Sure, he’s no Britney Spears or Hilary Duff, but as far as singer/songwriters go, Sondre Lerche has lived a less than ordinary life in just 22 years.
The noted Norwegian tunesmith wrote his first song at 14, signing with Virgin Records three years later. Before he finished high school, Lerche’s star was rising in his native country, where he’d played a slew of shows, issued a pair of well-received EPs and even wrote and recorded his first full-length album, Faces Down (released stateside on Astralwerks). The set would be released about a month after his final day of school, eventually earning Lerche critical acclaim in both Europe and the U.S.
While the last two years haven’t been filled with Duff-like fanfare or Britney-esque pandemonium, they’ve nonetheless found Lerche in some fairly absurd situations, he says. Perhaps his most fantastic moment came in the summer of 2001, when at the request of ’80s MTV sensation A-Ha—who, despite being a one-hit wonder with “Take On Me” in the U.S., is still beloved in its native Norway—he performed with the group before some 25,000 in an Oslo soccer stadium.
“It was so absurd because I can’t tell you how much time I spent idolizing their music and their appearance when I was only a kid,” Lerche says of the performance, during which he joined the group for his favorite A-Ha song (“Locust” from 1992’s Memorial Beach). “And obviously it’s really strange to be sharing a microphone with the singer, switching between the verse and the refrain and the backing vocals, and singing the lead.”
That said, Lerche’s sometimes old-timey, Beatles-inflected, Euro folk-pop probably owes more to The Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach and late Brazilian star Antonio Carlos Jobim than A-Ha. Apart from his magnetic voice, which draws comparisons to Nick Drake and Rufus Wainwright, Lerche is a smart, deeply ambitious songwriter sporting boyish good looks. (“Lerche is a pretty-boy with skill. Damn him,” wrote one critic.)
Lerche has earned respect by adding a slightly more adventurous twist to the traditional singer-songwriter shtick, infusing his record with touches of bossa nova and Bacharachian arrangements.
“I wanted to make the songs as rich and colorful as possible without being kitschy. I was really into a lot of the easy-listening songs and arrangements and some lounge music, and the perkiness of the use of instruments and the use of strings and all that,” he explains.
His second album, Two Way Monologue, arrives this March and finds him stretching his arrangements significantly. Another batch of 12 songs (10 sculpted with his band and two self-recorded), the disc, he says, marks the next step in his evolution as a songwriter. It includes “these small ideas which may sound less important for others, but for me in the songwriting process they’re huge, and they can make all the difference in the world to making it interesting and fun for me to do.
“With time, you get a distance, and naturally your next move is going to be some sort of reply to what you’ve done before, some kind of contrast. You wanna do more of that and less of that, and you wanna do this instead of that, which you did on the first record.
“So this one was basically about two things: It was about loosening up the structure of the songs, making the structure less obvious, letting go of the very strict and tiny structure of the songs on Faces Down and instead trying to create a whole story of the song based on different parts and trying to bridge all these parts into a natural flow, which was just something I did to challenge myself and to kind of create, stimulate some sort of new energy in a way.
“And the other thing I wanted to do was—because some of the songs at least were more complex in their structure—I didn’t want the arrangement to be as packed as on Faces Down, where it’s kind of almost 100 percent packed with harmonies, with sonic ideas and the production is very tight. On this one, I wanted to leave air left in the songs. I wanted them to breathe more, and I wanted them to be less packed with arrangement ideas.”