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If there’s one description that always holds true for the Danish band Efterklang, whose music varies from indie-electronica to a sort of modern folk, it is that the band defies easy categorization. For their third full-length album, Efterklang, well known for a strong DIY ethic, decided to depart from the tried and true formula of controlling every stage of the production process and outsourced the album’s mixing to famed British producer, Gareth Jones. Yet Magic Chairs is in line with the band’s philosophy that each album should be different. Where the Springer EP was smooth and cinematic and conjured up images of desolate Nordic landscapes, the debut album, Tripper, maintained the cinematic feel but was slightly more upbeat with more electronic blips (what some might call chilled electronica with an edge). Sophomore release Parades was folksier with a much bigger sound yet a still noticeable electronic element. And Magic Chairs is a bit quieter, softer around the edges and, at times, more accessible, but has elements of each record that preceded it. What all the releases have in common is the band’s use of many varied instruments ranging from piano and synthesizers to horns and strings (along with the standard fare of guitar, bass and drums), an interplay of male and female vocals as well as beautiful choral harmonies and, finally, orchestral leanings.

Efterklang’s live shows are impressive, whether it’s the pared down six-person live band, or a full-on appearance alongside the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. The band formed in Copenhagen in 2001, self-released the first EP in 2003 and has been gaining traction outside Scandinavia over the last few years. A lot of attention has followed a few high profile performances with orchestras in Denmark and the UK in 2008 and 2009. With previous releases on the band’s own label, Rumraket, and on The Leaf Label, Magic Chairs (released February 2010) is the first on the iconic 4AD label.

In another first for Efterklang, the band started out the tour for the new album in the U.S., instead of Europe. I caught up with lead singer Casper Clausen as they were in the van driving somewhere between Portland and San Francisco.

So a lot of things went awry just as you were about to begin this tour, including your violinist, Peter Broderick, having to cancel because of an injury and you arriving in New York with your voice on the rocks. I’m sure there are many of us who are very glad that the band decided to go forward with it in spite of everything. How’s it going now?
Yes, we had a lot of things happening when we started our tour, but right now it’s nice. We’re in the van driving, listening to The Beatles and watching the California Hills go by outside. The more south we go, the better it gets. The weather helps a lot — today the sky is completely blue and it’s shorts and t-shirt weather, so it’s very nice [laughs]. But touring the U.S. is not the easiest thing for us to do. We have many people in the band, and it’s a lot of logistics that go into a tour like this. At the same time, it’s the first tour since the release of our new album, and we really want to do it well. When things are turning toward you it’s sometimes hard, but it’s funny how things turn around. We’re all pretty relaxed about it now.

The 2009 release, Performing Parades, was recorded live with the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. How did Efterklang come to work with such a large-scale ensemble?
There’s a new, young producer of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra in Copenhagen, Karl Bjerre Skibsted, who’s doing a lot of interesting projects and collaborations, trying to put the orchestra in un-classical situations and to push them in new directions. They first did a project with Under Byen, another Danish indie band, in 2007. Then he asked us if we wanted to collaborate, and we said of course and were the second band. So we had some meetings to figure out what sort of thing we would like to do, anything from concerts to recordings. We (Efterklang) had this whole dream of actually playing Parades at once, as one big orchestra, and we tried to set it up right after the album was done. Parades itself is very sort of fragmented and layered and there are very few things that had been played together. So Performing Parades was as an old dream of trying to recreate that and make it happen at once. When that idea came up, we all agreed that it would be the perfect way to do a collaboration.

And naturally this lead to Britten Sinfonia wanting to work with you.
Yes, when we played the concert in Copenhagen there were people from this festival in Leeds (FuseLeeds09 Festival), who were very excited and wanted to do something similar there and combine us with the Britten Sinfonia (British chamber orchestra ensemble). Then once we were playing in Leeds, there were people from The Barbican in London who wanted us to play with the Britten Sinfonia there.

It’s something we do as a rarity, once in a while, but once we do it always seems to generate more projects like that. We have another one coming up with an orchestra in Amsterdam in June. But our idea is not to do it too much, as we don’t really want to make such a big tour. The concerts themselves are very nice, but they are also big monsters in terms of logistics matters. It’s always like a big circus to make it work, but it’s very nice once it works. So we try to keep it to one or two or maybe a three a year.

