Good vibrations: An interview with Efterklang
Prior to their much talked about set at Electronic Beats Festival Zagreb, Lucia Udvardyova landed face time with the 4AD-signed Danish masters of atmosphere. Away from the tyranny of promotion, the band instead expound on the subjective nature of sound, the essence of creativity, and a certain Mr X. Photo by Matej Grgic. Head here to watch highlights of Efterklang’s performance from the festival.
Hailing from Denmark, Efterklang is a 4AD-signed indie pop band established in 2001. Over the more than a decade of their existence, they’ve recorded several well-received albums, toured the world, and collaborated with filmmakers and symphony orchestras. Their latest, fourth LP, is Piramida, recorded in the desolate environs of Pyramiden, a Russian settlement in Norway. Fittingly, merciless cold engulfs Zagreb on November 8th, the date of the city’s Electronic Beats festival. Housed in a reminder of what was once a sprawling display of Croatian industry, the Zagrebački Velesajam, I meet the trio of Casper Clausen, Mads Christian Brauer, and Rasmus Stolberg in an impromptu interview room, a small white non-descript box of a room inside a large industrial hall, where the ensuing conversation turns to creativity, collaboration, and self-expression.
I wanted to ask about your name Efterklang. Apparently it means something like reverberation or remembrance.
Mads Christian Brauer: It’s a word that resonated with us. It refers to reverberation and remembrance, a very technical word but it also has some poetry to it; the decay, what comes after something.
MCB: Literally. ‘Efter’ means ‘After’. Klang is timbre, the sound.
What comes after sound?
MCB: That’s when something resonates within the structure, in a building or guitar. When the waves bounce around.
In a way it’s some sort of arbitrary thing, something uncontrollable, the echoes and delays.
MCB: But it’s not a repetition like an echo. Often it’s completely different to the sound, like a freeze frame of it.
Are you interested in sound as a medium? You also do field recordings, but you put them in a musical context.
MCB: Sound is a fascinating thing because it’s the same as light, except that we hear it. Sometimes it’s very fascinating how this world of sound affects us—and how we relate to it—because it’s just air that’s being pushed around but it can move you and talk to you. You can be attracted to any little silly sound and not know why you like it or don’t like it.
It is very physical and subjective.
MCB: Our sight is more alike but hearing is different for everyone. We don’t have a red for sound.
Casper Clausen: The first time I remember someone recording me was when I went on a school trip and they filmed us on this video camera. I heard myself on the videotape and I was like, “Wow, do I really sound like that?” You hear yourself through your mouth and your head one way, and when it comes out it’s different.
Peter Cusack, a field recording artist from Britain, recorded an album called Sounds From Dangerous Places in Chernobyl as a cautious reminder of the catastrophe of nuclear power as such. I wanted to ask whether Piramida is a purely musical piece or if it had an activist slant as well?
MCB: It wasn’t intentionally activist. We were fascinated by these pictures [of Pyramiden] that we saw. Of course, the communist aesthetics really affect the place. When you’re there you think a lot about the ideology. It used to be the “pearl of the Soviet Union” and in a way it was the perfect communist society because you couldn’t escape it. You were forced to make it work. It was a group of a thousand people in the middle of nowhere in the Arctic sea.
A utopian place?
MCB: Yes, and they were showing off to the Norwegians, so they built a swimming pool and a big cultural palace with an auditorium and a dancehall. It was like going to the moon, “See what we can do? We can create this little world where humans shouldn’t be.”
It’s a place loaded with atmosphere.
MCB: Of course it affects you. We were there for nine days and then we went to Berlin and recorded the album over the next nine months. It became this memory. The more distant the place became, time-wise, the more it became what you thought it was rather than what it actually was.
How can a studio, which is such a neutral space, inspire you compared to a place that is totally suggestive? How can you conjure a certain mood at such a place?
MCB: We made a lot of field recordings and based the album around those so we always had the sound to connect it to. The studio is something you have to get used to. It’s clinical, almost like a laboratory, but you get used to working there. It’s not like all music has to be recorded with candle lights and a very good atmosphere.
CC: I think it depends on who you are. Mads feels much more at home in the studio than I do. I’d rather try to escape it to be honest! For my part it’s a pressure to be in a studio whereas if I’m at home I just have to open my computer if I want to do something. But that’s something beautiful about these times, you can be creative in many places.
Nowadays, the way artists work has changed. It’s more distracted, people often do art in between other things and time is a diminishing commodity. In a way this has also affected the art that’s produced.
Rasmus Stolberg: I don’t think that’s anything new. Music has forever been used as a part-time pleasure. You may have been working hard during the day and at night you sing songs; some people develop a special talent and they may start doing it for living. It’s brilliant that these days people can have a job and make music on the side. It means they’re not always doing it to make money—it’s a creative outlet. I think there are lot of things coming out that are original and special because people are doing it for their own pleasure.
CC: But there’s a big part that you are missing. If you’re doing art, if you want to say something and there is something inside you that you want to come out with, it’s a call and you can’t just ignore it. Any artist I know has given up a lot. These days everyone, as Rasmus was saying, can do things and create, which is beautiful. However, being an artist takes more than just loading up a GarageBand. It requires the artist to take themselves out of their comfort zone, to experience something new. And that is an scary thing to do and will forever be that way.
RS: There are a lot of different artists, some artists are more proactive about reaching an audience but there are also a lot of people who sit at home doing really amazing things but they don’t have the ability to share it.
Back in the day, a lot of artists were only discovered after their death. These days everybody wants to have success right now.
CC: But there is too much focus on success. Everyone wants record deals, everyone wants everything. They want limelight all the time. People want to be everywhere all the time, including ourselves [laughs]. It’s a time of stupidity—a little bit—and we have to figure out what to do and focus on the right things.
RS: I think the focus is on creating. There are so many different ways of doing it. We have a friend in Berlin, a Swedish guy called Erik, and he’s been working on an album for seven years. He has a plan with it. And then there are bands like us who put out records every third year. You can’t say what is better and what is worse. I think there’s a whole problem with how music works these days, it’s about hits on YouTube, how big your name is on a festival poster… And while I totally understand that system, it has nothing to do with the quality of music. It’s just a system for marketing. You have to go out and find music somewhere else.
RS: Sometimes the unique things are harder to find. As a music listener you have to invest a little time in finding these things that are around because there are so many.
These days everyone is a filter.
RS: You have to use other filters or be your own filter. The output of music is insane—a crazy cacophonic world. It is extremely important that, as an artist, you are able to ignore that and focus on creating.
But once you put it out it’s in the public domain, it doesn’t belong to you anymore.
RS: If you make something that you believe in and that you think is really good, you want to share it with people. And you hope that other people will also have joy with it. If you make something that you believe in then you should focus on that. Maybe in twenty years someone will understand that, or maybe you will be the only one who understood and that is cool as well.
You are quite open in that you cooperate with lot of other artists. There’s a community around your music, which is also important.
CC: Ideally, if I describe what we want to do it’s to make something that is not necessarily finished. The best art is not complete. A certain percentage is left to the audience to carry on, and I think we play a little bit with that. Efterklang is three of us, but there is also a fourth member, Mr X, who is always there. That can be a lot of things, different musicians we work with, filmmakers, the audience. The three of us always need that fourth thing: the tension. ~
Efterklang’s Piramida is out now on 4AD.
Published December 03, 2013. Words by Lucia Udvardyova.