Sondre Lerche on the Pursuit for the Perfect Song

Categories: Concert Preview
Sondre_Lerche_Ruvan_Wijesooriya.jpg
Photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya
Sondre Lerche transitioned from his birthplace in Norway to his current home in Brooklyn a little more than a decade ago. Although he could have been content tagged as simply another effervescent balladeer, to his credit, he's consistently resisted typecasting and dabbled in mainstream pop, edgier rock, Brazilian beats, and even a gentle jazz sway. Although he's remained consistently melodic, each of his six albums -- including a soundtrack commissioned for the film Dan in Real Life -- has become a singular statement defined by an ever-shifting muse.

Lerche's latest, a self-titled effort released this past spring, again emphasizes his ability to spin beguiling melodies that afford instant appeal. We happened to catch up with the 29-year-old Norseman at the conclusion of a European jaunt and just before he embarked on a brief Stateside tour that brings him to the Culture Room on Thursday. It had been a rough couple of days, thanks to a flight that was delayed more than a day by the brutal October snowstorm that suddenly pulverized the Northeast and left it reeling under a blanket of sleet and snow.
 
"I had a direct flight from Bergen to New York, but it was canceled when I got to the airport," he explained over the phone. "A flight that was supposed to take eight hours ended up taking 26 hours altogether. So we went to London, and there was a lot of waiting. It had been a really long tour in Europe, so it was really exhausting. But I got home eventually, and I had a lot of sleep." 

And indeed, a man known for his smooth croon couldn't have sounded more relaxed. And no, there's no discernible Scandinavian accent.


So you're a transplant to this country. 

Yes, I am. 

How long have you lived here? 

More or less the last six years, I guess. On or off. The last couple of years, we've been here full-time, and now I've got a green card and all that stuff. [chuckles]

Being here probably puts you more in the center of things than Norway would. 

I find it really exciting to be here. In the beginning, it was an exciting adventure to live somewhere else and to have it be New York and to have an audience here and also in other parts of the world. It's just thrilling, so I followed it. 

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 makes you so prone to shifting direction so frequently? 

I don't know. I guess it's really rather selfish because I'm just trying to keep myself engaged. The challenge was to see in a way how different the sounds could be in a way without the songs suffering. 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. For a couple of years, I was really interested in contrasts, and so for the album Phantom Punch, I had this need to go into more physically intense music. I had done a couple of records where the physicality was more subtle and restrained, so I was really interested to see what happens to the song if it's around pure physical force. To have these relatively complex pop songs played as if they were punk songs I thought would be a fun thing to explore. And then Heartbeat Radio was just songs that came at the same time, but they were decidedly different, and that wasn't even meant to be a record. It was just having fun in the studio. It was very sort of unambitious, but at the same time, it came out sweetly, and we made a record of it. I always end up going towards the opposite once I've done something. My impulse is to explore something that's directly opposed. 

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

It always comes from 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 possible in the studio basically. 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. 

It's great the way you've been able to absorb all these different styles and find a place for them in your music and then bend the boundaries accordingly. 

Music was the only thing I was ever interested in. I wasn't into sports or anything like that, so it became all-consuming in a way when it came to music. 

Your ability to pull people in is inconsistent throughout all your albums, and the ability to achieve that is quite admirable. 

I'm always most concerned with just the song and if the song can be enough. You record it and arrange it and do a lot of different things to the song, but at the end of the day, you only have the song -- that's all you have. Maybe because I've toured a lot solo, and this tour that I'm doing now is semi-solo. I'll do some songs with my opening band, Peter Wolf Crier, backing me, but most of it will be solo. So all there is, is the song and the emotion and excitement you can create out of that onstage in front of people. It really is a great challenge, but it teaches you to trust the song and do everything you can to make the song connect with people. 

Contrary to what people may have thought in the past, there seems to be some wonderful music coming from Norway recently. What's your view of the scene over there? 

I met with a lot of people in the local music community in Bergen who affected my music and my thoughts about music in the beginning, and I know a lot of great music has come from Bergen especially and continues to do so. It's fascinating. It's a small country, but there's a lot of a lot of really interesting music coming out of Norway these days. It's not the most obvious and mainstream stuff; it's more niche music, but it's really interesting. I think Norwegian music is most interesting when it's not trying to compete with the big mainstream formats, because that race is already run. I think when we take advantage of the unusual perspective that we can have on different genres and different kinds of music, a lot of time, it's really interesting stuff that comes out of it. 

Sondre Lerche. With Peter Wolf Crier. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, November 17, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15. Click here.

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