Listening to an Efterklang album is a lot like getting lost with the band
in a luscious greenhouse. You are surrounded by fertile soundscapes.
The Sturm Und Drang of EFTERKLANG
These Danish Wizards of the Cut-and-Paste Invite You to Get Lost in the Landscapes of their Music
The music stops and the atmosphere in the Biltmore dies. Soundcheck is done. The sound tech is happy and the small army that makes up the nine-person travelling band known as Efterklang make their way for the door. Tasty sushi dinner beckons.
I take a deep breath. You favourite reporter has the unenviable task of corralling this band for a chat. Who will win? Hungry stomachs? Or the chance to talk about music? It is not an easy contest, dear readers! We walk halfway to the sushi place on Broadway and I finally convince two members of the band, Casper (drums/singing) and Rasmus (bass), to return to the band’s tour van outside the venue for some conversation.
I adjust one of the seats in the van. Casper coughs, clearing his throat. Their ride is pretty deluxe. Usually tour vans are cramped spaces with no headroom. This van has a high, dome-like ceiling and a rounded design, making it seem positively European.It's just hard for us to answer "Why we sound like a Nordic band?" or "What it is about the Nordic music that makes it Nordic?" We don't really know.
Efterklang may sound clunky and awkward in English—but in the band’s native tongue, Danish, the name means “remembrance” or “reverberation”—a perfect way to describe the band’s live presence. These Danes are marching across North America to spread the word about their latest work, Magic Chairs, the follow up to 2007’s magical Parades.
Scott Wood: You guys seem so nice and mild-mannered. What do you hate getting asked in interviews?
Rasmus [chuckles]: We don’t have any hate questions, but sometimes we have to answer questions about the “Nordic sound”...
Casper: Oh, there are some stupid questions!
Rasmus: Stupid generic questions: What is your favourite color? What celebrity do you have a crush on? Those questions are very stupid. If it should be about about Efterklang, it’s not a stupid question. It’s just hard for us to answer “Why we sound like a Nordic band?” or “What it is about the Nordic music that makes it Nordic?” We don’t really know.
Casper: It was a good answer!Hvass & Hannibal were going to do a video. They were trying to figure out what they were viscerally seeing from the song. They had it all scored out and there was like a forest and a hill and a parade that was walking up the hill. And once they got to the top, they were jumping off a cliff and ending up in the water at some point.
Scott Wood: It was a good answer! Thanks. [They both laugh.] I was reading an interview with you guys and you were talking about “touring life” and how “boring” it is...
Rasmus: Oh really?
Scott Wood: Yes—but I am not finished. And how you love it that there are nine of you on the road together because, if you get bored of talking to one person, there are eight others to talk to.
Casper: I think the question was “if we ever get bored from touring.” It’s true that when we are so many people that we can just flip to the others side and there will be another person, if we get tired of the guy just next to us. We really don’t consider ourselves being tired of touring or being sad about it. Actually we really like that part of it. It’s actually really, really nice. There are hard days, but in general we are really happy with touring. Sorry for correcting you.
Scott Wood: No, no. This is fine. That part isn’t really what I wanted to discuss. I really wanted to ask: Since you guys are good friends,can you talk about the last time you were tired of each other?
[They whistle under their breath, thinking.]
Rasmus: I dunno. We are good friends because we spend so much time together and we have this thing together. Sometimes it’s more like a little family. And, you know, in families you can yell at each other and then half-an-hour or half-a-day later, it’s completely forgotten because you know you can’t really get rid of each other and you know that you love each other. When you spend so much time together, then of course, you get tired about some stupid comments somebody is making...
Two of these members of Efterklang gave up their sushi for
this interview! Casper (on the left) and Rasmus (second from left)
had growling stomachs the whole time.
Casper: It’s always very small things. Could be, we are rolling t-shirts for merchandise. We have this system. It is usually Rasmus or Thomas that have a system for practical things, how to do stuff or pack stuff up. And then once they cross paths at some point, one has one idea of packing things... It’s always very stupid and that happens on many levels with different people: small things or things that have been building up.
