Norwegian crooner Sondre Lerche broke through in the U.S. in 2002 with his debut LP, Faces Down, recorded while he was still a teen-ager. His Bacharachian arrangements and sharp pop sensibility have kept him on the radar ever since; his fifth full-length, Heartbeat Radio, was released last year by Rounder Records. We spoke with him via phone as he traversed the Midwest on a tour that brings him to Pittsburgh this Fri., Feb. 26.
Your music almost always features lush orchestration -- where do those arrangements come into play, when you start out as a guy sitting down with a guitar writing songs?
When I play concerts, I love the feeling of being alone onstage; that's something I've done since I was a kid, so it comes very naturally. But I never really listened to a lot of music like that on record. So the moment I went in the studio, I wanted everything but that. I was interested in pretty big arrangements -- harmonically adventurous and colorful settings. The studio, to me, represents a world where you can do that, you can play around with anything, turn the song on its head and really give it a beating, and ideally come back with a song intact, and also maybe with something new. I like the contrast of the studio being the place where you have endless tools to express and fulfill whatever potential was in the song. Then take it back down to the ground level in the live show, and communicate the intimacy of the song.
Where do your lyrics come from?
[In general,] the words just take a lot of time. A lot of rewriting, a lot of editing, a lot of time before you get to something you feel really motivated and feel strongly about the song and the way you want it. It's become more important with each album. With Heartbeat Radio, it's very essential to every song. I cannot go through with a song unless -- it just has to sit right, feel inspired, feel like you've gone as far as you could with a thought or expression.
Especially on the new record, your lyrics often mix ideas about music with ideas about personal feelings and relationships. Do you tend to look at the rest of your life through the lens of music -- is that a crucial metaphor to you?
It's part of the expression of some of the songs: music and thinking about music and expressing it. It blends with your personal life, your personal world, and they sort of speak for each other. That's what a lot of the songs are; even songs I didn't realize had that in them. I look back and see that that's a theme in the record. The themes in your album, you usually recognize them long after you've made it. It surprises you, and you feel much more profound than you set out to be.
In the title track on Heartbeat Radio, you're talking about relationships, but also about the state of radio. Where did that song stem from?
I was thinking about all these marketing-research tools and focus groups that big corporations have nowadays to figure out what their listeners -- not so much what they like or want to hear, but what they'll tolerate. Something that everybody can tolerate. And I thought there was a sort of relationship metaphor in that. I thought it could be sort of a crazy way of thinking that you could apply to an unhealthy relationship.
When I hear your records, "pop" is the word that comes to mind above all else.
I feel that way about it as well, I just can't say it out loud because it brings on a whole bunch of misunderstandings. To a lot of other people it means completely different stuff that maybe isn't as relevant to what I do, so I always have a hard time trying to describe it. I think it's about how I structure the songs: the dynamics, how you build it up. It's sort of an old-school pop way of putting stuff together, then incorporating influences from anything that tickles your fancy. Pop to me is just that.
Sondre Lerche with JBM. 7 p.m. Fri., Feb. 26. Club Café, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. $20. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com
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