With over two decades of experience producing and sound engineering for some of the biggest names in dance music, 2021 is the year that Christian Lena finally launches his own solo artist project; and with two critically acclaimed releases under his belt in the space of just a few months, the long-standing Italian producer is on an impressive early run of form to say the least.
As hefty international support continues to roll in for his debut single, "Please Please Please", and as his two-part follow up EP "The Dreamers" continues to climb charts worldwide, the burgeoning Italian artist now continues on his path to success with the announcement of his next incredible musical creation.
We had the chance to catch up with Christian to ask him the big questions. Here’s how it went...
Hi, Christian! Despite everything that’s going on in the world right now, how has 2021 been for you so far and how have you been staying creatively motivated?
In the last year we all faced significant changes in everyday life, I was no exception. The music industry has largely being stuck, all of my friends and clients working on live events could not do exhibitions anymore. Actually the major part of my job was wiped out too. At first I was really destabilized by this unexpected stop but then I realised it could have been a opportunity, a new start. Before I had almost no time, then I had rather too much: it was the time to make the most of it! I just throw myself into new music projects, I literally buried myself into my studio to pursue new ideas. I took several online courses: I firmly believe training and researching are pivotal for our job. I wanted to be ready and uptodate for the restart!
Please tell us a bit about your musical background, how did you start off as a music producer and sound engineer?
I approached the music world in the early 1990s: as many guys in my age, i started in a rock band playing drum. In the meanwhile I got into home recording, analogue and digital synthesizers until I set up a third-party recording studio and started collaborating with major recording studio, as the Bologna-based Fonoprint, one of the world's top studios. I have always been very fond of electronic music and around 2000, in the midst of Trip Hop and French Touch time, two music genres i just fell for, I started playing the first records.
How would you describe your signature sound and what were some of the key elements in developing your sound? What is distinctive about a Christian Lena production?
The foundation of all my pieces is instrumental, characterised by 80’s sounds. Actually I favor electronic drums, gated reverbs, analogue synthetizers’ rythms and melodies. In the central section, I always go for a bass and drum line, close to the contemporary tech house sonorities. I love playing with sounds coming from my synths, no matter if digital or analogue ones, and matching them with drums’ groove and bold and funk bass lines. Drawing from 80’s science fiction, videogames and cartoons, I love composing at lower speeds than the original ones, keeping under 120 bpm, with simple yet effective melodies and arrangements to give a contemporary allure to the piece.
I know, my music is a bit nostalgic, but that period has left a significant trace on my musical training!
When did the idea for your solo project come about and how does it feel to finally launching it? How was your process different putting together this solo project as opposed to working behind the scenes for another artist?
It’s true, I have been working mainly as a producer behind the scenes, but in the last months I felt it was time to put my face on my sound, to put my signature on my records. I am extremely proud of this new project: it represents my path as an artist and a man, it embodies my past experiences and greatest passions, it has the exact timbre i was looking for and gives the vibes we all need in this thoug period.
Your fresh release “Calling Out” is out now on Sirup Music. What was your favourite part of the production process and what did you have the most trouble with?
Seeing my piece growing, taking shape and getting every day closer to what I imagines, that was and will always be the most exciting part of the recording job. The creative process was so inspiring and smooth thanks to the collaboration with Angelo Iossa: confront, share ideas, change and delete, start again to get to the final drafting, that was very enriching. I just regret the impossibility to work together in studio, side by side, due to the pandemic. This time we missed the phisical presence, but I am sure we will catch up soon, for future musical projects.
Christian Lena — The Calling is out now via Sirup Music.
How did you go about finding the right label for your release and how did you enlist Iossa for vocals?
I have been following Sirup label since many years as it is very close to my idea of music. When I finished Calling Out I had no doubt: Sirup had to be the label! As far as my partnership is concerned, I got to know Angelo in a unexpected way, thanks to a digital music platform. I was looking for a peculiar timbre, able to give the right groove to my sound. It took just a 30 seconds sample to realize Angelo was that voice. Then we found out we have several music connections in common, for instance the Daddy’s Groove, a talented italian duo.
Are you impulsive with your work or do you have a sketch in mind before you start?
I always start following quite defined musical schemes , but then, during production phase, I tend to experiment with new sounds, I improvise with new instruments and every time the initial path just takes unexpected drifts. That’s the point where instinct takes over rationality: it’s part of the game and it’s essential to create something personal and less predictable.
How did you learn the tech side of things? Did you study it, or did you learn through experience? What are your thoughts about going to an institution to study music production vs being in a room for years and teaching yourself?
I started learning music theory as anyone does, in class, following courses for young DJ. Knowing the theory and technical aspects is essential, it enables you to stick to the traditional schemes or just decide to ignore them and follow your own instict. Anyway, I have always been a great supporter of learning-by-doing: today is so much easier thanks to the endless online music platform available. Follow courses and keep up-to-date is pivotal in our job. Last but not least, you should keep on confronting with colleagues and mentors, to get inspiration and have always a different point of view. As in all things, some little reviews and compromises may be the best choices!
