Right now it literally feels like we couldn’t be further away from the light. I mean that literally because as I’m writing these lines the clouds are hanging very low in the sky as Berlin faces one of its typical winter days that are simply dark from dawn to dusk. The overall social situation in early 2022 doesn’t help to get that slight sense of despair out of the system. The Covid-pandemic taught us to lower our expectations for the future and seek for hope in the smallest moments. In my case it’s the ghostly singing voice of Lisbet Fritze that asks “Is this the end of everything?” while immediately declaring “I think It’s time to tear it all apart.” Surrounded by a warm wall of shoegazing guitars this moment really feels like a little of ray of sunlight crashing through the clouds. The song is No More Kissing In The Rain, the second track of the new album by Danish artist Anders Trentemøller and following the ghostly opening track Veil Of White it’s the moment where the sound of the beloved composer opens up a new chapter that’s both refreshing yet slightly familiar. Well, a few habits might also help to cope with the times.
Memoria is Trentemøller‘s sixth studio album and although it is anything but a pure electronic music album people still tend to bring up those early days of his career when his music was more based in techno territory. By now he’s gotten used to it and faces these things with laugh. “I’ve never felt like a part of that scene anyway,” he tells me when we phone up on an equally cold and grey December morning. After almost two decades of solo releases the hard-to-label-artist doesn’t need to prove anything anymore because with his dark-wave-shoegaze-whatever-infused sound he now established his own niche and even when his vocalists might change you immediately sense that it’s one of his songs. And while that turn towards more organic instrumentation feel like the result of a constant progress it’s always been part of his musical DNA ever since he first started making music in a few guitar bands in the 90s. “While I released many of those clubby records I also recorded different music aside from that,” Anders tells me. “You know, these were songs that included real guitars and drums so when I was started working on my debut album it felt naturally to also include those in the process.” Being artistically hungry the Dane became tired of only doing electronic music quite quickly. “I missed the melodies in those club tracks,” he says. In many ways his legendary 2006 debut album The Last Resort already marked a turning point back although the songs were still pretty close to his electronic roots. Trentemøller can’t help but reflect on these moments with a smile: “I remember getting some really angry comments from people back then on MySpace once the album was out considering the lack of traditional club tunes.”
People always tend to bring up The Last Resort when speaking to Trentemøller and god knows I did the same in my multiple encounters throughout the years. However as we briefly circle back to the beginning of his career Anders points out how there is a mutual connection between album number one and album number six which is especially sensible in the way he approached this full-length.
“I don’t want to set up lots of rules before I start working on an album. I want to see where the music takes me. That was the notion behind ‘The Last Resort’ and it’s also the one behind ‘Memoria’.”
And yes, I can’t help but sensing a few similarities in both albums. Memoria might indeed be the purest form of Anders Trentemøller we get to experience since his first album as it maeks the first time where he’s been writing everything by himself since that time. “Usually I work with lots of different vocalists,” he explains to me. “Sometimes they write the melodies, sometimes we’re doing this together. But usually they also take of the lyrics. This time I wrote all the vocal melodies and lyrics by myself for the first time. I wanted to be 100% in control of everything.” The list of previous contributors on Trentemøller records is quite in impressive one, ranging from Savages‘ Jehnny Beth to Warpaint‘s JennyLee, while also including some of his personal heroes like Low and Slowdive. And I’m pretty sure that he’ll get his Robert Smith feature one day like he almost had in the past. “Sometimes composing with others is quite magical but sometimes it’s also a struggle to create something good together,” he says. “By forcing myself do it alone it opens a different, more songwriter-inspired side of me.”
From minor to major key
Having his wife Lisbet Fritze as the only solid guest vocalist on the album was a natural choice not just for logistic reasons (they both a have a little son and well… there was this pandemic you might have heard of). And although Anders loves working with different people he felt the urge to go back to having the full control of all melodies and compositions. That step was a bit nerve-wrecking at the beginning but Fritze supported his vision by simply following the creative path he provided. The two already started working together on his 2019 album Obverse on a song called Blue September. “Back then we started a technique where we recorded her voice seven or eight times on top of each other. It’s not polyphonic, but just various layers of the same vocal performance, although each one slightly differs from the other ones, creating a very ghostly sound which I love a lot.” It gave him the opportunity to use Fritze’s voice as an instrument and it helps to give Memoria a cohesive atmosphere where the vocal songs are perfectly lined-up with the instrumental ones, making Lisbet a returning guest on this cinematic journey.
“Working with your partner can be tough but it can also be rewarding as it brings you closer together and she gets a better insight into my world. At the beginning she wasn’t entirely sure whether she could live up to my expectations. She’s not a professional singer, she’s an architect so that doesn’t come natural to her although I do like her voice.”
In-between jobs and kindergarten the schedule was tight as they sometimes only had one or two hours to work on things. But the aspect of limitation worked surprisingly well for the musician. “I had less time for making music but the time I had was more focussed.” And while the global pandemic surely affected all our lives, it didn’t really took a toll on Trentemøller who likes to shape his songs in solitude. Well, fatherhood might have played a more crucial part here. “I’m in the studio at 8.30 in the morning and leave around 3 p.m. when I pick my son up from daycare. That suits my working methods pretty well since I like to be isolated when I write music,” he says.
