Anders Trentemøller’s body of work is as impressive as it is expansive, and his latest studio album, Obverse, resonates as an in-depth study of the signature sound he has masterfully curated over the past two decades. This time, freed from the pressure of performing his album live and inspired by the many emotions of fatherhood, he delivers a dark and fascinating record, illuminated by the many guest voices of dream pop and shoegaze which feature on it.
Whether it be the visual side or the distorted, experimental method he uses in the studio, his entire work is a study on the power of contrast: the opposition between light and dark, digital and analogue, vocal and instrumental; echoing the climate of his native Scandinavia. We sit down with the master multi-instrumentalist and try to unravel the techniques used in his craft, which fuel a pulsing and unique musical genre.
I’m delighted to be chatting with you, I’m a huge fan of your work. Where are you speaking from and how are you?
I’m actually talking to you from my house in Copenhagen, where I’ve lived for six years now and where I’ve built my own little home studio – so a perfect, cosy setting to be having this chat. The other studio where I produce my music in is just a 5-minute walk from here as well, so it’s all a very convenient working environment. Also, I’m feeling rather wonderful because I became a dad for the first time two months ago!
Oh, wow, congratulations! And you just released your fifth studio album, Obverse, so I believe double congrats are in order. To start off, how are you feeling about it – or them – coming into the world?
Releasing an album is always very exciting. The only thing is, it’s been finished for over eight months but I was very eager for it to come out towards the end of September. First of all, it’s a great time to release an album if you want people to listen to it before festival season, and I also really wanted to get the vinyl pressed, which can take time. But most of all, I wanted it out around that time because I believe my music fits the autumnal atmosphere very well. In a perfect world, I would want everyone to kick back in a cosy armchair and listen to it on vinyl whilst hearing raindrops trickling down the window. I always try to release my albums in the fall because the eerie mood of my music is a perfect soundtrack for this seasonal gloom and creates a perfect ambient atmosphere.
I can’t help but agree with that, it’s exactly the kind of cold comfort your music provides us. How about the title, Obverse. Could you break it down for us? Why did you choose this name?
I wanted the title to be short and simple. Initially, I was thinking about ‘observe’ because I felt that I was at a point where I was reflecting on my life, and this album is also a little bit about that. But then, ‘observe’ felt too simple. And then, I came across the word ‘obverse’, which, if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t even know the meaning of. So, I googled it and I loved the definition: it can mean a lot of different things, which is also my idea of how people can interpret my music, in a variety of ways. It also has this element of ‘the other side of a coin or the opposite of a fact, of truth’. I love working with the idea of contrast in my music – the opposition between digital and analogue, for example – and I also liked the idea that a lot of people wouldn’t necessarily know what the word meant.
Could we discuss the visual aspect of your work? For instance, the eerie, minimalist video you self-directed for Blue September . Is it important for you to have total control over the visual side of your work?
Yes and no. I actually shot that video on my iPhone last September whilst me and my girlfriend were camping in the Swedish woods (she does some of the vocals on the album as well). All I did was use a small stabilizer and try to capture the atmosphere and the soft, eerie light and setting of those Scandinavian forests. Again, I think the silky light of the sun filtering through the trees set against the oppressive atmosphere and ghostly colours of the forest are a fitting metaphor for my music. That incessant contrast between dreamy vocals and more obscure instrumentals is comforting yet there is an ongoing sentiment of unease at the same time. The title of the song, Blue September, summarizes that bittersweet feeling well.
I actually don’t consider visuals that important. If it were up to me, there would only be the music because I often consider that videos distract from the initial purpose of the music or worse, they take you by the hand and tell you how to feel or interpret it for you, which is why I like to keep mine as simple as possible. A few days before my album came out, some friends of mine decided to rent an old theatre in Copenhagen and have a pre-release listening session in complete, pitch darkness. It was an incredible experience and probably one of the best ways of experiencing my music – and music in general.
While we’re discussing the visual side of your work, I would like to talk about the beautiful artwork for your album. Could you tell me a bit about who the artist is and why you chose this particular piece of work?
I’d say that from a visual standpoint, cover art is an essential aspect. Just because it’s one of the first things that hits you when you buy and album or a vinyl, and I also have such strong memories of the covers that stuck with me the most when I was young. For this album, I decided to collaborate with Los Angeles-based artist Jesse Draxler. I actually came across his beautiful stuff while I was browsing on Instagram. He only works with black and white, and as soon as I saw this particular piece, I decided to purchase it and realized it would work perfectly for the album, so I just reached out and asked him.
It turns out he was a fan of my music, so the admiration was mutually shared. We also have a very similar way of working; his work shares the same darkness that my music contains, so I asked him to design the art for my inner sleeves and singles and the outcome was perfect: we just understand and complete each other artistically.
Obverse, like your previous albums, features numerous female guest vocalists. The record opens with Cold Comfort, which features the voice of legendary shoegaze artist Rachel Goswell of Slowdive; Blue September includes vocals by artist and girlfriend Lisbet Tullgren, and the penultimate track even features the voice of dream pop legend Jennylee (of Warpaint). What is it about their voices you think fits so well with your sound? And would you say this addition contributes to the contrast you spoke of before?
