Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Natural curiosity drove Sondre Lerche to explore sexuality, pleasure, and the art of living in the moment on his new record, Pleasure. During the last leg of his US tour, the Norwegian singer-songwriter spoke with T&E Collective over the phone to discuss these themes, the new album, and the tour.
The new album, Pleasure, plays with this idea of living fully in the moment and focusing on the things in life that give you pleasure, but also knowing full well that it’s not a place you can stay in forever. I want to talk about this juxtaposition you used to develop this theme – you use these pleasing, shiny pop melodies contrasted with more serious, emotional lyrics. What does this contrast say about how we can feel this internal split or limbo state when we’re living just in pleasure?
That’s a really good question. I think for me, that contrast is reflecting on the idea that ignorance is bliss, and you can choose to live in that ignorance. Sometimes I think it can be necessary. You can indulge in pleasure and live on the surface, even though you know that at some point you need to come out of it and confront the bigger things.
I think Pleasure as a record really tries to find that temporary place where you’re living on the surface, and testing how long you can stay there. Meanwhile, there is a subconscious or deeper understanding that’s presented with the lyrics to create that sense of back and forth and separation. This juxtaposition that you mentioned reflects on how this state of being isn't so carefree, even though you'd like it to be.
This album is the first time you’ve incorporated personal reflections of gender and sexuality. What processes occurred that allowed you to open up in this way, and what aspects of your gender did you consciously want to incorporate in this record to develop the themes of the album?
It’s funny, because all of these processes are not necessarily conscious decision...like there was no conscious decision to say, “I'm going to take on this-and-this”. It more-so reflects a natural curiosity or something that I may be fixated on. When you go into making music and you’re fixated on an idea, it’s usually because you’re ready to find out what it’s all about and what it means to you personally. In the past, these were things that I subconsciously or consciously shied away from because I wasn’t ready for it. I think in a way I was drawn to these ideas, and because I was ready to explore these themes it became a part of my vocabulary.
For me, this record is both about inhabiting the traditional masculinity and critiquing it at the same time. In a sense, that’s really what a lot of this record is about. It’s sort of juggling the absurdity of inhabiting something while also being able to stand outside of it and ridicule it. Both processes are very much a part of the human experience. As far as discussing sexuality, it’s just something that I finally managed to incorporate and talk about more openly in my music. It’s something I’ve wanted to include before but haven’t really found the vocabulary for it. I hadn't been fully confident enough to inhabit that character of myself into my music.
Things change with time, and various parts of your life evolve at different times, and then it just comes out like it’s no big thing. And then, of course, you’re wondering what kept you so long.
Lately, you've been discussing how you're more conscious of the visual representation of yourself and your music. This has shown in your recent music videos, but I’m also interested in the color palette that’s surrounded the art, videos, and sometimes even mimicked lyrically. There are a lot of softer, pale, pastels colors – what do those colors represent in the themes of Pleasure, or maybe even specifically the notions of gender you’ve incorporated in the album?
It’s interesting because I’ve worked with a lot of different graphic designers throughout the years, and for some reason they always come up with a lot of pinks and pastels in their visual interpretation of what I do. I’m very fond of the visual artist Jeremy Blake and the color schemes he’d use in his animations, so I’ve always wanted to find a way to incorporate that into my art, It ended up kind of naturally happening for this record. A lot of the colors in the album, like the pinks and violets and blues, help combine the two portraits of myself on the cover. It became a visual language that I feel really specifically connected to.
These colors also, in a way, represent the euphoria of being on the dance floor and being on stage. This kind of euphoria is something I really connect with and want to express constantly. I guess I'm on the stage more, but the stage is my dance floor. Right now I've sort of transitioned from the phase that was represented by Pleasure, I get to revisit it on stage every night, so there's still a part of me that's staying in touch with all these themes.
Your recording process has changed a lot with this album. Instead of constantly writing until you had enough material, it was more relaxed and collaborative. Is this process of working more in the moment something you gained because you explored these themes in this album? Or was the album was a reflection of your newly developed writing style?
