Name: Francesca Lombardo
Occupation: Producer, DJ
Current Release: Francesca Lombardo has a track on Crosstown Rebels presents SPIRITS IV. The album will be out 26th February 2021 on Crosstown Rebels. Pre-order here.
Recommendations: Luio Onassis paintings; Into You - Dispersion OK track out on Echolette Records
If you enjoyed this interview with Francesca Lombardo, visit her homepage for a deeper look at her work. She is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Francesca Lombardo participated in the 15 Questions series in 2018. For her earlier replies, see here.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I have been writing music since I was a kid.
I used to write piano pieces and songs at first on the piano or guitar. I started to write electronic music later on when I moved to London, with bands and alone. But I really never released anything till late as I was still learning and improving my skills in the “studio” (I only had a very little set up in the beginning). I was much into electronic music at that time and trip hop in the 90s and then entered the techno world in early 2000.
My very early passions were Bjork, Orbital, the Orb, Annie Lennox, Leftfield, Moby and many more. When I arrived in London I met many DJs and producers in the acid techno scene and that’s when I started writing more club music. Names that inspired me are Lenny Dee, Chris Liberator, Henry Cullen and Darc Marc. Around 2005 I started to listen to minimal and my sound switched.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
My learning process mostly took place in techno and dance music as I had a clear vision of what I wanted to write when it came down to songs and vocals. When I arrived in London, I starting studying music technology and sound engineering and later I went to a university, studying vocal techniques in popular music performance, studying all vocal styles and techniques. The school really gave me a chance to improve my voice and feel more confident. It was also a great experience for me as I worked along many musicians in the school, practising all styles from jazz to psychedelic rock.
As a producer of my own work I started listening to different artists I loved and found inspiration in their music. I never really copied anyone but loved their music instead. Listening to a lot of music can really help to find your own creativity and know which direction you belong to.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The way I was composing at first was really traditional. But when I came into the world of dance music I had to learn how to use synthesisers and other studio equipment, and also learn about midi technology in the studio.
I was always very good at composing melodies and songs but didn’t have the knowledge of the producer working in a studio. Those skills have improved over time with my studies and practice within the school but also with other producers who were more experienced than me and taught me a lot of production skills that no school can teach you.
Today I am happy to say I can move around my studio very easily but I believe there is always more to learn.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first studio was very basic and was in my bedroom. I had a computer, a Yamaha digital mixer, a Motu sound card, a mic and a pair of the worst studio monitors on the market. Of course, at the time, it wasn't easy for me to make money with music, so I was very limited in terms of what I could afford. Fortunately, I had friends who had amazing studios in London and had a chance to learn and work with them.
Over the years I invested in new pieces. I have always been drawn to old school synths and at the time they were not as expensive as they are today. I worked in one of the best studio equipment dealer shop for a few years in London and was lucky to get my hands on many pieces of gear to try them or just know about them. Today I am very happy with my studio and how I use it. Some of my favourites are the Minimoog Voyager XL, SH101, Jomox 999, an old Akai MPC2000 and many other little pieces.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Sometimes I use my creativity first and apply it to the machines. But at times I love to let the the machine talk first and then I follow. There are many ways you can make music in the studio and the outcome depends on that, too. Since I love playing piano and creating melodies I do that mostly and then find the right sounds to go with it.
When you create a melody, it is different from when you follow your machines, and when you can use both brains it’s even better!
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
Exactly! I love to start an idea with my compositions and then add some software or synths to it. I love to use arpeggiators at times to my own melodies, using my lines. Sometimes you end up using the same midi groove with different sounds – be it synths or beats - to create a better movement in your track where all your sounds follow. It really helps me to also use sequencers outside my DAW that I can put my hands on and make more magic, connecting all your synths to the same sequence and using different filters and oscillators to create sounds and blend them.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
My collaborations are usually limited to the people I can engage with easily or I have a story with. Sometimes when I get approached by someone if I like an idea I go for it anyway. I love to send ideas around to people who I want to collaborate with and guide them towards my ideas and let them add their input to it.
Every time I have done this and opened my mind to their ideas, it usually worked really well. At other times, I'll get sent something and add my voice or my ideas from my studio. If I was lucky to be in the studio with someone and write music together during heavy touring we usually ended up finishing the track in our own studios because of the limited time we had.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My days start with a morning of playing and looking after my baby. I usually do that till 12 everyday. After that, my work day starts. I do some yoga to set my mind into the right place to write some music and get inspired and focused and then I go to the studio to work on music for a few hours straight.
I like to be focused when in the studio and try to do as much as I can in the hours I am there, without doing anything else. Obviously not every day is a productive day, and as soon as I understand that, I just leave the room and do something else.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I will talk about my track “Freak On Sea” out in Crosstown Rebels this month.
When I was asked to do that piece, it was during the times where Beirut had the explosion back in 2020. I am very close to that city so I made that track thinking of the sad circumstances that happened at the time and thinking of all my friends who got affected by it but also all the people who ended up suffering. I got inspired by the love and the memories I had during my gigs and touring in Lebanon and created that track with its melody dedicated to those people who looked after me when I was lucky to be there and play.
I believe to write music you need to be inspired by something that touches your heart in a special way.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted when using your creativity. A free mind is the motor that helps you make music without wasting too much of your time. I try to switch off from my life and think about my time in the studio only. I use yoga and meditation to do that, and I don’t rush. Being focused on what you are doing is the most important skill to be able to write.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
There are different approaches to the way you mix the two.
Sometimes you can write music without thinking about playing it live and it becomes a track that you can eventually use live at later stage. The easiest way is to play the song and once you get all the sounds on your desk you record it. That means you use your improvisation skills more, you practise your song lines and then put in in your DAW. I think the second option is more fun but ideas come from both improvisation and recording your initial ideas.
It’s interesting how your songs can be different from each other depending on the method you use. I try to use both.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
When you start thinking of “sound” aspects of the music, it means your track is already half way finished. It is something I do at the second stage. At that point you will need to replace sounds which have a certain timbre that fills the track instead of using the sound you would love to use. This is completely personal but for me it’s easier to do rather than spending hours doing things that don’t work.
If I love a sound I will start with it and build the track around it. That means I can still use the chosen idea without compromising it, and then I listen to what fits best.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
I love to listen to music and to get affected by it. Music or any form of art can really take you to a different dimension and feel emotions that you would feel with experiences in your life. Sound is a powerful form of art which can touch all of your senses, and make your heart beat go up or slow down.
As humans, we are really sensitive to sounds and frequencies. We, too, are frequencies. Everything around us is frequency and we react to the ones we are tuned to. Music is the master of all forms of art because of that.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think art is a way of life, I personally need it to feel younger and happier. My life without art in any form would be boring and would feel less alive. Being an artist is a consequence of that. It makes me feel good and life makes more sense to me. I love the fact that art has always touched people's lives in different forms even people who don’t follow it much. I love being an artist.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I think music will evolve together with visuals. Electronic music will grow even more. Sounds will reflect life and our future and machines will at the centre of it even more. Humans will move to other planets and music will sound different: More futuristic and made with sounds from the Universe rather than from earth.