You reached a certain point in your career. You’ve been growing through different phases and different inspirations, different ways to live music and share it. I’d like to start this conversation with your first musical memories. What’s your first musical souvenir ?
That was actually many years ago (laughs). My first memory of music is when I was 3 or 4 years old. I had this toy piano and I was totally in love with it. My parents were becoming crazy of me playing everywhere. Later on I built my own drum set out of pots and pans. When I was 10 we had to do a school play and I was very shy to go on stage. The teacher felt that and asked me to do the rhythm parts of the play. It was the first time I really connected with music. I wasn’t living it as something really special at first, but I remember after the play everyone going on the stage and giving us flowers. It’s where I started being confident with music, realising that it’s perhaps something I’m good at it. I slowly started to involve myself in musical projects with my friends.
It’s very young, to discover a personal way of living music.
I hated sports so I felt a bit like an outsider, especially growing in the countryside, where you can’t do many different things. My way of escaping was to sit and making music.
Was it also a way to project and build your identity? Especially during the teenage years?
Definitely yeah. As an outsider, it was my way to connect with other outsiders. Meeting friends around that, and later on being in a band, was something very important for me on a social level. It permitted me to connect with other people, to interact and engage. Sometimes It felt a bit us against them, with a ‘we’ll show them what we can do’ kind of mentality.
It seems to me that’s a very instinctive approach to music. You drowned into music because you had to, not because you thought about it.
Yes, totally. And I think It’s still my approach on music today. I try very hard not to think about it too much. If I start thinking about what I’m doing, I start feeling pressures, both from outside and my insides. I really like to see it as a joyful playing around. I don’t want to feel that I’m going to the studio as I would go to work. Of course sometimes you had to rehearse with the band, or doing promo interviews; but writing music and playing music is still a joy for me. The day it won’t be, something will be wrong.
Were there points in the last 15 years during when you felt endangered in your capacity to be creative? To lose that instinctive approach to music?
Not really, but I remember having a writer’s block during one year. It was during my initial phase, fifteen years ago, when I was trying to define who I was. At one point I was very doubtful about myself, because I didn’t want to sound like things I was admiring. Now I’m way more relax about it.
Are you finished knowing yourself? Not in terms of sonic explorations, but about your creative process.
Yes and no. It’s always a research for me, understanding what’s the best format for me. I don’t think I’ve found the perfect platform or surroundings to work around. If I found that, I also think that some of my driven feeling of ‘you can do more than that’ would disappear, with the goose bumps as well. And this particular thing, I’m searching it, it’s driving me. On a technical level, I’ve built myself a studio I really love, only 3 minutes away from my home with a bike. I can close the doors and really feel alone.
‘Making an album can be really stressful, and hard for your self-confidence’
It’s almost like you never want to reach that point you wouldn’t feel the need to still go forward. We often see it as a positive psychological mechanism, but can it be something negative?
That’s actually a really good question. On one side it’s the thing that makes me keep on going. But on the other side, on the moment, it can be quite harsh and violent. Making an album can be really stressful, and hard for your self-confidence.
Often, I’m sitting in my studio at night, really satisfied with one of my songs, thinking ‘this is fantastic‘. I come back home, sleep, go back to the studio the next day, and I’m horrified to see that it’s just pure shit. It just doesn’t match my memories.
Sometimes you really have these downers, and you really mustn’t take it personally. You have to keep it on until the point where it means something for you. The next day, you’ll remember the chords and the structure, and that’s usually a good hint you’re in the right direction.
In some ways, would you say that – for some parts of it – happiness can be conflictual with creativity? Because you need some kind of frustration.
Yeah, definitely. On one side, I really need to have harmony around me. It’s why I built my studio that way. But very often, my music is melancholic because it’s just the way it goes out for me. So there’s definitely something about frustration. But on the other hand, I can project all my darker feelings to my music and just feel relieved. I don’t think I would be as happy in my life without music.
