March 20, 2009

Interview: Northern Portrait

Since the Summer of 2007 the Danish trio Northern Portrait has been on a mission to make beautiful sophisticated indiepop music. This resulted in two fantastic EPs in 2008. First there was the lovely surprise debut The Fallen Aristocracy, soon followed by the equally sensational Napoleon Sweetheart. No wonder expectations for the upcoming album are high. Next month the band will start playing their first live shows ever. A good moment to ask singer and songwriter Stefan Larsen what this band is all about!

Hello Northern Portrait! You’ve been working on your debut album Criminal art lovers. How is that going? Do you already know when we can expect it to be released? Can you tell us something about the recordings on it?

Stefan: Hello Dennis. The recording of Criminal Art Lovers is going quite well, though a bit slowly - we can't really wait to have it finished. We hope and expect it to be released sometime in May when we're going to England and America.

The songs on the album are a natural step ahead for us. People who've enjoyed our first two EPs will easily recognise the sound, but still it's developed quite a bit. And of course since it's an album there's gonna be a much wider variety of songs than on our previous issues.

Things seem to go fast for the band. Less than two months after forming the band you were signed to Matinée Recordings, who released two stunning EPs within the year to very positive reviews. Now everyone is eagerly waiting for the album. "It’s no surprise that nothing works the way I wanted to," you sing in Waiting for a chance. Is it now though, just looking at what’s happening to Northern Portrait? To use one of your other song titles: What happens next?

Stefan: You're quite right; things seem to have been going rather quickly, and we are very pleased about that. We've all been in bands where nothing worked the way we wanted it to. Last year was very interesting for us indeed, and this year will probably be just as exciting. Our plans are to release an album, record a song for an upcoming Matinée compilation, prepare and maybe release a new EP and the play as many concertos as possible.

The three of you have known each other for a very long time; Michael and Stefan even since you were children. How did you develop from just being friends to being Northern Portrait? What can you tell us about your previous band, Morris?

Stefan: I've been in bands with Michael since we were ten, so music's always been part of our friendship. Northern Portrait was more of a coincidence than anything else. Michael and I had something called The Mirror Lounge, which was a musical idea that we really enjoyed ourselves. We did actually record an album of songs called Les Elegantiers which can be found on iTunes and such places. It's quite different from Northern Portrait, but I still enjoy it greatly. Northern Portrait came about when one day I discovered a simple demo recording of what became our first song Crazy, and decided to record it. At that point it just seemed completely natural for the three of us to form a band.

Morris was very much a live band. The name isn't, believe me or not, in any way inspired by Morrissey, cause none of us had heard of him then. We were very close friends, and had a good time. Some of the songs were brilliant, but we never made a single recording I can bare listening to. It's really painfully dreadful. Well, perhaps one or two of our last recordings are alright now that I come to think of it.

"I know she’s got a million dollar face, but this will not excite me. Though it is so clear that she’s so pretty, I’m tired of the way she’s selling out. I want something that’s real and perfectly genuine." Just a few lines from your lovely song I give you two seconds to entertain me. My search for 'something that’s real and perfectly genuine' is what led me to indiepop, and so, ultimately, also to you. When and how did you become aware of and interested in music outside the mainstream?

Stefan: Actually, I've always been listening to music that wasn't come il faut... When my entire class were listening to Vanilla Ice, I was listening to The Beatles or Roy Orbison or something. It wasn't until the Britpop thing happened in the mid Nineties my musical taste became comtemporary. I loved Suede and Pulp and many other groups of that time. I still do, actually. It was those bands that led me to indie pop, of which I'm quite thankful...

In 2008 Monocle Magazine singled out Copenhagen as the 'Most Liveable City in the World'. No, I had never heard of the magazine before either. But anyway, still. How does music contribute to that liveability? I think I must admit that the only other pop group I know from Copenhagen are The Raveonettes, and they don’t actually live there anymore. Are there more Danish bands we should be aware of? What can you tell us about Copenhagen and its music scene?

Stefan: Hmm. I like Copenhagen and I like living and working here, but what I don't like is definitely the music scene in general. Maybe I'm just being ignorent, but there's so much rubbish out there. Right now things seem to be changing a bit in favour of my personal taste, though. If I may recommend one band it certainly is Champagne Riot. And if the readers are interested in Danish music, my personal fovourites are Lars Hug and Loveshop.

For Buffet Libre’s cover project Rewind you recorded a version of Cliff Richard’s Some people. Not exactly the most exciting song to choose! It’s surely one of the duller songs in Cliff Richard’s output, and that’s saying something. I know what I’m talking about; my mom is a big fan. How did you end up recording this particular song?

Stefan: Well, the deal was that we had to choose a tune from the Eighties. We thought about it for a long time, and had many strange suggestions floating around. When the deadline was worryingly close we had to make a decision, and Some people seemed like a good choice to us. In my opinion it has a wonderful melody line, it's a terribly dull recording and is one of those songs that don't get too much attention. And then I don't think people expected that song from us. Our version was completed within a couple of hours, and I really quite like the result.

You’ve been quite generous so far with making some of your music available for free online. How do you feel about this still very new way of reaching a public? Do you consider the quickly developing universe of myspaces and weblogs a positive development? Did it help you? How do you find out about new music yourselves?

Stefan: There's no doubt that certain weblog editors have played a leading part in what's happened to us. Morten Stützer from the hits-in-the-car blog was the first to write about us, which definitely inspired us to record some more songs quickly afterwards. Myspace, weblogs and other internet activities have without any doubt been very helpful for us in trying to reach an audience.

I don't spend very much time finding new music myself, but sometimes I do discover something great, like Japan Air, for instance.

I understand you’ve had some problems reproducing your sound live with just the three of you, which is why it took so long before you starting playing live. I understand you’ve finally started doing shows now. You’ve found a satisfying solution then?

Stefan: Well, the main reason for our delayed concert debut is that we haven't payed too much attention to that part of being in a band. We've concentrated on recording and have also been busy doing other things. We're now just about ready to play our first gig, which is gonna happen in Hamburg. On stage we are going to be a quintet, with Jesper Bonde on guitar and Caspar Bock on bass.

I wanted to finish this with what is of course easily the most important question of all: what ingredients go on the perfect pizza?

Stefan: Eggs and chili should be standard ingredients.

Thanks Stefan!

Northern Portrait myspace
Matinée Recordings

No comments: