Progress Report: Sondre Lerche
NAME: SONDRE LERCHE
PROGRESS REPORT: Norwegian popsmith puts the finishing touches on his long-gestating sixth album, Sondre Lerche.
As most songwriters will tell you, it takes a lot of work to make easy, breezy pop music that actually sounds effortless. No one understands this more than Sondre Lerche, a songwriter who, since the wise old age of 17, has released over six albums of the breeziest, pitch-perfect pop music this side of Scandinavia. In the years since 2002’s Faces Down established him as a kind of baby-faced wunderkind, Lerche has consistently upped the ante with each successive release. Moving from the jangly, Prefab Sprout-like pop on early releases to flirting with garage rock, jazz, folk, to more orchestral, expansive pop music on 2009’s Heartbeat Radio, Lerche is a deft songwriter capable of working in a variety of genres. Given that contemporary music journalism is so often obsessed with only the new and the weird, Lerche’s talent as a songwriter in a grand, old-fashion tradition often goes woefully overlooked. Now over a decade deep into his career, Lerche doesn’t appear too worried. This summer he’ll release his sixth studio album, Sondre Lerche, an album whose looseness generally freewheeling vibe apparently stems from having been made with and among old friends.
“This is the first record I’ve made with friends that I’ve met here in the states,” says Lerche. “I used to mostly record with musician friends from back in Norway, but this time I wanted to change things up. I wanted to make a record that reflected my life here in New York City.”
For the new self-titled record, Lerche spent many months recording demos in his basement, a process that over the winter of 2009 and spring of 2010 proved exceptionally fruitful. Once Lerche had amassed a large batch of songs (“I must have written over 40 songs,” he says) he set about the task of figuring out how best to assemble a record. “The only thing I knew was that I wanted to record the album here in Brooklyn and that I wanted to invite lots of friends to play with me,” he says. “The rest was kind of a mystery.”
As it turns out, he’d only have to travel a few blocks from his house to make it happen. “I had become friends with Nicholas Vernhes who runs Rare Book Room Records here in Brooklyn,” says Lerche. “It just seemed very natural to do the record there at his studio. Nicholas had a miraculous three-week opening at the studio at just the right time, so I decided to have that as my deadline. We had to move very quickly, which is what I wanted. We had two weeks to record and one week to mix, which meant we really had to trust our instincts. I wanted to do things really fast this time, I didn’t want to lose momentum by overthinking things too much.”
The resulting album is definitely Lerche’s loosest-sounding record to date, but it might also be his darkest. “The process of making the record was really in keeping with the subject matter, which was kind of emotional for me but very much about moving forward. It felt really good. I wanted the record to sound gutsy. A lot of these songs came from really growing up and examining myself. Having been working since I was so young, I feel like it’s just now, as I’ve gotten older, that I’ve been able to really examine and address some of the personal stuff that other people deal with when they are younger. When I think about this record now, I don’t really think about in regards to the styles or the genres that inform it. I think about the feelings involved.”
Sondre Lerche features collaborations with Midlake’s drummer McKenzie Smith, as well Lerche’s longtime production partner Kato Adland. The record was also co-produced and mixed by Vernhes, who proved himself to be an invaluable addition to the crew. “He’d just sit at the console and listen while we played. If it sounded bad or something wasn’t working, he’d stop us. I could trust him that way. As long as he was giving us the thumbs up, we’d just keep moving forward. He was great quality control for us.”
For Lerche, the process of making a record, while difficult, is sometimes easier to deal with than the long periods of limbo that happens while waiting for said record to actually be released. “I never get used to it,” he says, “You know, I still work on music almost every day, but when you don’t have a sense of urgency about completing something, it can be weird. This is the downtime when I listen to other people’s music and try to discover new things. You know, I try to give some attention to friends and relationships that I might have ignored over the past couple of months. It’s nice to be able to do crazy things right now…..like go to the movies. You know, maybe I’ll stay out a little later than normal. It doesn’t sound very rock and roll, I know.”
Fans of Lerche can look forward to seeing him play later this year, though it’s unclear exactly what his live show will entail. “For this record I’ll probably put together a small band for some of the shows,” he says. “But in the past, my best touring experiences have usually been just me solo. I really just love being alone on stage. Maybe it’s because that’s the way I started out, but generally when I tour it’s just me and a couple of guitars up there. There is so much freedom in that. I like the challenge of being on my own. It’s like having this amazing, private conversation between you and the people in the audience. I love that.”
Sondre Lerche’s upcoming self-titled album is out 6/7 via Mona Records. Check out the first single, “Private Caller.”