It’s pretty normal or human—sometimes you need some aggressions to go away and when you are sitting on this bus and if you were joining us, you would probably have the same feeling after a certain amount of time. You need to get rid of some energy against a person or, just in general, because you are feeling tired of something. I guess if we were home we would have the same sort of... You know, if you have a girlfriend, then it is the same sort of stuff that is going on.
Like Rasmus is saying, it is like a family at some point. The difference is this is something we do for quite a lot of the time. We can’t really escape this—it is just a bus and we are just sitting here. When we have to drive from Chicago to Seattle for two and a half days, we are just sitting here. This is just what we are doing. I guess it’s normal. We haven’t had any big stuff yet.
Rasmus: Many years ago, we had a practice of doing everything together. We would meet up in our rehearsal space several times a week and spend hours trying to figure out how to play songs and how to do this and how to do that. And in those early days, quite often, it would end with us sitting in circle debating, “Why it’s not working out?” “I wanna do this and you wanna do that.” I think after our initial years as a band we sort of figured out. “Ok: I am good at this and he is good at that.”
I think we are very good at accepting what each other are good at and also accepting that Casper does that, and, Thomas, if it is something about that, then it is his part and I do something else. It works out really great actually. I think we are a very nice band to be around—compared to other bands.
Scott Wood: Yes, you are very sweet guys. I read this great quote about how your music was about inspiring pictures in your fans minds as they are listening to the music. This sounds like a neat way to communicate with fans and potentially to get an interesting dialogue to happen.When we play that song I am in that park. The song is called "Full Moon" and that is the vibe I have about this song. It is a little scary and a little dark, and I combine that in my head with those lovely Chinese people singing in that park.
Casper: Uh, Woah! When we discuss music or when we make music, we like to picture a setting of what we are doing—Mostly because we are not like a rehearsal band, standing and playing a song all together. It’s mostly ideas coming from me and ‘Mas. The music starts from one or two persons. From there, it’s more like us debating the music and trying to figure out where to take it and what to change and stuff. In that phase of the music, that’s where we use a lot of pictures and trying to picture what we are doing and what we mean and where we want to take the songs and stuff. So, we use pictures for ourselves.
It’s also true that we like the idea of people having images when they are listening to our music. It is also something that we hear from people—I am trying, at the same time, to think of someone with a good story. When we did “Mirador” from the Parades album, we worked, as we have been doing for a long time now with Hvass & Hannibal (Hvass&Hannibal, an art team, is the mastermind behind the critically-acclaimed artwork for Efterklang's One-Sided LP, Under Giant Trees, Parades, and the "Mirador" music video).
They were going to do a video for that particular song and they actually were listening to it a lot beforehand. They were trying to figure out what they were viscerally seeing from the song. They had it all scored out and there was like a forest and a hill and a parade that was walking up the hill. And once they got to the top, they were jumping off a cliff and ending up in the water at some point. Quite a lot of it made it to that video, “Mirador.” But that just sort of stared out being some sort of idea of what they were seeing as they were hearing the song.
Quite a lot of times, we talk about it and debate it like a journey. Usually pretty Mario Bros.—It is not 3D. It is like an avatar walking through the picture from left to right and then stuff is happening. That’s the pictures we use a lot.
Rasmus: One thing is that, this part about visualizing the music, and having other people do it for us, or also doing it. A lot of our music videos—that is somebody’s visual image of that song. It happens quite a lot that people send us music videos. We don’t ask them do videos and they send us a video. Quite a lot of times, we really, really like the video that they make and then we ask if we can make it an official video.
There is a video for a song called “Illuminant” by Tobias Stretch (www.tobystretch.com). This video explains the song in a completely new way. I really like that. That was one of my favourite Efterklang videos. He just wrote us an email if he could do a video and he wanted to do it for that song. We said, “Go for it!” and then we didn’t hear from him for six months—and we thought, nothing happened. And then he just emailed us, “Here’s the video!” We downloaded and looked at it and it was like, “Woah! This is incredible!” That’s an incredible thing. You can make music and somebody can listen to that music and come up with a world of images that you could never have thought of yourself.
