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The Astronaut: An Interview with Lights & Motion

Chase the stars with Christoffer Franzen and Lights & Motion. We sit and talk about the album, the journey and the future.

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From the embers of a thousand stars comes the music of Lights & Motion; the musical project of Christoffer Franzen. A self-taught musician of introspection, his music is a dream-like journey into the stories of his imagination. Written through the clouds of insomnia, Franzen has painted the night sky with his latest album Save Your Heart. Released via noted indie label Deep Elm Records just months after his debut, Save Your Heart has received praise and accolades from countless sources, all citing Franzen’s ability to turn the greatest of human inspiration into music.

We sit down with Franzen to talk about his craft, his passion and where his journey will take his listeners.

Congrats on the release, how does it feel now that the album is out after all those months of work?

Franzen:Thank you! Well you know, it’s sort of a weird feeling, because I have been working so hard and so focused towards making this album a reality that I haven’t really stopped and taken a look around. I never took a break after releasing Reanimation, my first album, because once that was done I got this feeling that I kind of have right now, which is a feeling a completion in the sense that this has been the big goal all along, but also a bit of emptiness due to the fact that this is something thats been taking up most of my life for this past year. You go from working 40 hours a week non-stop on this thing and then all of the sudden it’s done, it’s out, and people hear it for the first time and it’s somewhat scary. It’s been yours alone for such a long time and then you get to share it with the world, and I think that this is something that all creative people experience, the gratitude of having your work being noticed and the fear of letting it go, and to say that this actually is the finished thing, and I’m not going to work on it anymore. It’s out of my hands. I feel proud

What about all the overwhelmingly positive feedback?

Franzen: The feedback, as you said, has been overwhelmingly positive and that’s so humbling, I can’t tell you. Because you don’t really think about this things when you are in the middle of the process, or the eye of the storm as I like to call it, because then it seems so far away until a possible release, so you sort of just focus on the music and that lays before you. But to get this much appreciation is extremely fun and something I never count on because who knows what people are going to think. But for the most part, the thing that makes me really amazed is that people still take time of their day to actually sit down and listen to something that I’ve created. That still blows my mind, and to be able to share this music with people from all around the world, it gives me endless joy. The feeling is like you are alone in the creation, because I always work alone on these Lights & Motion albums, it’s just me in a dark studio all through the nights, but then you walk out the door when it’s all finished and suddenly I feel like I’m in a band of 30,000 people, it’s absolutely amazing. I really feel like I have a close bond with my fans, and maybe it has something to do with what I just mentioned before, being alone in the creative space, but I feel such a commitment to them, and it’s that personal interaction that makes me work that much harder in order to achieve my goals.

How did you get started with the “self-learning” of music?

Franzen: That’s a good question. I first started playing guitar when I was 16, that was the time I got my first ever acoustic guitar for christmas, so I began pretty late. Then I practiced for probably 4-5 hours every day (my poor mom and dad) and then I got into bands and all these things that you do as a young musician.

After a few years of things not really taking off, I started to feel this itch to not having to depend on other people for creative purposes. I used to wish that I was a singer and not just a guitar-player because then I actually could steer the ship a bit more and not be forced to check the schedules of 4 other people with busy lives.

I managed to get access to a studio, a very simple set-up, and during a time of sleep depravation and insomnia I started to basically spend all my nights there by myself, just fiddling on different instruments and ideas. I used to record small pieces of music that sounded awful, but I loved it because it gave me such creative freedom.

I would go there on saturday nights while everyone was out partying, and I wanted to join them but I just couldn’t let go off the studio. Just 30 more minutes I would say when they called and I would be there until 5 am.

Eventually after battling with this thought that I wanted to do something by myself, I decided to buy a bass-guitar, some drumsticks, I started to play the piano, and even though I didn’t really know any theory, I could hear when it resonated and that was a big kick. So I would try all these different instruments and record myself over and over in layers so that I could make it sound huge and not just like one guy in a dark room. I just had such a need for control and I knew exactly what I wanted, so I ended up doing every single sing by myself. I learned all the instruments I needed for what I could hear in my head, I recorded and recorded and recorded until my ears bled, and slowly I got better at it

I now have two albums out, and still I have no formal training. I have been responsible for composing, playing, arranging, engineering, producing and even mixing. And that’s what I always wanted. To be able to go from the first fleeting idea to a finished product without breaking the chain of command, which in this case is just me.

