It’s difficult not to like Efterklang. They have released three stylistically varied albums, each pushing the limits of pop music. From their arty electro-ambient debut Tripper, to the high concept Parades with intricate orchestral layers, to the harmonic pop sophistication of Magic Chairs, the Danish ensemble always manages to keep things fresh. Through the years, Efterklang has become one of the most engaging live acts, often collaborating with other artists, and making their audience feel as if they are part of the performance, and not merely spectators. On their latest endeavor, Efterklang has teamed up with the French filmmaker Vincent Moon for a feature-length abstract music documentary, An Island. The project introduced something novel by way of ‘Private-Public Screenings’ that encourages community by allowing anyone to host a screening with free entry. The film took on an extended life after the production with its socialist-like method of distribution, further reiterating the art-for-all ideology of Moon and Efterklang.
Two days after their final Magic Chairs concert at Amager Bio (QRO review), in Efterklang’s home base of Copenhagen, QRO returned to the venue to chat with the frontman Casper Clausen. Before a show that featured a live set from Efterklang contributing member, American Peter Broderick, followed by the screening of An Island, the charismatic singer/songwriter/drummer took ample time to discuss the developments since we last caught up with him on September 2010 in Portland, Oregon. Looking refreshed and full of smiles, the cordial Clausen enthusiastically talked about the very long tour, the Berlin studio, and the process of making An Island.
QRO: First of all, congratulations on the IMPALA´s European Independent Album of The Year for Magic Chairs. It even beat out heavy weights such as The National (QRO spotlight on) and Underworld (QRO album review). How did that feel?
Casper Clausen: Well, the award itself… we are kind of part of the same organization. So you can say it’s a little tap on the shoulder – it’s a respect in some sort of way. It’s great to receive an award from so many independent labels that you know are receiving a lot of music and are listening to a lot of music. So you can say like – in the end, as an industry – an award – it’s fantastic!
QRO: How have you guys been since we last met in September?
CC: We had a great U.S. tour. It was really nice. Then we went to Iceland for the first time for the Iceland Airwaves. Did some touring in November. We did sort of our first Danish tour – all the smaller cities. And then we did a few like – off concerts to exotic places like Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Istanbul. And then we took a small window break in December and January. And then we started working on this Messing Orchestra piece we did in Holland last month. That was a really fun one. And around the same time, we also finished the film, An Island. So it’s been a lot about An Island and trying to get that out. And of course, two days ago, we finished the big European tour here – in this building. So that’s been very exciting… it’s been one of the best attendances… so it really feels like the culmination of lot of things. So it was a really great tour.
QRO: Your final show on the 18th in your “hometown” was unearthly. I mean you guys were fantastic at Doug Fir (QRO photos), but your performance here at Amager Bio was like – out of this world! Because you guys knew it was your final show, did you purposely try to give your best, or were you feeding off the vibe from family, friends, and fans?
I think sometimes it has the opposite effect – you start wondering too much about stuff. So I think for the first three or four or five songs, had to adjust to it… trying to get into that concert mode.
And of course it was special in many ways. We had five guests – people who are recording with us – touring with us – and the fact that it was here and filled with people – it’s a great atmosphere. It was really like a great combination of all the best moments. Of course, also a little bit sentimental because we know that we’re going to have a break now. It will take awhile before we’ll be playing again. But at the same time, I know that we had a lot of things to do so I don’t see it like as a big ending like that. It felt a little bit like an anniversary – where you invite all the key persons that have been involved in Efterklang. We had a huge guest list with people that have been working with us over the years. And all the parents were there. So of course it was like a big sort of a celebration. And when we played such a long tour as this one – five weeks or something like that, we definitely get better at playing together.
So the final show like that – you can say that as an audience, I would say, you’re seeing us at the best. Because sometimes you start out tours, you have to sort of pick up things again, and there’s a lot of mistakes – and kind of lot of off – you have to find each other again. When we play something in concerts, we definitely know where we have each other, and that allows us to be free around it. And that’s nice. [nods his head and smiles big]
QRO: Did you play a new song? Think it was after “Caravan” – like staccato with brass section and finger snapping after about halfway.
