Norwegian singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche has just released his brilliant and quite adventerous new album, Please, his seventh studio album to date, not counting his work on the soundtracks for Dan In The Real Life and The Sleepwalker. With a busy schedule, Sondre still took time to answer a few questions, so here you are, ladies and gentlemen, the first ever interview on Erik's Musical Diary.
|Sondre Lerche talks about his new album, Elvis Costello, working without a safety net, divorce albums, his upcoming tour and more in this interview. Foto: Marius Hauge
OK, first of all and most importantly, is the title Please a grateful nod to Pet Shop Boys?
SL: I am definitely aware and fond of that record, but it is not an homage. The only thing that made me doubt PLEASE as a title, was the fact that it was already the title of a great record, but I figured enough time had passed that it was time for a new PLEASE.
There seems to be a more anarchic approach to the new album, and in your recent essay about yourself in (Norwegian newspaper) Klassekampen you hint at a pleasure in letting go a bit, not being such a perfectionist or control freak, that there is a release in working without a safety net. To what extent is this true of the recording of Please?
SL: It is very true. The whole process was about challenging the notion of what a song could be to me, in order to arrive at something new. I’ve had a very strict idea of how I write songs, and it’s probably offered me a sense of safety and pride, I am good at it. So it was time to challenge that process, and find other ways of expressing myself and making my music.
Even when working with contrasts that at first appear to be dissonant, like the frenetic guitar in “Legends” or Robert Fripp-sounding riffs in “After The Exorcism” you never seem to lose sight of the melody?
SL: It’s what I live for, I couldn’t lose sight of it if I tried.
Do you dream music? Does it happen that you wake up in the middle of the night with a new melody in your head?
SL: Sometimes, but it’s rarely something that haunts me. It’s usually more just a feeling of something. I’ve tried to capture it sometimes when I awake, but it evaporates into thin air, as dreams tend to do.
As a musician and a songwriter you are obviously inspired by Elvis Costello, and as far as I know he seems to admire you as well. I guess you have probably met? If so, what did you talk about?
SL: Yes, I did two tours together with him in Canada and America, so I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform 25 times in a row from the side of the stage, and also seeing him stand at the side of the stage while I opened for him. He was a very gracious host, very generous and always working, challenging his band, sharing new music, rehearsing new songs. We talked a lot about music, he wanted to talk about me, I wanted to talk about him. It was hard to keep cool. For me.
You have been accused of similarities with other songwriters previously, most notably with Paddy McAloon of Prefab Sprout at a time when you had never heard of him. Yet, later you became a fan and have even recorded the Prefab song “Nightingales”. I was probably among the reviewers who mentioned Paddy’s name when I wrote about your first record Faces Down in 2001. In retrospect, do you get what we were hinting at?
SL: Oh, absolutely. We were meant to be. Hearing Prefab Sprout made me feel understood. It was a major life event for me. Thanks for bringing Prefab to my attention.
Like Costello, you appear to be a music nut, and you compiled a huge and quite exciting playlist for (Norwegian streaming service) WiMP a few days ago, featuring songs you’ve been listening to prior to and during the recording of Please. How does other people’s music affect your own?
SL: In the past, when I was growing up, I think some of my influences became more than just that. They became a part of my identity. I was accepting of the fact that for a long time I had no one to share my musical interests with, and so those interests take on an even more significant role. As I’ve grown older, the music is still as important, but the identity other artists provide me with, isn’t as important to me anymore. If you were to ask me what artists inspired PLEASE, I wouldn’t know what to tell you.
Can you say a few words about the paintings (Norwegian artist) Lars Elling did for your new album and what prompted you to ask him to work with you?
SL: Well, he’s tremendous, and has been incredibly generous and kind in letting my music associate itself with his paintings. I saw one of his paintings in January, and instantly felt a connection between the imagery, the colors, the chaos, the beauty, the abstract, the baroque, the romantic - and the music that I was in the midst of. When I contacted him, he sent me a picture of a painting called Life Study, without really knowing much about my record. And I knew that was the cover.
|Lars Elling's painting Life Study graces the cover of Sondre Lerche's new album.
Both videos that have been made for the Please singles, “Bad Law” and “Legends”, must be labelled “playful”. As seems to be the case with the album, although it’s an excellent collection of songs, neither takes themselves very seriously. You seem to be at a good place right now?
SL: It’s been an intense year, in ways that I am thankful for, and also in ways that have been challenging. To me there is a lot of energy in seeing that you can get through something you maybe would’ve thought you couldn’t. It’s not easy, but it does give you hope, when you are able to get through it, and even feel good, feel thankful, and excited about life. That surprise is worth a lot.
Halfway reluctantly you have admitted that Please is your divorce album. Thematically, have you given any thought to how it compares to famous divorce albums like (Bob Dylan’s) Blood On The Tracks, (Marvin Gaye’s) Here, My Dear and (Bruce Springsteen’s) Tunnel Of Love?
SL: I like Blood On The Tracks a lot, but that is definitely a more caustic, bitter album, the way I remember it. I haven’t listened to it for years. I feel I remember Blood & Chocolate by EC being a break up or divorce record. That’s probably my favorite of the sort. It’s bold, brash, irrational and rational, bitter and loving. Seems about right.
Are there any songs on the new album that you are especially happy about or proud of?
SL: Well, as painful a song as Sentimentalist was to write and record, it is rewarding to see that it’s a song that already means a lot to people. It’s hitting people hard. Crickets, to me, is the best recording on PLEASE. It has a spontaniety and economy that excites me. It’s the first time I was able to write a proper song using only the same four chords over and over. A huge deal for me.
You live in Brooklyn in New York. Do you think the big city affects your songwriting in any specific way?
SL: Well, I like to live in a big, dynamic world. I travel so much, I tour, I walk in and out of all these settings, so I like disappearing into a big world, when I am in one place for a longer time. I’m sure that’s good for my work, although I couldn’t give you examples.
What can the audiences expect from the tour you’re embarking on?
SL: I’ve never paid much attention to anything but the music - I plug in and play, every night is different, I make it work. But this time I’ve become more interested in and aware of the visuals, and also respecting some of the elements in the recordings live. So I’m trying to create a more full on experience, creating a show, rather than just playing a concert.
Finally, I’d like you to compile a very short playlist with the five or perhaps ten songs that mean the most to you. Not your own, obviously. Up for the challenge?