Copenhagen-based electro-pop outfit When Saints Go Machine returns to record store shelves today with their second full-length, Infinity Pool. And it’s awesome.
A sonic departure from 2011’s Konkylie, their latest effort sees the foursome—comprising vocalist Nikolaj Manuel Vonsild, Jonas Kenton on synth and backing vocals, Simon Muschinsky on keys, and drummer Silas Moldenhawer—paying homage to ’90s rave as well as hip-hop. Despite the audible shift, which features songs significantly more electronic than tracks past, Vonsild’s signature falsetto remains an obvious constant, luring listeners in with its velvety, tremulous sound.
The album mesmerizes, with standout numbers such as the percussion-heavy “Iodine,” the ominous and eerie “Mannequin,” and the hard-hitting rapper-tapped “Love and Respect.” The latter contributes something unexpected to the mix, namely Atlanta-based artist Killer Mike, whom the Scandinavian dudes were stoked said yes to their request for a few bars.
I caught up with Saints’ sweet-as-can-be 32-year-old lead Vonsild last week, an overseas call that revealed several interesting tidbits about the unique group. Read on for more and, come June 24, catch them live in the U.S. for the first time ever at Brooklyn’s Glasslands.
Congrats on your second record. How does it feel to finally share it with the world?
We’re excited. What are people going to say? It’s a bit nerve-racking. Now we can go play a lot of gigs.
How do you like life on the road?
I like touring, but you don’t have any privacy. That’s the thing. If you want privacy, it’s a set of headphones and a computer. But, we love playing concerts. And, as long as there’s good food, it’s cool. [Laughs] As long as you get your vegetables, that’s okay.
Have you always wanted to make music?
Yeah. I don’t remember ever wanting to be a fireman or something. I wanted to make music from a very early age. First I played bass, but I never rehearsed. At some point my teacher said I had to rehearse, or she wouldn’t teach me. So, that stopped. Then I got into early ’90s rap music. I had this friend—we were making music together—and I asked if I could use his equipment. He said I had to get my own. I was like, You fuckin’ asshole. [Laughs] You know? So, I got my own. That got me started. I have him to thank, maybe.
Blessing in disguise. What rappers were you into?
Souls of Mischief, Nas, OutKast, Goodie Mob, N.W.A, Scarface, Geto Boys, Del the Funky Homosapien, Bone Thugs … almost everything.
What inspired Infinity Pool?
To us, it’s reminiscent of ’90s rave culture. We grew up during that era, so that’s a big part of our music. We try to do something else with it. Lyric-wise, everything I’ve experienced the last couple years; personal experiences and what’s going on in society. But, the greatest inspiration is just working with each other.
Aw. What was the process like and how long did it take?
Around two years, a year-and-a-half maybe. When we finish an album, I start writing the next one right away. Only because I’m afraid I might forget how to write. It feels like you have to keep working, so I keep working. And then, at some point, the rest of the band takes it up as well. Then we work together on finishing it. And, when we make music, we produce the record as we’re recording. More than anything, we’re producers. We don’t sit down with a guitar and write songs.
So how exactly do you write songs?
Sometimes it’s just a thought, something I thought about for a week or a month or a year-and-a-half. [Laughs] I sit down in front of my computer and start playing with chords. I start producing while I’m writing. I’m always sitting with a microphone beside me. I like to put down lyrics and start producing at the same time.
How do you collectively select songs that make the final cut?
We don’t all have to have the same understanding of a specific song. As long as we all have a strong feeling for a song, that’s what we want. We have a lot of discussions, sometimes arguing, because it’s so important. But, that’s what ends up on the album: stuff we think has a special sound. An original idea. Something we think has a classic signature or something you would pick up in five years and say, I want to sample this. If we think a song has [these elements], then it’s on the album.
I expect it’s still difficult to narrow down. Who in the band cracks the whip?
All of us. We’re all cracking the whip. We’re all perfectionists. We just keep working. We don’t stop. That’s why it’s so hard to make an album. We’re all hard on ourselves. We have the goal of making something we think is special, that we really feel for. We like to stay inspired and, to do that, we have to keep moving forward.
What would you be doing if not this?
I would be a chef. That’s meditation to me. Listening to music and cooking. We eat a lot of food in our band. Every time we play a concert outside Denmark, we try to figure out what restaurant we’d like to visit and what kind of food we’d like to eat.
How long has it been since you’ve been to New York?
We’ve never been with the band! But my brother used to live in New York.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re here?
I used to like sitting on the stoop in Bed-Stuy by my brother’s apartment. That’s the best thing to do in New York. I eat a lot of food when I’m in New York, always. And go to a lot of concerts. Everyone’s playing there.
Your songs are frequently remixed, often to great effect. What’s your take?
It’s makes you see your own music in a new light. People listen to a remix and they go back to the original. It works to our benefit.
You must feel blessed to be able to earn a living making music.
We do feel blessed. We’re fortunate. We have a lot to be happy about. I’m just glad it’s possible for us to keep working and to live off what we do.
Any expectations for Infinity Pool, reception-wise?
We were really surprised by how people reacted to the [first] album. Now, people are calling it a breakthrough album. But, when it came out, no one said anything. For us, it’s a natural progression, like making music: slow and then it takes shape. Hopefully people will like this album, get something from it. Or a lot of people, hopefully, will think it’s a good album and it will make them feel something. That’s what I hope for, at least.
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