Efterklang's fourth studio album, the intricate, haunting Piramida, is streaming now via WFUV and NPR Music prior to its release next week on 4AD, but New Yorkers who haven't seen the innovative, daring Danish band live have a unique opportunity to do so this Saturday, September 22, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For the moment, that show (nearly sold out) will be Efterklang's only Stateside concert this autumn and it will also be steamed live on the Met's site.
Efterklang will join the Wordless Music orchestra, a collective that has also played with Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, Panda Bear and Deerhoof, for a concert performance of the new album. It's one in a handful of special concerts that Efterklang has planned worldwide this fall, with a few shows in Denmark and an October tour in the UK also slated. For their live performances, Efterklang has also recruited Budgie, drummer for Siouxsie and the Banshees, singer/songwriter/pianist and frequent collaborator Peter Broderick and vocalist Katinka Fogh Vindelev.
Piramida is Efterklang's first release as a trio — drummer and trumpet player Thomas Husmer amicably left the band earlier this year to focus on his personal life. The band's last release, Magic Chairs, was an ebullient, tightly-crafted record, nudging Efterklang to a more structured pop sound. Piramida breathes more delicately with a complex latticework of ideas, reminiscent of Efterklang's earlier work on Tripper and Parades. The new record's instrospective, even lonely mood was deeply influenced by a journey the remaining three members — Casper Clausen, Mads Christian Brauer and Rasmus Stolberg — made to an abandoned Russian coal mining settlement in Norway called Pyramiden, deserted in 1998.
The Alternate Side caught up with bassist and multi-instrumentalist Stolberg over email to discuss Piramida, the band's journey to the ghost town that inspired the record and what Danish bands deserve more recognition Stateside:
TAS: How did you manage to connect with [curator of performance] Limor Tomer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to do this upcoming concert with the Wordless Music orchestra? Was the collaboration with the orchestra conceived by Efterklang or was the match made later?
Rasmus Stolberg: We got in touch via Ronen Givony from Wordless Music who got to hear about the premiere of The Piramida Concert at the Sydney Opera House through local composer Missy Mazzoli who arranged four of the songs in the concert for orchestra.
TAS: You're working with different orchestras in every country, like Major Lift Orchestra in Ireland and the Northern Sinfonia in the UK. How will your older music figure into your current tour?
Rasmus: The Piramida Concerts are heavily based on the new album, in fact we play the entire album from start to finish. We do however also throw in a few oldies. Working with orchestras is amazing. A lot of hours and preparations go into making it happen, but when it does the payoff is equally bigger. Usually we have two days of rehearsals with the orchestras and then we go on stage. This is quite standard in the classical world, but something we had to get use to when we started playing all these concerts with orchestras.
TAS: The story behind the album's genesis sounds fascinating — you went to a ghost town, called Piramida, on Spitsbergen near the North Pole. Was it your intent to spark that new project or was it happenstance?
Rasmus: We went up there in August 2011. Our plan was to start the album in that specific location. So all three of us in the band have the exact same starting point and reference point for how this album came to life. It has been extremely inspiring for us. We never know where the making of an album will take us, but we can control the start of it all. We basically sampled this entire ghost town and used the material for making beats, ambiences and instruments which we then later used for writing all the songs for the album.
TAS: Is there an overall thematic drive behind the album? Decay, change, temporal boundaries?
Rasmus: Yes I think you could say that there is a overall theme and decay, change, temporal boundaries are all elements of it, but what ties it all together has to do with a splintered relationship. I think Casper was able to reflect on this relationship and compare it with the feelings we had when visiting the ghost town.
TAS: Listening to Efterklang's exciting evolution, it seems that — especially with Piramida — you've strayed a bit from intricate experimental and classical compositions into something that's warmer, more intimate, yet slightly more traditional, as far as song structure is concerned. In building this album, how did you see it in terms of Efterklang's past releases?
Rasmus: it is nice for us to hear that you hear warmth and intimacy in the music — we feel the new music is darker than the previous albums. We tried to restrain ourselves from using too many layers and focus on a more direct and sparse sound. There are some songs on the album that have a somewhat simple structure like "Apples" and "Sedna," but there are also songs like "Hollow Mountain", "Black Summer" and "Between The Walls" which, in the way they are structured, have much more in common with songs from our first two albums, Tripper and Parades, than the previous one, Magic Chairs.
TAS: There are so many intriguing, wondrous sounds filtering their way through the tracks. What is the sound in the beginning of "Dreams Today" which seems to be skipping? To pull that together ... is that a painstaking process?
Rasmus: The sound in the beginning (and through out) of "Dreams Today" is Casper running and Mads stamping — you can see it here:
The sound in the beginning and throughout of "Hollow Mountain" is from this. Mads spends a long time experimenting with this kind of stuff and it is big deal of what we do. The whole songwriting process for this album started out with these sonic experiements using the sounds we collected in Piramida in Spitsbergen
TAS: How do you realize this onstage or is it your aim to allow the songs to breathe and expand in different ways?
Rasmus: We can play a lot of these constructed sounds on our keyboards and we have a really great live band we love this flexibility. It sounds one way on the album another when we play with an orchestra and again another when it is just the 6 piece live band. It keeps things fresh and interesting for us.
TAS: Aside from traveling to remote mining towns, what have you all, as a band, been listening to as well? Do you tend to pay close attention to other production techniques on albums?
Rasmus: Some of our longest standing inspirations are Talk Talk and Einstürzende Neubauten — perhaps Piramida is the first album where that really shows. We love both bands for all aspects of their music. Songs, production, process
TAS: On a side note, given UK and US excitement over Danish TV drama, like "Forbrydelsen" or "Borgen" — the entire Nordic Noir movement — are you rather hoping that love affair expands to Danish bands as well? You have your own record label, Rumraket, and are ardent champions of other Danish bands — who else should we be looking for and listening to coming out of Denmark?
Rasmus: The Late Great Fitzcarraldos, Sleep Party People, Pinkunoizu, Choir of Young Believers, When Saints Go Machine, Murder, I Got You On Tape, Thulebasen, Selvhente, Frisk Frugt ... there are many really great bands in Denmark!!