San Francisco is Sondre Lerche’s favorite city in America

I have been listening to Sondre Lerche’s music for over ten years, which is a very long time for me. Since 2001, Sondre has released eight diverse, genre-spanning albums, including the jazz-inspired Duper Sessions, and two film soundtracks, including a haunting score for The Sleepwalker, a 2014 film directed by his recent ex-wife Mona Fastvold and starring Christopher Abbott (Charlie on Girls). I have seen him perform at The Fillmore, Swedish American Hall (RIP), Great American Music Hall, Bimbo’s, and a handful of places in Austin, Texas. I have seen him perform solo, with a full band, and everything in between; whatever the configuration, he always impresses with his distinct voice and shredding guitar.

Sondre’s latest album, Please, dropped a few weeks ago. Please was written in the aftermath of his divorce with Fastvold, and with it, he reinvents himself again. The album’s first single, “Bad Law,” was one of my top summer jams, combining a super charismatic dance riff with chunks of distorted guitar.

This Thursday, Sondre Lerche is playing at The Independent. I had the pleasure of chatting with Sondre about his record, upcoming tour, the color of his music, the idea of guilty pleasures, and why San Francisco is his favorite city in America.

Tell us a little bit about your newest record, Please. I read that it was heavily inspired by your recent divorce. What was your process like? How was it conceived?

SL: I started out wanting to free myself from the regular recording cycle. I just wanted to do one song at a time, to be able to record instantaneously and enter into collaborations without having to carry the weight of the whole record. I just wanted to open up a bit. I usually write really thorough songs that limit what you can do in the studio, so I tried to open myself up to surprise, to surprising myself. There was a lot of music I was listening to that I realized comes out of a completely different process, and I was curious about what that is. So that’s how it started, and as I wrote more and more songs, I thought I knew what the record was about. And then all this stuff happened in my private life, that just forced me to reevaluate a lot of things. One of them was what this record was about; all of these other songs just started coming. I realized that certain things were more urgent than others, and the album just changed. I think it came out of the necessity of ventilating and trying to find reason in what is happening to you. And the studio is just the perfect place to figure out stuff, to get it out. I guess it’s a cliché, but it turns out it’s real.

MM: The first song on the record, “Bad Law,” is such a great dance song, despite being quite dark lyrically. What is that song about?

SL: It’s a song that took a lot of time to write. It started with that riff, and then I recorded the bass and drums, which was new – I usually start out with guitar. I had this idea of the sort of paranoia you feel when you pass through customs. As a Norwegian flying into the States, even though I now have a green card and have nothing to hide, I always feel a certain paranoia. So I wanted to play around with that ritual, where you feel so watched and pressured, that in the end you started doubting yourself, and maybe you do have something to hide. Maybe that’s how the police get people to confess things that they didn’t do. In the end, you’re just so worn down. It felt like a reasonable metaphor in the context of the record and everything else.

MM: And what happened to the protagonist in that song? I couldn’t tell if he had murdered his lover or if it was an accident.

SL: That’s a good question! I’m not sure how that guy is doing. In the first verse, it’s like he’s passing through a checkpoint, but in the second verse, I feel we’ve entered into a courtroom-type situation, and I’m not sure what’s happened in between. I think he ends up confessing to these things, and maybe he did do some of them, but for some of them, it was just easier to confess. It’s like in an argument, where you can’t really win, and it’s so bad and dark and the subtext is so heavy, and you end up saying, okay, you’re right, I guess I am that way. In the end, it’s easier to give up. But maybe it was all a bad dream.

MM: Do you think there’s a fundamental difference in the sound of this record, in contrast to your past work?

SL: It’s more stylistically and rhythmically concise. Instead of starting with chords or melodies, I started with rhythms and built the songs from there. There’s more collaboration, a wider spectrum of sound. And I didn’t want subtlety, I wanted things to be clear. The songs have a distinctive, important color.

MM: If this album was a color, what do you think it would be?

SL: To me it feels multicolored, like all of the colors of the rainbow. My last album felt more like earth tones, dark greens and browns, and Two Way Monologue is sort of beige.