CC: From time to time, we do the – “Caravan” has a really nice ending – it’s a nice base to start something – you can say like a small jam. Sometimes we end a song, and it goes into some kind of a free piece at some point. So that’s what would be a new song. But every evening you know, it’s different from what we did the previous night. We use it as a sort of small intermezzo – where we can sort of check on each other. Because when you play songs that you’ve played so many times before, it’s sometimes hard to surprise each other, and sometimes you find yourself being in little bit of an autopilot. And that’s the worst. You want to keep things fresh. Sometimes having pieces where nobody knows where it’s going is nice to sort of – freshen everyone up!
QRO: When I saw you guys at the Doug Fir, you were a seven-piece band, but for this performance, you had five additional people join you on stage. Did you require much more time to coordinate – to play as a twelve-piece ensemble?
CC: This set up was the same setup as what we did in Roskilde Festival last year. You can say that the big difference is that the seven of us just went on a long tour – we know exactly how to fill the space, and how to fill the songs. For us, it’s more about, creating a little bit of space for the rest of the musicians to come in. You can reach new heights with all these musicians. You have much more sound – much more colors and sounds. So everyone tried to play this before, but it took a long soundcheck to adjust and get used to all these new sounds. But it’s really wonderful.
In many ways, I really love – especially having the two girls in the choir – because you can sort of back off a little bit more when you have this wall of voices behind you. It’s just incredible to kind of focus on your parts. We have a lot of parts where we’re filling in for the lack of voices in many ways. I’m singing next to – the choir voices there, Heather’s singing another one, and Peter sings. A lot of songs are not really made the way we play them, which make them in a new way – interesting, but also it’s really nice when you can actually have all these voices coming in and make the differences and stuff.
QRO: Tell us about your new studio. Why Berlin?
CC: Well, there are few reasons. I’ve always wanted to live in Berlin. I find it a very interesting city, and not too far from home. It has sort of like a perfect location in many ways. And I’ve moved in with my girlfriend down there. She’s German. She lived there already – so very easy for me to decide on that. Mads moved there with his girlfriend. She’s American, but she’s been working in Hungary for a while, so it was kind of like a perfect meeting point in many ways. Primarily, Mads and I does the most of the songwriting, and we also do few other projects with theater and film and stuff like that. And it makes sense.
It kind of feels like it could work – because having the rest of the band staying in Copenhagen and us there, it fits the way we make music anyway. It’s always us that start things out and then we meet somewhere, and then we develop it. It’s still kind of very new and fresh – I hope it will work in some sort of way. And then we found a studio there. It’s like a small house, two levels and so we’ve sort of been restoring that the past month – since November or something like that – painting, tearing down stuff, and building up stuff.
QRO: Is it finished?
CC: It’s kind of there. We did rehearsals for the Messing Orchestra projects, but it needs a little more work.
QRO: How did the concept of An Island come about?
CC: We met Vincent Moon in Austin at the SXSW Festival in 2009 (QRO recap). Then he did Take Away show in New York with us.
Vincent Moon’s video of Efterklang’s Take Away show:
And shortly after that, he really wanted to do like a longer thing with us. Like a big project, more than a Take Away show. More like a film or something like that. So we had this sort of option – floating around. We were talking about this project few times with him so we kept in contact. When we released Magic Chairs and shortly after that, we got back to that idea and tried to find location for it, and a way of doing it.
And then we figured out that actually what makes sense – for us to do it in our home island (Als), where three of us grew up. It’s in south part of Denmark. We also had a concert there so it also made sense to build it around that whole thing. Then we started to working it up. We were picking out locations that we knew well from our childhoods. Places that we – schools that we’ve been to and so on. And we presented all these locations to Mathieu (Vincent Moon’s birth name is Mathieu Saura). He would come up with suggestions like, ” Could we do that and that and that?” Then we tried to find some locations and then we’d ping-pong stuff. But he didn’t know what the island looked like when he arrived there. You can see that afterward in the pictures in many ways – in a very positive way. The way that he pictures the island – you as the viewer look at the island in a complete other way than the way I look at it. It’s a very big island, actually. When you watch the film, you feel like it’s a very small place, in some sort of way.
