Chosen One: Efterklang
Interview with Rasmus Stolberg, Efterklang.
Saturday 15th September 2012. Cork Opera House. The special premiere of Danish band Efterklang’s newest masterwork, ‘Piramida’. A night of true inspiration and divine art. A truly unique musical experience. The trio of Casper Clausen, Rasmus Stolberg and Mads Brauer were joined by the 23-piece orchestra, The Major Lift Orchestra which was conducted by Mathew Coorey. The familiar members of the Efterklang family tree were present, most notably Peter Broderick whose own solo work inhabits similar otherworldly dimensions. The new album ‘Piramida’ sounds familiar in its magnificent beauty yet mysteriously unknown, all at once. The live songs showcased the band’s continued evolving blend of dreamy orchestral pop music. Songs like ‘Black Summer’ was a crystallization of all things Efterklang; the heavenly realm of brass, woodwind and strings orchestrated beneath Casper Clausen’s unique voice and songcraft. A symphony of life long emotion distilled in six minutes. The musicianship on display was awe-inspiring. Back stage, stage left was my primary focus during the night. Peter Broderick, a musician lost in the music, who existed in a realm of his own. His majestic harmonies and passionate persona reflected the special air that permeated the sold-out venue. As the band walked off stage, rapturous applause and gratitude escalated to the rafters, whilst the orchestra remained onstage, dumbfounded. Moments later, the joyous musicians graced the stage. ‘The Ghost’ was performed for a second time.
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
Saturday 30th July 2011. Savoy Theatre, Cork. The Reich Effect Festival. A celebration of legendary composer Steve Reich for his 75th birthday. The bill: Efterklang And Daniel Bjarnason And Their Messing Orchestra. The seventeen-piece band effortlessly bridged the classical and contemporary worlds. Special guest (and collaborator) Heather Woods Broderick graced the stage with her transcendent folk music. The intimate songs from her ‘From The Ground’ album (‘Wounded Bird’ and ‘Turned’) created magic and stirred souls. The perfect sonic backdrop to Efterklang’s arrival. Current album ‘Magic Chairs’ made up the majority of the set, from the life affirming ‘Modern Drift’ to the atmospheric ‘Mirror Mirror’ (which is still one of my favourite Efterklang songs). The musicians, all seventeen of them, floated into the audience at the night’s end. A symphony of brass sounds and joyous harmonies journeyed around the venue. The band performing alongside the audience. The musicians and audience were one. Efterklang’s music transported us to new horizons as our hearts were filled with that rare inner fulfillingness.
24th September 2012. The release date of ‘Piramida’; Efterklang’s fourth full-length album. The distinctive artwork and design by long-term collaborators Hvass and Hannibal graces the album cover. The uniqueness in design is shared with other luminaries such as Vaughan Oliver (4AD) and Peter Saville (New Order), that is symbolic of the album’s pivotal importance. The core of Efterklang now consist of the trio of Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stolberg. Most importantly, special guests and friends graced the ‘Piramida’ recording sessions; Nils Frahm (piano, wurlitzer), Peter Broderick (violin, piano, vocals), Agnes Obel (vocals), Earl Harvin (Tindersticks, drums) and the 60-piece South Denmark’s Girl’s Choir, among others.
August 2011 was when ‘Piramida’ was born. The band (Mads, Casper and Rasmus) travelled to Spitsbergen in the arctic, where the abandoned Russian settlement Piramida is located. It was left overnight in 1998 and today stands as a ghost town still full of relics from its past including the world’s northernmost grand piano. The band spent nine days in this ruin, just 1000km from the North Pole and collected over a thousand recordings which they used afterwards in different ways in the making of ‘Piramida’. The sounds and inspiration collected from this relic filled ghost town can be heard throughout ‘Piramida’. Lyrically (all songs are written by Caper Clausen), Casper has said the songs are inspired by the cycle of human creations-that being creations like an entire city left to decay in the Arctic or the cycles of our interpersonal relationships in life.
‘Hollow Mountain’ opens ‘Piramida’ and what an opener it is. The song’s initial tones are the sounds of protruding metal spikes of an oil tank which was found in Piramida. The song features Earl Harvin on drums, Nils Frahm on wurlitzer (his albums on the Erased Tapes label are all essential), Peter Broderick (strings) and the 60-piece South Denmark Girl’s Choir. The cinematic intro transports me back to Efterklang’s first full length ‘Springer’ released on the Leaf label, which is filled with sublime electronica and multi-layered ambient sounds. The refrain of “Do it, do it, do it, do operator” are the first words sung by Casper. Percussion and a heavenly symphony of sound builds very nicely, with Broderick’s strings providing the song’s shining spark.
‘Apples’ is polished pop of intense beauty. The song was one of the first songs written for the album after the band’s return from their trip to Piramida. As the band have described, ‘Apples’ is mainly a song about letting go of love in the attempt of finding it again. Every element of Efterklang’s musical palette is tapped into here. Harvin’s warm drums provides the song’s guiding beat. The visionary sound of french horn, trombone blends gorgeously with the compelling tones of programmed synthesizer. The intricate arrangements and superior musicianship of Efterklang’s larger ensemble flourishes on ‘Apples’. Casper sings “To runaway, runaway to this heart/you runaway runaway to the start/you are forgotten” wherein one feels the letting go of love occurring during the music’s ebb and flow. For me, ‘Apples’ represents the band’s natural progression on from ‘Magic Chairs’, where their orchestral pop oeuvre is continuing to evolve. Lyrics like “Another way, another way into your heart” and “All kinds of ways into your garden” beautifully evokes the human heart’s search for love.