I was excited to hear about the move to the 4AD label, as it’s long been one of my favorites. Do you think that the attention generated by the orchestra concerts lead to signing with them?
I think there are many reasons why we’ve signed with 4AD. We’d always been inviting people from 4AD to our shows, from their different offices to the concerts that we’ve been playing over the years, and we had a lot of good responses. But what really happened is that good friends of ours, Bryce Dessner from The National and his brother Aaron, sent our Parades album to Roger Trust (A&R at 4AD, also The National’s label). Bryce and Aaron really liked the record and wanted Roger to listen to it, and he fell in love with it once he did. When we played SXSW last year, the whole 4AD office was actually in town and saw our show, including Roger. We really like 4AD also and have been happy with the things they’ve been putting out. Plus it felt like a nice step for us going from a smaller label (Leaf) to a slightly bigger label but one where the core is still people who like good music. We never pictured ourselves on a major label like that, so for us it’s a big dream to be a part of that family.

In the past Efterklang has handled all of the production aspects yourselves, but this time you went outside the group, using Gareth Jones (known for his work with Depeche Mode, Einsturzende Neubauten, Wire, Grizzly Bear and others) for the mixing. How did that come about and what motivated you to go outside?
We’ve always tried to control the whole process. It’s sort of scary to give away the responsibility, and for us it was a big thing, sort of frightening, to hand away the last stage of work on the album. It’s usually Mads (Brauer, Efterklang’s keyboardist, programmer and beatmaster) that does the big work on the production, and he is very much into that.

So, one reason for doing it is that it was also absolutely a challenge and fun for us to try to do something else. This album was recorded in a much more conventional way than our previous albums. We actually had drum tracks, guitar tracks and bass tracks, and it was much more understandable — the files and tracks of these songs were much more understandable than previous albums. This allowed us to communicate with someone else, like Gareth, where we didn’t have to explain too much what each file was and each detail. With Parades, we spent a lot more time explaining to people what that album was about, while Magic Chairs was easier to grasp. Plus, Gareth has worked with so many people and projects, and very quickly it felt very nice and comfortable working with him. It was a nice sort of debut of us working with someone else, and we’ve gained a lot of respect.

There were practical reasons as well. When we were finishing the album, we were also touring and couldn’t really find time to finish it ourselves, so we needed to do it another way.

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Tell me about your writing process.
This time we had roughly around 20 ideas, but not songs, more like sketches. We usually start with sketches, and once we decide the ones that we most like, we finish the sketches and make them into songs. We had possibly 13 songs that were done for Magic Chairs. Usually when writing songs, the ideas are coming from Mads and me; we’re usually the key holders of the music composition. I also write the lyrics. Once the ideas have made it to songs, then we present it to Rasmus Stolberg (bass, and also the band’s manager) and Thomas Husmer (drums) and go from there.

There was one new song in your set at Mercury Lounge last year, called “Dandies,” which I thought was quite nice, but it didn’t make the album. I’m hoping it will get out at some point.
Yes, that’s true, it’s one of the songs that didn’t make it [laughs]. For us it was a really exotic song. We wrote quite a lot of material that we weren’t really sure about. The one thing that we were sure about is that we wanted to challenge ourselves, and this time around we wanted to sort of push ourselves somewhere else. And that song in particular was definitely one that, afterwards, we thought would be hard to fit in on the album, but at least it took us somewhere else. We just felt the time wasn’t right — it was probably a little too early for that one, like it’s a step we might take in a few years maybe, but for now it was a little too, uhm, not Efterklangy [laughs]. Same with the song “Friend Formations,” which ended up being done by Slaraffenklang (the hybrid band that is Efterklang and fellow Danes Slaraffenland performing together). For us it’s a lot about finding out where the songs belong at some point. We have a lot that we haven’t finished. For instance, the song, “Mirror Mirror,” had been lying in our computer for maybe five years, and it was also in the pile of rough sketches for Parades, but didn’t make it on there. Then afterwards we started working with it in a live context, and now it’s finally made it onto Magic Chairs. A lot of songs sort of demand a little bit more time, either for us to get use to them, or for us to sort of arrange them in a way that we like. We spend a lot of time on doing music, and usually most of that time seems to end up on us just getting use to it [laughs].

