Indians: The Best of What’s Next

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Ultimately, great art is born out of uncontainable expression—it’s created because the artist has no choice but to create it. Great art wills itself into existence, whether the artist even wants it to exist.

Very little great art is born out of boredom, of feeling anonymous and complacent. Copenhagen songwriter Søren Løkke Juul learned this lesson the hard way: After twiddling his thumbs for over a decade as a backing singer and keyboardist in a string of Danish electronic and folk bands, he decided to venture out on his own as Indians.

“In a way, I always wanted to do my own things,” Juul says, “but I don’t think I’ve been ready before now, and the time wasn’t there to do it. But in the last band I was in, I really started feeling too secure in a way—going on-stage and being in the background, doing my keyboard parts and backing vocals. In a way, it was too secure. In a way, I started to get a little bit bored—I didn’t feel anything. It was more of a job going on-stage; I didn’t feel that much. So I wanted to challenge myself a little more doing this.”

That challenge proved both inspirational and financially viable, and it happened pretty damn quickly: The first track he posted online, the haunting electro-lullaby “Magic Kids,” exploded in early 2012 via the usual indie-blog circuit, and before long, he received a call from British record label 4AD, who signed the newly solo songwriter, despite the fact that he didn’t have any other music.

“It was a big pressure because when 4AD contacted me, I basically only had one song,” Juul says. “They asked me if I could write some more, and of course, it was a big inspiration that 4AD wanted to hear more. But it was a really big pressure too, but I just had to lay that behind me because you can’t be creative under pressure. So I just had to find myself in the right position where I could be creative and not afraid of not accomplishing it. So basically what I did was write one song at a time, and all the songs on the record, those are the songs I made. I didn’t make any spare songs. I started writing songs, and the day after I finished writing it, I started a new one. The whole album was written in 2012, and I just had to write the song and produce. Whenever I start a song, I usually just finishing mixing it and recording all the instruments. When I feel it’s done, I’ll start from scratch with a new song.”

Juul describes his debut studio album, Somewhere Else, as “a mix of all I’ve been playing in the last ten years.” From the frosty synth-singalong opener “New” to the glitchy electronic pulses of “Lips Lips Lips” to the falsetto-fueled freak-folk of “I Am Haunted,” these 10 tracks do subtly manage to cover a lot of ground, but they’re all glued together by Juul’s lovely tenor, his judicious approach to arrangements, and an almost child-like lyrical approach.

“I think with lyrics, you have to deliver something of yourself if you expect people to listen to you,” Juul says. “The lyrics are things that I experienced in real life and real feelings about different stuff. It’s things still inside me from when I was like 15 until now. Just different experiences of life. I like to explain things in pictures—not to be too direct. If your lyrics are open, more people can understand them. They can see themselves in the words too. (Title-track) ‘Somewhere Else’ is about my first experience in New York—what I felt being in New York for the first time. I just felt I had to write a song about that because that was a very special, overwhelming experience.”

The rabid anticipation for Somewhere Else has been slightly unexpected for Juul, who’s spent most of 2012 on the road—a venture that is equally surreal in its own rite. Instead of being shrouded in shadows toward the back of the stage, hovering over his keyboards, Juul’s now front-and-center—with nowhere to hide.

“Going on-stage for the first time as a lead singer, I was really, really nervous,” Juul says. “But in a way, that’s what I was looking for. I wanted to feel that nervousness again. A lot of times when you’re nervous, it’s because you’re not prepared enough, in a way. But I’ve been in the rehearsal space a lot to avoid that kind of nervousness—nervousness if you don’t feel prepared enough. The other kind of nervousness is, ‘How is the audience going to react? Is there going to be good sound?’ It’s just repeating that process every day. I’m nervous every time meeting the audience, but I’m not nervous anymore that anything will go wrong.”

But with his album on the verge of release, the reality’s starting to set in.

“In a way it does because whenever you’re playing concerts on the road, it’s really practical,” Juul says. “You’re doing your work, but I don’t have any idea of how many people have heard the music or are aware of the project at all. I’m talking to a lot of journalists lately, and that’s really surreal that there’s that kind of interest in it, I think.”

That sort of wide-eyed modesty is an essential part of Juul’s musical DNA, a lingering side-effect from his years spent hiding in the shadows. Stepping into the unknown hasn’t always been a comfortable process, but it’s resulted in an album of ethereal magic—of quality songs that feel at once familiar and foreign.

“But what I really want is to write a good song,” Juul reflects. “I think it’s like old values: Neil Young or Bob Dylan could write a good song that makes sense. I don’t make music because I want to be someone or make a soundscape that I’ve already heard. It’s really just…I don’t think about an audience or who’s going to listen to it when I write a song. I’m just trying to satisfy myself.”