TRENTEMØLLER: “When I make music, it is like a therapy”

Trentemoller - Poznan interview 06-02-2017

You know him from such ultimate electronic gems as “Miss You”, “Moan” or “Vamp”. During almost 20 years of his musical career, he managed to get worldwide recognition, without losing the characteristic, uncompromising sound. His music is often dark, melancholic and heavy, but as it turned out during our chat in Poznan, Anders Trentemøller is a very joyful, friendly person AND an extremally pleasant interlocutor.

We talked about his views on music and Danish music scene, the way he records, how he collaborates with the band on tour, what does he think about reviews… and much more. Read below what came up from a 0,5-hour long conversation that could easily become an overnight talk. We hope to get a chance to continue the chat we started in Poznan, before Trentemøller’s concert during European “Fixion” tour, for now, we are still enchanted with a great performance and an inspiring talk.

Good because Danish: You are a part of the music scene – if I am correct – since almost 20 years now. What drives you to keep on going and how do you stay fresh and still have new ideas?

Trentemøller: I think 20 years ago a lot of Danish bands and artists really didn’t dare to sound like themselves, so to say. We wanted to sound like our UK or US idols. The only think coming out of Denmark was Aqua’s “I’m A Barbie Girl” and that kind of tunes for the dance floor. I think slowly, for me personally it happened sometime around 8 years ago, Danish artists actually dared to try to sound like themselves and not try to copy what was coming to Denmark from the outside, and we got more Scandinavian sound. It sounds like a cliché, but it is very often a little bit melancholic comparing to just this happy go lucky music that we were mostly known for. Or we were not that known, we didn’t have many great acts for 25 years or so. I think the biggest different now is that people began to sound… Danish in a way.

Exactly! We often use the word “Danishness” on our blog, to describe the music coming from your country. There is something unusual about the music, something specific to it and we love it. Do you think it’s this kind of melancholy that characterizes the Danish sound?

Yeah, it is pretty much that. I think it’s probably not only Danish thing, I think you’d find it if you’d listen to music for example from Iceland and a bit from Sweden and Norway. But yeah, I think especially Denmark has it. And it’s also heard, I think, when you listen to Danish folk music, which is 500 years old or 1000 years old. It always has this blue vibe to it. I think it’s also a part of the music – you know when our mothers were singing lullabies to us – they are all pretty melancholic. Not sad, but a little bit melancholic. So I think maybe that’s something that has always been there in our music, but finally, we dare to use it in our new music that we are writing now.

What about your music inspirations? Do you remember how it changed through the years or maybe they didn’t change at all?

It didn’t really change that much. But the funny thing is that my inspirations… actually it’s a bit embarrassing maybe… aren’t that Danish. Or maybe it is somehow Danish too because I cannot really avoid something that I’m doing because it comes from my background. But I listen very much to the UK bands from 80’s and 90’s and also some US bands. So very much post-punk and new wave, that sound came in. But that combined with the Danish background that we have in our folk music, I think that makes the “Trentemøller” sound.

Actually, I used the 10 years before I released my first stuff, to try to define my own sound because I could hear that what I did was not really me, it was maybe a little bit like a copy of what I was listening to.

But we think your music is really well defined. We think right now there are very strong “Trente’s marks” in your music. And the most powerful feature of your music is that it can’t be compared to any other.

But you know, that was also maybe why I waited to release anything until I was satisfied with it. I think it’s so easy now to release stuff – you can have SoundCloud, or can upload on YouTube. Back then I was very shy, I wasn’t really satisfied with the sound that I had. So I waited – and it was just in my little bedroom studio – for many years before. And I thought at some point “ok, now I have something that I think is a little bit different from what I hear anywhere else”.

You said nowadays it’s way easier to release music. But do you think it creates a situation for musicians that they have to go to more compromises? Because there is so much competition. Do you think it’s possible to compromise being yourself and being popular or having commercial success?

It’s easier to release music, but of course, the competition is much stronger. So I think if you need to get through all the information that is out there, you have to go on even fewer compromises and that’s also what I can see that some of the Danish bands have been doing. But that being said, I think actually for the last year or two years, I can hear a lot of Danish bands relying very much on the R’n’B sound and suddenly I think they are not sounding that differently from what is else out there. So I think we should also be aware to always just believe in what’s right. And it might clash with something that is very popular at the moment or it might not. But I think it’s a shame when all the music sounds a bit similar. And that is actually what is happening now when you turn on all the commercial radio in Denmark. All the commercial Danish pop music sounds it. I might sound a bit old-fashioned, but it really sounds quite much the same R’n’B’ish and that’s a bit sad. So I really hope that new bands will break that and just do their own stuff a little bit more.

You release your music as a solo artist, but then you go on tour and have a band on stage. How do you deal with combining this very individualized way of making music with actually having people that can also have something to say and some ideas how to perform?

