How Justin Tranter wrote a ‘timeless’ song with an ‘important’ message for ‘Klaus’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Justin Tranter has written songs for animated films before, including “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “Ferdinand,” but “Klaus,” Netflix’s first original animated film, marked the first time the Golden Globe nominee joined a project before it was completed.

“Half of it was fully animated and half of it was storyboarded, which was really cool for me to see because the other animated films I’ve worked on in the past were done,” Tranter told Gold Derby at our Meet the Experts: Music panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “And this was somewhere in between, so that was really inspiring for me to see because as a fan of animated movies, it was like pretty powerful to see that happening.”

Directed by Sergio Pablos, “Klaus” tells the origin story of Santa Claus. Jesper (voiced by Jason Schwartzman), a spoiled postal academy student, is dispatched to Smeerensburg, an island above the Arctic Circle, to operate its post office. Sounds simple until he discovers that Smeerensburg is divided by feuding locals (think Capulets vs. Montagues). Jesper then befriends a reclusive toy-maker, Klaus (voiced by J.K. Simmons), and together they heal old wounds with some late-night chimney drops.

Tranter, who’s penned tunes for practically every pop star you can think of — Britney Spears, Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Gwen Stefani, the Jonas Brothers, Ariana Grande, to name a few — wrote “Invisible” for the film. The title comes from a line, uttered by a kid who thinks that Klaus might be invisible, and the movie’s overall hopeful theme.

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“You’re telling a children’s story, but I feel like the art that affects kids is kind of the most important art in the world. Because if you’re teaching them stories of love and kindness and acceptance, you can possibly change an entire generation. … The main message of the movie is joy and love and acceptance and random acts of kindness. I feel like the greatest things in life are invisible. … Love is invisible and all that stuff,” Tranter explained.

“So it came from the line in the movie, and it came from just thinking about, as songwriters, you kind of have to say the same f—ing thing a hundred different times in different ways that somehow are more emotional and more beautiful. And so I thought, how do you say, like, it’s not about the greatest things in life are free … it’s about how they’re all invisible? So that’s kind of where it all came from.”

Pablos also had some specific requests for the hitmaker. “The story takes place in Scandinavia and a lot of the score and whatnot is inspired by traditional Scandinavian folk music, and so he wanted the song to kind of reflect that,” Tranter shared. “So I collaborated with a Scandinavian producer [Jussi Karvinen] and we had Zara Larsson, who’s the pop queen of Scandinavia, sing it, so it was a really interesting process to dive into that culture the best we could, but still have it serve the movie and serve as a pop song.”

And while “Klaus” is a Christmas movie, “Invisible” wasn’t conceived as an outright Christmas song. “We just wanted it to feel classic. I think the key to holiday music is that it just feels timeless. And of course, pop stars do do holiday albums that are time-full,” Tranter said. “They’re full of time. There’s a really fabulous [Lady] Gaga Christmas song, a super dance-pop Christmas song from years ago. There’s Backstreet Boys. There are holiday songs that are time-full. But I think that the ones that we love and the reason why they work is that they’re timeless. It’s not a religious song and it’s not a Christmas song, specifically, but we definitely wanted it to have that classic feeling.”

Video by Andrew Merrill

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