Efterklang play two shows in Ireland later this month – Casper Clausen talks to Conor about visiting the Arctic, pick-up orchestras and releasing movies…
You began preparing for the new album Piramida with a visit to the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. Why did you pick that location? How did the trip come about?
Just after the release of our previous album Magic Chairs, we received an email from a Swedish film director, including a small presentation and some photos of the town of Piramida. We were immediately fascinated by the place. A year later we started brainstorming on ideas for a new album, and it soon became clear that we wanted to use a specific location/place as a starting point and inspiration for the new album. Piramida seemed like a perfect place to start and a great adventure.
I believe that island is owned by Russia – was Russian state permission needed to spend time there?
Rasmus spent around a year trying to get permission from the Russian coal mine company that still owns the settlement. It wasn’t easy at all – after many emails, faxes, letters, and friends of ours visiting the Moscow office, we suddenly got a response from a German/French tv production company. They took us under their wing and we could finally prepare our trip in August last year.
What particular plans did you have before recording this album? Did you have any major departures (thematic, musical) in mind after Magic chairs?
Well, we wanted basically to do an album that was studio based. We wanted to have a focused and isolated period of time compared to the previous one. Magic chairs was an album we made on tour, we tried the songs for an audience before we actually played them live, we wanted it to work as a band. This time, we wanted to make a studio project, where we were allowed to do exactly what kind of experiments and ideas we wanted, and it shouldn’t necessarily be physicalised. That was the first step that we decided on and then after that there were a lot of things. For instance, our drummer left the band so we started to work with Budgie (Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Slits). And we had a big choir actually, from where the three of us grew up, it was a girls’ choir, so we got the chance to work with them. I think basically we wanted to go back a little bit in time, in our way of working. We wanted to go back and focus in the studio, make an album where we weren’t supposed to go out and do things in the meantime, just focus on this thing. That worked pretty well actually because when you listen to this album compared to the last one you’ll definitely hear a different kind of room and feeling. It makes a lot of sense that this record’s been made this way compared to the last one.
The bits I’ve heard of the album so far sound like they have a pretty strong soul music influence…
I’ve heard that a few times now, it’s funny. I mean, I like soul music, there’s a lot of great soul music. Especially, say, vocals and horns too. If you take someone like James Brown, or someone like that, I think there is a certain kind of sensibility in the sounds, a feeling of the music that is admirable. I just watched this guy Charles Bradley the other day, he reminds me a lot of James Brown. He ended the concert in one big hug with all the audience. After that concert you felt exactly the same way, this intense love for everyone. That’s something that fascinates me. When you hear the full album, there will be more of that kind of influence. I’m not exactly sure where it comes from.
As you say, when you’re intent on playing together in a room, music can take on a life of its own, go beyond where you had planned it to go.
That’s true. But anytime we make music, it’s always our intention or dream that the music will lift itself somehow, that you will lose the grip of it and it decides its own way. You’re just there to formulate a starting point.
You’re playing two dates in Ireland, at the Fringe Festival in Dublin and the Opera House in Cork, with what you’re calling The Major Lift Orchestra. Who or what is that?
As far as I know, it’s an orchestra that has been put together for this event. It’s an idea that is connected to the Cork Opera House and they are doing different shows with different artists with this orchestra. We worked with Cork Opera House before, last year during the Steve Reich Festival, and got to know the guys there. It was just a wonderful show, playing there (the actual gig took place at the Savoy Theatre, part of The Reich Effect Festival – Ed.) and working with these guys. So we’re really looking forward to this concert.
What kind of lineup or instrumentation is involved?
When we wrote this album in Sydney we had to make some compromises because we couldn’t have an entire 50 or 60 piece orchestra. So we took out the woodwinds, keeping the string section and the horn section. And then we have a percussion player. We are a group of 7 people but we also have 3 choir girls, 2 local and 1 that we bring with us, Budgie on drums, Peter Broderick playing the piano. There’s going to be about 25 or 30 musicians onstage, something like that.
I see Matthew Coorey’s name mentioned, who is conducting the orchestra. How did that contact come about?
