And how does Lost fit in with his other albums? Is it a break from the past? A natural progression? “For me there are, of course, differences – the first album was made nine years ago, and my music back then was different back then because your music should somehow reflect what is happening in your life I think; but I think there is too a natural development. There are still some of the same ways of writing music that I did back then. Maybe I’m more focussed on the songwriting now than on my debut album – that was more about the sound. While I still wanted some really good chord progressions, but the melody is definitely something that means a lot to me now.”
We’ve talked about some of the changes that have marked his career – group dynamics, the movements back and forth between electronic and live music – but how did he actually start out? When did he first realise that he wanted to be a musician? “When I was twelve years old,” he explains, “I was asked to do the music for a music school play. My music teacher could see that I was very shy, but I always played on the piano etc, and so he asked me to do new music for a play. For me it was a natural thing at the time – I thought ‘perfect – so I don’t have to be on stage!’, but looking back it was quite a big thing to ask a twelve year old! I managed to write it, and to teach my friends how to sing it, and I can remember when we finished the play they asked me up on stage and presented me flowers, and I thought ‘o.k, maybe I’m actually quite good at this’ so I started getting more confident.
So, did he have some kind of formal training then? “No, no – I’m self-taught,” he’s quick to clarify.”There was a great music school though, where they let you play with other people, and there was a teacher there explaining different instruments etc, so I played in a band there. They let us write our own music, which was great, because most of the other school bands just concentrated on playing covers; we did that as well, playing the beatles and stones of course, to learn, but very quickly in the process this teacher encouraged us to play our own stuff. I played drums and keyboards.”
Much of Trentemøller’s music is instrumental. While listening to some of the tracks on Lost, in preparation for the interview, my seven year old daughter wandered into the room and sat down to listen. “Ask him why his songs are sad” she said after a couple of moments. A childish reflection, but interesting in its own right – why do some songs sound intrinsically sad, without any lyrical clues to steer the listener? Would he agree that there’s a sadness in his sound? “Hopefully it shouldn’t sound like depressing sad,” he laughs, “but there’s obviously a melancholic / blue feel to some of the music, which is just natural for me. It would be very hard for me to write a happy-go-lucky ‘the sun is shining and I’m in love’ type song – that’s fantastic, but in an artistic sphere there’s more to work with in the darker sides of life. But I don’t want this album to be too dark or depressing -there should definitely be some hope, like the song Gravity, with Jana Hunter from Lower Dens, that song at some point opens up and hopefully gives some light and hope.”
How much of that melancholy comes from his Scandinavian origins? To put it another way, would he have written the same songs if he’d grown up in L.A? “Maybe not. The whole scandinavian melancholic vibe is something that’s in our blood [laughs], but then I also think that it’s not that important; if I sat here, or on the North Pole, I could still write music, so maybe the geographic thing isn’t so important. There’s a music tradition that a lot of our folk music is in a minor key, and many of the bands that I listen to – from the Cure through to Kraut rock – they all had a European sound or British sound (The Cure, The Smiths), as well as the New York bands like Velvet Underground, New York Dolls. It’s hard to figure out the importance of tradition/background – if it even really matters [laughs]”.
Without harping too much on about it, how intentional, though, is that dark edge to the music? “The darkness is intentional”, he agrees. “Even if I try to do a happy song, it always comes out as a bittersweet type of happy song. Whether it’s classical or Jazz, often I listen to music with a melancholic side. The danger, of course, is that it can become too heavy – even for me. It’s like if you listen to Sigur Ros for eight hours straight it can be difficult, because there’s so much pathos and so much drama. It’s always about trying to find a balance.”
Warming to the theme, he continues, “maybe sometimes it’s too easy as well, because automatically people tend to think that a dark tune is: ‘oh it’s a dark tune, that’s great and credible’. It shouldn’t be credible just because it’s dark, it should have more layers that mix the light and dark; I’m a great fan of David Lynch – and in his films there are always the main stories, but surrounded by lots of underlaying stories, sometimes going the opposite way to the plot, and I really like this idea of the subconscious layers that are in many art forms. Hopefully I manage to put these layers in my music.”
Let’s get back to the vocalists and Lost – with an intentional dark edge to the music, how do things work lyrically? Did he write the lyrics to the songs? “No,” he says, almost pulling a face at the thought. “The vocalists all wrote the lyrics, because I’m really bad at that, but also I think you get a much more pure result if the vocalists are actually singing their own lyrics because it’s much more personal. Of course, we can talk about it if the lyrics take a twist that I don’t like, that doesn’t go with the music, but it always ended up that the lyrics fitted in. I really hoped that the music would speak for itself, and that the track would dictate the atmosphere and what the song should be about, and one thing that was also important – many of the artists have a similar way of working (not in terms of sound) and of writing lyrics. It’s a more abstract way of telling a story, rather than going from a to b, and that’s why I like these artists – they’re my heroes, my idols, that’s why I wanted to work with them on these songs.”
Time is on the wing for us, as the soundcheck approaches. It’s been a great conversation, with the Danish songwriter/dj/producer happy to answer any question thrown at him. I throw out one of TMO’s standard curve-balls, the question that most artists tend to furrow their brows at. If he could work with any musician, alive or dead, who would it be and why? He thinks for a couple of seconds – but I get the sense that in those seconds he’s not desparately trying to come up with a name, any name, that will bat the question back to me (like plenty of musicians do); no, it looks more like he’s mentally flicking through some of his favourite records and working out which artist fits the bill best: “It could be fantastic to be part of The Velvet Underground – they were such a great band, and also that time period. I can remember the first time that I heard Venus in Furs, I was about eleven or even ten, but I was totally blown away by this creepy, hypnotic, mystical way of playing – it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before, with this drone and the vocals. It was someting fascinating – something I couldn’t pinpoint, drawing me in to the music.”
And if he were sitting in the studio, beside the late great Lou Reed, what would he bring to the table? “I’d be nervous,” he laughs. “Maybe I’d play my keyboard through a guitar amp, with some guitar pedals.
They’re a band that changed the sound of rock music – their songs were more fluid. Of course there were a and ,b and verses, and bridges, but often it was also about the atmosphere and sound. It still sounds dirty and fresh to me, with that burning energy – I love it!”
And with that, the soft-spoken Trentemøller gives me his leave as he prepares for yet another packed out, brimming-with-energy, dance / rock /electronic show that defies the labels and pigeon-holes that the music press has frequently tried to pin on him.