I have never actually considered myself to be that musically gifted. I always just said that you just gotta put in the hours and practice. And a lot of that self doubt was blown away after I took the courage to record Reanimation. And that I owe everyone out there who has emailed me, written on Facebook or soundcloud about how they enjoyed the music and made it a part of their day. That was incredibly humbling for me, and for that I will always be grateful.

Save Your Heart comes less than a year after your debut, how did it come around so quickly- was it just natural inspiration to keep writing?

Franzen: After Reanimation was out I felt that I had so much creativity left that I didn’t want to stop. I jumped right in and started recording ideas, the first of them being ”Heartbeats”, the opening track. Even though it was written probably 1 month after the first album was out, I already knew it was going to open my second album, whenever that was going to be or whatever it was going to sound like. Then of course I would sit on things for months, just listening back and forth and adding sprinkles of sonic fairy dust and try to really make it shine in it’s own right. I tend to work like that; very fast and effective when laying down the foundation, but then I spend an enormously long time finding the sound for things, getting into the arrangements and the production side of things. In the opening track there is probably 80-90 different tracks layered, and if you listen really carefully in good speakers I’m sure you would be able to make it a lot of details in the background, ambient movements and stuff that you might not think much about but if you were to take those sounds out, a lot of the magic of the song is lost.

How did you and Deep Elm come together? It seems like the perfect fit for both of you.

Franzen: Deep Elm signed me back in 2012, after hearing one of my first tracks called ”Home”, which was released on my first album, but back then it was only a demo. I knew them through Dorena who I had met in the studio, and I thought that they would be a perfect fit for my vision of this project. Since then, John (who runs Deep Elm) and I have been working very close throughout this entire process. They give me complete trust and creative space, and I look to them for everything surrounding the releases to the day to day givings of me sending them tracks and asking for their opinion. Its’s been working really well I got to say, for the both of us. I’m just grateful we got the chance to meet because it was a series of small stuff that led us there.


Listen to music from Save Your Heart:


You talk about music similar to painting and how your songs have a certain hue to them, what are your favourite “colours” to paint with at the moment?

Franzen: Yeah that’s right, and I understand that it might be a hard and abstract concept to grasp but I really do think of music in terms of colors. If something sounds earthbound and calm I immediately think of colors like yellow and brown, whilst sounds that have a big quality and a sort of distance to them are blue/violet to me, and blue/violet was exactly what I wanted to bring into this record, Save Your Heart. This is all very visible in the artwork as well, done by an amazing artist called Elias Klingen. I went to him and I pretty much said; “Look. I have all these colors in mind and I want to make em shine and blend together to represent the music I’m writing for this album. It’s called ‘Save Your Heart’, so maybe that could be a starting-point for you. I want the colors to feel alive and to illustrate the sonic identity of this record.” He did an amazing job, I couldn’t be happier with the results.

I wanted this album to venture higher up in the skies, towards the stratosphere, and then stay there. In comparison, Reanimation is more earthy for me, it takes place down here while Save Your Heart is up above the clouds in terms of the sonic identity.

What was your process for writing Save Your Heart, did you write a lot of the material at once, or was it more of a gradual process?

Franzen: I never really took a break, but the process was different. Some stuff came right away and then I worked on it for months. Snow was an early one, and I probably did 3 different versions of the outro before settling on the one you hear now, and that’s also how I work. I search for that, in my mind, perfect thing.

Some of the tracks like “Save Your Heart” and “Atlas” came to life just 3-4 weeks before the mastering was scheduled to begin. Then we have tracks like “Sparks”, “Bright Eyes” and “We Are Ghosts”, who have in one way or another been sitting around on tapes for years. I tried to dust them off and I obviously changed a lot of things within them but It’s kind of funny to think that these demos I made back when I was just alone in a studio with no name or anything, would end up on this album all this time later. Very rewarding for me personally.

Your songs have a very dream-like, stratospheric aura to them— would you say that Save Your Heart has a distinct “theme” or story to it?

Franzen: I always try to think conceptually and visually while I write. Reanimation came from me not being able to sleep, and by chance discovering this amazing world which I would get lost in, and I never wanted to wake up. I would sit in my studio at winter, 4 in the morning, looking out the window and see everything being lit up and covered by snow, and I would feel like I was the only living person awake in the entire city. That was pretty magical sometimes. For Save Your Heart, I really wanted it to be an escapism as well, but the main thing for me with this one was that determination of having the courage to go with your passion, and not cave in even though it’s easy to do. This project takes up a huge amount of time and effort in my life, and sometimes it’s hard you know? You see friends and family doing “proper” jobs and giving in to the “conformity” of society. At times it’s a struggle not to let your passion go because it’s hard doing this. And that is really what Save Your Heart is for me. It’s an encouragement to stick with the things you love and see them through. If you find that thing, you owe it to yourself to keep it alive. I think that’s extremely important. For me it is.

Do you have a particular track on Save Your Heart you can say was the most satisfying to complete?

Franzen: Well it’s hard because every song has different things related to it, but if I have to pick one I would say “Heartbeats”. Simply because that song turned out exactly as I had hoped, and it was the foundation on which I would then proceed on with the other songs of the album.

Will you be touring in support of the record?

Franzen: I would love to tour, but right now it’s not planned at all. I spend so much time writing this music that once I’m done, I sort of step out into the world again from my studio and realize that it’s a much bigger place then I remembered, and so if I were to tour I would want to do it just as had envisioned it, like I did with my music.

It would take a lot of planning and ambition, and I have simply not had the time to do that properly yet with touring. But I’m thinking about it a lot now so who knows..

Now that you’ve conquered the stars so to speak, where do you go next with Lights & Motion music?

Franzen: Haha, well I definitely want to keep writing. I might release some new music next year and in the meantime I want to keep writing film music which I have been doing a lot this part year in between the more traditional L&M songs, and these pieces of music has become quite popular on Soundcloud, so that’s a big ambition right now.

I would love to score a film someday. That’s a big dream of mine for sure. I am such a movie-goof and I probably check IMDB on my phone 5 times everyday for new trailers, so being able to score one one day would be so cool.

Who knows…

If listeners can take one thing away from your music, what would you like that one thing to be?

Franzen: A sense of hope.

Lights & Motion’s new album, Save Your Heart, is available now via Deep Elm Records.

Interviews

Neon Love: Introducing Okay Cool

We talk to LA duo Okay Cool about their debut single

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On the fourth or fifth time I listened to Okay Cool’s first single “Back To You” I hear a voice from the other room chiming in, “this song is really great my love”. It’s my wife, who often spends moments in the other room passively listening to my music. Okay Cool, the suave duo comprised of Jenna Maranga and Rich Gonzalez are on the cusp of releasing their first single and amongst the myriad of music my wife listens to second hand, this is the one she comments on.

It’s only been two years since Okay Cool formed. Once separated by the continental United States, both Maranga and Gonzalez call the City of Angels home. And it’s “home” home. Maranga, who has spent time in New York, has returned to the city she grew up in, reuniting with her friend that spent many summer days at her parent’s house (the same one they still live in now), by the pool drinking margaritas.

I imagine the formation of Okay Cool as happening under the Los Angeles’ night sky, summer some time, clad in the aura of neon lights. But the truth is, their formation happened much more organically, as Maranga explains; “[Rich] has a really cozy studio in his house in Crenshaw that you just want to spend time in, sipping bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. Though we didn’t go into it expecting anything like Okay Cool to be born, we genuinely loved the songs we were writing. We were both feeling giddy about the sound we were moving toward and the relaxed vibe — it was like we were making a soundtrack to our time together”. And as you listen to “Back To You”, you get that — a certain vibe, the soundtrack of two artists making music over bourbon and hanging out with Billy the pup. But as the listens multiply, you know that it’s also much more. Clad in the silky smooth vibes of R&B and soul made famous by artists like Sade, Okay Cool channel the timeless sounds of sophisticated pop that resonates on a multitude of levels.

Sade was an escapable name in the 80s, one that crossed the globe. But when asked if Okay Cool purposely set out to make music like Sade, the answer may surprise you; “For me, this sound is just kind of what naturally comes out when I produce music. Jenna’s project Isla June is quite different from our sound for Okay Cool, which is the best part of this project in my opinion. Jenna has a unique ability of shaping her voice/writing style to most genres. I’d like to think Jenna brings out the best in my production style.” Gonzales says. But flip that on the upside and you have Maranga’s differing approach; “That’s why I need Rich! It totally comes naturally to him. I’ll be honest, for me, it was more or less intentional. Most of the music I’ve written over the years has been loud and energetic with a lot of belting vocals and sonic builds. I wanted to do something totally different in the realm of Sade (whom I love), and Rich is the perfect counterpart for that. His writing and production are some of my favorites to sing melodies to — they immediately spark ideas, and his jazz background has given him an innate sense for structure and arrangement. His songs just flow so well.” Combine the two approaches and you have Okay Cool’s debut single- classy production that crosses soul and jazz with electronica and a golden voice that melts.

They seem to work in concert because even though they approach Okay Cool a little differently, the collaboration works. And whether you listen to “Back To You” to find comfort in the night sky after a long day, or find it as the perfect soundtrack on a weekend drive’s winding roads, the song’s gradual build and composed crescendo is the refined kind of cool.

