“I tend to work in isolation quite often with the creation of my art, so I’ve been able to cope with this well,” says Franz Szony from his place in Los Angeles. During lockdown, the photographer, artist and musician conceptualised, shot and edited this self-portrait editorial spread out across these pages. Who said selfies couldn’t be avant-garde? The world quickly shut down earlier this year just as Franz was preparing to release his new music. Primarily an artist and photographer (who shot Dita Von Teese for one of the most spectacular GAY TIMES Magazine covers ever produced last year), Franz put off creating music for years before finally starting to explore the artform.
Franz’s latest project includes recent song Surrender Dorothy, bringing together influences as varied as the Wizard of Oz and classical Hindi music. For the next release, What You Seek, Franz called upon friends and collaborators Gigi Goode, Chester Lockhart and Gigi Gorgeous to star in the accompanying music video, which was shot mere days before the lockdown was enforced. “It was a wonderful last ‘hoorah’ before the quarantine took place, although we didn’t know it would be at the time,” Franz says. Here we speak to Franz about this new music project, who they have been listening to while self-isolating and why they think the current pandemic will cause “another creative renaissance.”
What’s the story behind Surrender Dorothy?
The idea for my song Surrender Dorothy came from my fascination with the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz. The full sentence originally read ‘Surrender Dorothy, or die…’ but was later cut to what we see in the film today. The song started off as somewhat of a mantra. When things in life become out of control (which I experienced a lot of last year), at some point we must let go and surrender. We must remember that everything we need to succeed, we already have. Although this was the direction I was originally headed, my thoughts took a twist and ultimately the phrase was used as a metaphor for the act of seducing someone. Quite different I know, but I follow the path my thoughts take me. Whether it be good, or slightly more devious. The phrase implies the use of one’s own mystique or ‘witchery’ to capture another.
What were your music influences for this record?
For Surrender Dorothy I took inspiration from classical Hindi music, or Hindustani. I especially love the high pitch of many Hindustani female singers and took this (along with a bit of the Bee Gees) as a stylistic way to sing the song. Sitars, bongos, the gamelan, we really incorporated many ethnic instruments I find so beautiful into this song along with several others.
You’re a photographer and artist as well as a musician, so how do each of these varied art forms inform each other in your work?
I’m still very new to making music, and it wasn’t easy for me to start. I actually talked myself out of it for many years, despite my love of singing and writing poetry. I spent a long time trying to justify how I, a photographer who knew nothing about music, had any business creating it. Ultimately I realized how ridiculous those thoughts were, and essentially it was all the same thing. Whether it’s a photograph or a song, it’s just storytelling. Photography is completely visual, and I wanted to push myself to express my ideas in a non-visual way. It’s empowering for an artist to express the same idea in two completely different mediums.
Your new music video stars Gigi Goode, Chester Lockhart and Gigi Gorgeous – why is it so important to you to feature fellow queer artists and activists in your work?
I filmed a music video for my song What You Seek only a few days prior to the current Covid-19 pandemic. It was a wonderful last ‘hoorah’ before the quarantine took place, although we didn’t know it would be at the time. The fabulous people you just mentioned, I’m grateful to say have all become my friends over the last couple years. I’ve worked with all of them before and they’ve all blessed me with their complete trust when we create – no matter how bizarre the concept may be. Queer people have an underlying goal to make the planet more gorgeous and interesting than we found it, and for the most part, we aren’t afraid to go to any lengths needed to achieve that. Most queer people are put through hell at an early age. However, it forces us to look past the ‘reality’ most of the planet operates in. We start creating fantasies to escape our pain, but ultimately we learn to create fantasies so extravagant and uplifting. We influence the world around us, little by little turning our fantasies into a global reality. I think that’s the real power of queer artists.
What more can you tell us about your song What You Seek?
It’s the next song I’ll be releasing in late June. Essentially, this was written to be a ‘spell as a song’. I wrote it almost like an opera, with separate ‘acts’ in hopes that the listener could hear a noticeable shift between parts. The song comes from a quote by Rumi, ‘What you seek is seeking you.’ Such a brilliant phrase identifying the balance in all that exists. What you put out, you will get back. What you think, you create. I’ve applied the concept of this saying to my life continuously for many years, and it’s proven itself true to me more times than I can count.
How have you been using time during lockdown to continue expressing your creativity?
I tend to work in isolation quite often with the creation of my art, so I’ve been able to cope with this well. In Los Angeles, the problem is usually how to make everything hush so that you can have an hour or two of peace and quiet to focus on conceptualising. However, because of this lockdown, all I’ve had is peace and quiet. Los Angeles skies are more blue than I’ve ever seen, and wild poppies are growing all over town. It would be tough not to feel inspired.
What music have you been connecting with during lockdown – is there a particular artist or album you’ve been drawn to?
My music tastes are rather peculiar – no real rhyme or reason that is. I’ve been listening to a lot of vintage organ music lately. Charmaine and Other Beautiful Songs is a frilly dilly of an album from the 50’s. I listened to a lot of Beach Boys at the beginning of this lockdown to help me feel uplifted and gay. I really love fringe soundtrack scores. In fact, I have a playlist of some of my favourites. Search ‘Franz’s Psychedelia’ to listen. Of course I must mention Allison Goldfrapp as well. Her music really takes me there – I listen to her all the time. She’s just incredible.
How do you think this pandemic will impact the creative industry – for both good and bad?
There’s a lot I don’t know or understand about this pandemic, but what I do know is that we are going to have another creative renaissance when this is over. I think everyone will be so starved for art and culture and friends and love. I hope this has put the simple wonders and joys of life into a much better perspective for everyone. The health of the planet is a direct reflection of us. If this hasn’t made that completely obvious, I’m not sure what will.
What are you most looking forward to doing once this lockdown is fully over?
Although it might sound simple, a big fabulous day-long picnic with all my friends sounds like heaven. We all need to roll in the grass with each other and hug, don’t you think?