Was it hard to find that balance, the good distance with your music? Especially because you told me that you were projecting your identity. Did you have to put some distance between you and your music, at certain points of your life?
Not really actually. Somehow, I always managed to find very instinctively that middle-way. I never got too frustrated by it. The only downside in my life was during my writer’s block. But this writer’s block was all about accepting the fact that I will have periods in my life where I’ll be less creative. And you know what? That’s OK. You can always find the flow, later on.
It makes me think of some artists I’ve met that would be very scared of starting to intellectualize what they’re doing. But on the other hand, they still want to feel that they’re controlling it. Their thing is to intellectualize their creative environment, but once they’re inside, they keep it very instinctive.
I would even take it further for myself. I don’t even want to intellectualize my environment that much because I really believe in the spontaneous, the gut-feeling, the instinct. Not only in making music, but also in the music business in general. It’s always important for me to listen to my first stomach feeling.
So I guess it’s why It was that much of a natural process for you to slowly get into a band and get even more ‘down to the groove‘, no?
Yeah, totally. It also comes from my teenage years, playing in various bands.
I started doing electronic music because of the freedom it permitted with how you write – you didn’t have to agree with your drummer on everything for example.
But at some point, I started to feel lonely on stage while playing live. One of the most boring thing ever is to listen to some electronic musician with a MIDI keyboard and a laptop on stage. In the end, I’ve got the best from both worlds right now. Because it is me who designs the music and thinks about the bigger structures, but I also need my band to empower it on stage, to live it the right way once it’s written.
Your trajectory is actually really similar to JAMES HOLDEN. He is a well-known progressive-house producer from the 2000’s but 4 years ago He really didn’t enjoy this position. He started having a band and now with his label he is doing only live stuff. We discussed a lot about the cultural environment. Because we didn’t have any hegemonic genre for quite some time, many musicians feel the need to go abroad and do transcultural projects. They want to be playing with musicians from other parts of the world and see what is it they can create out of that.
That’s a great thing that the different music styles aren’t that divided and secluded from each other’s as it was the case ten years ago. I feel like people are more open-minded now. When I came with my tour five years ago, mixing a bit everything out of what I wanted to be, it was a bit rough at the beginning. Especially for the music journalists, because they wanted to put it in a box and they couldn’t put it either in the electronic field or the indie field.
For me, the main thing about your music isn’t mixing genres, as it has been the common media approach to you on the last few years, but it’s more about mixing narratives. Especially when you compare latin and black music with western music, you realize how we have a particular narrative arc – one focused on climax. You can structure your song to tell a different story, to make it seek a different thing. An idea don’t necessarily need to climax to be resolved. And it’s something I can feel with your music. Not that you make latin music, but you diversify the ways your songs tell stories. Fixion is a perfect example of that. You’ve got songs very western in their writing style – with a chorus format – and you’ve got other songs like Sinus that work completely differently.
I’m quite happy that you can hear that, and it might be emphasized by the fact that the vocal songs have the more traditional build-ups with a verse, a chorus, a bridge, and a verse again. That form really fits the vocal for me. I didn’t feel the need to do a 7 minutes song that would be a big vocal journey. I find that classical format particularly powerful. But I also wanted to have this album quite playful. It’s why you’ve got tracks like Phoenicia that makes you feel that you start at one point and that you end up at a different point. This way you can surprise the listener. It’s something I’m thinking about when I choose the track list. For some people, the album could feel a bit schizophrenic because of that. Even in vocal songs I try to have underground layers of sound to make it more an unconscious thing. I really love David Lynch movies because he always manage to tell other stories through subtle details.
‘I found Jehnny Beth’s voice kind of close to Dane Marie Fisker’s own voice’
Is it an exciting moment for you when you make the track list? Because It seems to me that the tales you’re writing are crossing different kind of landscapes through that.
