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Franz Von: “I’ve always really loved writing and challenging myself to write better”

Exposed meets the modern-day makers plying their trades in the Steel City. Spread out across art, music, film, theatre, clothing, photography and more – we find out what makes these local creatives tick.

Sheffield-based musical innovator, afro-fusion artist and emcee Franz Von fuses reggae, hip-hop, roots and rap sounds in his work, regularly collaborating with artists in the Steel City and across the UK.

What were your early creative inspirations?
I soaked up a lot of different styles of music from a young age growing up in Jamaica. Music is a big part of the country’s culture. Living there you can actually feel how important it is – not just for entertainment, but to give people hope and strength. Sometimes certain artists are the only voice to speak for the people.

I was a big reggae dancehall fan. I was influenced by artists like Ninja Man, Beenie Man, Buju Banton. That said, I kinda lost the connection for a while and fell in love with hip hop when I moved to the UK. But this also meant that by the time I started writing I had a wide range of inspirational artists to draw from: there were a lot of the classic artists like Nas, Wu Tang, Biggie, but then mixed with UK artists like Rodney P, Melanin 9, Klashnekoff, Roots Manuva. Throw in the general life experience of moving from Jamaica to the UK and looking at life in an almost completely different way… that’s some mad creative inspiration right there.

“Throw in the general life experience of moving from Jamaica to the UK and looking at life in an almost completely different way… that’s some mad creative inspiration right there.”

When did you first start making music?
The first bit of music I made and put out was a 23/24 track mixtape called Sunday Dinner Raps. I recorded that at a studio in All Saints Community Centre in Ellesmere, and sadly, like so many other much-needed community centres, that’s been closed down now. At the time I was just writing and rapping to myself or anyone that would listen, just because I enjoyed it so much. I would download beats from YouTube, record my vocals, get a decent mix, and – boom! That was the process.

How has that creative process changed over time?
I’ve always really loved writing and challenging myself to write better, so I now take more time to think about what I want to say, how I want it to be received by the listener, how I capture a feeling or set the mood and translate that into something interesting or entertaining. I love to be in a studio session with a producer and working on different ideas, meticulously building the track.

Most times I’ll be jotting down ideas for lyrics and different rhyming patterns to match the beat, or we create the beat to fit with my lyrics. I have many songs written so we just jam ideas around it, everybody adds something creatively. I then use the opportunity to play some new ideas at gigs and see how it’s received, what I can change or maybe just scrap it and start something fresh.

What are the most challenging aspects of what you do?
Keeping up with social media and online activity. I do this full-time so the admin side of things can be really boring and sometimes challenging. I might be in a creative zone ready to write or work on some music, but then I might have to sort out some paperwork or respond to emails, etc, and my concentration is somewhere else and it slows down the whole process. Arranging and organising a band can also be a challenge: the travel logistics and scheduling for busy musicians who play all over the country can be mad.

“I now take more time to think about what I want to say, how I want it to be received by the listener, how I capture a feeling or set the mood and translate that into something interesting or entertaining”

What about the most rewarding aspects?
One of the most rewarding things is playing live, performing. Sometimes it happens when you’re just in the moment, enjoying it, and you can see the audience enjoying it; it just feels like you’re connected and there’s this mad energy. I love it.

How important is it to be part of a creative community in a city like Sheffield?
The support alone is so valuable, especially now. I’ve seen more and more people affected by mental health illness. Just the uncertainty of how things have been has had a massive impact on me personally, so I’m really grateful to be part of a creative community – around people having similar experiences that I can talk to, bounce ideas off and help inspire each other to keep creating. We can celebrate that we are still here. We need each other; humans need humans.

@franzvon_zongo // Franz Von plays Dorothy Pax with Smiling Ivy on Friday 26th November. Tickets are £9+bf and available from eventbrite.co.uk.


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