Sixties pop, melodic indie rock, contemporary jazz, Brazilian psych-folk, singer-songwriter—these labels don’t quite do justice to the ground that Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche has covered in his ten-year career. Which is why it’s amazing that, at age twenty-eight, the Bergen native just released an album that marks several firsts. It’s the first album he’s recorded in New York since moving there in 2005 and—despite being his sixth studio recording—it’s his only self-titled work, which is fitting given that the new processes he employed and themes he explored on the record have helped forge some of his most personal, honest work to date. We sat down with Lerche to talk about how his new methods impacted the album, compare the musical cultures of his two homes and learn what he would sound like if he put out a black metal record.
OS: You’ve drawn from influences that range from garage rock to jazz over the course of your career. What sort of influences will we hear peeking through on the new album?
SL: The thing with this record that was new to me was that it wasn’t so much a genre thing. The songs felt really candid to me in a way, both musically and especially lyrically. When I started thinking about making a record out of it, I thought it would be weird to dress these songs up too much and make them these experimental, stylistic exercises. I immediately knew I wanted to see how much I could get out of pure elements. So it was more a matter of stripping things down and really enhancing the atmosphere of the song and the narrative, the underlying dramatic movements… The songs also are much more concerned with reality and how things really are, and in the past I’ve had a bunch of songs—not all of them, but a lot of them—have been much more concerned with how I would want things to be. They’ve been about this idealized vision, which to me is really truthful and comes from a place of honesty. But these songs just demanded a different treatment because they’re much more here and now and dealing with things as they are. Or trying to figure out how things actually are.
OS: Do you think that new process was a result of this being the first album you recorded in New York?
SL: Maybe it was. It’s always hard to sort of trace what influences what, and what makes you do what you do. But I definitely felt the need to make a record where I live, and I’ve lived in New York the last six years but I’ve traveled almost everywhere else to make records. It was important to me to find a studio in the neighborhood… here in Williamsburg—ideally, I wanted to be within walking distance. That was what I was hoping for. And I found this studio, Rare Book Room, where a lot of my favorite records of the last couple years have been made: Dirty Projectors, Spoon made a lot of their last album there, Animal Collective, Deerhunter. Nicholas, he’s worked with a bunch of my favorite bands, so we hit it off pretty quickly and I thought the pairing of him with my old buddy Kato [Ådland]—who I’ve worked with ten years—the pairing of those two characters would be really stimulating and exciting. The two of them hadn’t ever met until our first day in the studio, so it was pretty exciting to see how it would go. And I wanted limitations, also. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to lose focus. I wanted to serve intuition, in a way. And instinct. So we had three weeks to record and mix the album. And also, it was a great opportunity to work with a lot of new friends from New York who are really great players but who I really hadn’t worked with in the studio. I had a bunch of people I wanted to bring in. So we’ve got McKenzie from Midlake playing drums, and Dave Heilman who’s a really great drummer also plays on a lot of the record. And he’s in my live group now, so he’ll be going on tour with me the next month.
SL: Well, I’ve never been a fan of self-titled albums as a concept. There’s a lot of self-titled albums that I like musically [Laughs] but I felt like a self-titled album would be a missed opportunity in a way, because you could find a really great title for it. I thought it was sort of giving up. And in a way, it was. I was chasing the title for this record, and usually I know pretty early on what the title is going to be, but for this one I didn’t really have a clear title. I became really obsessed with the idea of finding the perfect title, and I couldn’t really find it. I started having these dreams where titles came to me, and I woke up from one of them and had the feeling of having found the title. But I couldn’t remember what it was. So I just decided, “All right, I’m going to leave it open, in a way, and I’ll fill in the title if I remember it later.” It’s self-titled, it just says my name, but hopefully that’s all you need to know. And in a way, it’s also because it’s a bit more stripped-down, it’s a bit more introspective. It makes sense.
OS: But despite not being a fan of self-titled albums, your album artwork has always been just a picture of you.
SL: It’s strange. I feel in a way that I’m sort of old school. When I go through some of my older, favorite albums with singer-songwriter types or solo artists, it just seems sort of classic when you have a picture of [the artist] on there. I wouldn’t mind mixing it up and doing a cover without my face on it, but I haven’t really found a piece of artwork that I feel represents the music more. And because I perform solo a lot of the time… it just seems like a classic format, in a way. I actually just received the album from the printer today, and I noticed, wow, it’s a close-up, this one.[Laughs] But yeah, I’ve yet to find a piece of art that would make sense, and that would feel specific to the music. It’s the same with the title—I can think of a lot of nice words, and there’s stuff from the sentences and lyrics that I could use, but it would have to really click with me and really feel specific.
SL: I’m not very technical, so I’m not one to say that one is always better than the other. A lot of my albums we’ve just done digitally, with Pro Tools or whatever. We’ve taken advantage of the accessibility of technology that makes recording possible for us. And I’ve done home recordings that have turned into songs and albums. I definitely think that’s a great thing, but for this record we had access to a tape recorder and we didn’t want to do too much with the songs—we wanted to leave them pretty raw. When you record on tape you can’t really edit, and you don’t have the advantages that you have digitally when you can always second-guess and go back and change. When you record on tape, it’s final, and I like that sort of commitment. You have to really commit to, “Okay, we’re gonna use this take. There’s a little mess up on the third verse, but I don’t care. I love the overall vibe of it.” So you commit more to an atmosphere. That felt much more right for this kind of album.
OS: So after spending a few years in New York and completing your album there, how does the city’s music scene compare to that in Norway?
SL: In a way, Williamsburg feels a little bit similar to the music scene in Bergen, where I’m from in Norway. Bergen is sort of the indie rock or indie pop city of Norway, and there’s a lot of great bands. In addition to that, it’s also the black metal center of the universe. So there’s definitely a varied scene, because Norwegian black metal bands are pioneers in their field. Bergen is an amazing music town, and I think that’s why I’ve kept going back there to record. I’ve been very attached to musicians and studios there. And living in Williamsburg, it feels like it has the same size. It’s like a little village. Bergen is not a city, it’s a little village. A little town. There’s a lot of collaboration and side projects. People start their own labels, and their own companies, and put out their music and their friends music. So in a way, the vibe is a bit similar between Bergen and Williamsburg.
OS: That’s pretty funny. I’m trying to figure out what it would have sounded like if you got into black metal instead of pop.
SL: Well, that’s the thing! I’ve spent a couple of records trying to see how far I could push going into different directions and still sound like myself. I’ve worked really hard to test the limits of this, and I feel like I could do almost everything and I’d still sound like Sondre Lerche. But I would like to test that—maybe I should work with some black metal people and see how that would turn out. Would it still be me?
Check out Sondre’s latest single “Private Caller” below, then head on over to AOL Music and stream the full album!