Yeah it is. When I start writing music, I’m totally open about what I’m doing. But at some point I can identify a certain theme, or at least a certain sound, a certain atmosphere. Then, I work around that until It feels really natural to me. I also had lots of ‘experimental’ material – even more than the instrumentals you can find on the album – but I thought they would be too far away from the vocal tracks. Even if there are different styles and different stories, I want it to feel it coming from the same flow. I tried very different playlists and It took me quite some times actually. I also felt that I needed something to conclude the album, so It’s when the last song Where The Shadows Fall was written. It’s a song that could go on forever, so that you leave the album with a ‘still-hungry’ thing that perhaps make you want to start it again.
When you’re doing your track list, do you visualize colours or pictures in your head ?
I’m not that visual actually. It might sound funny but the right way to find the order was to launch an alpha tracklist while doing the dishes or cleaning my house. Therefore it’s playing in the background and I don’t have to concentrate on it. That way it’s easier for me to understand when a track isn’t in the right place.
Is it also why you narrowed down the number of voices and that every voices are female voices?
Yes! At the beginning I really wanted only one voice on this album. My last album had 5 or 6 voices and I thought it was a little bit to get that personal flow. It’s why I started with only Dane Marie Fisker who sings on 4 tracks. But later on when I mixed the last SAVAGES album I found Jehnny Beth’s voice kind of close to Dane Marie Fisker’s own voice. We ended up doing two songs together in my studio, in only two days. I feel like from the perspective of someone totally outside the album, you could totally believe that it is only one voice. I think it can be a good thing that when you start creating you put yourself limits or rules, but while creating you’re slowly breaking them, as long as you still have a good overview on what you’re doing. The most challenging thing is to understand which tracks don’t fit the album.
Do you feel you’ll re-explore the ‘leftovers’ in different kind of formats? For example going for an experimental album, as you told me there are lots of unused experimental tracks.
I usually don’t and can’t work like that. When I start writing again I don’t want to be looking at old leftovers ideas, so unfortunately these usually end up being leftovers forever. I need to start with a blank page. I could also use aliases to explore different formats but I only want to do music in my own name. The next album could be a techno album or a folk album, it’s really hard for me to tell.
Do you feel your creativity needs to focus on something in particular before moving to another directions? Like evolving through chapters?
I’m not sure because when I start I can’t really define what will be the sound of the album. It’s only mid-way that I realise that I’m going into a certain direction. It’s funny because once I’ve understood the global sound of a new album, I start seeing it on the first four or five songs and start feeling how they link.
And going through several different live tours, do you feel you started making your songs more suitable or effective on stage?
Yeah definitely, but some songs really feel different on stage. We like to mess around with the original material and I really don’t care if we really transform a song to play it on stage. We make it our own with the band. When I’m finished on an album I invite them to describe me how they would approach the material and I really like that moment. Out of the sudden we’re no longer TRENTEMØLLER, but TRENTEMØLLER the band.
And that’s something journalists can have struggles understanding. They think the band is directly involved during the writing process but It’s really two different things.
And some songs can even be really hard to make it good on stage. If you take a song like Circuits, it was really hard to get it right. The drummer had the idea to put it up a little bit in terms of tempo, so that you can feel even more the intense claustrophobic wave going on. The guitar player played a new role and I even added some overdriven synth Rhodes. The whole idea of the song changed, and I think to the better. There are other songs like the opening one, ‘One Eye Open‘, that instantly work with the band.
It’s also interesting because music can be conceived or felt for different kind of social spaces in order to share it. You can share music in a club, in a concert venue, or you can listen it on your own with a headphone while you’re travelling. Do you feel that you’re that much in love with the idea of sharing these musical ideas with your band that your music is overall meant to be shared mostly on stage ?
That’s actually the whole meaning of doing music with a band for me, the ability to share a moment with everyone. It’s the most honest way you can have to get feedbacks on your music. You’ve worked on it during several years in your studio and then you bring it on stage and confront it with people’s reaction. I also love the idea of connection behind it: you give something to them and they give you back. That is way more satisfying than DJ sets for example, at least for me.
Do you still manage to be surprised ? By certain crowds, certain venues or certain countries, and how they react to your music ?
