The American Swedish Institute is proud to partner with SPCO Liquid Music, the Walker Art Center and Minnesota Public Radio to present: JHEREK BISCHOFF: Composed on Friday, October 18th at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. The evening features songwriter, producer, performer and composer Jherek Bischoff and guest vocalists Sondre Lerche, Ólöf Arnalds, and Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh, alongside a chamber ensemble composed of Twin Cities instrumentalists, Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier, and more.
ASI’s Director of Exhibitions, Collections and Programs, Scott Pollock, chatted with Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche about the risk and opportunity of a performance like Jherek Bischoff: Composed, what it's like to be on a national postage stamp at age 30, and how cultural barriers continue to be broken down through music and creative collaboration.
American Swedish Institute (ASI): Sondre Lerche, thank you for taking the time. Maybe you can tell us a bit about your relationship with some of the other artists participating in the performance on October 18? How did this collaboration come to be? Whom approached whom in this collaboration?
SL: Yes, that’s a good question. I had heard about Jherek’s record Composed—I’d read some reviews and it’s the type of music I really like so I checked it out and I really liked it. I think I wrote about it his record on my twitter account and he found out about it and it turned out he knew some of my music. So it was all social media. We started talking and emailing about how it would be fun to do something together. We tried to make something happen earlier but we couldn’t make our schedules work and then this show with Liquid Music in St. Paul came up. And we thought this would be neat- we’ve never met, we’ve only admired each other.
ASI: That’s incredible that it’s all come together. It also includes other artists like Iceland’s Ólöf Arnalds, Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh (Minneapolis) and Dearhoof’s Greg Saunier. Have you had a chance to connect with those folks in the past?
SL: No, I’ve heard of Ólöf through friends but I’m very excited to hear all these people and meet them in person and hear us all play together for the first time.
ASI: Fantastic. One of the things that’s most exciting about Liquid Music and what Kate [Nordstrum] is doing there is how she’s able to pull such different and compelling musicians together for only just one night.
ASI: There’s always an element of risk there for the audience- you’re not quite sure what to expect. Obviously you're going in to this for the first time and meeting people which is just really great. So I’m wondering if you could summarize what your expectations are for the evening? What you’re looking forward to with this collaborative arrangement?
SL: Well, I’m really looking forward to collaborating with Jherek. He’s a great songwriter and lyricist and arranger, so I’m looking forward to having him reinterpret some of my songs and contributing as a singer to some of his stuff. And yeah, we don’t know how its going to turn out—I only know him from listening to his records but yes, there’s a lot of risk and opportunity in the air.
ASI: Outside of Jherek, are there other artists in the lineup that you’re excited to work with?
SL: I’m excited to share space with Olof and hear her. When you get the opportunity, you should throw yourself in to the unknown and its exciting to keep it in the unknown until you actually show up- cause it can be really, really exciting to go in to a concert not knowing anything.
ASI: Over the past 10 years, just looking at the discography here of your records, obviously you’ve covered everything from folk to jazz from collaborative group ensembles to your own individual own voice- where do you see yourself musically right now? Where is Sondre heading? Is there a genre or particular influence today that you’re looking at that really has you thinking ahead or preparing for?
SL: I’m in the midst of writing and recording a new record so I’m in sort of a period of transition trying to define the things I’m curious about in this next record. And also I’ve been doing more collaboration with people. I just released a single with this Scott Walker tribute album that’s coming out in a couple of months—that was also collaboration and also interpreting someone else’s songs. I’ve done a couple records focused really on myself and my own ability so in the future I’d like to see if there is any way to have the same emoitionality but can also exist on the dance floor—to find new avenues for the music to exist beyond I’ve already taken it—to challenge myself and to have more fun.
ASI: That’s a great aspiration, fun is always welcome. Bringin’ it to the dance floor, that’s perfect. That’s great.
The American Swedish Institute see’s itself as a vibrant arts and cultural organization in the Minneapolis area, that often times makes us look to the past—the institute was founded to be a hotbed of Swedish culture, historical and contemporary even more so. So we’re just curious, reaching out to the Norwegian audience, this is what’s so fun about chatting with you here is, Swedes talking to Norwegians here on the phone, this is cool.
