Despite assuming “interview mode,” delivering the kind of in-depth answers that make you realize, “hey, this guy’s thought through everything,” Sondre Lerche is currently trying very hard not to laugh. As the Norwegian singer/songwriter speaks on the phone from New York, the first stop on his North American Pleasure tour, his drummer Dave Heilman has danced his way into Lerche’s personal space, forcing him to briefly lose his train of thought. “The ‘Serenading in the Trenches’ video is happening in front of me!” he says, laughing and referencing the video where he and Heilman share a series of intimate moments.
It’s not a new concept for Lerche, but as the old saying goes, no man is an island. And it’s just how the musician likes it. (Even if means occasionally seeing the other island inhabitants’ butt-heavy dance moves.) Over the past few years Lerche has been joined onstage by a steady cast of characters: his band members, who have not only has managed to bring the spry pop of his eighth album, Pleasure, to life 40 times this year alone, but also double as best friends, confidants and—if Lerche’s Instagram is an indication—partners in crime. Which also explains why after the laughter subsides, Lerche’s also feeling a little glum. Yes, he’s excited to hit the road, describing the experience of performing with such joy you might momentarily forget the 34-year-old has been doing this since he was a teenager. But half of his band has been left back in Norway due to visa issues. (Even in his disappointment, he’s quick to profusely praise his new bandmates—who jumped into the tour with a mere 48-hour notice.)
But there’s always a silver lining, even in the face of touring snags, packed schedules and the desire to occasionally stop and take a long hard look at yourself. As Lerche eloquently sums it up, tongue placed firmly in cheek—pleasure will prevail.
: So, you just flew in to the States after your tour in Norway. How are you guys holding up?
Lerche: We got in Sunday night. It was a stressful week due to all the visa trouble. We had the last show of the Norwegian tour on Saturday, and then that morning we woke up to the news that the visa application had been declined for [bandmates] Alexander [von Mehren] and Chris [Holm]. We handed the stuff in in November. We played by the rules and spent a lot of time and money trying to get it right and do it right. Needless to say, it was a frustrating day. Not only because it’s sad for everybody. But also because you have to try to be constructive and find new solutions.
: As you’ve gotten into your thirties and deep into your music career, has dealing with setbacks become easier?
Lerche: There is that core belief that life gives you lemons and you make lemonade—that whole Beyoncé’s grandmother thing. Jaded isn’t the word, but I’m a bit more pragmatic. I know the kind of ammunition and motivation I need in order to stand on stage and carry the whole thing. And potentially have the world reject my work. I need to feel that motivation. To feel that playfulness. You build that sense of freedom and flexibility with the band that you play with for six years. I do feel with Chris and Alex and Dave, we are in a very special place. It’s almost like an infatuation. We love playing together. We love each other’s company. It has a lot to do with personal relationships. You don’t want to be without your guys. It’s definitely a big adjustment, finding a way to keep the show on the road. And I certainly don’t want to let down fans.
: I think part of what makes this so interesting is how open you’ve been about the whole process.
Lerche: That reflects the dialogue I have with my audience, whether it’s from on stage or in social media. It’s an open dialogue. From the core fan base, there’s a wiliness to meet you halfway and hear the new music in the best possible sense. There’s a wiliness to understand that’s tremendous, and I appreciate it as an artist.
: With you mentioning your fan base and social media—I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about the amazing “Scented Pleasure” videos. Did you guys ever declare a winner?
Lerche: No! In the beginning when we started the first videos were a bit more just talking about the candle and rating it. In the beginning of “Scented Pleasure” I kept an Excel sheet where I put in all the ratings and information about each candle. I just put it out on YouTube so people can binge-watch all 38 episodes. If you’re watching from start to end, which is a tall order, you’ll see that by episode six, we’re losing the formality of the evaluating candles job that we gave ourselves. It’s disappearing and we’re becoming concerned with all other things. The candle is just this backdrop to enter band drama and our mission to make each other laugh and giggle and freak each other out.
: I saw the other night that you received a personalized scented candle and thought it was a great epilogue to the story.
