Routines can be an instrument of calm and consistency but they can also be an obstacle when you want to unfold your potential. I think every creative mind can relate to this and also to the fact that it gets harder to break with your own habits as you get older, especially in a world that provides us with new opportunities and developments every day. Sometimes your comfort zone is just too … well, comfortable. Danish artist Anders Trentemøller knows about that and in many ways his fifth full-length Obverse is a testament of change and the fearlessness you need to have to make it happen. “It’s kind of funny,” he says with a smile. “Outside the studio my life is getting more and more conservative.” When I meet the musician in the early fall of 2019 in Berlin he just became a father and it feels as if this event is probably as important as the imminent release of his record. Well, maybe even more important. “The baby is only six weeks old now and it already changed a lot,” he confesses. “It also had an impact on the record because I decided to not to tour after this release due to my son.” The pregnancy happened halfway throughout the recording process but it encouraged Trentemøller to continue the already started direction of his most ambitious and fearless album so far. While it’s clearly recognizable as one of his records it also breaks with the previous releases and frees itself from structures and expectations, feeling like the purest incarnation of ‘The Trentemøller sound’… if a thing like that even exists.
No genres, just music
“I think I gained a little more self-confidence in the past years,” he explains to me. “I’m not so afraid of doing mistakes. When I started making music in the early years I was more about following a certain ideal.” Over the years the Copenhagen-based multi-instrumentalist slowly moved his sound away from his techno roots into more abstract territory that’s still quite hard to define. Wave? Goth? Rock? Doom? Ambient? Post-Something? Trentemøller isn’t thinking in genres and neither should you. He moved beyond that years ago. “I hate electronic dance music,” he says with an ironic laugh when we talk about people who still ask him to return to that sound eve after all these years. To this day he still wonders where that comes from. His famous 2006 debut The Last Resort isn’t actually a pure techno record and due to its instrumental DNA it’s actually even closer to Obverse than any other of his albums. He continues to reflect: “It’s the 12-inches I did before the album that placed me in that techno territory even though I only did a few one. I’m a bit embarrassed by that phase, it’s like looking an old photographs.” And the fact that he even headed for that territory also had to do with a break in his own routines.
“Back then getting into techno was also a reaction against years of playing in bands. I wanted to do the total opposite of a rock band. It was more a rebellion against my own past than pure passion.”
Today, Anders Trentemøller is open for change and he continues to grow. In many ways Obverse is a counter reaction to the progress of its four predecessors which were also written and designed to be played live. “I think during the last tour we played 120 shows within one year and I didn’t really see myself stuck in a tour bus this time,” he tells me. “I always wanted to do a pure studio album, I wanted to go crazy in the studio without thinking about a live adaptation. Originally I intended to record an instrumental album and I started working on it like that.” However, the knowledge of becoming a father changed that process in some way but his natural restlessness and hunger for musical experiments also played a part in that. He doesn’t want to repeat himself and in the beginning that goal literally stopped him from doing anything. He explains: “I was suffering from writer’s block in the first four or five months. I didn’t get the music to sound the way I wanted it to sound. I went to the studio every day and it was really frustrating because it didn’t sound right. I started getting nervous and slightly depressed.” How do you face a problem like that? Well, maybe by simply running away from it for a temporary time.
“The turning point was a vacation in Sweden when my girlfriend recommended a creative break. We rented a cabin in the woods, far way from the city, the internet and the studio of course. After not thinking about music for three weeks I got back with an open mind. I felt an almost childish hunger for making music again.”
Learn to limit yourself
And it’s that hunger you sense on Obverse, an intense yet quite floating piece of music that is driven my instinct, creativity and the artist’s desire to explore new territory within his studio possibilities. “I though: Now I have the studio and all the possibilities of it, I don’t have the pressure to let the band perform it – let’s go fucking crazy! I wanted to see where the music took me. I started at one point and then ended up at another.” It’s a record that demands your time as we both confirm to each other but if you do that it ultimately rewards you with surprising twists, an almost meditative character and this urgent desire to dive deeper into the dark abyss of its sound. It’s mysterious, distorted, heavily textured but also quite intuitive and playful on the other side. “There’s a lot of contrast on the album, sudden moments that take you out of your comfort zone and play with your expectations,” he tells. “The big challenge was to make it feel natural and create a flow that would work for the listener. I wanted to surprise myself and the audience as well.” And yes, this also meant to avoid familiar patterns and “mistakes” he made in the past.
“I tend to overdid certain aspects of sound on my previous albums. I overloaded my records. I needed more space in the music. I love it when music leaves room for you to fill out certain gaps with your own fantasy. But on the other hand there are plenty of moments that are loaded with layers which invite you to discover new elements with every new spin of the record.”
There’s a lot of space and emptiness in the music which Trentemøller‘s sound didn’t have before. “I learned to limit myself in a certain way,” he explains and that took a few detours during the process as he also confirms. Sometimes a song idea ended at the same point it once started following a few experiments that were ultimately necessary to get to this conclusion. His eyes lighten up when he talks about this album and its process. You really sense how happy he must have been with his machines in the studio. “You can lose yourself in the recording process,” he says, “it’s an almost psychedelic effect.” He’s also trying to avoid listening to other music during the recording process as it would only confuse him. “My main source of inspiration were the possibilities of the studio. They provided all the guidance I needed,” he says. However, he does name Low‘s latest album Double Negative an influence due it’s bravery for breaking with the band’s musical legacy and provide something entirely new. The destructive and abstract nature of the album inspired him a bit to go even further with Obverse. “I have plenty of guitar and effect pedals I use to distort the sound. I didn’t want the electronic sounds to sound too clinical in the end.”
There is a consequence in this new album that makes it so enjoyable and it’s a great outlet for the darkness within you and your own demons. At least it is for the musician. “The darkness comes from inside me and I’m happy to have this creative output for me,” he says. “If I didn’t have music I’d probably had a hard time dealing with the world. Being melancholic is a good thing. I love people who are more reflective and thoughtful.” Obverse is a record for the introverted minds, soothing material for all sinister souls and quite brave in it’s consistency. “I’m trying to get the rebellious spark in my music alive,” he says with a charming smile. And sometimes that also goes for the world around his music like the idea to not head for a tour. “It felt quite right and naturally do go for that way even if I lose money from it,” he confesses. “So, my main source of income is missing here but well, so be it.” After twenty years in the music industry Anders Trentemøller put himself in a position where he enjoys creative and economic freedom to a certain degrees, allowing him to embrace change and a certain fearlessness in his music that takes him closer to the natural sound he always meant to create. In many ways, Obverse is the purest form of his art. But who knows what will come next? He’s already missing the live shows as he says and he hopes that a follow-up doesn’t take another three years to emerge. But for this moment he simply enjoys that the fact that nothing lies ahead of him.
“It’s a blank space. There are no commitments. I’ll see where the wind takes me. Well, probably to the supermarket buying diapers. I’m curious to see how my old life and my new life will blend into each other and how that will affect my music.”
For now fatherhood appears to be the next big adventure in this thing called life and when we talk about that his voice is filled with joy and relaxed confidence. “I needed those past years to tour the world and find fulfilment through my music,” he reflects towards the end of our conversation. “It used to be all about me while I’m no probably number two in my own life.” Anders Trentemøller smiles and takes a sip of his afternoon beer. Maybe the routines will play a more prominent part in his life from now on but I’m pretty sure he will continue to break them artistically every now and then just to see what will happen and where it might take him. And I really think we could all use a bit more of this spirit in the end in our lives from time to time.
Obverse is out now via In My Room