04 February 2010

Northern Portrait Answers 5

This globe is getting smaller, and Northern Portrait proves it. Hailing from Denmark, I reviewed their debut album, “Criminal Art Lovers,” a few weeks ago (link). From first listen, this album was an experience that seemed to transport me away from here to a soundscape that was mesmerizing, enchanting, and sophisticated. Reaching out to the band and having them answer a few questions has been just as an amazing experience; the insight, the honesty, and the humility that Stefan Larsen (songwriter/vocalist) emotes in his answers just made me appreciate what the band does musically even more. With that said, I would like to thank Stefan Larsen for taking the time and Answering 5.

(Northern Portrait / Photographer: Danielle Mandix)

1. Who are your musical and non-musical influences?

As the main songwriter in Northern Portrait, I would say that some of my most profound musical influences are The Beatles, Pulp, Suede (the early stuff), Roy Orbison, The Smiths, The Housemartins, and The Lightning Seeds. The Beatles because they were my first real musical obsession, which happened when I was eleven. Then when the whole so-called Britpop thing happened I was quickly drawn in - Pulp still stands out as the best band of the nineties in my opinion, but the early Suede records are superb too. Bernard Butler was a genius on guitar, and I definitely feel inspired by his playing style, although I'm far from his level. Guitar-wise I could probably say exactly the same about Johnny Marr [of The Smiths' fame]. The Lightning Seeds and The Housemartins are both the purest pop imaginable - a musical love affair for me, and finally I feel I have to mention Orbison, because he is a favourite of my father who used to play Roy Orbison tapes in the car. I love his voice, and his falsetto is always spot on. I love falsettos and could actually include Chris Isaak on the list of my favourite singers. He is perhaps the main reason for me trying to sing falsetto every now and then.

As for non-musical influences, there are too many to mention, but here are a few: Czech writer Franz Kafka, Danish poet Jørgen Leth, Danish satirist Soya, Film directors David Lynch, Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock, and Louis Buñuel, and French and British new wave movies of the sixties. (By the way, my educational background is a Master degree from the film studies at the University of Copenhagen, and therefore films in general is of course a great influence on what I do)

2. The band has stated that it wanted to record a "sophisticated" album. What exactly did you mean by that, and do you think you succeeded?

The way I see it, sophistication is about musical refinement and complexity. The 'indie' tag has been used to sell so much rubbish that's got absolutely nothing to do with the core values of indie, and therefore the term has become completely irrelevant. Daytime radio pop music - sometimes called mainstream - often has little to do with sophistication, though I must say that there's a lot of quality pop out there too. In Northern Portrait we make pop music, just not of the mainstream kind, though I feel there is a slight crossover to mainstream. Therefore we call it 'sophisticated guitar pop,' which I think says much more than 'indiepop' would.

And yes, I think we've come very close encapsulating our own idea of what 'sophisticated guitar pop' is. The album, of course, isn't perfect, but considering the circumstances I'm more than happy. Mind you, it was recorded and produced entirely by us on some very primitive equipment in a bedroom. It's no excuse for any compromises; it's just a condition. A couple of years ago there was a film movement in Denmark called 'Dogma' which gained quite a lot of international notice - the core of Dogma was to focus on the essence; the story and plot, and not on the technical execution. I think the same could be said about our record. And then, I often find sterile and very polished productions dull and unexciting.

3. What is the meaning behind the album's title, "Criminal Art Lovers"?

The title comes from the title track. I always carry a notebook in my pocket, and when writing the song, I discovered the title in a notebook. The original thought behind the line; well, I don't really remember.

4. I can't stop listening to "The Operation Worked but the Patient Died." How did this song come about?

I'm glad you like it. Quite a few people have mentioned that one as a favourite track. The song was written and basically recorded within only a few hours. Basically I think I'd just listened to a song called 'Blackout' by British Sea Power, and got quite inspired by that. They don't sound alike at all, though. Again the title was something I had in a notebook. I think I heard someone on Danish TV saying it, or something close to it. In Danish, though.

5. Most American and British musicians exist in an insular scene, with little knowledge of what is happening globally, but you guys are from Denmark. How has being exposed to non-Anglo-American music added to your own sound?

I'm afraid I’ve always been most fond of British music, but of course we have some local Danish and in a broader perspective Scandinavian music. In Denmark there are a few loved artists, mainly people who started in the Eighties - Kliché, Lars Hug, Love Shop, Gangway and a few others. Lars Hug, who is the singer of the band Kliché, has certainly been an influence on my singing and probably also my songwriting.

Keep up with Northern Portrait on MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, their blog, and their page at Matinée Recordings.

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