Efterklang: We couldn't forget about the polar bears
Photo by Rasmus Weng Karlsen
Efterklang's Piramida might be the bravest record of the year. The Danish trio -- Casper Clausen, Rasmus Stolberg and Mads Brauer -- has always been dedicated to pushing the limitations of conventional sound. For them, that meant venturing to the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen -- today, it's an abandoned Russian mining town known as Piramida -- located somewhere between Norway and the North Pole, and braving the real possibilities of starving or being eaten by polar bears.
The result of this modern art-expedition is as incredible as it is interesting. As an album, Piramida is the rare example of a conceptual art project that started abstractly -- to take "field recordings" and make an indie rock album -- and ended up coming together beautifully. Ahead of Efterklang's show at the Cedar Cultural Center on Monday, March 18, Gimme Noise caught up with bassist Stolberg to talk about the recording process and Piramida survival tactics.
Gimme Noise: To begin the recording process of your album, you went to an abandoned Russian coal mining settlement. I'm not sure that your average American consumer of music is familiar with this part of the world, or what it means to be there.
RS: We didn't know what to expect, either. It was just an adventure, because we had no idea what would be up there and we weren't trying to be prepared. Well, we couldn't prepare properly. We thought we had to buy so much survival gear, and we couldn't forget about the polar bears -- you weren't allowed to travel a certain distance without a gun. We weren't sure what food would be up there, and it was a big mystery for us. It's the wilderness. It's arctic wilderness. It's essentially a ghost town that's full of stuff and full of so many buildings... It's really cool and really strange. There's still furniture and decorations in the houses that people lived in. It's a really bizarre thing to behold. It's incredible, and it's actually something we discovered by chance -- we were looking to make a specific expedition to make the new album, so we wanted to focus on field recordings and use that as a starting point for writing the songs, and while we were looking for pieces we were introduced to this place. We saw some photos and we just knew instantly without really knowing why that this is where we should go, and it suddenly became this idea that we couldn't really let go of.
How long were you there?
Nine days, collecting sounds and inspirations and drawing together and that was... nothing was composed before. That was the whole project: we wanted to go together and start together and we all have the same references and the same starting point, and that was really great. If we hadn't, we wouldn't feel as attached or wouldn't feel the resonance, because we hadn't gone up there and explored together. The songwriting started when we got back home, and it took us nine or ten months.
I have to ask -- did you meet any bears while you were there?
Thankfully, no. Lot of birds and a seal... The week before we went, someone was killed by a bear about where we were going to be, so we were really scared, but we didn't see any.
So you collected sounds from the nature at Piramida. Tell me how you used them on the album and what that process was like. How did the landscape affect your music?
When we got back, Mads started going through the electronic sounds--the memorable ones, the ones we wanted -- and he would spend a day or two playing, seeing how he could manipulate it. He would make some music using these sounds in a way, and we would come back and talk about what really excited us, and then the songwriting started, and that's how most of the songs started. Some of the other ones started from classic songwriting, from a piano or something... you have the instruments that also serve as the inspiration, which is just as important, I think.
A lot of the sounds we found up there... some of it was ambient stuff, a lot of it could be used in a melodic way, so we found things for pitch and then matched instruments to it. There's a lot of percussion stuff, vibraphone, some weird keyboards.
I've read various critics refer to what Efterklang does as "art-pop." What do you think when you hear that?
I don't know. We've been working hard to get here, but we don't know where we fit in. I don't think it's pop and I don't think it's rock and it's not really electronica, but it's still all of that together. I don't know what it means. It's also very melodic and we do experiment as well.
I read that you'll be touring as a six-piece while you're here. What can we expect from a live show?
We approach the live concert very differently. It's essentially... it's not a party, but... [laughs] I think we really enjoy playing music, and it really shows, and it's in our community and it's an uplifting feeling. When that happens it makes it all worth it, that's what we strive for, and we really enjoy playing live shows. We'll be playing a lot of songs from the new album and some from the old ones.
The last time you were in the US, you played the one-off at the MET in NYC. How long has it been since you've toured the US? What places are you most excited to visit?
It's been about two and a half years since we've done a full-blown U.S. tour... Well, the West Coast and Canada and Chicago and over to New York is usually our favorite stretch, but it's been a really incredible tour so far. We've been really lucky to have days off. We're in California now, and we stayed at Joshua Tree and Big Sur, and we're just enjoying the incredible nature here. It feels like almost a vacation on some days. That's really, really nice. [Laughs]
Efterklang will be playing at the Cedar Cultural Center on Monday, March 18. Doors at 7 p.m. $15. All ages. Details here.
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