But that’s exactly the great dynamic there is between those things. I think that’s actually what the project is much about. It’s us taking both our live bands – it’s also very important that all our live musicians, and Mathieu with us to this place that we now very well and kind of showing them around. He definitely had his own agenda. He already had an idea what he wanted to shoot, and an abstract storyline of what he wanted to shoot. And we were basically doing what we were doing. So what I remember from that time is very different from what I’m seeing in the movie. But I still feel like the movie is brilliant. I’m very proud of it. It was a nice match. [smiles]
Trailer for An Island:
QRO: Were there any unforeseen challenges or surprises?
CC: Well, there are always surprises when you work with Mathieu. [laughs] That is what he does and also what makes it exciting somehow. We are perfectionistic in our band. We always doing things where it’s detailed – very correct – try to find a sense in the insanity somehow. I think he’s from complete other school. He wants to see – you can say – live – you being reborn somehow. So you really feel that there is a real human in front of you.
So it would always be like – we had a setting – a location. And then we had decided that we wanted to do this song and then at last minute, Mathieu would go in and add like an extra sort of challenge to it. Like, “What about doing this and this and this?” And you’re like, “Oh no, no, no. You can’t do that. It’s not going to fit the song.” We were at the most safe place that we could be, but at the same time, with this crazy French director pushing us to do a lot of things. At the time – of course, sometimes it’s really annoying, but that’s the only director that I know that is that good at pushing musicians – because he’s really like a musician himself.
He’s more like, “Should we do this together? Should we walk the line together and try to do something that’s different?” Therefore, you always trust – we’re big fans of his work – we always trust that the end results will turn out being great somehow. I think that trust is something really that made it like – took it somewhere else somehow.
QRO: The scene, where you guys are performing (“Raincoats”) on the back of a truck, how difficult was that? That has to be [Moon’s] suggestion, right?
CC: Actually, that was our idea. [laughs] That was actually one of the easier ones for us to perform. Obviously, some sound stuff that’s difficult. It’s difficult with a moving truck, and we had a van driving next to it with Mathieu in it so he can film. Then we had the break down of the car because the car was actually a friend of Rasmus’ brother – that bought this car just the day before. So there was actually a problem… they had to drag it back with another car. But just before it broke down, we made the shot and made it work somehow. And the forest you see there’s a very nice forest – one of the longest in Denmark, actually. It goes through like this road we are driving on and like this long forest around it. So that was really easy in many ways.
That song is also really easy to play in this kind of Take Away style. You have rhythm all the time. There are far more difficult songs to perform – like Efterklang songs, where we have – much more going on – there’s this violin playing – then there’s a glockenspiel – then there’s rhythm and so on. I think some of those Magic Chairs have been much more easier for us to adept to that frame, somehow.
QRO: So then, which song was the most difficult?
CC: [thinks for awhile] I think maybe like – ummm [long pause] – there are additional songs we did which didn’t make it to the film. We did this take of “Modern Drift”, for instance with four pianos? Actually, five pianos and like in a big concert hall – in the city of the island – that took a long time to make it to work. I think that’s also why it didn’t end up in the movie, because it’s not really in the spirit of Vincent Moon anyway. So he just got more and more frustrated with us playing the song ten thousand times. I just saw it the other day – it works really nicely. I like it a lot. But it didn’t really fit either the story of the film or the concept of it somehow. So that was definitely the most difficult one to perform.