Lerche: Yeah—exactly. A friend of Dave’s, she started a company with her friend called WAX BBY. He got in touch with her and said maybe we can do something. I gave three keywords, “Grandfather’s Burnt-Down Cabin.” And they went to work. It smells incredible. It’s a very limited edition, and it’s very good.
: You seem to play with the idea of identity a lot over the course of Pleasure. Did you go through that “Now I’m a grown-up, now what?” early thirties phase?
Lerche: Turning 30 coincided with a lot of change in my life. It’s hard to say what spurred the other. Big questions rarely come alone. One leads to another. I just felt a sense of freedom in regard to identity. It feels like a cliché people say—I’m older now and feel more comfortable in my own skin and with my own body and I’m less self-aware. But for me it feels true. I feel older and more shameless and more inclined to throw myself into the deep end. I think that was something that came naturally with the album Please and overlaps with Pleasure. That sort of plays with different characters with my personality. Certainly, some characters that I haven’t really known how to give life to before. It’s like I’m able to host a bigger variety of people and still feel like myself. It sounds crazy but it’s like there’s a bigger scope of emotion and tendencies that I’m willing to engage without shame or without feeling like I’m putting on a wig.
: What helps keep you grounded when you’re going everywhere and doing everything?
Lerche: That balance is always very challenging. It’s never easy. It’s a strange life. But it’s this desire to sort things out and achieve clarity down the road that keeps me going. I’ve certainly discovered that I do need time in between. Especially when you’re traveling and touring. For a while there I felt like when we were doing the whole Please tour, there were a lot of moving parts in my life and a lot of new parts and for a while there I felt like I was drifting around like a helicopter out of control. That was a fun time, but I need to have an anchor. I’ve definitely enjoyed finding that. I think the reason I can put out a record as bombastic and erratic as Pleasure is because I have transitioned in a sense. I can revisit it on stage every night but I’m not as confused and out of control as that record anymore.
: You also seem to play a lot with masculinity across a lot of the record—and in the “Serenading in the Trenches” video.
Lerche: Anyone who knows Dave knows that he’s such a larger-than-life persona. He wants to communicate with everyone. He embraces everyone. He hugs everyone. He’s very physical. I’ve learned so much from him about masculinity. He’s the most fun, flamboyant, incredible character. An incredible spirit and an incredible artist. We just built this friendship, and I felt like if I put him in a video, the camera loves him and he loves the camera. I just felt like if we could put on display us interacting. And I thought about the song. At first I had been talking to the director about it. There was the thought it would be a couple, a man and a woman. But it felt so trite. You’ve seen it a million times. I liked the idea of having two men who identify as heterosexual doing all those things. It was a video about our performance but we could also perform as lovers, as friends, as rivals, as brothers. You don’t see a lot of masculine vulnerability in videos. This whole album is about masculine vulnerability and masculine desire and universal rage and confusion. But I’ve always felt very in touch with my feminine side. The sense of empathy. For me, it’s been a long road, coming to terms with my masculinity and that part of me. That’s part of this record. I felt that it was important to state that just because you’re finding your masculinity doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your other sides. You can have all these sides and you don’t have to be afraid to sacrifice one for the other. I’ve always shied away from that macho bro culture. I’ve never identified with that, and I still don’t. But it’s been nice to see that you can find both sides of your identity and it manifests in the arts. I think a lot of male pop artists could probably benefit from being both strong and vulnerable. I don’t see a lot of the guys being daring to go there. In the big game there’s maybe Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar.
: Do you think the teenage Sondre would have believed the twist and turns your career and life has taken?
Lerche: I think it would definitely surprise him. He’d be surprised if you didn’t show him and explain to him how he got here. He would probably have trouble connecting the dots. I’m constantly doing things and writing things and expressing things that he would blush at the mere thought of it. He would find it completely outrageous. He, as I am, had a lot of empathy and a lot of willingness to understand people around him. So I’m sure over time he would get it.
Check out Sondre Lerche’s recent Paste Studio session below.