What were you up to between the ages of 18 and 21? Perhaps you were doing exactly what most of us did during those carefree times — wasting away the day in a dead-end job, drinking cheap beer and living off Ramen and cereal. Or, if it happened to be Election Day, chances are you were doing anything but voting.
Such sins of apathy and sloth could certainly be forgiven if you somehow managed to squeeze in time to write some of the world’s greatest 21st-century songs. Unfortunately for most of us, our biggest accomplishments didn’t extend beyond rising from bed before noon or leaving the couch by sundown.
For 21-year-old Sondre Lerche (pronounced SAHN-DER LAIR-KAY), life at 18 began with his Virgin Records’ debut Faces Down. Virtually overnight, the album was vaunted as a genius work, drawing comparisons to a host of well-known singer/songwriters. Some have likened his style to Beck, Mason Jennings and others with a modern appeal, while his similarities to classics like Elvis Costello, Jeff Buckley and Burt Bacharach are unmistakable.
With his latest offering, Two Way Monologue, the Bergen, Norway native has proven he is no one-trick pony. In fact, he has literally taken everything that was beautiful and right with Faces Down and used these ingredients to generate a more fluid, focused sound. While many herald the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon as the master of grand orchestrations of throwback folk-pop, Lerche has truly struck a chord (so to speak) among critics with his more-grounded, less-esoteric take on the classic pop model.
In advance of his Colorado tour dates, Sondre spoke with Kaffeine Buzz to discuss his ever-increasing success and his place in today’s watered-down music landscape.
Kaffeine Buzz: How has the response to your latest album been? It appears it has been overwhelmingly positive.
Sondre Lerche: Yeah, it has been. It’s been even better than it was with the first record. All of the reviews and even the sales — it’s just been an improvement on all fronts, so I couldn’t be happier. I really hadn’t expected that.
KB: From a local perspective, the college radio stations like Radio 1190 have been giving you a lot of airplay. So, it’s good to have a channel in a city like ours where music like yours can be played.
SL: Absolutely, because that’s a difficult thing for the kind of music I and a lot of other indie bands do. It’s really hard to get airplay, so college radio is so important to this kind of music.
KB: With Two Way Monologue, were you able to do some things with it that you didn’t do with Faces Down? Or, in looking back at Faces Down, did you say, “Well, this time around, I want to accomplish certain things”? Or were they just two separate things as far as you were concerned?
SL: No, I really think that the second record comes as a reaction to the first one. So, it definitely was about exploring things that I didn’t do on the first one. I wanted to get into one direction rather than covering a lot of different directions that I felt I was doing on the first one. I was just making each song a different color. With this record, it was just trying to go for one shade and explore that one. I like to say it’s more of less.
KB: So would it be fair to say that Faces Down was, to a certain extent, a compilation of all of your work to date, or songs you had been writing for years?
SL: Yeah, it was essentially based on the creativity you have when you discover stuff for the very first time and the kind of energy that comes with that. It was definitely a much more varied compilation of songs.
KB: As a musician, you obviously have the license to do any style you want to do. What prompted you to move your talent in this direction and explore this style of music?
SL: I guess I just felt that I really didn’t want to keep doing music in the structure that we know as pop music. Obviously, I work in the field of popular music, but I just wanted to do something where the structure was different and more creative and awkward. There’s something really conservative about a lot of pop songs and how they are constructed. And at the time, I wanted to rebel against that and do the opposite and make them less predictable and less easy to be around.
KB: I’m completely ignorant when it comes to the music scene in Norway. Do you find that the people there are fairly receptive to what you do?
SL: I have a lot of friends in Norway who do really great music. So I find a lot of great company there in just meeting people who share an instinct or intention or an interest in related sounds. There’s a great scene for creative pop music in Norway. It’s nice to see you’re not alone in your search for music.
KB: Do you find there’s less pressure there for you to have some sort of measure of success and that it’s more about music and doing music for its own sake?
SL: Yeah, I actually do. I’ve never been really ambitious in those terms. It has just happened, and I think that’s a good thing because those kinds of pop stardom ambitions never got in the way of the music. Looking back now, that seems kind of rare, because a lot of the time the competition between the local bands is so hard. People just want to get ahead all the time, especially at a young age. People lose their musical ambitions to ambitions of proving their worth and being successful or getting away from their hometown and making it big. I never experienced that kind of focus.
Sondre Lerche will play The Trilogy Lounge in Boulder on Nov. 22 and 32 Bleu in Colorado Springs on Nov. 23.