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|A singer-songwriter influenced as much by Bacharach as by Beck, this twenty-year-old with the piercing blue eyes has made girls worldwide weak-kneed since the release of his debut, 'Faces Down,' last year. Daphne Carr catches Sondre at home in Bergen, Norway, as he prepares for a three-week US tour.
DAPHNE: Girls see you as a real heartthrob. Do your fans ever pursue you?
SONDRE: No, they're quite well behaved. Sometimes I wish they would get a bit more crazy. I have had a few teddy bears thrown my way, but they're generally quite soft. [laughs]
DAPHNE: Maybe those girls respond so affectionately because your lyrics often describe unrequited love.
SONDRE: I was still in high school when I wrote the songs on Faces Down. It's a time when you don't really know very much, and everything you do is kind of clumsy! There is a trilogy of songs on the record that describes the rise and fall of a real relationship I had.
DAPHNE: What happened?
SONDRE: I was thinking about one girl that I spent a lot of time with. I thought I was in love, but I also believed that I didn't stand a chance. "You Know So Well" is about dying to tell someone what you're feeling, but fearing that all hell might break loose if you do.
DAPHNE: The song captures that agonizing nervousness you feel before you declare your love.
SONDRE: And "No One's Gonna Come" is about the moment after you've declared yourself. I wrote that song in half an hour right after it happened. At that age, when you reach your romantic goal, you haven't got a clue how to handle it. You've only thought, "Wouldn't it be nice if ...?"
DAPHNE: I don't think that uncertainty is confined
to adolescence. It's pretty universal. Does the last song deal with the end of the affair?
SONDRE: "Things You Call Fate" is about realizing that, unless you get smart about love, quickly, you're bound to repeat your mistakes.
DAPHNE: Your songs are quite precocious. I know you started playing guitar at age nine.
SONDRE: My age is a double-edged sword. I mean, if you're forty, do you really want to listen to a twenty-year-old sing about love? Some people are impressed by the fact that I'm young, others are put off by it.
DAPHNE: Did your parents play a big role in your musical development?
SONDRE: Actually, I forced my mother to buy me a guitar! But I have to tell you, for the first two years I was really, really bad. I was completely lazy and never practiced. I took lessons at school but was never taught anything I could relate to. It wasn't until they started teaching styles like Bossa Nova that there was something I could use.
DAPHNE: When did you start writing your own material?
SONDRE: I guess I was always trying. I would sit at home attempting to write my own songs, but of course they were dreadful. At thirteen I finally wrote something that I felt was a coherent piece, a song. That's when I realized I needed to learn to sing, to do something in order to get the melody across. It terrified me in some way.
DAPHNE: Why was that?
SONDRE: I didn't know if I could sing. I had never been interested in it before. I was a big fan of Morten Harket from a-ha, so I was trying to imitate his style as well as I could. Obviously, the world doesn't need any Morten Harket sing-alikes from Bergen.
DAPHNE: a-ha are chirpy and mainstream. Their sound is very different from what you're doing now-a kind of mellow, vaguely confessional pop.
SONDRE: Well, at a certain point I began to investigate the references within the music I liked ?Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach, Steely Dan, and The High Llamas. For instance, I found out that Burt Bacharach was into Brazilian music, and I started looking into it. It's not that far from a-ha to Os Mutantes.
DAPHNE: I've heard you started playing in local clubs when you were fourteen.
SONDRE: Not very responsible, is it? My older sister worked in a Bergen club that had open mic nights. She knew that I wanted to play, that I had a huge need to perform my stuff. I wouldn't have been allowed in if it hadn't been for her. The first time, I didn't want to get onstage alone, so I convinced her to play a tambourine through all my songs. It wasn't very nice to listen to, but it helped me out.
DAPHNE: That's when you met your producer, H.P. Gundersen. Did he want to put an album together after just hearing a few songs?
SONDRE: I didn't really have any good songs, but he thought I had something, so we did some demos. I got a good piece of advice from him. He taught me to find the chords first, just focus on the melody and harmony, and then write the lyrics to contrast with the atmosphere of the music. The night he told me that I wrote "Sleep On Needles," which is on my album.
DAPHNE: That is such a great, soaring song.
SONDRE: After that, my work became more focused. I felt a rush of inspiration? I wrote Faces Down within a couple of months.
DAPHNE: Faces Down has been released in Scandinavia, the US, and the UK. What's it like to have an international audience?
SONDRE: These days, I'm constantly writing because I worry that I could suddenly lose my focus. I wrote the songs for Faces Down just for myself. I want to keep it that way.
DAPHNE: Are there other musicians in your family?
SONDRE: No. My mother works for a printing business and my father is a teacher.
DAPHNE: I've visited Bergen. It's a beautiful place, with an incredibly vibrant music scene. There seems to be a wealth of creative people there like Røksopp's Torbjorn Brundtland and Svein Berge, and St. Thomas, whose soothing music has also found an international audience. Bergen musicians share an intimate, laid-back style.
SONDRE: Yeah, there is definitely that feeling in Bergen. Because it's a small city, the bonds between you and your environment are very strong. I actually grew up in Paradis, about fifteen minutes outside Bergen. We lived in this big house with huge gardens and apple trees. I still have a lot of close friends from school, as well as friends in the music community. All the guys in the band are from around Bergen. They have a lot to do with the composition of the music.
DAPHNE: Can you see yourself leaving Bergen?
SONDRE: I don't think I could live anywhere else. I just bought an apartment there. But I like Paris a lot, I was there quite a few times last year.
DAPHNE: Do you feel as if you're a part of the current Scandinavian rock revival?
SONDRE: I don't feel at all related to the rock revival in Sweden. I feel a slight connection with a couple things going on in Norway...
DAPHNE: Bands like Kings of Convenience?
SONDRE: I definitely share some of their approach. But this whole Scandinavian music craze is just a marketing tactic.
DAPHNE: What will your next album be like?
SONDRE: Faces Down was so strict, so organized ?I want warmer harmonies on the next album, less going on in the background. I've been listening to a lot of Prefab Sprout from the 80s. Their songs are very strangely structured-it's hard to figure out where the refrains are, yet they still come out so naturally and beautifully.
DAPHNE: Is recording a second album different than the first?
SONDRE: I rehearsed with my band before we went into the studio. It allowed us to enjoy the process more. Sean O'Hagan and Marcus Holdaway of The High Llamas came in and did a session. They arranged an amazing brass section.
DAPHNE: Did the songs come easily?
SONDRE: In fact, I was quite inspired by what some of my Bergen friends are writing. You can be quite touched by what people around you have created.
DAPHNE: So your biggest influence is the Bergen music scene?
SONDRE: Yeah. That and The Beach Boys.