Musician, photographer and film director Louis Franck talks about his experience as a foreigner in Ukraine and the limitless talent possessed by all human beings
The former lead singer of Esthetic Education is currently working on a new music project titled Atlántida. Even backstage, he is a storm of emotions energizing everyone around him. In his interview with The Ukrainian Week, he talks about his experience in Ukraine as an artist and a foreigner, and the limitless talent possessed by all human beings.
It used to be more difficult to come to Ukraine. I would get in trouble all the time. The road police would stop me and demand bribes. They often insulted me when they saw that I’m a foreigner. Freaks and alcoholics picked on me; even old ladies seemed to swear at me on the subway. But as soon as I freed my mind of all my Western stereotypes and negative ideas, everything changed instantly. Now I keep telling myself, “stop being paranoid!”
Kyiv is one of the greatest spiritual centres in the world. You can really feel that Slavic and Eastern European culture were born here. Ukrainians are a special people. There is something mythical about them—in a good way. Of course, Ukraine, and the whole world, are in chaos right now. People just don’t have time to realize it. By contrast, Moscow is a huge shopping mall or fair like Las Vegas or Dubai.
Being a musician in Ukraine is not much more difficult than being a musician in the UK. Life slaps you in the face at every turn. When I told British musicians about Esthetic Education’s commercial accomplishments in Ukraine – and we didn’t earn much – they were jealous. Competition is enormous there. As a result, most British musicians work as waiters all their lives and play just four or five gigs in a lifetime. It’s also really difficult there, although their problems are different.
Ukrainian artists have no success in the West because they don’t know how to work in a competitive environment. Every artist there knows that he will only be interesting as long as he keeps growing professionally. If he stops for a moment, all of his previous accomplishments are gone for good. Look at Alla Pugacheva [an iconic Soviet/Russian singer-songwriter whose career peaked in the 1970-80s] and her huge popularity in post-Soviet countries. She composed her best songs back in the 1980s, and they still inspire me. Here in Ukraine, their effect will last forever. Meanwhile, Robert Plant is nearly 70, yet he remains a god of music because he continues to make music and stay in shape as an artist.
Ukraine lacks good promotion. The population and government have no idea how to promote themselves. Every country today – even the US – invests huge amounts of money into telling the world, “We’re interesting, visit us!” You won’t find anything like that about Ukraine anywhere, even though the country has a lot to offer.
I’m used to working on many different projects at the same time. I direct films, play music, write books, work as a photographer and producer. And I feel comfortable in all of these roles. It’s just that I’m short on time; I wish I had five lives. The only place where I feel bad is a business office, harsh and cynical.
I grew up in a family of photographers. My uncle is Henry Cartier-Bresson, a genius photographer. His wife was Martine Franck, another genius photographer. I got into photography when I was 18. Martine showed my photographs to her husband. He looked at them and said that they were awful and sucked. He told me to forget about photography. I’m grateful for his criticism because I eventually grew into a good photographer. Actually, if you want to achieve something, you can’t think of yourself as genius or loser; just be as light and authentic as you can be, like a cat or a dog – they don’t think why they are what they are. It’s the same in any art: you have to lose yourself in it and just be.
Being on stage is like being a shaman. You have to be different from what you are in real life, switch to a different reality, feel your band and know what you want to say, and constantly win the audience over. It’s like boxing – you dance around and hit people in the heart. I think Freddie Mercury was the best at it. The most important thing is to always remember that the audience is the best ever. A German film director friend of mine once told me, “Louis, you’re a fool if you talk to someone and think that he’s a fool”. He was right. Every person and every audience has some gold inside that you can bring out.
Everyone is talented. Everyone is born as talented as, say, Picasso. In theory, everyone can learn anything until social stereotypes get to their brain. Then, people hear “no”, “that’s bad”, “you can’t do it”, “stop”, and start limiting their unlimited talents with social frameworks. This leads to a kind of schizophrenia: some people get into self-humiliation repeating “I’m bad” over and over again, while others put their ego in the forefront and try to show the whole world how cool they are. Instead, you have to be open to everything like a young child.
It’s what you are trying to say that matters, not what you do. Your personal stance, your vision and the desire to share it are important. It no longer matters where you’re from, what education you have or how rich your parents are. If you’re a breakthrough, even born in a tiny village, you’ll get noticed.
The world today lacks responsibility. Radiohead’s drummer once told me that they still play only for the audience. They have plenty of money and fame now, but they feel that millions of people all over the world love them and are waiting for them, so they have no right to betray their fans. That’s what politicians—other than Barack Obama perhaps—are lacking. Just look at him: he has lost weight and grown older because he has been taking responsibility. Now, new computer technologies provide endless opportunities for creative artists. They can paint, make films or music without leaving their chair. The only limits that exist are the ones within us. But few dare to take a firm stance and take responsibility for their actions. Now my personal responsibility is my music project Atlántida. Esthetic Education represents just a small part of what I have yet to accomplish.