“Back to You” was one of those songs that just fell into place. The song is a bit of a love letter to mother nature, and a subtle plea to give her back what she deserves

– Jenna maranga, okay cool

Gonzalez found inspiration for his music from some historical greats, and his production sizzles with the kind of refinement his influences are known for; “Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie among other jazz classics. I also listened to a lot of classical music like Percy Grainger, Chopin” he says. His influences ultimately helped shape Okay Cool, and as Maranga states, they aim to pave a new path for the genre while paying artistic homage at the same time; “I have been a fan of Stax and Motown soul forever, and as a 90s kid I grew up with an iteration of R&B that was impossible not to love. The more I learn about the history of both genres, the deeper my appreciation and respect for it grows. I’m glad we can give a little nod to it in our own music.”

“Back To You” is only the first step for Okay Cool, the initial foray that will be followed by more singles and an EP. But when pressed about a possible full-length album, there is no doubt one is on the way. Yet as you talk to both Maranga and Gonzales about Okay Cool you realise that they both approach the project with both a seriousness to creating art and music, but at the same time, realizing that the journey of creating it, can come with a lightheartedness and a joie de vivre that makes it all worth it in the end; “we’re having a good time inventing the brand around Okay Cool and cultivating a vibe that’s fun and not taking ourselves too seriously.”

Listen to “Back To You” and you’ll feel the same — art and music that sounds timeless, like those artists that came before them. But it is also full of life and pulls you into the present moment, making you smile. Whether it grabs you on the first listen, or it hypnotizes you on the fourth or fifth listen, “Back To You” leaves you eager to hear more. And what else could you want from your first single?

Listen to “Back To You”

Okay Cool’s new single “Back To You” will be available July 10th on all streaming services. You can find more Okay Cool on their website, Instagram, and Soundcloud.

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Interviews

A New Tomorrow: An interview with Lee Resistant & The Lost

Lee Resistant & The Lost find life in old songs and a path to a new tomorrow

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Sometimes you have to look into the past to find the future. It is a sentiment that UK transplant Lee Resistant understands quite well. Once a member of UK punk band Fletcher, Lee has found new life in old songs, revisiting material he wrote for his previous bands while giving them a new sheen for current times. With a solo career established, Lee Resistant formed his latest outfit, Lee Resistant & The Lost, during the close of 2017. He found that some of his old material not only held up over time, but still had much to give in way of connecting with new listeners.

Now with two EPs under their belts, Lee Resistant & The Lost are finding that sometimes looking back into your past is a great way to move forward. Their latest EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, features reworked and re-recorded songs from Lee’s previous efforts, songs that are part of the catalyst that propels the band towards all new material on the horizon.

We spoke to Lee Resistant not long after the release of their new EP and talked the past, the present, and the future.

The EP has been out for a little bit now- you’ve been getting a good response to it- how does it feel?

It feels really good, the reaction we’ve had to it so far has been very positive. The songs themselves had a good reaction when they were originally released back in the day, so the issue for me was releasing re-recorded versions that I felt had to be better than the originals, otherwise what would be the point?

The lead track “Least Resistant” is a rework of a Fletcher track from back in 2003- are the other songs on the EP as well or were they songs you had written outside of the band?

“Least Resistant” and “Where Would You Run?” are from the 2003 Fletcher full-length My Revenge, and “Wishlist” is from the 2002 Six Track Sound EP. “For The Few” is a song I wrote for the band I started after coming to Canada, RUCKS, which was active from 2007-2009. Brian (bass) and Alex (drums) from LRATL were in that band too, so we have a long history of playing together now.

Share with us a little of your reasons why you’re looking at some of these songs you wrote and giving them a revisit and re-recording.

I’ve been concentrating on playing solo acoustic shows for the last few years but, really, I’ve always been a ‘band’ guy, so when I decided I wanted to end 2018 with a full band show it was a chance to dust off a few of my favorite songs from the back catalog, several of which I never actually sang back in those days! It was exciting because I genuinely never thought I’d get to play those songs in a band situation again, and I think they’re great songs that stand the test of time.

With regard to recording them, I’d been writing for a LRATL full-length, and the collection of songs I have for it feel like a more solid piece of work together, so I didn’t really want to cull a separate EP from it. Revisiting some of the older material seemed like a perfect way to bridge the gap between my musical past to where I’m at now, and also break the guys into my production process with a little less pressure! [laughs]

Thirteen Years Gone By…

Tell us a little bit about your history with Fletcher- you guys were together from a few years from 2000-2005?

