by Graham Geren
Last Thursday April 21st, longtime UR Chicago favorite Trentemøller played an unforgettable set to a packed crowd at The Mid. For those fortunate enough to have witnessed this epic spectacle, this was a show that will not soon (if ever) be forgotten. Before the show, UR's Graham Geren had the pleasure of interviewing this somewhat enigmatic Danish musical genius, and got the man behind the music to shed some light on his creative vision, the future of his sound, and his favorite singer of all time.
UR Chicago: In previous interviews, you’ve stated that originally you were a rock music producer. What sparked your initial desire to create electronic dance music? Was the progression from your early house days on Naked Music to less-dance oriented, more organic music an intentional journey or did it come about naturally?
Trentemøller: It was just something that happened. I think I started out, as you said, playing more indie rock stuff. Then I got hooked on the whole house scene, back 10 years ago or something like that. But because I was playing with a lot of rock bands, I didn’t always feel that I was making the music I wanted to. It was much easier just sitting with my sampler and laptop and doing my own stuff. It was a little bit boring I found out later, because I missed the physical thing about actually playing instruments. In the beginning it was something I did out of a need for having 100% control. When playing in a band, you always have to agree with the other band members and you very often end up with compromises in a way, I think. But then again it was quite a natural development for me to incorporate more of this indie sound. It just happened. It was nothing that I planned, like, “now I’m gonna go from electronic music over to rock.” For me it’s more about blending different music styles and seeing what feels right. That was a long answer. [laughs]
UR: What is the future direction you would like to take your music? Do you see yourself continuing to become more organic in your use of instrumentation and songwriting, or do you see yourself returning to incorporate more electronic elements?
T: I think both things could happen. I don’t have any plans as to what I should do, but as I said before, everything is open. I like to take different musical styles, not only rock and electronic, but classical, soundtracks for movies, stuff like that, and meld it all together to what becomes my sound. So the next record might be more electronic or it could have a more rock-kinda-vibe. I don’t know, I guess time will show.
UR: Trent Reznor recently won an Academy Award for composing the score for David Fincher’s film The Social Network. Other electronic producers like Amon Tobin have composed music for video games. Do you have any desire to compose music for films or video games?
T: I actually did scores for two Danish movies, but they have mostly only been shown in Denmark or Scandinavia. I could definitely see myself doing scores for movies outside of Scandinavia. Making instrumental music is kind of like doing the soundtrack to another existing movie, and my music has these cinematic layers to it. So, it becomes quite easy for me to adapt to having some kind of visuals in my head.
UR: Do you often picture these visuals when you are making music? The covers for your albums like The Last Resort with the big spooky tree and Into The Great Wide Yonder with its billowing smoke — these images really fit the mood of the music. Do you have images like that in your head when you’re creating?
T: Yeah, but they are not so clear. It’s much more abstract in a way and not always visually. It can also be something else, just a vibe or a special atmosphere, but sometimes the visual side is part of making the music. I think most of the time it’s later in the process when we think about the live show and videos. It is not that much in the composing phase; it’s something that comes later.
UR: You recently produced the debut EP for Darkness Falls, the Copenhagen-based group fronted by Josephine Philip, who sang on your song "Even Though You're With Another Girl" and is part of your current live band. You also previously worked with and remixed singers like Anne Trolle and Karin from The Knife. How did these collaborations come about?
T: With Karin, back then it was The Knife. Olof, her brother, was making the music, and he was e-mailing me asking if I wanted to do a remix. I’m a big fan of their music so of course I really wanted to do it! Josephine and these other musicians are all part of a scene in Copenhagen. It’s quite small and people work with each other very much, even with different musical styles. Josephine is actually my girlfriend’s little sister, but that is not why I said I wanted to produce her album. She played some songs for me that really sounded great — good pop melodies with a twist of lo-fi, a 60s kind of sound, and also a little bit electronic. I thought it could be fun to take a step back to produce something not my own.
UR: Is that similar to how you ended up working with DJ TOM and Buda for Lulu Rouge?
T: Yeah, they are friends of mine, so sometimes we get in the studio and jam, drink some beers, and make some music. It's really kind of laid back. Sometimes we release the stuff, and other times it's not good enough, but it's fun. The Danish music scene is not all electronic musicians, I mostly hang out with people not doing electronic music; most of the time those producers and DJs are not that good at writing music. They are really good at making great sounds, grooves and beats, but as a whole, songwriting sometimes demands a little bit more. It demands that you have a background in playing something like a keyboard or guitar, and knowing something about chord progressions, melodies, and so on. I’m getting much more input from the friends that I have playing in rock bands, folk things, and stuff like that.