Plus, the one with the parents – also was a little tricky, and also kind of like this big frustration up until the moment where we had to do it. The idea of it was that we’re playing a song with our parents and then suddenly Mathieu, five minutes before we’re doing it, saying it like, “Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing if we made the parents play the song – by themselves!” And we were like, “Eh – no! That’s not really a good idea.” [laughs] It sounded horrible. But somehow we found a compromise in there – they sort of play along – and also, kind of play it by themselves. It’s really amazing, really sweet. Rasmus sitting and showing his dad how to play the synthesizer… Thomas with his father playing the drums – Mads with his mom playing the organs and so on. It turned out really, really nice, but definitely some challenges there.
Trailer for An Island that festures the parents playing with Efterklang:
QRO: Do you think we’ll ever see that “Modern Drift” version somewhere?
CC: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah! We’ll definitely cut lot of this stuff. We also have “Natural Tune” that we played with – what is it called? It’s like this wooden flute? It’s a recorder or something like that? So we did that with a quartet of recorders in a church, also in the city. We definitely have a lot of extra material that we can put in some kind of maybe a DVD package. That’s what we’re kind of brewing on right now. Trying to figure out where to take it after these ‘Private-Public Screenings’ periods that we’re doing in February and March. And then maybe we can finance some kind of DVD package. There’s been a request from a few people on that. It makes sense in many ways because we can include a lot of other material, plus maybe do a small release of some live material too – combine it all.
QRO: It’s too bad you didn’t record your last show here!
CC: Yeah, I know.
QRO: How did the idea of ‘Private-Public Screenings’ come about?
CC: Rasmus, who’s doing all the business side of our projects – eh. [pauses to think a bit] Well, we did Performing Parades DVD before – that’s the only kind of thing we did with this film world. He was curious about how to get this film aired in film festivals. But he didn’t really know that world at all… so that kind of lack of knowledge. He was thinking that – why don’t we let people make their own screenings? Because we have a lot of people all over the world that have been helping us, many times in a lot of context – so we started – why don’t we just ask them to do screening in their local café and their local home and stuff like that. That whole thing developed into ideas that it is – that people can simply make their own screenings for their friends or for friends and strangers and so on.
It’s also very much in the spirit of Vincent Moon’s work – in the way that he distributes his art in many ways. So it fits this project a lot. Also, there’s sort of the community feeling of An Island, and us going to our community and playing with the people of the island. On top of that, it’s also really a nice way to show people the film. I think in many ways, it’s much, much better that they watch it this way than on their computer with their headphones on by themselves. So the idea of people watching film together – maybe even making friends – it’s just brilliant! It’s just been overwhelming seeing how many have been picking up on the idea. I think there’s been close to 1100 screenings right now. The screenings will run till first of April.
QRO: When I hosted a screening at a local bar, this guy – he didn’t know anything about you guys or about the event – he just happened to be there, and he came up to me and asked enthusiastically, “Who is that band?” [we both laugh] So yeah, it is great when you stumble upon something and find out how much you love it.
CC: Yeah, I think it works that way too. You don’t have to be a fan of Efterklang or even know who we are – especially also because it’s just as much like a Vincent Moon film, and he’s using Efterklang as a platform in many ways. But he’s also doing film of his own. You can simply just watch the film and enjoy it for what it is, and you don’t have to have pre-information about it. I think that’s really great and also noticing from the screenings that it surprises people in a really nice way.
It’s also a great introduction to what we do – you get to learn little a bit about how we make music, and how we work when we make music. The film is very much about not only the music of Efterklang but also like just the fascination of sound in general. There’s been a lot of energy put into making field recordings – ambience – of the place, and documenting the places not only in pictures but also in sound. So for us, it’s been exciting being in a film production, where we can actually contribute with other than just playing the music, but also like the whole sound design – and even commenting on the pictures and so on.
QRO: Who’s that jockey – the guy that’s riding the horse towards the end of the film?