That’s right. We were signed to Deck Cheese Records in the UK at the tail end of 2001 and Pyropit Records in Japan in either late 2003 or early 2004. We got to do a lot of cool stuff and played with most of my favorite bands… I have really good memories of those days, and it felt like we were on the cusp of doing so much more when things pretty much fell apart. We were touring as much as we could while holding down full-time jobs at the same time, and things were basically at the point where the next opportunity on the table would have involved quitting our jobs and going on the road for three and a half months across North America and, from my viewpoint at least, that seemed like too much of a chance to take for the other guys.

Did it end on good terms?

For me, no it didn’t. I don’t know if it’s because I’m stubborn or a complete asshole, but Fletcher played our last show together on July 17th, 2005 and I walked out of the venue afterwards and didn’t talk to any of the others for ten years. For me, playing music has never been about being famous, or getting rich, or any of that bullshit, but I think the disappointment of seeing what we could have done together collapse was really hard to take at that particular time.

You’re originally from the UK- what prompted the move to Canada?

Hahaha, let’s just say MySpace has a lot to answer for, and leave it at that!!

How did Lee Resistant & The Lost get started?

LRATL actually started as a solo recording project at the end of 2017. I was writing songs that I was hearing in my head as ‘full band’ productions more than strictly acoustic material, so my aim was to put out a song on the first of every month for the whole of 2018. That was a pretty ambitious schedule at that time, so it ended up being a five-song EP called 42/43. I have the word LOST tattooed on the knuckles of my right hand, so I called the project Lee Resistant & The Lost, as it was basically me and my right hand doing everything! [laughs]

Putting the band together with Jakob, Brian and Alex for that 2018 show was a bit of a revelation, and I was like “this feels REALLY good!”, and it’s progressed from there.

So my favorite track on the new EP is “For the Few”- how did that song come together?

I think “For The Few” was written in late ’07/ early ’08. We were doing shows at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 28 in Chatham, Ontario, and there was a mural thing on the back wall with the Laurence Binyon poem ‘For The Fallen’ on it. That World War One poetry has always resonated with me for some reason, so it got me thinking about people of all walks of life who have laid down their lives or sacrificed everything they have, for something they believe in. I think there is no more honor in life than that, so “For The Few” is my humble tribute to them.

I really enjoyed the EP- but it’s not the most recent music you’ve released- as a solo artist, you co-released an EP with Curt Murder. How did that collaboration come about?

Yeah, I kinda screwed up my scheduling and both records were out within a week of each other! Curt and I have been buddies for a while and we’d been planning to do a split since August of last year, so once we figured out when we could get together I recorded it at my home studio in Chatham. Curt runs Reel Too Real Records, which is a DIY, cassette-based, limited run deal, so we released it via that and digital. The record is called Split The Difference, basically because we look like brothers! Haha

The song on there- “Over and Out”- it’s brilliant- evoking, haunting. Do you approach songwriting as a solo artist different to when you write for The Lost?

Thank you, I appreciate that! My approach to songwriting tends to stay the same… I’m not one of those people that records or writes down every single idea I ever have in the hopes of making something out of them. To me, that’s a recipe for utter crap! [laughs]

If  ideas come to me I will keep them in my head, and if they’re good then I will remember them. Some songs come together pretty quickly, but others will make themselves known to me when the time is right. It’s a pretty fluid process for me, and I feel like more of a conduit than a ‘composer’ most of the time. I never force a song just for the sake of getting it done, I still have unfinished songs from 2011 or so kicking around in my skull.. they’ll let me know when they’re ready!

You’re currently working on new material for Lee Resistant & The Lost- how have these currently reworked songs helped shape the material and the direction for the new music?

It’s more like the new material helped shape the reworking of the old songs… I feel a bit more capable as a writer and arranger these days, and I find I ‘hear’ a lot more layers within songs but also have more of an ability to manifest those ideas too.

When are you hoping to have the new album done by?

The current plan is to have the full-length finished by the fall, and hopefully find a label willing to put it out early next year. We’re going to do a standalone single release in early September to keep things ticking over, and a video for ‘Where Would You Run?’ from ‘Thirteen Years Gone By…’ is in production at the moment. I’m also figuring out my next acoustic record, and I do everything DIY so there’s plenty to keep me busy! [laughs]

Lee Resistant & The Lost’s new EP, Thirteen Years Gone By…, is out now. Stream and purchase via Bandcamp. Photo by: Chris Forrest at Synicalist Photography.

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