magicchairsWhere did the title Magic Chairs come from? My interpretation was that it was a kind of play on the term “musical chairs,” though I’m not sure you use that expression in Denmark.
We don’t call it musical chairs exactly, but we have a similar expression. That’s sort of a nice picture as well, though the title is not taken from there. Actually, it was basically a big brainstorming of different words that we like, and this one popped up. It’s a phrase from a film by Jørgen Leth, a Danish director that we’re all big fans of. Part of his documentary film, Dyrehaven: Den Romantiske Skov (by Leth and Per Kirkeby) was used for the video for our song “Modern Drift,” (directed by Leth’s son, Kristian). He (Jørgen) did a film with Lars von Trier called The Five Obstructions, and there’s one scene where he was explaining about some chairs and how they needed to move in the picture, and he said, “They need to move like magic chairs.” That phrase kept returning to us. It doesn’t mean anything exactly about the process of the album, it just sort of suits it, like a nice name for a baby or something [laughs]. And I like the combination of the words. “Magic chairs” can mean a lot of different things, so we leave it up to the audience to make out of it what you want. We’re also quite satisfied with how it’s visualized on the album artwork.

I think the album covers are all incredible. My favorite is the one for Tripper.
Oh, that one is nice. It’s from a girl called Marie Hill, who did these sort of telephone sketches, while talking on the phone. Rasmus found them at the telephone when she was living at his place, and he asked her to create an album artwork from that. The Parades and Magic Chairs covers were made by these girls called Hvass&Hannibal (Danish artist-designers Nan Na Hvass and Sofie Hannibal), who’ve been doing all of our artwork for the past four or five years, including Performing Parades and Under Giant Trees. We have a really nice collaboration with them. We are sometimes obsessed with the whole creation of whatever we create, and for us it’s harder to give away, so we’re always following it from beginning to end. But it’s also nice to work with people that we respect and that we get to know, and who we know are doing good work and putting in a lot of energy to make it as good as they can make it. That’s for sure the kind of collaboration we have with Hvass&Hannibal, and it always feels nice to work with them because we have a lot of respect for them, and it allows us to sort of give away a bit more freedom to them.

What inspires your songs?
It could be a lot of things. Personally, like sometimes a nice piece of music or part of a nice song could be an inspiration. Or a good movie. Sometimes I find myself coming out the cinema, and the first thing I’m doing is singing melodies into my telephone recorder. I think sometimes it’s smaller things, but a lot of times primarily it’s related to other art forms. It happens rarely that I’m walking down the street, then I’m seeing a band or smelling a flower, and something comes out of that. It’s very random, but for sure there are elements of the music, like a rhythm or a phrase, that can be heavily inspired – we steal the best that we can from the things that we like [laughs], and then we try to combine them in different ways.

I think a lot of your music tends to have a very cinematic quality to it, especially some of the earlier songs, and my next question was going to be about that. Do you watch many films?
I think maybe decent ones, but we’re not really film geeks [laughs]. Sometimes I dive into pockets of Ingmar Bergman, Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. But I mean, it’s usually that we are diving into a specific director or something, then we all go and tell each other, and we’ll get excited about this one thing for a period of time. The same thing happens with music. We also listen to Einsturzende Neubauten, and there was a time when we all thought it was the coolest music we ever heard. So, I think it’s not that we’re watching a lot of films all the time, it’s more like once we hit a spot, there are a lot of things right there.

What about other musical influences or things you’re currently listening to?
There’s a lot of good music lately. Some Danish music references maybe? There’s a band called the Late Great Fitzcarraldos, a great new band that will be supporting us in Denmark when we tour there again, and also a band called Kirsten Ketsjer. And from our live band, Heather Woods Broderick (who is actually American) and Frederik Teige both have new albums that are gorgeous as well. –Teresa Sampson, Photos by Tear-n Tan

http://www.efterklang.net

 
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