Matthew also directed our first show in Sydney. We made contact with him through another conductor, André de Ridder. He’s a Berlin conductor who’s working quite a lot in the crossover between bands and orchestras and he mentioned Matthew to us. I think Matthew is one of the best conductors we’ve worked with in the sense of him understanding what we are doing and also what our motivation for music is; at the same time, being like a classical conductor that can translate that to an orchestra. So it’s really fortunate to have such people with us.
It’s a corny question in a way, but what do you make of Irish audiences? You’ve played here quite a few times at this stage…
I like that you call that a corny question. I might come out with something that is a corny answer. I mean this from the bottom of my heart. I think the best way to describe it is that there is always something happening. You see, we’ve been going to Ireland when we’ve been playing England, Scotland and so on, but there’s always something happening when you cross that water there to Ireland. Suddenly, everything just gets a little brighter, the people start smiling a little bit more, there is a much lighter and much nicer, and for us much more recognisable, belief in life, I think. In Ireland, there’s always a great vibe there, you always get a great feeling from not only playing there but just being there.
So even before you get on stage, you notice a difference?
There’s a big difference I think. You know, when you travel around you notice there’s a difference in the way people look at you when you walk down the street. In Ireland, there’s always a good vibe, there’s always a good contact with people, even offstage.
To go back a year or two, the film you made with Vincent Moon, An Island – which became something of an international cult phenomenon really, with hundreds of Private/Public screenings all over the world – how do you reflect on that whole experience now?
That whole idea is something that has stuck with us. It’s also something that we’re going to use again in the future. It was just so well received, and not only well received – I think there were over 1300 screenings – but we got so much feedback from people, sending us e-mails saying, “it was a wonderful evening, screening the movie”. All these new people got turned on to it. I think the project generally with An Island, not only the film but everything around it, generated a lot of inspiration. For instance, there is a scene in the beginning of the movie with us going into a barn and collecting sounds. That scene and that play that we made there actually inspired about 50% of going to Piramida and making this album. It was really just a movie full of great things happening. And working with Vincent Moon is always a great inspiration. Besides that, the idea of releasing a movie…I mean you had to kind of break your brain to figure out a way to do it, and that’s kind of how that idea came out, of doing the Private/Public Screenings. We didn’t exactly know how to release a movie. We knew how to release music.
Declaration of interest – I staged a screening of the film myself, here in Cork, at my home. And as someone who was at the user end of the project, I must say it was very easy to do. Obviously the convenience of technology plays a huge part in that, but it struck me as something that almost anyone could do.
Oh great. That was our impression as well. The biggest issue in this case was, because it was a music movie, to at least have some speakers, but generally it’s an idea that can be done pretty much anywhere.
Any plans for more film or cross media work in the future?
Actually, as we speak, there is a guy working on a film for Piramida. We went up there with a documentarist as well, who followed us around for the nine days we were there. We also met an old guy who used to live in the town. So right now, we’re working on a film about the trip, but also about the settlement of Piramida itself. That’s quite exciting, to see the way that will end. We hope to be able to finish it this year and put it out. And again it’s definitely one of those crossover projects, the second film we will produce, in a way, it’s really interesting. We’ve all got hooked on this idea of working with people from other artistic genres, to come up with different projects. It’s funny because we get quite a lot of art requests. Sometimes when you just look at yourself as a band, it doesn’t allow you to do too much, but when you open up a little bit, as we’ve been doing over the last few years, then you can do quite a lot of interesting things. The other day we got a request about doing an opera. I mean, those are the kind of things when you start thinking, well, “where to start”. But those are also the kind of projects where you learn the most actually, and they can inspire other music-related work.
Finally, what music are you listening to at the moment, apart from your own?
Right now, I’ve been listening to Tinariwen for a long time. Besides that I’ve been listening quite a lot to Bill Callahan, his last two records, I’ve had a big thing on him for the last year. Also, the new Julia Holter record.
Efterklang play Meeting House Square, Dublin, Fri Sept 14th, as part of the Absolut Fringe Festival, and Opera House, Cork Sat Sept 15th, with The Major Life Orchestra conducted by Matthew Coorey
Their 4th album, Piramida, releases on Sept 24th on 4AD