Interview: Sondre Lerche
[Sondre Lerche is at the
For a 28-year-old solo artist, Sondre Lerche has a catalog that would intimidate many an older musician. He recorded six full-length albums in eight years—the first one, Faces Down, recorded when he was only 18. A seventh, self-titled album is due out June 7. It will be the first release on Lerche’s newly-minted label, Mona Records.
The Norwegian singer-songwriter has multi-instrumental prowess, a knack for penning smart lyrics and catchy melodies, and a croon that could give Bing Crosby a run for his money. All that, and he’s charming to boot. TOB spoke with Lerche from his current perch in Brooklyn.
TOB: I saw on your Twitter feed that you played Dylan Fest last night at the Bowery Ballroom. How was that?
Sondre Lerche: That was really great fun. They do this every year, and then different singers come up and do Bob Dylan songs. Really good people showed up—Norah Jones and Regina Spektor and Nicole Atkins. I did “Ballad of a Thin Man.” It’s fun to sing a song that the guy who wrote it has reinterpreted so many times and in such radical ways. When you look at the different live recordings of that song, Dylan is so disrespectful of his own composition in a way that you feel that you can just do anything and it would be in the spirit of how he approaches his songs.
What made you decide to start your own record label?
I felt that it would be the best way to really keep in touch with my audience. I’m not a household, big name or anything—I have my audience and I’m lucky enough to make a living doing what I do. I feel like the more control I have and the tighter my little operation is, the better. I spent years on a major label when I started out and I’m thankful for that. But then of course the bottom fell out from under the whole major label concept. And you see artists like myself moving away from that model. I’m thankful to have a really good team to work with. I wouldn’t be able to do it all by myself.
It sounds like you collaborated a lot on this album, particularly with musicians from around Brooklyn.
Creatively, it was a really cool experience. I had made a lot of musician friends from living in New York, but we hadn’t actually played together, so I wanted to make this record an opportunity for me to explore some collaborations. I worked with fantastic musicians—the drummer from Midlake, Regina Spektor’s drummer who I met through my collaboration with her, and Nicholas Verhnes who co-produced and mixed the record. I felt like I just wanted to embrace the unknown.
What was the process like?
I wanted limitations in the way we recorded. I wanted to just have two weeks to record and one week to mix, and to record a bunch of it on tape so that you really have to commit to your instincts. With those kinds of limitations, you can’t really mess around with a bunch of half-assed ideas—you have be both constructive and extremely creative at the same time. And thankfully, it worked out. It feels like I’m at the beginning of a new cycle with this record. It truly feels like the best work I’ve done.
You’ve lived in the U.S. for a few years now. Do you feel like your main audience is in the States or in Norway at this point?
The last couple years I’ve been very preoccupied here with albums and touring and scoring Dan in Real Life, so I’ve been sort of drawn toward America. I’m excited about going back to Norway more and playing more shows. I haven’t really played proper shows there in years. I want to strike the right balance. I feel sort of distant from Norway, but at the same time it’s been really rewarding to be here. It’s all good, you know?
Do you like touring? You seem to really have fun talking to the audience when you perform live.
I really enjoy performing and being onstage and communicating with the audience in any way I can. A lot of these songs on the new record are a bit darker or more conflicted than some of the material I’ve done in the past, which has been more sort of dreamy. It gives me a lot of joy to actually be able to go out and play shows. Whatever you are expressing in the song, when you share it with the audience, you turn all of the negative stuff into something really positive. It’s something that is really profound and valuable to me as a performer. So I’m excited to go on this tour.
Where do the darker influences come from in the album?
There’s been a gradual transition, I think. My first album was about how I wanted things to be when I grew up, in a way. But ten years later, you find yourself much more interested in how you can see things for what they are and hopefully move on. It sounds depressing to say that it comes with age, but I guess that’s the way it goes.
Your music videos are very cinematic, especially the recent “Private Caller” video. Do you have much influence in those?
I can if I want to, but I like to collaborate with friends for stuff like that. “Private Caller” was a video that my wife actually had the idea for. We’d been re-watching Blue Velvet, and that aesthetic and that tone seemed like a nice way to complement the song and to link back to the album. So that one came out pretty cool. And I also wanted some hot chicks to be in it, basically. I’d never done a sexy video before.
Hot chicks are always fun.
Yeah, that was my only request.