Ascending harmonies and rising tones are the first notes on ‘Sedna’. The directness of this ballad for me is simply breathtaking. A beguiling atmospheric soundscape builds throughout. Rasmus’ bassline groove is one of ‘Piramida”s highlights. Peter Broderick’s piano and violin adds to the astral journey. “All living is taking me over/There is a truce in calling for the night”, Casper sings on the chorus that conjures decay and life’s unravelling. The falsetto vocal creates new depths to the new age ballad, recalling the sound of The Antlers. ‘The Ghost’ is the album’s anthem. Similar to ‘Modern Drift’ from ‘Magic Chairs’ or ‘Mirador’ from ‘Parades’, ‘The Ghost’ is laden with irresistible pop hooks and layers of intricate sound. Soul is washed over the sheen of orchestral pop. The chorus refrain of “the ghost the ghost that never was” stays with you long after ‘The Ghost’ comes to completion. Towards the final stages of the song, an eruption of glorious soul takes place. Casper’s falsetto and a combination of harmonies swirl together amidst the full swing of orchestra. ‘Piramida’ is in full fruition here, with shades of Curtis Mayfield such is its uplifting, life affirming soul. Timeless.
‘Black Summer’ is the album’s centrepiece. I think this is their finest creation thus far. The wide dynamic range, from hushed, cinematic tones of keys (what a groove!) to the crescendo of the 60-piece South Denmark Girl’s Choir transcends time. The power and glory of the band’s very essence of sound is to be celebrated on ‘Black Summer’. Brass, woodwind, strings and choir expels darkness. Agnes Obel’s backing vocals casts magic over the dark realm of sound. ‘Black Summer’ belongs to the works of Steve Reich, with its pulse and flow of life and emotion. A full-blown masterpiece. The initial piano notes of ‘Dreams Today’ echoes the otherworldly dimensions of Iceland’s Mum and Sigur Ros. Electronics, piano and xylophone provide the sound clouds for dreams. ‘Dreams Today’ is an electronica gem with masterful production. ‘Between The Walls’ contains uplifting trumpets and saxophone that lifts you in a profound way. The dreamy synth of ‘Monument’ provides a fitting close to ‘Piramida’. The woodwind of flute adds bright colours to the expansive canvas of sound. The spectrum of Brian Eno’s ambient works is explored here, where a 21st century lullaby drifts onto the horizon of the arctic and beyond.
Interview with Rasmus Stolberg
The new film ‘The Ghost Of Piramida’ documents your visit to the former Russian mining town. Describe the influence the place of Piramida had on you please?
Rasmus: It is the kind of place where you can’t help thinking or wondering. You start thinking about mankind and time and nature in broad scales – and afterwards on your own little persona and what exactly you are and why.
It was a big inspiration and also a little sad – I have to admit it is not an uplifting place. You sort of get the feeling that humans are this parasite desperately trying to overtake a magic and dramatic place where we don’t belong -> this forces the question -> where do we belong?? I don’t know. But creating music and making this trip into something special felt good.
The wonderful film ‘An Island’ by Vincent Moon is a beautiful insight into Efterklang and is filled with many inspiring scenes and moments. The last scene takes place at Sønderborg Gymnasium.
The three of you-Rasmus, Casper and Mads; attended this high school in the late 90’s. This is the time and place where you all started playing music together. Can you please recount for me your memories of this special time, where you started playing music together.
Rasmus: I started my first band with Mads when we were in 6th grade. Later we were in different bands sort of competing a little.
Later I started in high school and at the opening party Casper and I decided we should start a band with a drummer, bass player, two guitarists and we felt it was very important to have an organ player as well. We never found the organ player, but we asked Mads to join the band shortly after.
It was a good time and our early adventures developed into the dream of moving to Copenhagen and so we did and this is where Efterklang took its start.
Congratulations on your new album ‘Piramida’. The record is yet another masterpiece full of compelling sounds and intricate details. My personal favourite is ‘Black Summer’ and in fact, it could be my favourite Efterklang song. Can you please discuss the construction of this song and how it came together to become ‘Black Summer’?
Rasmus: It started with that marimbaish sound that sort of loops. Thats a sound we found in Pyramiden on Svalbard. A drumbeat and the piano chords were added and we all agreed there was some magic to this loop. It was about 1 minute long. we couldn’t figure out how to make it into a song however. It was one of the songs we spend the most time on. It almost didn’t make it to the album – today we are really happy that it did!
I was very fortunate to see you perform ‘Piramida’ with the Major Lift Orchestra at the Opera House in Cork. I would love to gain an insight please into the band’s preparation process involved for playing these new songs live with an orchestra on this ‘Piramida’ tour?
Rasmus: It was a project almost as big as the making of the album.
we collaborated with the composers Missy Mazzoli and Karsten Fundal on the arrangements for the orchestra and spent many hours getting those scores to be perfect.
We also engaged Hvass&Hannibal and scenographer Nico de Rooij to create a special set design and visuals.
we were running out of time before the premiere in Sydney Opera House – the weeks leading up to that concert we practically spent every hour awake working on this / rehearsing, changing stuff, scores, visuals etc etc etc
When we finally got on stage in Sydney the work paid off – we were able to actually enjoy playing and we knew our parts even though every single one was completely new. It was such a relief. wow!
‘Piramida’ is out now on 4AD