It’s funny because people have asked me this before – why is it that I always collaborate with women vocalists – and I’d never even thought about it. It’s not exactly true because I worked with Jonny Pierce of The Drums on Lost. But I have to admit that, often, female voices have a dreamier, more airy and uplifting element to them that folds into my brutal instrumentals perfectly and balances out the darkness. I always give them total freedom with writing lyrics; the important thing is they need to feel inspired by the music, and it’s always more honest when it comes straight from the artist. What’s important in our collaboration is that the lyrics sound as open and abstract as possible because we want to give the listener complete freedom and flexibility in his/her interpretation of them, that they resonate with everyone’s personal thoughts and memories.
As for Try a Little, I’m a massive Warpaint fan and met Jennylee when playing the same festivals. We clicked instantly and were always open to making music together. I sent her the instrumental with her particular voice in mind, a strong and more uptempo energy for the last part of the album. When you listen to that song, it definitely sounds more poppy, and that’s partly the natural result of our collaboration and partly because I was scared the album would sound too dark and thought it needed that vitamin kick. Coincidentally, it’s also my song that’s had the best airplay, especially in Germany, which is unusual for me, but it feels nice!
I imagine the process and instruments involved in the making of each of your albums is unique. Is there anything you used on Obverse that you’d never experimented with before? Anywhere you wanted to go you’d never been?
The most important thing to know about this album is that I decided, for the first time and because I recently became a father, not to follow it up with a world tour, which was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Scary, because performing live is part of the natural process of putting out an album, but liberating because it gave me total freedom to go crazy in the studio without having to think about how these songs would perform live.
That’s sort of risky, yes. Did it change the production process in any way?
It definitely feels like a void but my son is here to fill it! I actually love touring, we’re a crew of eleven or twelve musicians, and at this point, we’ve become a little touring family. Obverse has been a new opportunity for me artistically speaking as I stated before, but now I’m thinking, damn, it could be super fun to play it live! So I have a few regrets about that. There were one hundred and twenty dates on my last album tour. For me, it was always crucial to get the visual experience right: like music videos, so many artists overuse light or smoke effects and I needed to choose when to use them.
For that, I worked with Danish fashion designer and friend Henrik Vibskov, whom I trusted with my set designs for the first three albums. If you’re going to do it right, you really need to take over the stage and add an extra dimension, change the look entirely, in order to provide the biggest visual impact. I love using light in a poetic, colourful way; I like the idea of painting with lights and creating a particular atmosphere without overdoing it. That’s why I’ve used the same lighting guy for the past twelve years! It’s tricky though because you have to bear in mind the idea that you’re going to be travelling around with the set, so it needs to be extra-dimensional but mobile at the same time.
“I love working with the idea of contrast in my music and you can tell that this concept was massively turned up on the album because I was going through the tunnel of emotions that is becoming a parent.”
It’s often difficult for your music to be categorized under one genre. Why do you think that is? Does it matter to you?
To be honest, it is completely unimportant to me. I realize that it isn’t easy for streaming platforms or record stores to decide where my music should fit, and it often comes under ‘alternative’ or ‘electronic’, which is fine with me I guess, though it obviously covers a diverse panel of musical genres and inspirations and would ideally belong in a standalone category of its own.
You mentioned that you music either makes you feel like you’re going through a dark tunnel or floating on water. How do you manage to achieve that final flow?
It’s always a challenge for me to figure out the perfect order of my songs on an album. If you listen carefully, every second song has vocals; I didn’t plan this but it just felt right in the end, like a natural flow and balance between the pulsing instrumentals and the warm relief you experience when you hear Rachel or Jennylee’s voices appear. I only hope the album gets experienced as a whole, from the first song to the last, because there is a narrative in its composition. That’s also one of the reasons I wanted it out on double vinyl, so that people are able to sit down, close their eyes and listen to the dynamic of the album progress; there is a story behind it.
You’ve reached a point in your career where you, as you put it yourself, can pause and reflect on your extensive musical repertoire. At this point, where do you feel like turning to and experimenting with musically speaking?
It’s both a beautiful and frightening experience to start working on a new album. There is always a lot of pressure involved and you can’t help but ask yourself, does this sound as good as it once did? I experienced huge writer’s block for the first few months. I kept thinking the songs weren’t powerful enough and would sit in the studio for five or six hours getting nowhere. But then, my girlfriend pointed out that I actually went through the same process every time I started to work on a new album (laughs).
This might sound strange to you, but I’m incapable of working on anything new before my album is actually physically put out there, it’s a psychological thing. I need to evacuate it out of my system, but I’ve been busy with my baby, so the timing has actually been perfect. Now, I’m just super interested to see where my next album will take me and to keep exploring the possibilities of the studio. I don’t have a set of rules for my creative process, I always feel really lucky to just get around the music because I’m so scared of not finding the perfect balance – it’s always a question of balance. And I’m extremely open to working with male vocalists in the future!
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