francis into the oeuvre. “I’ve listened to Tori since I was a teenager, and this album has been one of those that has come and gone out of my consciousness since then,” she explains to me.

Adding: “Before writing my debut album I lost my joy for music and kind of lost my own voice in the buzz of fast food charts and autotune… I needed to go back to my roots. To where I felt music the most. So I put this album on and I remembered what music is to me, and how it can make people feel, and heal.”

She continues this fitting emotive appraisal, adding: “I would say this is my ‘finding my way back to myself’- album. Tori is one with her piano, and her lyrics are pure poetry. I can’t count the times I’ve cried to ‘Winter’ or ‘Silent All These Years’. Tori also inspires me to take my art seriously, and not be afraid to take up space.”

(Credit: Eagle Records / Tori Amos)

Joni Mitchell – Blue

Joni Mitchell’s Blue is undoubtedly one of the greatest albums of all time. When it turned 50 earlier this year, it offered up a reminder that was barely needed of just how much it has transcended many of our lives. As Maja Francis explains, she is no different: “I found this vinyl at my grandmother Elsie’s apartment when I was around 13. I will always remember how blown away I was that her voice was such a bearing instrument,” she recalls.

Adding: “And how I didn’t need anything more than that. Just a voice and an instrument, I loved that simplicity. I also loved the album cover, she looked so sad and powerful. My favourite song on the album is probably ‘River’, I always imagined myself escaping somewhere on that ice… to something bigger, to something better.”

Joni Mitchell – ‘Blue’

Mariah Carey – Musicbox

The albums of our childhood often get forgotten wilfully or otherwise, but there is something uniquely transportive about music and the memories it can conjure. In moments of mindfulness, this can be of vital importance. “I grew up in a tiny town in southern Sweden called Ängelholm where my dad owned a record store from when I was 1-15. I spent so many days with him there, after school I sat at the counter listening to music,” Maja Francis happily recalls.

“It became a safe space. And one of the first albums I listened to was this one. ‘Hero’ and ‘Without You’ got to be the soundtrack to my 10-year old life. I couldn’t get over how she sang, ‘I can’t liiiiiiiive’ as if it was a life and death situation,” Francis belts out in recollection.

Adding: “I loved the drama. Still do. I remember lying in my bed many times being heartbroken (yes you can definitely be heartbroken at age 10) over some boy and when I listened to ‘Without You’ it always made me feel less alone as if she understood what I went through.”

(Credit: Columbia Records / Mariah Carey)

Kate Bush – Hounds of Love

Kate Bush has proved to be a hugely seminal artist since she emerged in 1978 as a young avant-garde phenom. Hounds of Love in 1985 proved to solidify her status as a trailblazer changing pop forever and Maja Francis felt the full force of her performative spiritualism. Explaining: “When I was around 16 or so, someone told me, ‘You sound a little bit like an artist called Kate Bush’. I looked her up and fell in love, and also got quite an ego boost that someone would even think of a similarity between me and her.”

Aside from that happily recalled affirmation, she adds: “I put this record on when I want to escape to a visually unpredictable playful pretend place. Kate’s lyrics and spirited melodies make me feel like an elf dancing around in a foggy field with a glitter dress on, who sometimes lays herself down in the grass to rest or cry.”

(Credit: EMI / Kate Bush)

Alanis Morrisette – Jagged Little Pill / Live/Unplugged

Bending the rules slightly, Maja Francis shared her love for the powerful femineity of Alanis Morrisette by explaining: I had to choose 2 albums-in-one here. Jagged Little Pill, alongside Mariah Carey, was one of the first albums I listened to on repeat in my dad’s record store and at home.”

“I love Alanis’ straightforward lyrics and voice, it was like nothing I’ve ever heard before, and especially not from a woman. She helped me accept that part of me, that it was ok to be angry / hurt / emotional / jealous and not sugar coat anything,” Francis recalls.

Adding: “A few years after this she released a Live/Unplugged album with her best songs from Jagged Little Pill and some new ones, and I still put that one on if I have a really bad day where I need emotional release. ‘You Learn’ and ‘That I Would be Good’ always makes me feel stronger and like ‘whatever’ in the best kind of way.”

(Credit: Maverick / Alanis Morissette)

Jewel – Pieces of You

For those perhaps unfamiliar with Pieces of You by Jewel, it is the debut album by the American singer-songwriter Jewel Kilcher released back in 1995 when she was just a teenager. The record pricked the ear of Bob Dylan and he invited her on tour with him as a support act, thereafter her star rose and her emotive music has garnered a legion of fans. “Omg! This album! it was everything!” Maja Francis enthusiastically begins.

“I realize going through my list of albums that I’m definitely stuck in the 90s haha!! I guess that age around 10-15 so much happened in me that formed who I am today. Jewel’s voice is so free and dramatic. And her lyrics are so emotional and moody.”

Adding: “I loved sitting on my floor crying to this album. The lyrics – ‘Please be careful with me, I’m sensitive and I’d like to stay that way’ – I wanted to tattoo those lines, but never did. They stayed with me anyways.”

(Credit: Atlantic / Jewel)

Spice Girls – Spice

It is a mark of Maja Francis’ pop sensibilities and boldness as an artist of integrity that she isn’t afraid to bask in the boon of simple exultant MTV-era pop when others would opt to be ‘cool’ and safe. After all, we all found our way into music by some means and the gifts that opened the door are always worth thanking. “I mean… how can I even explain how big this era was to me and my friends!” Francis laughs. 

Enthusing: “It wasn’t just about the album(s), it was about BEING a spice girl… about girl power, friendship and being able to express yourself and dress however you wanted! It was hard to choose between Spice and Spiceworld as my album pick… but I think Spice was first out, so Spice it is.

Adding: “I still know most of the lyrics to all of their songs, even if I haven’t actively listened to it for years. I will forever be a spice girl. This album is for nostalgia and for your inner feminine force.” That is certainly a force that A Soft Pink Mess has transfigured with modern stylings and added depth.

(Credit: EMI & Virgin / Spice Girls)

Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow

Dolly Parton is the sort of musician who has entered icon status. It is perhaps an overused word in music but the inspiring legacy that Parton has espoused of refusing to be boxed or labelled has proved seminal for millions of people. Little Sparrow is an album that also shows she certainly has the chops to rival anyone. 

“The mantra ’What would Dolly do’ is written with lipstick on my wall. She has shown me that you can be both soft, pink and girly, and a strong badass boss babe at the same time. And that you never have to choose between those things. To pick one of her albums is almost impossible, but Little Sparrow is one of my favourites,” Maja Francis opines.

Adding: “I really love the vulnerability in her voice here, and the simplicity in the production. This album feels like a soft pillow or someone’s hug when you’re going through something.” And it is a balm that Maja often props upon. 

(Credit: Sugar Hill / Dolly Parton)

Robyn – Robyn

It seems befitting of the piece that we now go full circle as Maja Francis recognises the inspiring force of an artist central to the recent boom of Swedish music. Robyn’s self-titled record is one that arrived at a vital moment in Maja Francis’ artistic discovery in life. “I listened to this album on repeat when I moved from the south of Sweden to the big town of Stockholm,” she begins. 

Adding: “It’s probably the album I’ve danced most to in my living room. Robyn is the queen of cry-dance music, but she also gave me an alternative version of what sexy could look like. The lyrics, ‘Good girls are sexy like every day, I’m only sexy when I say it’s ok. Good girls are happy and satisfied, I won’t stop asking until the day I die,’ from the song ‘Who’s That Girl’ were lines my 20-year-old self needed really badly.”

(Credit: Konichiwa / Robyn)