UR: Is that why your music has become less house-oriented, with less of the four-to-the-floor kick drum?
T: Yeah, yeah! Exactly, I was a little tired of it. Back then, about 10 years ago, I was making this kind of music, but never releasing it. Suddenly, I saw myself as a techno or house producer, and that was not solely what I wanted to be. That was also when I released my first album, The Last Resort. I tried to incorporate some other things; it was still very electronic but it didn’t always have that four-to-the-floor feel.
UR: Your songs display an immense attention to detail, from the intricately patterned glitches and tiny little percussive noises, clicks and pops on your earlier work, to the immaculately chosen huge reverbs and delays on your newer material. How long do you usually spend on a track, and how important are these minute details to you?
T: Those details are important but they are not the basis for my music, they are not fundamental. My music making is definitely trying to have a good melody, or some chords that really do something. It’s not about what it was before, with 16 bars of a loop and some drums — that often gets a little too boring. What I really like is listening to an album, then having the possibility to go back and find new details the fifth or sixth time you’re hearing it. Maybe you’re listening to it on your headphones, and suddenly you hear stuff that you didn’t before — things like that. So of course I spend quite a lot of time on songwriting and production, but for me the songwriting really has to have first priority. Nearly everyone can make good sounds with a laptop or with a simple setup, but the melodies, and the whole atmosphere and vibe are really important. So, that definitely comes first, but the nerdy stuff, the sound stuff comes later.
UR: That is one of the things that many of your listeners appreciate about your music, the details that give your songs such high replay value. What your listeners really respect is that, like you said, there are a lot of DJs that can make cool sounds, but they can’t really write songs.
T: Yeah, a DJ is more about making a party, and that is really cool. I really love going to clubs sometimes, but making music to me is about showing your feelings and being able to speak through music. That is the beautiful thing about instrumental music, there are no lyrics to dictate what you should feel. You can make your own pictures in your head; it’s not like “this is a love song” or “this is a sad love song about this boy who’s missing this girl.” You can still feel that longing, sadness, and melancholy in the music.
UR: You just played Coachella, and although you've been playing festivals in Europe for a while now, your American fan-base is still growing — how was that experience?
T: It was a really great experience! We actually played in San Francisco the night before and it was a really good gig, so we got quite drunk and partied in the bus all the way (to Coachella). It was a little bit stupid maybe, because we had to play that big festival, but you know, sometimes things happen. So, we actually all had quite heavy hangovers, and our guitar player was really feeling it — like 10 minutes before we went onstage he was feeling dizzy and was lying on the grass with his sunglasses on and I just thought — fuck man, we're too hungover for this! And maybe that was good, because then we weren't that nervous; we just went up and played. The crowd was so massive and really dedicated to the music, which really surprised me because I didn't know if anyone actually knew about the music. There was a really, really good vibe. I think there were 20,000 people, or something like that, before we even went on, and then suddenly (after we took the stage) there were a lot of people up front that were really into the music, and we got high on that energy from the crowd and it just took us to another level. So I think that was one of the best festival gigs we've ever had!
UR: What was your favorite gig that you've played?
T: I think it was Coachella and then the Roskilde Festival. Roskilde is a bit like Coachella but for Northern Europe, it's a very legendary festival that's been around for 30 years. We were on the main stage and it was just massive. We were playing to 60,000 people, so it was like... [!!!] We felt like U2 or something! [laughs]
UR: Lastly, what would be your dream collaboration? I previously mentioned Trent Reznor. I would love to hear a collaboration between you two, or maybe even a Trentemøller-produced Björk album?
T: It would be the biggest thing for me to work with Hope Sandoval. She is the lead singer of Mazzy Star, my all-time favorite band. She has a beautiful voice, and she appeared on the new Massive Attack album. She has a really, really beautiful voice; it’s kind of harrowing, so druggy, but in a sexy way, yeah.
Trentemøller’s latest single ‘Shades Of Marble’ is out now featuring remixes from Trentemøller, KINK, and Kasper Bjørke.
Shades of Marble on iTunes
Shades of Marble on Beatport