Today we’re joined by Christoffer Franzén who is the mastermind behind Lights & Motion, a Swedish solo project that specializes in climactic instrumental music. Lights & Motion’s music has been featured in many different movie trailers including Lone Survivor (2013), Homefront (2013), and Transcendence (2014). Franzén’s music has been critically acclaimed among post-rock critics, and has earned him the title of the Best New Artist in 2013 in Facebook Post-rock page’s polls at the end of last year.
Hello Chris, thank you for giving our website an interview for our launch, and for giving me the chance to hang out with you (as a huge fan).
Hello John, nice to meet you. It’s no problem at all; of course I will support this project, especially after having received such great backing from the community.
First, let’s start with an introduction. How did you know that making music is what you wanted to do? What specifically drew you towards post-rock as a genre? What things, people or places inspire you to keep going? Do you feel like your fans’ reactions to your work affect you or your output as an artist? What would you like your artistic career to be seen as or remembered for?
I have always struggled with the notion of growing up, only to find a suitable career so that you can have a safe income, without having this based at all about what you are passionate about in life, but more about what is logical and a solid choice. I started pretty late with music, in the playing/writing part, but before that I had an almost obsessive interest for many years. I got my first guitar as a Christmas present when I turned 16 (and that is the very same acoustic guitar that I record with on all my albums), and I just played for hours and hours every day. I even tried to put small Band-Aids on my fingers because I was at that guitar so much that the skin on my fingers broke and started to bleed; literally.
And because I practiced as much, I got fairly decent pretty fast, which was a huge thrill. Later, when I got more into writing/composing and recording music, I think what I liked about it the most was how you put something into the world that previously hadn’t existed. A piece of music is very definite and undeniable. So that gave me a huge satisfaction. I was also very interested in how things were built from the core into the finished thing, and so I think that also made me marvel at music and the entire recording process. The finished thing is so much greater than the sum of its parts.
I remember hearing, as I’m sure many did with me, Explosions In The Sky (EITS) in the film Friday Night Lights (2004). I had never heard such music before and it blew my mind. I have always loved film music but this was film music made with regular instruments and not with a big orchestra, and that gave me shivers. And so after I got home from the cinema I found out who produced the music and I went out walking for hours with EITS on repeat and just thought that this is the greatest thing ever. Later I was drawn to Post-rock because it enabled me to do everything by myself, not having to wait or depend on people like you do in a band where there is a singer etc. So I basically felt like it opened it all up for me, being able to control the process from idea to finished song without having to look around at 4 other people and their schedules.
I am very reactive to how my fans are towards me and what they say. Maybe not in the sense that I write music differently if they would voice any opinions, but that their support surely pushes me further and when everything else fails, they make me go on. If there would be one thing I would like to be remembered for, it would probably be for providing a lot of melodies that people would carry with them.
I’m glad you brought melodies up. Your music often has a very climactic, crescendo-driven feel to it, especially in your debut album ‘Reanimation’. You’ve also stated a few times you like to write music by thinking of specific colors. Does one necessitate the other? Do you feel like ‘exploring’ a color fully forces you to write the way you do? You’ve been compared to Sigur Rós, Moonlit Sailor, Coldplay, M83, and Explosions In The Sky online. How would you compare your own style to these groups?
Yes, that’s right. Some songs are very much set in a certain color for me, and I don’t know why that is. But it helps me to explain what I’m after, at least for myself. I don’t think that it locks me in to a certain mode or color, it’s just a subtle way of looking at the different instruments and sounds that I have at my disposal.
It’s sort of funny how that all works, being compared to other musical acts and bands. When I released my first album “Reanimation”, several critics compared it to “obvious references” that I had listened to and been inspired by. I thought to myself “I don’t even know who these bands are!” I actually don’t listen to that much Post-rock – in that sense I am more of a composer then a listener I guess. But there are certainly qualities and “colors” that I like from all the aforementioned bands that I might take with me, unintentionally or not.
Putting the theoretical part of your act aside, on the technical side of things, what are your favorite pieces of equipment? You are a self-taught musician, what would you tell aspiring musicians are important qualities or habits to become successful in finding their voice or in the process and life of a musician in general?