How would you describe your job to someone who has no idea what a sound engineer does, and what would you regard as the most challenging part of it?
A sound engineer is a music professional who listen again and again a piece, push bottons continuously till the song turns out better! Just kidding, but actually is a simple and effective way to describe my job. The most tough part? Being satisfied with your own final piece: after all that pushing, you want it to be perfect!
What does your hardware/software setup consist of?
My studio set up is a mix of synth and analogue and digital equipment. In both setups I definitely favor the 70’s and 80’s instruments’ emulations. I went for TAL-uno-Lx, Roland Cloud and Arturia package for Software emulation. As far as semi-modular are concerned, the moog Grandmother certainly stands out. It’s one of my latest purchases and I just can’t do without it!
For aspiring producers who are intimidated by the complexity of the music tech world (plug-ins, DAWs, etc.), what advice would you give to simplify music production?
When things are complex, you just need to make them simple! Music production is just like common life issues, you just have to split them in smaller parts and start facing them one by one. My biggest ipi s to start with few instruments and tech equipment but really master them at your best. Only after have full knowledge and control of yout tech, you can add a new piece and so on… till you will have inexplicablyyour studio full of stuff!
If an artist is looking to hire a music producer/engineer, what pitfalls should they avoid?
Before working with a music producer, an artist should have cristal clear in mind which type of product he wants to obtain, in order to be able to give clear references and music briefs. The most tough part is to trust your producer and let him guide you from behind the scenes: if your initial ideas are clear the result will quite for sure be at the height of expectations, otherwise, if you put yourself in the hands of the producer without a clear idea of who you are and what you music is about, the final result will always be disappointing or simply not representing you. When the producer ideas prevails on the artist ones, in the end both will be unsatisfied and quite often they soon part ways.
Is there an artist you want to work with that you have not yet had the opportunity to work with?
Actually I would pay to spend a day in studio with Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, just to ask them a couple of questions ;-)????
What is the most courageous thing you've ever done for the advancement of your career?
The biggest challenge was to accept working as ghost producer for Gianluca Vacchi: he is a great friend for me, but his sound is very far from my previous productions and my personal music path. That’s why I see this collaboration as my biggest bet. But I have to admit that it is going unexpectedly and extremely smoothly as Gianluca has very clear ideas and working with him is very stimulating. You have to leave your comfort zone to grow and evolve!
If you could be in someone else’s shoes for a day, who would it be?
If I could travel through time, I would like to be Brian Eno, to have his extraordinary music vision and the chance to know all those talented artists he collaborated with in the ‘70s.
So many artists get discouraged while climbing the ladder, do you have any advice for the talented artists out there that are having trouble getting their sound heard?
Rule number 1: never give up! Nowadays online platforms make the challenge even harder. There are lot of people with talent and great ideas: what prevent you from being one of them? My tip is to keep unique, make original pieces and try to shape your own music identity, not necessarily following the current trends. Maybe take some inspiration but never get them prevail on your music. It means taking current hints and sounds to make your music more up-to-date but put them on your music leash, forge them to express your identity.
For instance, I often put retrò sounds in my pieces because it is the period better represents me, which taught me and moved me the most. I take those sounds, I mould them and create my own personal interpretation. Never giving up or betraying my music values!
Any new artists, books, music or movies/shows you’d like to recommend?
Among the new artists I recently run into, I would recommend Biesmans, a Belgian artist but Berliner by adoption, and the italian Marvin & Guy. Movies I suggest as well to watch as many 70’s italian b-movies: so many inspiring titles I can not choose just one! As far as reading and magazines are concerned, I usually go for technical readings, specialized books and magazines, such as Patch & Tweach with Moog di Kim Bjørn, very useful for synth moog users and the several interview to relevant artists as Trent Reznor, Suzanne Ciani…
Words/quote you'd put on a billboard.
'Less is more' and 'The music you play tells who you are.'
What’s the thing you’re most excited to do once the pandemic is over?
As any music artist around the world I guess, I can’t wait to take on again the dj set, productions and recordings… and above all travel again!
Thank you for your time, Christian! Can you give us any hints towards new projects or tracks coming up in the near future? Also, what is your ultimate career dream?
I just expect the best, I really trust this new project and this fresh start. I am finishing another couple of single pieces to be released soon after summer and there are some important dates already scheduled for the summer season (I do not disclose them just for luck!)
I hope that the music industry, which was zeroed to the pandemic, will have a soon and speed recovery because so many talented and passionate people work for it. Music is life, joy, hope and without music, the world would be definitely a sadder place: all of us need music, above all in tough times as the last year!
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