Sondre Lerche talks interpretation and musicianship

Sarah Midkiff /
May 3, 2017 / Culture

Only in his early thirties, Norwegian artist Sondre Lerche is a music veteran.

With 10 full length albums, as many EPs, and a movie soundtrack to his name, Lerche has touched on innumerable genres since recording his debut album at the age of 17. Even with all this stylistic range, he describes his music as “pop music that leans in different directions.”

His most recent album Pleasure was released last month and is described stylistically as being influenced by “the shift between the 80s and 90s in commercial danceable music.” Sonically bombastic, “boisterous and unreliable” in his own words, Pleasure strikes a beautiful balance of the poetic and the danceable, the modern and the nostalgic in the form of synth-pop. “I’d like people to dance with tears in their eyes to this record,” Lerche shares.

Recently wrapping up a 50 show, extended tour in Norway, Sondre Lerche and his bandmates of six years were met with the sad news that two of them had been denied visas and would be unable to do the North American leg of the tour only four days before the first show in New York. “I wanted to cancel the whole thing,” Lerche confessed, likening tour life to being in a bit of a bubble. “Honestly, on a personal level it was devastating.”

With the quick thinking of Lerche’s longtime friend and drummer, Dave Heilman, the North American tour was saved. “I couldn’t have continued on if it weren’t for my drummer Dave, who remained rational and constructive amidst all, and found two great players who learned my songs in literally one day,” the singer emphasised to Heilman’s credit. “They’ve been so diligent and committed.”

Keeping it all in perspective, the band has continued with their newly assembled lineup around the United States before finishing the tour in Canada. “I’m sure this happens to people all the time,” he continued. “The fact that someone I don’t meet gets to decide which musicians are acceptable for me to perform with – this is not manual labour, that any player can just do. It’s something entirely different – the amount of work, dedication, skill and rehearsal it takes to get to the point we are at creatively right now, is pretty significant. But I’ll leave it at that, don’t get me started again.”

Tour disruptions aside, the album itself represents much creative and personal exploration for the multi-instrumental musician. Much of the album explores sexuality, masculinity, and questions of gender roles and gender identity as a prominent lyrical theme. “I’ve been passionate about it, I’ve had ideas and ambitions, but I haven’t been able to come up with anything I found worth sharing,” Lerche says of the topic. He explains that he found his own vocabulary for it in his songwriting while working on the songs for the album. “I probably haven’t felt secure and comfortable in that part of myself. This time the feeling was very different. I felt free and confident within my own body in a way that was new to me. And so I was able to address a bunch of things that were new to my work, in a way that I felt motivated to share. I’m just looking for that feeling that I really need to share this, it’s really all a feeling. By the time I made this record, I wasn’t really thinking, just feeling things.”

During his show in New York, Lerche described the creation of Pleasure as starting right where his previous album, Please, left off. While discussing the timeline and evolution of the album, he shared a story of one song that almost didn’t make the final cut.

“‘Reminisce’ was the first song we recorded that ended up on Pleasure – it was originally written in 2012, and we started recording it later that year, on the same day we did ‘Lucifer,’ which was a Please song. Throughout the Pleasure process, as it became clearer to me what I was going through and negotiating lyrically, ‘Reminisce’ just felt less relevant and I was gonna leave it off the record, to my bands frustration.” The singer decided to give it one last shot by writing all new lyrics to the song.

“This was a day before we were mastering the album, so it really was in the 11th hour,” he explained. “I was on a night train and stayed up all night writing, recorded new vocals in the morning, and flew the new tracks into the mix just in time to master it. Then I lived with it in and out of the running order for a while, and it just felt right. Like the final word, a final summation of the chaos at the heart of Pleasure.”

While some songs change meaning or style during the recording process, others take on a different meaning once released. The single off the album, ‘I’m Always Watching’, paints an almost cinematic picture of the voyeuristic component of modern, romantic relationships. Since the release of the song and subsequent music video, fans have interpreted its meaning in a variety of ways, though for some there was a disconnect as to the romantic sentiment behind the song.

“I don’t mind people interpreting my lyrics differently,” Lerche asserted, adding context to the meaning behind the album’s single. “The plot twist is that it’s not just some horny creep watching an innocent woman from afar and on social media – it’s two people who have a long history together watching each other, almost playing a game. You could say they are both creeps in a way. But it’s describing a very real, modern and, to me, romantic scenario – that is of course also very frustrating and heartbreaking in its own way. But the moment he comes clean in the third verse, and then the last chorus switches from “I’m always watching” to “I know you’re watching,” it becomes a love song.”

In the end, Sondre Lerche remains appreciative of both the personal and shared impact music can have. “I always wanna make something beautiful that people can find themselves in,” he expressed. “I know I am using my music to sort out myself, and so I just trust that others will find use of it also. But generally, I like the idea that you make something bold and beautiful from all the frustration, sadness, disappointment – or joy, for that matter – and turn it into something really tangible.”

Words by Sarah Midkiff

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