Well, Brian Eno once said that a synthesizer has an unlimited amount of potential and sounds. You can sit for 24 hours and not encounter the same sound twice. And yet a surprisingly large part of the music that’s being made today is still based on the guitar, an ancient instrument compared to today’s technology. But because it is so limited, six strings and twelve notes, you can’t really mess around that much with sounds. You just have to start playing. And I think that’s very true. So for me I will have to say the guitar. But then again I am a guitarist at heart. If we are speaking strictly technical, I would have to say the computer. To be a great producer, that is the single best “instrument” to be able to master.
It is true that I am self-taught in every aspect of what that I do, and of course that has shaped the sound and style of the music I create as much as anything else. The most important quality to have is probably obsessiveness. Maybe that sounds odd or harsh but I really believe so. You’ve got to put in CRAZY amounts of hours in order to evolve, and maybe even neglect other things in your life like friends and family; at least that´s what I did. I used to leave parties and stay in all Saturday evening by myself to write music, and this was long before I got signed and had a record to make. I just needed to write and get ahead I felt like. I was very torn about it and at times I felt like saying “Man, I don’t want to sit in here by myself when there are parties and friends calling etc.” But somehow you just do because you need to. It’s an urge you have and it needs to find an outlet. Otherwise, I don’t think you’re going to feel very good. At least I wouldn’t.
Considering we’re talking about how your music, dedication and feelings intertwine, it’s hard to try and read about you online without knowing how ‘Lights & Motion’ started. So this question is for fans of yours who happen to suffer from Insomnia. How have your bouts of difficulty sleeping affected your life? Have they given you a new perspective that adds to your writing? Do you feel like there’s anything in particular people should know about insomniacs?
I have had trouble sleeping all my life. Even when I was a kid I would lay awake at night, reading books that I found around the house, and not be able to go to sleep until dawn came and lit up my room. And that followed me into adulthood. I have tried many times to find a more “normal” rhythm but I just can’t seem to go to sleep during normal hours. I don’t know if it affected my writing at all but most of the first album was written during insomnia-filled nights and so that had a direct impact on it all I guess. You also get a very specific feeling when you are up at 4 am making music by yourself in a huge building and you feel like you are the only person alive in the city. It’s a strange feeling but I took a lot out from it and used for my first songs. I think that insomniacs tend to be creative people who maybe find it difficult to relax? I’m not sure. I wish that I would have a better relationship with sleep but I have come to accept reality as it is. Maybe I will learn to sleep better in the future.
Speaking of the future, let’s talk about achievements! Your song ‘The March’ was the backing track to Google’s Oscars Ceremony advert in 2013. 2014 started with you being democratically voted the top new artist on the Post-rock Facebook page in a poll where 11,000 people voted. How does it feel to keep hitting these milestones? Do they encourage you to work harder? What’s on achievement you want to hit in the future? Do you see a domino effect where you get more exposure every-time something like this happens?
Well, that is such an honor of course! Having my music back the Oscars on International TV is pretty damn mind-blowing and then to get the amazing support that I got from the people in the Post-rock community, that means a lot, especially after having “begun” with getting my music featured on the site and in return getting a lot of invaluable feedback and support. I work very hard and I have dreams but to actually see some of them being realized, it still blows my mind to be honest. I recently had my music featured in the trailers for Transcendence (2014), the new Johnny Depp film, and that it slightly crazy. I mean I have been a movie junkie my entire life and then to have the opportunity to be a part of it like that. It’s absolutely amazing and I am so thankful for that. In the future I would love to get the chance to score a film of some kind. Like a Cameron Crowe film. That would be an amazing challenge. If there is a domino effect it’s subtle but for me, hitting these big milestones as you put it, makes me want to work even harder to “earn it” and so it certainly fuels my desire to make what is hopefully quality music and put it out there, and to keep evolving.
Since you brought it up, you’ve mentioned more than once now that you would like to score a film. Well, you just had a fantastic music video come out for your song ‘The March’. You haven’t commented on what the video means to you, but given that you like to instill ‘hope’ as an emotion through your music, how much of that is true for the story told in the music video? Has making the music video brought you closer to your scoring dream? Has it allowed you to network with people in the industry that can help you get started on the right track? What have you tried to do to bring yourself closer to your goal other than writing amazing music?