His little studio is the place where he slowly shaped these songs and where the path of Memoria started, one that lead him into a different direction than 2019’s quite experimental Obverse which was the attempt to create a record free from structural and performance expectations, a piece of pure studio work. Obverse was not meant to be performed live which turned out to be a wise choice in retrospect considering the fact that Covid hit the planet two months later. Whether sub-consciously intended or by accident – Memoria works as the opposite. While a certain amount of gloomy darkness is still a crucial ingredient for the Trentemøller sound there is a certain brightness and hopeful notion in this new album, transported via lots guitar, reverb and an almost meditative notion. The opening song Veil Of White was also the first one he wrote for the album. “It had that dreamy, shoegaze kind of sound which somehow designed the foundation for the rest of the record.” And while all of his albums are somehow connected to each other these two seem to have a special relationship, also musically. “All of the songs on ‘Obverse’ were written in minor key and ‘Memoria’ surely is a major key album.”
He doesn’t want to do the same album twice and that’s definitely the case with Memoria which almost wrote itself as he confirms. “The songs came quite naturally and I even had 5,6 songs more for this album. It was a creative period, I got to say.” There’s a lot … I’d like to say … ‘life’ in these songs, a feeling of relief, something we will hopefully all need once this harsh winter and the current Covid wave is over so we can enjoy a few things together.
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As Anders and the press release of the album states, Memoria is a record that “feels like it demands to presented as well” and that is still the plan although we briefly have to address the elephant in the room as well only to stick with a “Nobody really knows” regarding the actual happening of the tour which is supposed to start at the end of February in Berlin. When this article is published these dates are still set to take place but with a current Omicron spike and all other February shows here already cancelled or postponed you might do the math. However, when it’s possible to perform these songs, it’s going to be a blast and for the Anders Trentemøller it will not only end his 5-year-long-absence from concert stages but also the start of a new chapter since he formed a brand new live band for this tour.
Leader of the band
We briefly discuss my first live encounter with him back at the 2007 MELT! Festival which was also the first time he went on tour with a small band, performing the songs of The Last Resort in concert. “It was so much fun and such a relief to finally play these songs live,” he remembers. “And it was especially fun to do it with my friends Mikael Simpson on guitar and bass and Henrik Vibskov on drums who also worked on ‘The Last Resort’. Although I started DJing back then I always considered myself to be a musician foremost.” And ever since then he as come long way as an artist and performer. His new band is packed with a few familiar faces and friends like Brian Batz (of Sleep Party People), Jacob Haubjerg (of Luster) and Silas Tinglef (aka 2nd Blood). “This is really my dream band right now,” he says with a big smile. The first idea was also to have Lisbet touring with them but it turned out to be too complicated with their two-year old son and her work duties. Instead he found fantastic Icelandic talent Dísa Jakobs who’s a brilliant vocalist and will give these songs her own spin.
“We begin to have a proper band feeling. I also spend a lot of time to rearrange certain songs to make them more suitable for the band. And now when we play I find myself thinking: ‘Damn, that sounds really good, I should have done that on the album.’ We share a similar musical background and tastes so that also helps.”
Every band member also produces music which adds to the quality and will hopefully open new creative ways. They are so happy as a band that they also talked about recording songs together. “I haven’t done that in many, many years and it would be nice to try it out again. It’s also nice to step out of my comfortable routine here. Maybe we’re recording something at a remote place. Disa knows an empty church in Iceland which would be perfect for that. It’s a black wooden church.” What a goth cliché, right? Anders agrees and laughs. For now the tour is the next main goal and it will be interesting to see these songs come to life as they plan to actually perform the entire album, except for one song. Considering the fact that Memoria clocks at the 72-minute-mark that will be a huge part of the gig but it’s a consequent decision considering the DNA of the record that really creates one captivating hypnotizing vibe from start to finish. Memoria is a album to lose yourself into – and one that will weirdly give you the feeling that everything’s got to be alright in the end anyway.
In October Anders will turn 50 and more than ever he’s not interested in slowing down but hungry for new adventures under the Trentemøller moniker. Well, it’s his name anyway so basically everything is possible here musically. “I could definitely see myself doing something even noisier next time since I’m really fascinated by that trancy hypnotic vibe,” he says. “But it can’t go without the melodies since they’ve always been quite essential for me.” His next musical goal is to learn some basic bass and guitar playing skills and move away from the keyboard a bit during the production process. “I’m tired of always calling my friends helping me out with this. A bit more skills would be useful here.” Twenty years into the game there are still new adventures waiting beyond the horizon for the Dane and I will surely continue to follow whatever way it will lead us.
As I’m writing the final lines of this piece the sky hasn’t cleared at all, it’s still dark and the rain set in. Well, it’s a typical winter in Berlin anyway, right? But rest assure: better times will come; they might not wait around the next corner but maybe the one after that. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, it has to be and by embracing the darker sides of life you might worship the lighter ones even more. In many ways that might be a fitting credo for the music of Trentemøller which remains a beacon of quality on this record. It’s the right sound for here and now, so please take this album as a fitting invitation to his wonderful gloomy cosmos.
Trentemøller‘s new album Memoria arrives on February 11 via his own label In My Room and he’s going on tour as well.