CC: That’s a really classic local sport. And this guy is one of the most winning riders. It’s called ring riding. In Sønderborg, the big city where I’m from, they have this huge festival every year in summer, where there’s a big parade of caravan moving through the city with all the riders that are in the competition. They have this long – what is it called? Lance? It’s like a long stick? And then you have a ring hanging from some swings. And then you ride against the ring and have to ht it somehow. For every round, the hole gets smaller, smaller, and smaller. That’s the basic idea of it. And it’s really a big deal in the summer, in that whole region of the country.
Besides picking up places where we could play, it was also about documenting them. The place – that was very important for us to – we didn’t want to make a film of us just playing music. We found it a little boring, actually. [smiles] We thought it would be nice if it were also about the place we were in – if it could be like this combination of us playing music, but also like the locals in the place – the countryside – the sites itself – the sound of the island.
QRO: You have stated in The Guardian article that you wished that music could be powerful as film. I personally, and along with several of my fellow music nerds, think music is the most visceral – emotional thing in this world. A film hasn’t changed my life but music certainly has. What is that music lacks that film has?
CC: I don’t even remember saying that to The Guardian.
QRO: Then you don’t need to answer it.
CC: I can answer in some sort of way.
Music is a lot more abstract… I mean you’re only working with one thing and that’s sound. And that’s why you can make it a little more detailed, I feel. While when you make a movie, you have all the senses there. And that makes it sometimes, very powerful because you can combine picture and sound. And something third comes out of that. On the other hand, you can make really bad combinations of those two things. But you definitely have more strings to play in film, which I really love, and I find – fascinating in many ways.
So I think a project like we did here is perfect for us because we can sort of have a peak in the film worlds in a kind of like an easy, laid-back way because we’re not really making the film, but we can – in this process, we could respond to how they edit the film – we can contribute with our fascination of sound and so on. And then that combination, the process of making some art in that sort of way felt extremely interesting – at some points, more interesting than making albums as a band. I feel that’s what we really got from it – it’s an interesting way of working. Sometimes, when you make music by yourself in some sort of way… you’re all by yourself – you have to sort of achieve something all by yourself in many ways, and that can be really interesting and fun because you can totally spread your ego all over the place and fulfill your own ideas and so on. But, working in this kind of way, you have the best of both sides. Mathieu would respond to music, and we were responding to the pictures. You get lot of new kind of views on what you’re doing…
QRO: Do you think artists can be self-contained? They can create without the encouragement and feedback from the audience?
CC: Not sure I understand…
QRO: Some artists seem to don’t care about their audience, and they create without regards to their listeners.
CC: There are different motivations for what you’re doing. It can be very different from what you’re doing for music, and then you meet someone else who has complete different view in some sort of way. So I can only answer for my own – the things we are doing – it’s like a really a nice way of ending something for us when we present it to someone. You can say it’s like a wrap up for us. I think if I didn’t have that delivery, I wouldn’t feel as accomplished… Of course I have other sketches lying around home that I’m not really eager to present to anyone else, but I still think they’re really nice, but it needs more work to be presented. Ultimately, it’s about presenting it to the audience.
Then there’s lot of artists and friends that have completely different view from that. And that’s more about – just doing what they’re doing. I haven’t met too many who doesn’t want to – at some point- to present it to you or just for their friends. Like, listen, I did this – like keeping it for themselves… I think it’s different how much you appreciate the audience of your work. And I definitely think it’s crucial all the times to focus what you want to do and not be directed by it. But I think there’s also really nice dynamic in the response in what you’re doing. It can be very good experience letting someone listen to what you’re doing – that can make lot of things much more easier. You can have lot of thoughts of what you’re doing. And then when you play for someone, it somehow makes lot of sense. At least from our side of point of view, using it a lot to sort of reflect what we’re doing, and makes it easier for us to understand what we’re doing in many way… but this is completely personal, and I know a lot of other people that are having complete other opinion.
To me it’s more about if you can appreciate the fact that someone seeing or hearing what you’re doing, and I definitely appreciate that. I’m also using it as part of my own process of making music.
QRO: Tak! [thank you in Danish]
Video interview with Casper Clausen: