Casper Clausen of Efterklang
If record sales were based purely on artistic merit, Efterklang would be able to demand “platinum M&M’s only” on their rider. Their ability to orchestrate and interweave classic and modern instrumentation with electronics is like mastering quantum physics. But Efterklang’s artistry is best understood through their live shows. You haven’t experienced the full potential of live music until you’ve been to an Efterklang concert. On stage, smiles are frequent, and their positive energy radiates throughout the room. As one audience member shouted, “Danish Dynamite” would be an appropriate nickname for the Copenhagen based band. There couldn’t have not been more appropriately named group: Efterklang, which means “remembrance” or “reverberation”.
The Danish experimental chamber electro post-rockers (this is a very loose label, since their sound is constantly evolving, and charting new territories), Efterklang, is touring North America, for the second time around since the release of their latest album, Magic Chairs. If any city in U.S. could qualify as their home, it would probably be Portland. Local musicians, siblings Peter Broderick, and Heather Woods Broderick, both contribute to the recordings, and on stage. Peter has been with Efterklang since 2007, when the Danes asked him to move to Denmark to be their violin player. Bass player and the bands’ manager, Rasmus Stolberg, will be chilling out in Stumptown for three months next spring. And the lead singer Casper Clausen also expressed his desire to live in Portland (serious or not).
Before treating the Saturday audience at the Doug Fir Lounge to a mesmerizing performance, Clausen sat down with QRO to talk about the visual representation of their music, play samples from his iTunes playlist, and set the record straight about Efterklang’s grunge period:
Video of QRO’s interview with Casper Clausen of Efterklang:
QRO: Magic Chair is your third full-length studio album. How has your music transformed over the years?
Casper Clausen: Well, it changed a lot. I’m having a hard time to see – how to describe – how it all – sort of – has changed during the years. I think, it’s been – it’s easier for people that’s been like they’re going down the Efterklang alley, and to judge how its been changing. I think to me… It’s like ever-going journey. Every time we do an album, we do it full on, and it’s very intense, and next you want to go somewhere new. So I think we’ve been doing quite lot of different kind of things. And that’s what we enjoy a lot: like changing all the time. Trying and change the way we look at the music. The way we’ve created, and the things that we listen to, basically. So it’s been changing a lot.
QRO: When did you realize you wanted to be a musician?
CC: Hmm – I think – I started composing music when I was – 16? Maybe 17, actually – about the time I met Rasmus in high school. That was where we started making our first songs together. I think that’s kind of where it really started for me: when I was thinking of being a musician. I was playing drums when I was a kid. That time it was – I actually stopped pretty quickly. I had three years of education… I’ve never been really good for education. [laughs] Or like a conformed kind of education. At that time… I remember episodes like learning to play along with music, and that made you sort of think: “Wow! I can play same thing as they’re play on the record.” Maybe I could actually – you know – play drums in a real band at some point.
QRO: Where there any musicians or band that you saw - “Oh yeah, I want to do that too!”
QRO: I read that in the beginning, your band’s sound was grunge?
CC: I think actually – Rasmus and Mads used to be in a – they grew up in a same, small village. Three of us grew up on the same island. The island is pretty big but they were – living in the same village. They had more or less grunge bands. That was in period of Nirvana, Pearl Jam (QRO Retrospective)… When we did music together in the end of the nineties – oh that sounds so old – by the end of nineties… [laughs] It was more like white genre of pop rock. We were inspired by Radiohead (QRO album review) at that time… It was the big OK Computer period. We were experimenting, but we were basically a rock band. Kind of boring, high school band. [laughs] That sort of made us think at that point – we were – Mads was playing guitar, and Rasmus was paying guitar too. We had a bass player, and a drummer, and I was singing. Sometimes playing guitar too. But basically it was sort of ordinary [makes quote sign with his hand] ‘rock band’ sort of instrumentation. When we finished high school, and moved to Copenhagen, we had a couple of years, basically just figuring out how to – how to be special! I think. [laughs]
We learned a lot… I’ve always felt sort of embarrassing, listening back what we did at that point. Because it was to me, it’s like – you know – it’s all so cute and fun, but I have to be able to sort of enjoy it… but it was fun time. That was kind of where we started. And the grunge period was before, and I wasn’t really a part of that. I was listening to my Nirvana Nevermind tape at home, but I didn’t know about Mads and Rasmus.
QRO: It seems – being a recording artist is more than just about music these days – the visual language seems to be an important component as a band. And you guys seem to be one of the bands that embrace using visuals in conjunction with your music. How do you feel about the visual aspect?
CC: Actually, we went from being a very visual band. When we released Tripper, we were working very closely with a film director. And he made some sort of collages that were very much connected to the music. There were kind of the visual aspect of the electronics at some point. They were very synced with massive electronics, and every time we played a song – it was live… we had synced like – going from A to B… Everything was very tight about it. At that time, we were projecting it in the back, and we were more like shoegazing in the front… We were just playing along to the movie.
And then when we’ve made Parades, and we were touring at that point, it felt like we wanted to actually put our self in little bit, more to focus on, at least in the music. And give ourselves the opportunity to – to add some freedom in music. So in that case, we got rid of the visuals, and focused little bit more on the live band…Of course we’re making music videos, and we are… cover artworks as well. We’re trying to make something that makes a nice product. We’ve always been very concerned [hand quotation], or excited about how the visual presentation of our music is being done. That sometimes also put limits. We don’t … just spread out music videos all the time. We are kind of picky about what is coming out.
QRO: The title of your album, Magic Chairs – that’s a reference to a film work?
CC: There’s a movie called the Five Obstructions. Film director called Jørgen Leth. He’s Danish… “Modern Drift” music video is made from this seventies movie, that was filmed by Jørgen Leth. His son, that is a friend of ours, we edited the pictures to fit for the “Modern Drift” video. So that’s Jørgen Leth. Jørgen Leth is a big hero for us. He and Lars von Trier… they made a film together, where Lars von Trier has to put up obstructions for Jørgen Leth. One of the scenes is on a roof in Brussels, and Jørgen Leth is trying to explain to a camera guy… how he wants the chairs to move around. And he’s using the picture, Magic Chairs to describe that. So it’s like a side note in that movie… when I watched that one, and I heard this Magic Chairs, it felt kind of like a nice picture… We never really figured that solid, sort of reason for picking the title for that album. It’s just sort of – a nice title. We like the title, and we kind of feel it connects with the music somehow. The process we went through. And also like the way Hvass & Hannibal made the artwork from the title, and it’s very nice that it doesn’t contain any chairs, actually. Which is the point of it, I think. It’s not really the actual things, but more of a combination of the words.
Efterklang’s video for “Modern Drift”:
QRO: How has the Internet affected your career throughout the years?
CC: Just today, we made this “Chord” outside the venue with a group of people from Portland. This “Chord” project is just one of the things we’ve been enjoying about the Internet. It’s a way we can get in contact with people that are listening to our music. And it’s the way they can communicate with us. And in that case, I think it’s very different from the way I grew up with bands. The bands were something unreachable. Like something you could – possibly, you could get in touch with them – when you were at the concerts – and they were just accidental, listening to the support band, and you could go and say “hi.”
We used the Internet to spread the word about ourselves. To keep in contact with people that are listening to Efterklang. And we use it a lot, for instance when we’re doing a U.S. tour; we’re reaching out to MySpace friends… There’s so many bands, so much music, so at some point, it’s nice to know that people in each city that we are passing by knows that there’s an Efterklang concert. And I feel somehow, it’s easier to have a hand on, sort of – it’s easier to sense if you are promoting the show – full on, this way around. Because you can actually do quite a lot yourself. While, I would say like few years ago, it was more up in the air. There was the local promoter doing something, but you wouldn’t really know what he was doing. Some of them would do a lot, and some wouldn’t do much… It’s more in the hands of you. You decide how much you want to promote yourself. And also like music, how much you want to spread the word about yourself.
By the end of the day, you’ll find out that it’s still the music that talks. [laughs] But what I like is… you can use this communication in the contact to your fans, in a creative way. Asking them for their ideas, and having feedback on stuff. And I really enjoy that. That’s a nice thing. I mean, we still make our albums the way we want them, but there’s a lot around the music, you can use your fans or listeners.
QRO: So why “Chords of America”? Who came up with this concept?
CC: I was reading a book, and I’m still reading a book called 17, by Bill Drummond. He’s a KLF guy. He’s doing a lot of funny projects… This project is kind of, it’s very much inspired, and similar to some of the projects he did. He does something called “Scores”. Basically, you can perform a score, as a group of people. While this is actually a recorded project – we recorded, and put it on the Internet. His is more like… the essential part of the project is that – is to be part of the score. And not to actually spread it as a recorded media. It’s more reaction to the recorded music, actually. It goes somewhere new. So that’s kind of where it started for me.
I read this book and… it kind of feels like a nice idea to have – we have run this photo blog for awhile, and its always nice sort of way of reminding you, where you go.
Because, pictures are passing by, like all the time. We’re passing, I don’t know – 25 cities in this month, and it’s nice to do something every day – are summing up something. Or documenting where you go. And that’s part of it… I have ideas on how you could use – in the beginning, I was thinking maybe we could do a chord. Strictly a chord, in different kind of scenarios. Like having a guitar chord. Having a piano chord. Having a choir chord. And then somehow in the end, you’ll be able to make music from it. Like say, “doo – ding …” [makes different sounds of notes] and then you might actually be able to record drumbeats - that could be one of them. One of the shots that would run through the whole thing. And then you’d actually be able to put together your own kind of piece of music.
Then I kind of discovered, by doing this kind of thing is that… if you have a look at this “Chord” project, it starts… a guy from a random music store in New York. We went in there to buy some stuff, and this guy that looks like Jimmy Hendrix. It’s actually 40 years ago, Jimmy Hendrix died on this day. Anyway, he was sitting there. He was like eleven, twelve, or thirteen years old. And they did a chord together. But it’s just a chord, actually. I felt that, after awhile, just having the chord was not really – too exciting, while doing it. The exciting part is sort of to create this kind of thing that Bill Drummond is also doing it, like a score. Like trying to create a scenario. Like a little theater piece at some point. Or at least, make up some rules. Or do a little game. That’s basically what it is. Like doing a little game. Like going from A to B, something is happening. And we’re all part of it. And then it starts here, ending there. These kinds of things will happen. We are all sort of participating in it. And that’s what is exciting about it. But that leaves us with videos that are more sort of like um- separate, like small stories. It’s like the one we did today. You can all watch it on Flickr.
I’m not really sure how to connect them, in a way? We’ll see – by the end of the tour. We probably won’t – we’ll cut ‘em all together to one long video, at some point.
QRO: If you could play one song to someone who didn’t know your music, what song that would be?
CC: [takes some time to think] Hmm – eh – whew…
CC: [laughs] I would probably play the most recent song I had at that time. Probably eh – I would probably play them a demo at some point. [laughs] Something I would have in my computer… I’m really struggling with – um – playing music for other people – of my own music at least. I like playing other people’s music more.
QRO: So what song, or band are you really into?
CC: At the moment? [pauses to think] I am very much into this Japanese band, seventies band, called the Yellow Magic Orchestra. It’s this piano player – Sakamoto – you might know from his work with Alva Noto… I have this concert they did in London, and one of the first songs he – there’s one more thing – I’m very bad with titles so I can’t remember, but there’s this first song – this live album, which is the only album you can buy by the Yellow Magic Orchestra on iTunes. So you won’t be able to find it. But the first song from that album, that live album from London, “random”, is a great song. [laughs] And I would play it to you if I could… [looks down to find his iPhone] I could maybe find it… This might be a copyright problem but uh – [scrolls down his playlist]
Also there’s this another guy or there’s another band I’m listening to called Magma. It’s a French band, from the seventies. Fantastic. [Holds up his mp3 player and bobs his head] But they’re singing in their own language. They made up their own language. This is like – so they’re singing like “oh hee”, that kind of opera. Sounds good, ha? [scrolls through his player] Let me just check real quick – here we go. That’s the Yellow Magic Orchestra. Beautiful band. And we just listen to some of their real albums in the car today. There are some funny moments in that. So definitely, I would probably play that, and I would probably play – a demo [laughs] on my computer. And if they really force me to it, probably, play something from Magic Chairs, I guess.
QRO: [noticed how he was wearing a pair of Nikes] You’re wearing a Nike.
CC: This is my brother’s… shoes. He’s a bit more street than I am. I was – visiting him the other day before this tour, and I hadn’t brought any good shoes for festivals. It’s the Jordan’s.
QRO: I watch lot of foreign films, and it seems that no matter what country it’s set in, I can always spot someone wearing a Nike.
CC: It is actually bad, I know… like if you go down that road, then – it feels – rather not so cool wearing them. But they are actually nice shoes. I like them.
[Casper looks down at the shoes, and grabs his bottle of beer]
QRO: Take a sip. I’m going to ask you another question.
[We laugh, and Casper takes a sip]
QRO: OK, how many more questions you want?
CC: Just one.
QRO: Just one?
CC: Em, or two.
[there were seven more questions remaining on the sheet...]
QRO: Ok – um – how come you guys look like you’re always having so much fun?
When I watch videos of you guys, you guys always seem so happy – and getting along…
CC: It’s all fake. It’s part of the entertainment. [laughs] It’s showbiz. I mean when we’re doing things like playing live or… traveling or whatever then. There are good moments, and bad moments. Usually when we are on the stage, for instance, it’s just basically the peak of the day. You sit in a car for a long time when you are on a tour. So the fact that you are actually doing what you are there for… is a really an uplifting feeling. So be on the stage, for instance or – doing things together, the things that really matter, that’s important. That makes us happy, basically.
QRO: So the pay off.
CC: Yeah, it’s the pay off for all the – all the shit… [laughs] We’re not just happy all the time. We have our fights, and we’re old friends, of course as well… What keeps us going, and what’s – because this is not like [clears his throat] – a walk in roses. It’s lot of really long drives and um – lot of doubt! About what you’re doing, you know… and so on so. Once we’re actually doing the things we’re doing, and feeling that we get a nice response from that, and so on. And then it’s just a – a great feeling.
QRO: What is he most memorable thing that happened on this tour so far?
CC: I think one of the Chords we did was in – something called Fruitland? We met this guy Bob. He was in a bike – bike ride for 90 days. And he did one of the Chords with where he was bicycling with this recorder. That felt very American road movie kind of like, one of those characters that you meet in a film at some point. Great guy. That’s memory to me that stands out to me. [link to the Fruitland chord]
The interview was a “walk in the roses” with Casper. Hiss unassuming demeanor and lightheartedness made this shy and nervous interviewer at ease. We’ll always have a room for Casper in Portland, if he really wants to live in the City of Roses.
In keeping with the spirit of Portland, ended the interview by giving Casper a bottle of eco-friendly vodka.