Scott Wood: Cool can you guys take a song of the current record, Magic Chairs, and talk about the images that you see while you play it?
Casper: “Mirror Mirror” is an old song that we have been playing for a couple of years now live. I think the picture of the song there was a static setting: Very green in a garden, very idealistic in a way. The mood of the song was this sort of garden by morning time. It has a piano line that is not moving too much. The song is pretty static in the way—I mean it builds and stuff—but it is static in the way that it is made. The setting to me is a very green garden. I think that was the picture of that song.
Rasmus: There is a song on the album called “Full Moon.” In that song, we use a field recording of a huge choir in Beijing, China. We were out on tour and we were suggested to go out to this park. Very early in the morning in this park, there was so many elderly people doing exercises—a lot of funny things: they walked backwards; they played weird ball games. We walk around in this park and suddenly there is 300 of them gathering around this choir leader and they started just singing, crazy Chinese songs. They were almost screaming the songs out.
Casper managed to record it and we used it for “Full Moon” as a choir in the background, which is an edit a small piece of that, of them singing. When we play that song I am in that park. The song is called “Full Moon” and that is the vibe I have about this song: it is a little scary and a little dark, and I combine that in my head with those lovely Chinese people singing in that park.I think in our early years we were trying very hard to define what Efterklang isn't. For many years, we did not allow high hat in our songs. You cannot hear high hat on Tripper or Parades. No high hat. We set up these rules because we were trying very hard to figure out what we were and we were doing that by defining what we weren't.
Scott Wood: There is a 3-year gap between Parades and Magic Chairs. I was reading a quote about Parades that it was “a puzzle of 200 sound files.” Parades was so well-received, so what was the process to make Magic Chairs?
Casper: The process was very different. It was a response to the process we had with Parades. It’s true Parades was a big Frankenstein project in the sense that there was very layered work and there was very rarely people playing together on it.
And that’s what we really wanted to make with Magic Chairs—was to make us play together. We were very inspired by us playing live, at that point. We wanted to take the live band that we have and take a picture of that and make a record around that live band instead of adding too many things on top of that. So we did that, and most of the songs were recorded together as a group.
We went into the studio and played the songs together, like a normal band in some sort of way. That was sort of a new way for us because usually we have been very much locked up in studio work, sitting in the studio and isolating ourselves. It was very different—also we took the songs around in North America as well. We had a whole US tour, taking those new songs with us, and playing those songs live, and trying to get used to them, and rearranging them here and there.
This thing of just taking the songs with us and trying playing them and playing them as a band, this was sort of the new thing about Magic Chairs that we really hadn’t tried before. That was the idea of it and that was very different from Parades.
Scott Wood: There is this great quote on how your earlier records were more “virginal.” How is Magic Chairs more sexually experienced?
Rasmus: As a band especially, I hope we have matured in many ways, but also hoping that maybe in other ways we haven’t matured, because I also like that fact.
I think in our early years, we were trying very hard to define what Efterklang isn’t. We were trying very hard to say to Efterklang is not that and that. For many years, we did not allow high hat in our songs. You cannot hear high hat on Tripper or Parades. No high hat. We set up these rules because we were trying very hard to figure out what we were and we were doing that by defining what we weren’t.
And I think one way we have matured is that we have sort of realized because we have this band and we have been doing this for 10 years together, and it’s the only thing we do—it’s not like we have other bands on the side or when I am not doing this I go out and I play Bryan Adams songs in a pub or something like that—it’s only this music we do.
We figured out that we can actually we can actually do a lot of things and we don’t have to be too afraid of incorporating elements that seem “wrong” because most often we realize that we can actually make it into something that feels like Efterklang. And that’s the way we have matured. We are more open to incorporating new ideas and maybe things we wouldn’t do before.
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