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A rock climber takes the Tiny Desk Contest to new heights

Lillian Frances' Tiny Desk Contest entry is off the wall – literally. The Sacramento-based artist, who describes herself as a "sonic collager" with an "alt-pop style," filmed her entry video from a portaledge on the side of a cliff in Lake Tahoe. Her striking video – which shows her climbing up the mountain, setting up on the cliff and sporting tiny-desk jewelry – stood out among (or above, you might say) the thousands of entries NPR Music received for this year's Contest.

Rock climbing and music are Frances' two passions, so she decided to do both at the same time. "It just hit me one day!" she tells Weekend Edition's Scott Simon. "Like, oh duh, portaledge concert, obviously." Frances' idea was ambitious, but she was up for the challenge. "After a lot of planning (finding someone with a portaledge, tracking down climbing videographers, finding the right crag, setting up a totally portable music set) and a whole lot of optimism, we finally set out to accomplish this goal," she shares.

Her song "Gravestone Feel," took on a new meaning when she performed it for her Contest entry. It's about "trying to live life to the absolute fullest, take on adventure and do things you've never done before," she says. "So in a lot of ways, this was the perfect song to sing hanging off a cliff."

Frances says she's not drawn to a particular genre, but makes her creative decisions "based on experimenting, and then just selecting the little pieces that stoke me out," like the electronic beats that elegantly contrast the natural world surrounding her in the video. "I love the synthesis of natural and organic and synthesized," she says. "That's kind of what music is to me and what life is to me."

Web adaptation by Elle Mannion. You can head here to read, listen and watch more from the 2022 Tiny Desk Contest.

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Samantha Balaban is a producer at Weekend Edition.