I'm sure it's a bit of both. It's a tendency that I started with on Please, the album that lead to Pleasure, in the sense that I just thought more methodically about it. I wanted something new to happen. I was tired of the same old cycle that I had done time and time again. I wanted to break the cycle of writing x-amount of songs and scramble to find one that works. You commit all your time, effort and money to this kind of recording scenario, and then you make the album and that's that. I wanted to lower the bar, for a lack of a better phrase, so I didn't have to risk so much in the process. This way I could let more things happen naturally and see what kind of collaborations could fall into place.
So yes, with this new technique, I don't have to risk so much in the process. I could write a song here and there, and later on I could see if it would connect in the bigger picture. Maybe that songs would become a record, but if it didn't then it wouldn't be a disaster. This whole ideology for the record seemed to come out of that, and it coincided with me being more conscious and specific when it came to the narrative of Please and Pleasure. I wouldn't end up just picking up the best songs in the moment, but the songs that would work together and help form the collective narrative that I feel connected with. It feels like a truer, more artistic away of making a record because it wasn't about just my work performance or songs that will do best in a live setting. It was simply that these are the songs that you need to hear right now.
You’ve stated how you’ve always been intrigued with this quote from Elliot Smith where he says that his favorite point in a song or album is where everything changes. Did you have a favorite moment like that on this record?
Yes, there are quite a few moments like that on this record. There's a lot constantly changing, and I think change is a good key word for the chaos and almost identity-crisis moments that happen throughout the record. For me, it feels like everything is changing on this record all the time. But it's strange, because after I finished recording, those changes don't sound like change anymore. It all sounds completely natural. I guess that's the beauty of it. All of these things can sound wild or overwhelming or confusing, and it was like that to me at one point. Then it just becomes a part of your vocabulary, and it becomes a natural interruption that I wouldn't want to be without.
It's so hard for me to hear or completely understand how others would hear my music, so it's hard for me to fully answer this question without my bias. There are some songs, however, like "Serenading in the Trenches", that definitely shifts gears a couple of times. "Bleeding Out into the Blue" is another track that surprised me. We went further sonically than I thought we would go, and that pleases me. It's really exciting to me, but again, this all feels natural to me now.
You mentioned how because of your previous writing style where you were working on so much material simultaneously, there are bridges between albums that sometimes only you can see or appreciate. When you yourself look at all the bridges between your albums, do you see a common thread that ties them all together?
I think I've become more comfortable with the fact that thing is just me. It's something that really frustrated me when I was younger because I wanted to get away from sounding like myself. As I've gotten older, I've become more appreciative of the fact that I have a personal sound. I can come up with a lot of shit, and in the end still just sound like me.
I really tried to push the envelope a lot of times and people would still say it sounded like me, and I always thought that was so disappointing. I wanted people to think, "Wow! This doesn't sound like him at all!" But now I love the fact that I really get to explore, experiment and express my own passions and confusions and still sound like myself.
That's something that I think I recognize now in all my records: this is who I am. I've always been true to my desires and passions for who I was at the time, and I still own that now. I haven't made a record that I want to forget or I would want people to forget, so I feel really good about that. I still feel very comfortable with revisiting different things I've done, and I guess that's what ties everything together. Even though it might seem pretty scattered and some might feel like it's been a strange path, it's genuine all the same. And that, to me, is a lot of fun.
Lastly, I just want to bring up how great this YouTube channel is that you and your bandmates created reviewing candle smells.
*laughs* Thank you! You know, it's a profound passion that we've acquired. I'm glad that there are people out there who enjoy it just as much as we enjoy it ourselves.
If you could describe this tour just in scents and smells, what would it be?
Hm, well that's a great question. I'm currently in the tour van on the last leg of the tour. We made these candles specifically for the tour called Sondre's Scented Pleasure, so actually the whole van smells of these candles because they've been in the van all day and some have melted in the car. So the whole van smells like a bonfire or a burned down cabin because that's the scent I was going for -- Grandpa's Burned Down Cabin. That combined with the van smells...it smells like a burned down van [laughs]. And we love it. I couldn't think of any other scent to represent this tour better than the one we're all stuck in 24 hours a day.