It’s actually a very important thing for me. I’m writing all the stuff and playing all instruments in the studio, but I cannot do that live of course. So I really need a band to play the music live, but I don’t want it to be like “Trentemøller with a band”. It is much more about trying to have it as a united thing. So we use quite a lot of time on transferring all of the songs from the album to the band. And at the beginning, the band always gets crazy at me, because I am a strict music teacher saying “you have to play it like this and this and this”. So at the beginning, they don’t have that much freedom, but later they gain that. I also need to tell them what is my ambition for the music. And then they come back with all the feedback and I really love that thing that it’s really not only me telling them what to play, but hopefully it’s something we do together.

Let’s come back to your studio work for a moment. Each of your albums sounds like very well thought whole. How do you work when you record a new material? Are you a person that has an idea for an album from the beginning or you’re more being in the momentum and writing few songs during one night?

I am very much just at the moment and I really don’t plan anything, because it’s really hard for me to stick to it and I don’t, and I feel limited. So I always just start with a totally blank page and then see when the music takes me. Then it’s only half through the writing process when I can see “ok, that’s the sound”. This time some of the songs really had that 80’s, sort of The Cure sound, and the sound of all those bands that I grew up listening to. But it wasn’t something that I planned, it was just there when I wrote the songs. Most of them were written not even in the studio. The sound was just there and I didn’t want to fight it because it felt right. So it was something that just happened. But sometimes I’m in the studio for one month or two months and nothing happens and suddenly I’m in this flow and I do three songs in a week or so. For me, it’s a thing that you cannot really plan.

Your successively released albums seem to form a logical continuity. Does it mean that “Fixion” tracks were somehow born in your head much earlier? Do you have already a view of your next album as well?

Yeah, I don’t have any plan at all, I just only follow what I feel right now. Every album is a little snapshot of where you are in your life. I don’t really have a big master plan how my album should look like. But I feel that every album is a very logical development from the last one. One thing that I don’t want to do is a kind of the same album try. I always want to do something not new, but I try to change myself a little bit. I like if there is a flow from the last album to the new one and it still fits together somehow.

We read in one of the interviews with you that you actually read the reviews of your albums. Does it impact you in any way? Or are you the hardest critic of your own work?

Yes, I am. Because before the album comes out, I really feel that I had tried everything, every possible version of each of the songs, so it’s the best – in my opinion – version of the songs that is coming out. So I actually stopped reading reviews with this album, because I took it too personally. You know, this album is my little baby that is out. So it’s really hard for me to not to take it too personally. Of course, if it’s a great review, it feels fantastic. If it’s a bad review, it’s also okay. But the thing is – some of the bad reviews that I got it’s not always about the music, it’s about that it’s coming from a DJ or so. And there is a lot of snobbishness also around electronic music, which I’m tired of. So if I read a review, maybe it should be one year after the album is out, when I am a little bit more away from it. Because I’m so connected when the album is out, it’s really something that is personal. It’s also in a phase when I’m rehearsing with the band, so it’s too much noise in my head and I just want to focus on the music. In some of the reviews, you can also notice from the beginning that the reviewer simply doesn’t like the style of the music, like it’s maybe a techno guy writing it and thinking there is maybe too much guitar or he or she doesn’t like vocals. Then I am like… “maybe you shouldn’t write about it”… but yeah… However, of course, reviews can help. There is some criticism in some of them that I definitely can use later, but it is just “later” for me, it’s not something that I can use at the moment right after the release.

We think that you are the true-blue electronic musician. Maybe you remember your very first music inspirations which make you fascinated about electronic music?

Yeah, yeah definitely! Many did. But I remember when I heard the Suicide tape for the first time and I’ve been totally blown away because it was still electronic, but it also had some rock’n’roll kind of dirty sound. So back then I didn’t really think of it being electronic, it was more like a rock thing, but then I found out that they only used drum machines, organs and then Alan Vega (the Suicide’s vocalist) begun on the vocal. That was for me just fascinating. Then the Depeche Mode were also really loved back then by me, because they also took it somewhere else, they really had some great melodies and Martin Gore on guitar did some fantastic melodies. So, those two bands had definitely turned me on.

But I must admit that I don’t really see myself as an electronic musician anymore. Because I don’t listen to this kind of music that much. I’m kind of a person who just wants to do music, who takes a lot of inspirations from everywhere. So, I don’t want to be limited to only one style. But, of course, I still use synthesizers and I record on the computer. In the beginning, it was a little bit like a curse to me, since everyone expected a kind of dance music from me. It is not what I did at all and people were quite disappointed at first, when we came out and played music. Because they thought that it would be hard and rave music, and then we were there with two guitars and a drum set. I really don’t want to be locked into one box. I try not to limit myself.