MM: Yeah, “Bad Law” especially sounds like an explosion of colors to me! You’ve experimented with so many musical genres throughout your career. Duper Sessions comes to mind with its jazz influence, and Phantom Punch was a heavier rock album, and the score you composed for The Sleepwalker was something else entirely. Do you usually have a concept in mind for how you want something to sound? How does that usually come about?

SL: It’s usually informed by what I’m into or curious about at the time. It feels more compelling to explore things that are new to me. This album represents a curiosity with a more physical, rhythmic pattern that you can dance to. It ended up being half that you should dance to, half that you should cry yourself to sleep with. It was very inspiring to do The Sleepwalker soundtrack, because it was so freeing to come up with music for the kind of atmosphere that the film demanded. It was something I had done before [Sondre also composed the score to Dan in Real Life], but something that really compelled me. I learned a lot of from that, and a lot of that stuff is parallel to the recording of this album.

MM: What’s the plan for your tour? Are you playing solo or with a band? Will you be playing with the Faces Down?

SL: I have a new band. I’m going to tour with my drummer Dave, who is on most of the record, and a bass player who plays on a lot of the record; they’re both incredible musicians. The Faces Down don’t tour anymore. Kato, the guitar player in the Faces Down, produced a bunch of the songs on this record, and we’ve worked a lot together. But the Faces Down are ten years older than me, so they’ve reached a time in their lives where they don’t want to travel so much, but they’re in the studio a lot. But it feels good to have a new band. I’ve lived in New York for awhile, so I have a crew here too.

MM: Do you have any guilty pleasure listens this year?

SL: I guess I don’t like that term, guilty pleasure. I feel that in music, above all, if something gives you pleasure, you should not feel bad about it. But of course I understand the association, but it implies that you should feel bad for your taste and it classifies something as less worthy. I like to think that any music that gives you pleasure is good for you and that you should be proud of it. Just the last week, I had a friend visit, and he was really into techno. And that’s something I hadn’t really explored before, so I went with him to a lot of techno clubs. And it was so much fun, I was just completely hypnotized. But I wouldn’t call it a guilty pleasure, a lot of people are very serious about their techno.

MM: I was just thinking in terms of, you’ve covered Beyonce before, and while I don’t personally think of her as a guilty pleasure…

SL: Yeah, and I guess a guilty pleasure is also associated with… obviously I’m a music snob, I’m so particular about things I care about, so I know my taste can be pretty judgmental, although I try to remain open. I guess the term guilty pleasure is also often associated with extremely popular, commercial, accessible music, and I think there’s nothing better than the times when mainstream music intersects with my own taste. It happens rarely, but when it does, in the case of Beyonce and Rihanna, people who are really brilliant pop stars who have really wonderful songs, when that intersects with even a snob like me, I am really gracious. It makes me feel part of the musical common space of the world.

MM: Is there anything you’re looking forward to seeing or doing while you’re in San Francisco?

SL: San Francisco is my favorite city in America, I gotta say. It’s a place that I’d like to live. But it’s so far away from Europe, and it’s pretty expensive, so I don’t know, but I hope someday to live there for awhile. I’m forever fascinated with San Francisco because of the association with Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and also The Birds; one time I went to Bodega Bay just to see where The Birds was filmed. So I have a fascination with San Francisco that’s very physical and magical. I look forward to being in San Francisco again, I hope I have some time to walk around and enjoy myself. And I hope people will want to come out to the show. I think we’re gonna make people dance this time. And then we’re gonna break them down and make them cry, and then we’re gonna make them dance again.

See him live this Thursday:

Sondre Lerche, TEEN
The Independent
October 9, 2014
8pm, $15 (21+)

2 Responses to “San Francisco is Sondre Lerche’s favorite city in America”

  1. Herr Doktor Professor Deth Vegetable says:

    As well it should be, seeing as how SF is the greatest city on Earth.

  2. helloroboto says:

    ha! he made one person dance, me!, it was a pretty dead audience tbqh