Yes, we shot that music video at the end of last summer and it was a great experience working with the crew and seeing this vision come to life. What I have always aimed for with my music is some sort of “hopeful melancholy”, and I think that the video is true to that. As you said yourself, it’s not perfectly clear what it is about but I think that emotion can be seen throughout the film. And yes, working with a director to put visuals to my music certainly fueled my desire to work towards picture, but letting the picture come first and then add music, which is the opposite of how it works when you do a music video. It would be fun to tailor the music around something else.
The things we do, we being my label and I, concerning providing music for big trailers and all that, certainly bring us closer to the industry and the people who call the shots. So far we are just so grateful to get to work with these amazingly talented people out in LA who are such creative inspirations, so that’s something to aim for; to get closer to that for sure. I always do my best to be very respectful and honest with the people that I meet and talk to, so I hope that will leave a mark and hopefully they will feel that they have a good working relationship with me and that they want to build on it. I think that it all comes down to the people you meet and how you are towards them. That is the really important part.
While we’re on the subject of your label, you provide your albums in a ‘pay what you want’ model through your label Deep Elm Records on Bandcamp. How is this model working out for you? How has social media affected the way your music spreads and gets interacted with now as opposed to in the past?
Yes, that is a new initiative from my label and one that I support whole heartedly. We feel that we owe so much to the fans, and this is a way of giving back. We now offer people who might not have the financial means to buy an album for full price to maybe buy it for half of what it costs. Some people pay more then what the set price is, some people pay less. Of course we love it when fans choose to back an album or a release by purchasing it, because it all goes back into the music. Going through an entire recording process for a full-length album is very expensive and whatever we get we put right back into making the best music we possibly can.
For me, social media has been crucial from day one. Before I even began this I knew what a big part it could have in spreading the music and caring for fan relationships and so I have made it a corner stone in my relationship to the people that listen to my music and support me in other ways to always answer when someone writes on the Facebook page or sends me an email. Even if it’s just a thank you note for the music, I think that an answer goes a long way, and I really think that they deserve a response as well. It hurts me deeply when I see bands ignore fans or something like that after experiencing little to moderate success. Your fans are the most important thing in your musical life so you need to deal with that with absolute care. I will never take for granted the fact that people are willing to spend a few bucks and time out of their day to listen to what I have made.
That’s a big part of what makes me continue, to be honest. It’s a lot of work to make this project continue, especially so since it is only me and the label behind this, but whenever I feel like I might have bitten off a bit more then I can chew, some fan from the US or Indonesia will send me a message, saying how my music made their terrible day turn around or someone played my songs to their newborn baby as the first music he/she ever heard, and that honestly just gives me more energy than taking a month off ever would. So I am extremely grateful to the people backing me. You have no idea.
Well, what can your grateful fans expect from you when it comes to output of new music or tours in the near future? Are you working on a new album right now? What would you like to say to your fans, or is there a question you’d like to ask them?
Well, I have released two albums at this moment and that has been very hard work. And it is such a long and drawn out process to write material that fits a full length record that every time I’m done with one I think to myself, “ok I’ve got to take some time off now and just relax”… But I never seem to be able to stay away from the studio very long.
I can’t really say anything about what’s to come at this point … But just know that I am as busy as I ever was. I would also love to make more videos as I feel like the marriage between music and images are something very magical, so that is certainly a goal for the future. My label Deep Elm are putting together a new sampler of their entire roster of bands, and the sampler will be released everywhere (iTunes, Spotify, Amazon etc.). I would suggest that you keep an eye open for that. Maybe there will be something interesting on there.
What I would like to say to my fans? That I love them and that they make all the difference for me. And to quote the title of my second album, they Save My Heart every day that I get to interact with them. That’s probably the most beautiful thing of all.
That is a truly commendable thing and as a fan of yours I myself am touched. Before you go, because there’s nothing more important than music discovery, what’s one song that you consider your secret treasure that everyone should hear at least once?
Coming Home – City & Color
Thank you for your time and for being such a great addition to our playlists, Chris.
Thank you very much for your time, John.
Interview by John Girgis
John Girgis is a perpetually-happy, tea-addicted stem-cell researcher from Ottawa, Ontario with a big heart for music, especially post-rock and jazz. You can find him @HorsingJig or contact him privately on e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.