Q&A: CHRISTOFFER FRANZEN

The brains behind Swedish cinematic post-rock phenomenon Lights & Motion sits down with Headwarmer to talk about his latest release, his favorite film directors, and what he thinks about the modern music scene

lights&motion

By MOODY ANDERS
December 5th, 2013

The music of cinematic post-rock phenomenon Lights & Motion is currently, and fittingly, being featured in movie trailers for Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg and Homefront starring James Franco, not to mention in a whole series of projects with some of the world’s biggest media outlets including MTV, NBC and Google; the project is just starting to gain ground. While several videos for the debut album Reanimation are in the works, the sophomore release Save Your Heart, already hit shelves last month.

Hot on the heels of his second release since the start of this calendar year—and before he darts back into the studio for a third one—Headwarmer catches up with the brains behind the music, Christoffer Franzen, to find out more about his approach in the studio, his thought process behind the new album, and, well, other things. We learn what it took for him to get to where he is now, his reactions to being recognized by Hollywood, and what this 25-year-old Swedish post-rock genius thinks about modern music.

What is the very first memory you have of music?  That’s a good question. Hmm… Well it’s hard to pinpoint exactly to a specific memory, but it must have been hearing a track on the radio at the age of six or seven and getting obsessed with it. I just couldn’t get enough. I remember that when I was a bit older, around 11-12, I could have a tape—you still remember those?—filled on both sides with just one track.

Would you mind telling us a little bit about where you grew up?  I grew up in a suburb of Gothenburg, Sweden. It was a quiet little community, sheltered, and filled with open spaces. We rode our bikes everywhere, had the ocean nearby, and we played a lot of sports. All in all, a great place to grow up in. It’s basically one of those places where you know a lot of people, and you grow up together, and it’s amazing, but then, once people get past the age of 20, they leave, and then it echoes a bit empty.

What was the first record that was ever given to you? The first one you bought for yourself?  I can’t really remember, but I used to make my own records with different tracks and compilations, and I would call them Chris Action Volume 30 and stuff like that, even though that might have been the first proper volume, haha. I don’t think it was any good, but at the time I loved it. I do remember my dad buying me the Backstreet Boys album Millenium and I LOVED it. Those melodies just went straight into my brain and never left. I actually still like a lot of those older songs today. Great melodies.

Your music is described as cinematic post-rock, and it’s been featured in several films and commercials to date. Do you think that moving picture is a necessary element to the completion of your musical projects?  I don’t think it’s necessary per se. I would like to think that the music can stand on its own. However, I have always loved movie scores and that kind of storytelling in music, so it’s almost inevitable for me not to bring that element to my songs. It’s such a thrill to see one of your tracks in a huge Hollywood trailer for a big movie like Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg, it’s pretty wild. That being said, I do think that the combination of music and visuals is something that I think brings out a lot more in both of them, provided that it’s a good fit. Some people tend to be more visually driven, whilst some prefer audio to tell a story. The marriage lends itself well.

What has your musical path been? What brought you to recording your first album?  Well, I started pretty late with learning an instrument. I didn’t get my first guitar until I was about 16 years old, although I had been obsessed with music for a few years prior to that. I compensated for my late start by practicing probably three to five hours every day for two years. I’m not exaggerating. I drove my parents mad sometimes. Then I did what a lot of kids did—I started a band and began writing songs. Actually, when we were 17 we got to perform on one of the largest radio stations in Sweden with a track I had written together with a friend of mine. After we played it the interviewer asked me if doing music for a living was a goal and I said something along the lines of that being completely delusional and that it would never work it. I was very cynical about it, because the music industry is tough to say the least. I also had doubts about my own musical talents—I never considered myself gifted—I just said to people that I practiced very hard. That kind of self-deprecating vein has always been there I think, but I try to give myself a break now and then.

I’m a perfectionist, for good and bad.  After a few years I got really into recording music, and that entire process gave me such a thrill. I compared it to building a house. You put all these little blocks on top of each other, and they might not seem like much, but when you take a step back and watch the entire thing unfold it’s amazing. The whole is indeed bigger then the sum of each part. Now when I record I do everything myself. I am the engineer, the composer, the producer, the musician and the mixer. I never went to school for it—I just tried and failed and spent so many lonely nights trying to make the music sound the way I could hear it in my head. Eventually I learned, and things started to fall into place.

If you weren’t a musician/producer/sound engineer, what would you do instead?  I don’t know, and trust me, I have struggled with that question. For years, I tried to force myself into applying for university and studying something that would make sense and that would provide stability, etc. In the end, I just accepted the fact that I couldn’t just drop my passion and conform to society’s norms. I’ve had such a problem with that whole notion of “doing something that’s safe” and ignoring one’s dreams. I think it gets harder when you find that thing that makes you feel a certain way, be it painting, music, film or whatever. If you find your passion, it’s that much harder to let go of it to do other things. But if I had to choose, I would probably be a firefighter. I was leaning pretty heavily toward that when I was around 19-20, and I was even stationed with some firefighters for two weeks going through basic training.

Where do you listen to music the most? What’s your preferred format for listening?  That’s gotta be the studio, since that is where I spend most of my time, and there isn’t a moment of silence. The speakers are constantly blasting out music, and I close my eyes and adjust tiny frequencies and balances and try to get it as I hear it. Besides that, it’s through my iPhone, when I take the bus or go on a walk. If I don’t have my headphones with me I panic. I’m one of those people who always have music playing—I don’t like the silence.

What are you listening to right now?  As I write this, the soundtrack from A Beautiful Mind by James Horner is going on repeat in the background.

