Ten years after forming in 1998, Junior Senior disbanded and guitarist/lead singer Jesper Mortensen left London for his native Denmark, only to realize New York was the place to be if he wanted to find someone to share in his journey to create a truly unique pop group. In a stroke of brilliant luck, Leah Hennessey was the first person he met in the city. “Jesper had written a few songs and asked me to listen and give him my thoughts,” she recalls. “Listening to the songs, I realized that he was asking if I wanted to sing and I was like, ‘Are you asking me to be in your band, because I can do that.’” Mortensen then persuaded his long time graphic designer friend Christiansen to learn to play bass and move to New York. The trio started rehearsing in the spring of 2010, and after countless demoralizing drummer auditions they finally met DIY-loving, Portland, Oregon native Olivia A. through all-girl drummer mag, Tom Tom Magazine. MAKE OUT was ready to go.
Trading on Mortensen’s manic take on pop music and the musical sensibility Hennessey developed from her own frenzied upbringing (and influence of her stepfather, The New York Dolls’ David Johansen), the band hooked up with producer Nicolas Vernhes (Dirty Projectors, Animal Collective, The Fiery Furnaces) at his Rare Book Room studios in Brooklyn. We caught up with Jesper and Leah the day after their official debut at The Mercury Lounge in NYC to hear how it went, and what its like trying to reinvent pop music.
OS: For those who haven’t heard you yet, how would you describe MAKE OUT’s music? How is it different from or similar to Junior Senior?
JM: We make rocking pop songs. And hopefully we’ll make great records. That’s what we want. Junior Senior was what happened when Jeppe and me made music together; even though I wrote the songs and lyrics and arranged (for the most part) it, I could never have done that without Jeppe. He was in my head all the time when writing music and what we wanted to do was something we established together. Now I have Leah and MAKE OUT in my head all the time and what we have established we wanna do together.
OS: Jesper, you decided to move to New York to form a new group after Junior Senior broke up. Why did you feel that New York would be the best place to start this group?
JM: I got bored in Copenhagen after I moved back there from London. And London didn’t agree with me. Even though English people are a lot of fun to be around and I love their music culture. But I couldn’t keep up with going to the pub every day, I need to get some work done too. I always liked New York, right now it’s the place on the planet that seems the least depressing to me. Also, I could not find any like minded and especially talented people to make music with in Copenhagen.. So I took a chance, like ABBA
OS: You released your first single, “I Don’t Want Anybody That Wants Me” recently. How has the song been received so far?
LH: I like the idea of a song being received—it’s like a gift. In that sense I think IT has been very well received—reports are streaming in of kids/people jumping around their rooms singing along and all that. I saw our music video director jumping around to it during the shoot, that was thrilling.
OS: You recorded your debut EP with Nicolas Vernhes (Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors). What made you choose to work with him and how did he help you realize your vision for the record?
LH: Nicolas was very open to our ideas about the record, like when we said “What about like, ESG meets Bruce Springsteen?” he was far out in space far enough to take it seriously, even when we weren’t sure what was a joke ourselves. Nicolas likes to hear what the music is saying, like, literally. He listens for words in the rythms, it’s adorable and only a little ritualistic and creepy.
OS: Your first show together was on December 16th in New York City. How did it go?
LH: Our first OFFICIAL DEBUT show, yes, was on December 16. It was great! The sound system at Merc is phenomenal. I think people were very charmed and excited, I was.
OS: Leah’s stepfather is David Johansen of The New York Dolls. What kind of influence did he have on your songwriting, live performance and musical taste?
LH: Maybe this would be a better question for Jesper, haha. David’s my mother’s boyfriend and he’s been like a father to me for a long time. I think he has the influence on me that any wildly supportive genius madman father figure would have on any young artist. I believe there’s a sort of contagion of mimicry that happens between family members and especially among performers, but I’m sure the ways in which I’ve ripped D off already are unconscious. He’s a sultan though.
OS: You’ve said that if the rest of the world were making this kind of music, you would be doing the opposite. Why do you think it’s so important to go against the grain?
LH: I think some people are blessed with artistic impulses that are completely physical, they’re headless, and maybe they don’t have to think about the context of their work, but I at least think about too much, and I have fun thinking about music especially. Of course I don’t want to do what everyone else is doing, it’s not fun. I’d rather be doing something peoplet think is awful and stupid than something passable and cool. I honestly haven’t heard any bands around going for the sugar rush of simple pop lately, and I think we’re doing it damn well.
OS: What are your plans for 2011 after the EP is released?
LH: Tour the world, write more songs, see where Jesper’s from.