What is Anders Trentemoller like out of stage? Your music would suggest that you’re not the most shiny happy person, but we already found out many times that the feeling in the music is not exactly the way artists are in personal life. Do you consider yourself a dark, melancholic person and your music is a reflection of it or maybe you release the melancholy in music and stay positive and more joyful in life?

It is definitely a release. Because the music for me is also a great output to get those feelings out. I think we all have those moods sometimes and for me, it’s just easier to work with these feelings rather than to write them down. That’s not really my strong side. But while I’m making music, it is like a life therapy. So, I really get some feelings out and then I’m a quite happy boy, I’m not cutting myself or anything. So, I have a feeling that it’s because I can make music and because I have that output that helps me.

You’ve made many remixes during your career, we’re curious how did it help you in your own work and what did you learn from it?

Yeah, it is actually something that I’ve stopped doing a year ago. Now I only did some reworks of my own songs, because it is kind of fun to see where I could take these songs. But I found out that somehow it took too much of my working time because sometimes I spent more time to do remixes than on my own stuff. But it is also fun and a challenge to have a song and use only vocals from it. That is what I mainly do. Actually, I’m not using drums or guitars and whatever else. I really like to build up a whole new song. That takes time, but it is a fun thing to do.

I really learned a lot about arrangements, writing songs and how to build-up a song, and also production-wise of course, I learned so much. I might do it maybe in the future a bit. But now what I really need and what I feel is – to focus mainly on my own stuff. And I’m also touring quite a lot, so I don’t have much time.

We are still at the beginning of 2017 – what is the biggest challenge you see for yourself this year? What is the biggest dream of yours?

Right now my only world is just being on the road. It’s really a special thing, we have planned 50 shows in two and a half months. You’re getting into this little dream world that is a weird thing because you wake up in a new city every day. You can do a lot of stuff around the city, have the interviews, some work to do. Suddenly, your daily life is very simple. So simple. Jonas – our tour manager – said that we are like in a kinder garden. He is a teacher saying “now we have to do a soundcheck”, “now you have to sleep”, “now you have to eat”. Perfect, so simple! I really love being on tour with my bandmates, with whom I am friends from years. Some artists don’t like it, but I think touring fun. And it’s always great to see new places. I didn’t see much of the city today (Poznan), because of the interviews and stuff like that, which is, of course, a really fun thing to do. But it’s great to go out around the city, feel a little bit of the culture, go to the cafe place. Sometimes I go to the art museum to see what they present there. So my life for now is touring!

So this is the best part of touring, spending time with your crew?

Yeah, indeed. But the best part is still that we play the music. That’s why we are here and that’s really fantastic! We had a fantastic gig yesterday in Warsaw. Those magical moments that we had sometimes after a good gig and you cannot go straight to bed because you are high on getting the feedback. Yesterday some people in the front of the crowd were crying and it was fantastic. I was getting goosebumps because suddenly you are seeing very direct feedback from the people that are listening to your music. Normally, you don’t get that feedback. Now you can actually see that in the people’s eyes and when I’m signing CD’s and vinyl’s and then meet people. That’s a nice contrast from being alone in the studio for one or two years totally isolated in my own little world.

Do you remember the concert, the special one that is in your memory and will stay there for a longer time?

I think it was yesterday (in Warsaw). And it’s not only because it is the newest, but there was a fantastic connection between the band and the crowd. The crowd gave so much back. Also, we had played during a really nice festival “Coachella” in the US a few years ago. We didn’t think that anybody will know our music and we came into this tent and suddenly we’ve played for 25 000 people, but in the beginning, there were 2 000 people. So sometimes it’s about that surprise thing, but it’s also when you feel that people are in the moment with the music.

You took TOM and His Computer on the current European tour with you – which we at GbD are truly happy about.

He is a really talented guy and I’m not saying that because I’ve released his EP. He is also my good friend. We’ve been doing stuff from last 20 years together. Nice to have him on tour bus. His music is a perfect build-up to our show.

Do you know any other Danish acts you would recommend to us?

Yeah, of course. Probably you know more than I do. But I think the name like Marching Church (GbD Team promises to catch up on this one! :)). You should hear that, it’s fantastic. The Marching Church is for me one of the greatest band right now. It’s the new project of the lead singer from the post-punk band called Iceage. It’s a really cool rock style. It’s a quite young guy, but on stage, he is going crazy. Choir Of Young Believers is the band that I really like too. Another band you should check out is a band of my guitarist Jeppe Brix Sørensen, the band called Howl Baby Howl. They haven’t released something new from last two years, but they are really cool. They’ve released a lot of EP’s, I think 5 or 6 of them. I chose the guitarist from Howl Baby Howl to my band, because I loved that band and their sounds. So my band has also put together people from a lot the bands that I really like. I really want someone who has the personality, who understand my music and also adds something to it.

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