If you encountered Spotify’s Daniel Ek in the streets of Stockholm what would you have to say to him?  “Hey man, nice work on this whole streaming phenomena. Would you maybe consider increasing the royalties for the artists?”

Many artists would tend to ride the wave of a previous release a little while before jumping back into the studio. What was the main motivator for getting you back in the studio only a few months after your debut release?  To tell you the truth, I never really took a break. Well, I did for about 10 days, and I came to two conclusions. The first one was, wow, I can’t believe how much free time I have now. I really put in the hours into the studio. The second one was, I have so much more creativity in me that needs to get out, and so what was supposed to be a well deserved break turned into a 10 month long writing frenzy. It’s the same now, really. Doing two full length albums in a year is hard, I can tell you that much, but I’m still back in the studio probably 40 hours a week, writing film music and doing some other projects.

You were quoted as comparing the sounds you make to colors and even mentioned that you like to think of yourself as a painter of sound. Can you elaborate on that? What puts the bluish or violet tint to your latest release Save Your Heart?  Yes, I do see music in colors. I can think to myself, well this piece sounds good but it’s lacking a color, and I should try adding a guitar that has shades of blue in it. And although that might sound like complete gibberish to most people, it actually makes sense to me.  When I think of the color blue, I think of distance and cold. Like a distant, airy guitar playing high on the neck with a lot of delays and reverbs going on. What makes me think of Save Your Heart as bluish/violet is just that; There’s a loneliness to it and a sense of air to the production. It’s not in your face—in fact, a lot of it sounds like it’s coming from far away. It brings with it a certain nostalgia/melancholia, at least for me. So when I try to conceptualize an album, it helps me to think in color terms. Writing music is just painting with emotion.

What’s an example of a simple brushstroke that may begin one of your pieces?  That might be a loop of a piano or guitar that I use to set up a tone, and then I go in and build on it from either below or above—below being the foundation, the chords, and above being the top melody/harmony. Simple things can alter the entire composition and how it’s viewed. So that all depends. I sometimes just sit around and tinker for hours on different instruments. For this album a lot was written on the piano, and that has indeed changed the way this album sounds.

Who’s your favorite director?I would have to say either Chris Nolan or Ron Howard.

What genre of film would fit a Save Your Heart soundtrack?  A Cameron Crowe film. A film that has a certain pace and dramaturgy to it that allows for a wide spectrum of emotions, going from sad to euphoric. I love the film Crash and how the ambient soundtrack is used. I tend to like films with a bit of depth and melancholia in them.

How do you know when you’re finished with a song? Is there any ever temptation to go back and re-work old material?  You never know. You just give up on tweaking it. I sit for weeks just moving tiny details and looking for that particular sound, and then I might even place it really quiet in the mix. But it all adds up to the complete package, and I spend a lot of time on the details. A LOT. Ultimately, I guess it’s finished when you have listened to it 10,048 times and can’t think of anything else to try or add/change.  It’s funny that you should mention old material though because several tracks on Save Your Heart are old tracks. “Sparks” is probably four to five years old, but then I re-recorded it with a lot of new parts, etc. “Bright Eyes” was an old demo that I re-used for this, but I only used the outro of it and then wrote an entire new first half. The main melody in “Ultraviolet” came to me six years ago in a guitar store, and I never knew what to make of it until now. Sometimes you have to wait for the right way of presenting a track to come to you.

You mention courage and sacrifice when talking about what it took to get the new record out. What are some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome in the process?  Self doubt. Pressure from the outside. Sticking to your passion and dedication an entire year into it and having the guts to see it through. It’s a grueling process, even more so since I do it all alone. There are a lot of lonely dark hours behind it, and that comes with a prize. You neglect your friends and family to an extent by working so hard. But at the same time it’s what I have been talking about earlier, about having the courage to dream and then reach out and try to grab that dream. Ultimately, when you finally do release the music, and you get such an overwhelmingly positive feedback from the fans, it’s all worth it. It’s an honor to have people listen to your music and I will never take that honor for granted. It grounds me, and it makes me so much more appreciative of what the music brings with it.

How does it feel to know your work has been picked up by some major films and television programming?  It’s unreal and very humbling. When I was 22 I sat at home in Gothenburg and dreamed of making music large enough to somehow end up in Hollywood, and at the time it seemed worlds away. Now that it’s actually happened, you sort of pinch yourself. How is this even possible. It’s a great feeling, and I am just so thankful to have been given the chance to reach so many people with my music. Mind blowing.

Have you ever won any awards (including in your childhood and non-music related awards)?  Well, except for a ton of sports awards from my youth, nothing really worth mentioning.

Who would you love to go on tour with?  If I could dream, M83/Coldplay. I think it would be a good fit musically and stylistically.

Do you think you fit into your generation musically or artistically? Would you change it if you could?  In a way, maybe. I tend to be driven by a strong sense of melody. But this whole house/dj thing that’s ruling the world, I just can’t grasp it. Maybe I’m just too deep into music myself to really appreciate it, but I tend to search for music with real instruments and real people playing them, more then just a computerized beat. At the end of the day I try to do my own thing. I remember when I did my best to describe my project when it was in the cradle – a lot of people didn’t understand what I was saying at all. I think this alternative style of mainly instrumental music has grown exponentially in the past five years though, which is a good thing.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.  One final Q – You choose not to show your face for the press, why is that?  Thank you for having me. The reason that I never really show my face or present myself in such a way that I become the focus point for the music is just that. I don’t want to get in the way of the music—I want it to be all about the songs. At the very beginning I hadn’t even planned on releasing the tracks officially. I just wrote because I wanted to create. So to me, the most important thing is the music itself. I would like to keep it as focused as I can as it reaches the listener’s ear, and the less preconceived ideas of images that stand in between that, the better.

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