SONDRE IN REAL LIFE Sondre Lerche

From Bergen to Brooklyn, the ever-adventurous Norwegian-born artist
consistently finds new inspiration.

BY LEE ZIMMERMAN

 

For a career that’s spanned little more than a decade,
Sondre Lerche has already had a remarkably prolific track record, one that’s
taken him from Bergen, Norway, to Brooklyn New York. While he might have easily been
tagged simply another softly crooning balladeer, Lerche has consistently
resisted any attempt to typecast him, and instead shown his fascination for
varying musical styles, from mainstream pop and edgy rock – to Brazilian beats
and a gentle jazz sway. Consistently melodic, he’s never shied away from
varying his template, making each of his six albums – among them a self scored
soundtrack for the film Dan in Real Life — a singular statement that reflects the lure of an unfailing muse.

 

Lerche’s latest, a self titled effort released this past
spring, is his most cohesive disc to date, one that spotlights his amiable,
breezy vocals and an ability to spin beguiling melodies that form an instant
bond with his listeners. BLURT recently caught up with the 29 year-old Norse
journeyman on the heels of a recent European jaunt and just prior to a brief
Stateside tour that also put him on the road throughout most of November.
Recuperating from a flight delayed more than a day by the freakish October
snowstorm that took the Northeast by surprise, he sounded well rested when we
spoke to him by phone from his Brooklyn home.

 

***

 

BLURT: You’ve had a very prolific and productive
career over the past decade. It’s interesting the way you’ve been able to
incorporate so many different genres into your various albums, be it the
jazzier approach a few albums back and then the harder rock effort you came up
with for the album after. What is it that has you prone to shifting direction
so frequently?

SONDRE LERCHE: I don’t know. I guess it’s really rather selfish because I’m
just trying to keep myself engaged and keep myself sort of… I don’t know. I
feel like the most exciting stuff happens when you’re not quite in your comfort
zone. If you know your roots and you know where you come from and you know what
you’re interested in, it’s really easy to just churn out the same stuff over
and over again and I think it’s really interested to see that all my songs, all
my songwriting is very melodic. It’s very harmonically rich, so a couple of
those records I did that were decidedly different. The challenge was to see in
a way how different the sounds could be in a way without the songs suffering.
The intent was to test the bounds of songwriting, because I believe that if you
write songs in the classic sense — the way I operate — there’s so much you
can do with a song and still retain the core of the song. I like to think that
I write really robust songs. A jazz player could do something with it or you
can play it on acoustic guitar and make it a folk song. I like to think you can
do all sorts of things if the source material is solid enough.

 

Does
that sometimes confuse your fans and critics who may think they have a handle
on your music, and then you go into the opposite direction on them?

Yeah… (chuckles)

 

People
like to pigeonhole people. Which isn’t so good for an artist…

I agree. I definitely think at times it probably is confusing (chuckles) and I
guess it should be. For awhile, I think, in the period of one and a half or two
years I did the Duper Sessions and Phantom Punch albums and then the Dan in Real Life soundtrack, which were
all very different just by the nature of the project and the musical
aesthetics. But I find I’ve been blessed with a very adventurous audience who
try to keep up. And if you put out a record that isn’t quite to everybody’s
liking, they can just take a break and maybe the next one will be relatively
different anyway, so they’ll re-board the ship next time. You make whatever
comes out of you and make the best of that. Hopefully you have an audience that
can come and go as they please in the same way that I as an artist will come
and go. So it’s a two way street. If people find it confusing, that’s totally
understanding and cool.

 

Because
your albums are so different, what comes first, the songs or the concept you
wrap them around?

It always comes from the songs. Therein lies the misconception that I just sit
down and, like, today I’m going to make an opera, which I haven’t done yet –
but it doesn’t happen that way at all. It just happens intuitively and through
the songs. The songs inform wherever it goes, and then of course your frame of
mind or whatever you’re interested in. That will sort of lead you. I think that
with the new album, it was the first time where I didn’t have a very clear
stylistic sense of where things were going. I just wanted to capture the
intensity of the songs and then try to make due with as little arrangement and
as little… as little as possible in the studio basically. I wanted to see how
much excitement and how much intensity I could create around any given song
using as few elements and ingredients as possible, and that became a challenge
that felt really pure and really true. So I have to admit that it felt good to
peel away any sort of stylistic concerns or any sort of direction that I worked
on in the studio on any of my previous albums. The album that I did before this
one, Heartbeat Radio, was very
“maximalist” – there was a lot going on. A lot of colors. So I guess this one
was sort of a reaction to that one.

 

The
lyrics on this album are fairly heavy and deep. On the other hand they seem
somewhat wistful. There are a lot of different levels there.
Yeah,
I think the lyrics were another thing that just sort of demanded more. I left
more space and more room. It would feel very cluttered to force the songs with
too much production or arrangement because the songs to me were more candid
than before. Everything I do is honest, but here it was more to do with reality
than an idealized take on reality. So it became important to maintain that and
to make sure the songs weren’t compromised, because they do deal with a lot of
stuff I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable explaining further. So I did feel
it was necessary for the songs to cover up in terms of the lyrics. I feel in a
lot of the songs the narrative drives the song much more than in the past with
me, so to me that was really exciting, but at the same time really frightening.
I felt very exposed, but that’s just how it goes I guess.

 

What
really made you want to make music your career? And when did you know you could
make it a career and you wouldn’t have to rely on a day job?

I always assumed that making a living from writing songs and performing them
and making records was out of the question. It wasn’t something that I assumed
could be done. So I was very realistic about it, but at the same time it was
the only thing I wanted to do. Music was the only thing that engaged me, and
while I tried to be good at school so I’d have something to fall back on, the
only thing that really drove me was songwriting. So I guess I was lucky that by
the time I finished school at 18, my first album came out and I did well
immediately because I was on a pretty good label and I had a good team around
me. Since then, I’ve made a living from doing what I do so I can’t really
complain. It’s been a blessing and I try to make it worthwhile and earn it by
staying true to what got me here in the first place.

 

Did you
come from a musical family or was there a lot of music played around your
house?

There was always music playing. It wasn’t a particularly musical family, but my
mother would always play pop music in the car and I do have to say that when we
moved into an apartment complex and they had cable TV and MTV, it was my first
encounter with cable TV. So once I had access to MTV – it was probably in the
very late ‘80s – I would watch it for hours and hours at a time. At that time,
MTV played a lot of music from the ‘70s and ‘80s. It was Nirvana one moment and
then Elton John the next, and a lot of Euro-dance… it was a complete mix of pop
music that hadn’t been formatted to the extent we’re used to now. And of course
now there is no music on MTV. But to me it was so exciting.

          Any music I
heard was exciting, and then you learn what you like and what you don’t like. I
think that played a part.

 

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