SL: Us Norwegians, We appreciate the Swedish interest and we are your little brother so any interest we receive with open arms.
ASI: Sondre, maybe you can tell us a little bit about where music’s at in the Nordic countries, breaking down those boundaries—is there a hot bed back in Bergen—where would you point us to for the latest trends over in the Nordic Countries?
SL: I think what’s happening is that the world of music is becoming smaller and so there’s a lot more going on now than ever and a lot of those barriers are being broken down. I’m very interested in the music scene in Bergen, I was just back there recording for the new album and its new and happening there and its always connected to the other countries as well, or to England or America. Its strange sometimes how Bergen feels closer to some of the other Scandinavian cities than it does Oslo—there’s a bit of a gap musically between Bergen and Oslo and that’s not to say one’s more creative than the other but I guess there’s a bit of a little brother relationship there. But your’e seeing more collaboration over the mountains between Oslo and Bergen. I’m just so excited, you find people in the strangest ways, some how somewhere.
ASI: I like that big brother analogy. I don’t want to say this on behalf of the Swedes, but I think there’s some of that going on between Gotheburg and Stockholm.
ASI: Let’s circle back to the evening—Jherek Bischoff: Composed. It’s improvisation for sure, we’re curious as members of the audience to see where it goes that night but we’re wondering if there’s a moment in your career or life where you’ve felt utterly or completely uncomposed?
SL: Oh several times. I like the challenges of trying to negotiate anything that might happen on stage, that’s unplanned and still working to give people a good time. So often the uncomposed gives you more to work with than you might have been expecting. (Sorry, I’m just leaving a taxi) I like to think I actually thrive on putting myself at risk and in those spontaneous moments. Sometimes if the electricity fails, that’s the best way to solidify the bond with the audience.
ASI: For sure. I want to quick ask you about venues and do you find certain types of venues more inspiring? You’ve been played everywhere from the Fine Line in Minneapolis to a barn in rural Minnesota—what don’t you do?
SL: I like an experience and I like contrast and I thrive in an environment where I can talk to people and break down the barriers. So I like the experiences I’ve had in Minneapolis at the Fine Line and the Varsity—that’s a good room. Also, the 7th Street entry, had some cool shows there as well.
ASI: We’re playing with that too—we have an old historic ballroom that’s being restored that’s gorgeous and intimate and we’re starting to do theater performances in that space and its very new for us but its that intimacy and we’re connecting with artists all around Minneapolis and they’re starting to see this space as something compelling and different for all the same reasons you’ve just mentioned—creates a great experience.
ASI: Now I just have to ask because we noticed you’re on a postage stamp in Norway—what’s it like having your face out there?
SL: It’s good to be legal tender—I am thirty years old so I should be legal tender its weird its very strange and its just an honor, a series celebrating Norwegian musicians and I was asked, so its an honor. It feels too soon but I’ll take it.
ASI: That’s brilliant and well deserved. Last question, breaking down bariers here about heritage and identity, but we were kind of curious about what the biggest thing Swedes get wrong about Norwegians?
SL: Oh, the thing people get wrongs about Norwegians , well Norwegians can come across as sort of cold and uninterested or arrogant cause we’re so reserved that we don’t have a language for creating instant connection the way Americans are really good at . We’re sort of skeptical of the whole idea. But sometimes we are known for being uninterested or arrogant. Its probably just a lack of language. We don’t really have any training in getting in touch with people. Traditionally, we’ve lived so far apart and left to our own deivices. And only now we’re out there and doing things in the world. We’re trying our best.
Sondre Lerche's latest single "The Plague" is part of the Scott Walker Tribute Album out September 16.
Lerche will perform in St. Paul on October 18th as part of SPCO Liquid Music' and the Walker Art Center's Jherek Bischoff:Composed. Tickets and more information are available at: http://www.asimn.org/programs-education/events/jherek-bischoff-composed.