Especially on festivals. Because many people over there don’t especially know your music, they’re just passing by. I remember playing in a French festival where death metal goers came in to my show and were head banging to some of my up-tempo stuff. They might have never heard my music before but they stayed the whole show, and seemed to really loved it. It was really crazy for us to see that, because you realise music can be a very open thing. It can also be the other way around, ravers being disappointed to see me with instruments on stage.
Would you be curious of releasing an album only after its opening tour? To confront audiences with material you’re 100% sure they never heard before and see how you can connect with them? Because it seems to change it so much when people do get to know the songs.
That’s actually a really interesting thought. Also because when I compare recordings of my shows I actually hear how songs evolve and how they can get better and better with time. In the end, it’s how they used to do it in the 50s. It could be a way to involve the band in the writing process in a balanced way. Because I would go back alone in the studio with ideas that went through stage before. That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking of.
And even, the way you would connect to the audience ?
It’s actually what we’ll be doing a little bit as we have planned a few shows just immediately after the release of the album. I’m sure it’ll feel a bit the same, and at least it’ll be a big difference from my usual routine where we usually wait a few months so that people can get used to the music.
Are there things you’re excited to try out for this tour? Not music-wise but more about how you’ll live your tour.
Touring can be quite exhausting indeed, but I really love it. Each day you can explore a new city, then you play and connect with people, then you have drinks and you feel relieved. And it goes on and on, and it’s a chance, really. Especially when we take the time to explore the cities and connect with the people on every locations. That’s something we really love with the band. We even have little list of things we try to visit in each cities before going to our sound checks.
For example, is architecture a way to connect with the cities you’re going to? Something that tell you things about the people you meet?
It’s funny you mention that because my girlfriend used to play guitar in the band and she is an architect. She isn’t in the band anymore because she’s working on her architect projects but she used to really focus on that when we were touring. That being said, we’re often very tired to visit as much as we would want.
‘You have to look outside of yourself’
It’s good because you talk about it as if It was something still very new to it, you couldn’t tell that you’ve been doing this for 6 years now.
Yeah and I’m really happy about it. Especially because when you’re writing it’s so stressful and you feel so lonely. You have this big pressure on your shoulders. It’s something that totally disappear when I start touring. And it’s different every time, each writing period and touring period feel unique.
I see. I like to finish interviews with this very open question: what’s the last idea in life that changed you? It can be music, family, everything connected to life.
My little sister got kids two years ago and It made me realise that I needed to take more time with my family. Not just because I’m getting older, but also because touring that much and being so much in my own ass, sorry to use that expression, but it’s important to look out and see where you’re coming from. You have to look outside of yourself. I’m so much concentrated on my own world, on my own doing. And now I’m talking about what I’m doing so much. I don’t have any kids myself yet, so being aware about the important people around me, my family, it’s an idea that was really important for me this past few months.
Is it exhausting sometimes to always focus on yourself ?
I wouldn’t say it’s exhausting, but sometimes, close to album releases, it can be… let’s say exhausting, to put words on your music and the things you’re doing. Basically that’s exactly what I’m always trying not to do (laughs). On the other hand, I’m also aware that’s part of it. Talking to you, talking to people about how I approach things, make me realize how I work and go through ideas. In some ways you can also gain something by doing interviews. Maybe not the usual promo interview but more open conversations as yours. From my perspective, it’s more interesting to do.
Do you feel that because you know that much the industry, you have protective reflexes when you’re going through this whole media process ?
No it doesn’t really affect me creatively, but for example, tomorrow I’ll go on some holidays with my girlfriend and I’ve been doing so much interviews recently that It’ll be very nice not thinking about music or myself. But I’m also very grateful that so many people want to talk to me about my music. At some point I’ve been working in a kindergarten during 7 years. It was OK but I realise how much I’m lucky to be able to do what I love as a living. I’m talking to you right now, and I was talking to guys from Mexico yesterday, and that’s a chance. It’s something you have to remember when times are more difficult.