I’ve told this story before, but the first time I encountered Denmark’s ZAAR, it was on an astroturf football pitch on the Faroe Islands at G! Festival, in an absolute tempest of a rainstorm that was trying to submerge the entire village in water. ZAAR powered through, and in a curious way the conditions worked in their favour, the water swirling and spinning like smoke around the stage adding to their dramatic, mystic electronic pop music. ZAAR is the music baby of Iceland-based Danish musician Sara Flindt, backed up live and on recordings by Bjarke Amdrup and Jonathan Ludvigsen, and her music hovers between the ethereal and the very direct, art-pop that wanders between slow and shadowy to heavy and crashing. I caught up with her at Roskilde Festival, where she was playing as part of the Nordic Talents programme.
Let’s go back to the very start of the project. It was the end of 2017 when you put out The Last Song and Foolish Ways.
Sara: The thing is, it was such a long process making them in the studio. It was in 2016 I guess it really started. It all started out with getting my first pedal, which was a green line 6DHL4, a delay pedal, and you can also loop with it. So I could make 30-second loops, and it was a whole new world for me, it was so much fun. I could make my own songs, just with my voice, only for 30 seconds, snippets. Just loop myself and build it up. I made up some songs, and I knew Bjarke [Amdrup, synths] from another band I was in before. Since we knew each other, it was pretty easy to make something out of it.
So you had been inspired by playing with these pedals, and decided to make the results into proper songs?
Exactly. So I made Foolish Ways, made the song with a loop with one melody. Then I took it to Bjarke. Then with Jonathan [Ludvigsen, drums], I felt I needed something organic in it. It was so electronic, Bjarke had his synthesizers and his drum machines, and I needed something organic. Jonathan was, and is, a great drummer, and he just gets better and better. I asked him and he joined me, and it’s been like that ever since. I’m so thankful about playing with the guys. And then, getting the first songs out took ages, getting them mixed and mastered, even getting the money for them. It was my first solo project, I had to fix everything. So it took some time, but I learned a lot.
‘The pedals are my playground’
So it’s now with ZAAR you’ve become the front figure with all the responsibility?
Yes, I take all the decisions, all the practical decisions. Everything is on my shoulders. It is my project. Which is also kind of scary, but I grow a lot as a person, and as a musician as well.
Even in your first full year after the release of the singles, which was 2018, you played an awful lot, you played SPOT, you played G!, you played in New York, which is unusual for a very new Danish band. And you had a proper setlist, a fully developed set of songs. By the start of 2018, did it feel like the project was pretty fully-formed? Like you had a clear identity of who you wanted to be, and a list of songs with how you wanted them to sound?
No, and I don’t think I will ever come to a point where I decide ‘This is ZAAR’. I’m always in a flux, and I always want to develop myself and my sound, and I’m always curious. I love learning things and I love experiencing things. I also have a lot of different set-ups with ZAAR, there’s me on my own, and there’s me with the guys and now also with the choir. So they’re not the same songs even, depending on which show you seen. ZAAR is just a name, and I like to do whatever I want. As long as it’s fun, it has to be fun. I don’t like to play It safe. I like to do whatever is in the moment. I don’t know if I answered the question, but I did talk a lot [laughs].
Which your music, your style and the music you make is very detailed, very layered. There’s a lot of elements and effects in there. So what is your standard process for writing a song, now?
Since I’ve been living in Iceland, I’ve been away from the guys for a while. So I sit in my rehearsal space with my pedals, and a loop station, and I loop myself. I like to jam. Sometimes something comes and becomes a song. Now, I see the guys as my producers, but instead of meeting in a studio we meet in the rehearsal space. And they know me so well, so I can come and say ‘Look, I made this song, I want this kind of vibe’. And I can say ‘Bjarke, I want you to play like this’ or whatever. But they’re insane musicians, and I get if people think it’s a trio, because they are such a big part of the soundscape, which I allow them to be, because I think they’re so insane. The things they can offer to the music is incredible, and exactly what I want right now. They put themselves in it, you can hear it’s them playing. But it’s most important to play. Zaar is my playground, the pedals are my playground. It’s so much fun.
I’ve seen you live a couple of times now, and something I notice is that it seems like the songs evolve in the live show, compared to the recorded versions. You’re not just trying to replicate them, you build them into a different world. Do you think the space and time of a live performance lets you grow them into something different?
Yes, as I said it all depends on the moment. I get so lost in the moment, and I would say ZAAR is a live thing more than a studio thing, because we are so much in the present when we’re playing, involved in the stage and the audience. So it never sounds the same.
And I guess you’re always trying to develop the live show, like having the choir yesterday?
Yes, I’m very curious. I also want to try with a string orchestra, maybe a brass orchestra. I like going onstage without knowing what will happen.
And EP is on the way?
Yes, EP on the way, a lot of new songs. Hopefully an album, I don’t know. That’s the exciting thing about ZAAR, you never know what will happen. Or at least I don’t.
ZAAR‘s latest single Our Love Is Dead is out now, and her debut EP Lost My Sense Of Humour is out in autumn.