If asked to describe the genre of music that excites me most, I would refer to that very specific sonic universe as my soundtrack for "driving down the highway at the end of the world"—black skies looming overhead, seamlessly gliding into the unknown, existing in bursts of feeling rather than words, sparks exploding behind in the distance. But it was only after I found myself in a feverish state hearing Trentemøller’s “Miss You” for the first time, that I recall closing my eyes and fantasizing about such a scene; so cinematic in my mind, yet deeply calming even in its power. That song marked the final track on the Danish-born electronic musicians’ debut album The Last Resort in 2006, and since, he’s been creating worlds of sound that bring you into a tantalizing trance, dragging you further and further through into his textured soundscapes.
And now, the master of haunting beats and amalgamating genres is back with Lost, an album that veers from his last to bring you a much more melodic and vocal-heavy record—albeit still chilling and totally possessive. Featuring everyone from Jonny Pierce of The Drums, Sune Wagner of The Raveonettes, Mimi Parker of Low, and Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead—to name a few—Lost haunts with the same expertly crafted cinematic echoes of his past work, but with a refreshing and energetic new punch that’s not only a wonder to soak into your brain waves, but shows Trentemøller’s ever-changing style finding new ways to surprise us.
Last week I got the chance to chat with Trentemøller about the spontaneity of creation, honing in a melodies, and the ambient sounds of David Lynch.
Can you tell me about what inspired this new album? You’d been touring for a while prior to working on it.I started working on this album after we finished our last world tour about three years ago. For the last fews years I’d been playing and talking so much about music, but I really wanted to go back into the studio to create something new to to go out and play. So it was something that I thought about quite early. Early in the working process I could see that some of those tracks that I wrote would fit very well for a specific vocalist, so I started working much more song-focused rather than focused on the sound and the production. Many of the songs were actually written on my upright piano in the studio instead of front of the computer. That was really the biggest difference this time compared to the last.
Did you have specific vocalist you knew you wanted to work with? And were you concerned about how that would all fit into one album or was each specific song what was most important to you?
No, actually when I started I didn’t have any plans of how the album should be. But that is actually how I always do it, so I try to be open and keep my options open. I was really sure who I wanted to sing those songs; I was set on having Mimi Parker from Low and that was the same case for all the other vocalists. So I wrote those songs without them knowing and it wasn’t until later that I contacted them and asked them if they wanted to be on the album. So that was kind of the opposite route as well. It was the music that demanded who sang on those songs.
Was it important for you to do something different with this album? You don’t seem like someone who likes to repeat himself and present the same sound twice.
Yes and no, because for me, I don’t really try to make music to surprise people. I don’t really try to make anything for anyone else but for me. It was written during the development of myself as an artist. Of course I don’t make the same music as eight years ago when my debut album came out, things have changed in my life . I really try to not have any plans for what I was going to do and really try to be as open-minded as possible from the starting point of making an album, because then there’s no pressure for me really and if I can keep that open mind it really helps me do something that’s also different from what I did earlier.
There’s a very strong cinematic quality to your music, which is a term thrown around often, but I mean it in such a way that your albums conjure up very grand emotional and visual landscapes, transporting me to a very specific place upon listening. Is that something you strive for?
I wanted a cinematic feel to the album, but I also wanted to have strong melodies and have something that can also work with just an acoustic guitar and a piano and the vocals. For me, it was not only important to have a great sound, but also it was also quite important for me that I started composing on my piano and not in front of the computer with all the possibilities to manipulate the sounds. So this way of writing songs definitely helped me and actually it was just later in the process that I started to add some sounds and put that cinematic feel to it and work on that. That is something I really love about the music, that hopefully people will listen to the album for a four or five times and find things you maybe wouldn’t hear the first time.
Yes, there are definitely songs of yours that I have been listening to over and over again for years and each time I discover a new feeling or layer.
My favorite albums that I’ve really listened to over and over all have this quality. If an album can do that, it can live much longer.
When you’re writing an album, do you find that you have to isolate yourself and get yourself in a very specific physical space or is it also about a certain mindset?
Yeah, when I was doing my first studio album, it was done in my bedroom—but that became a little bit too close for me. I really wanted to go to the studio so I could actually leave my apartment and go to this other place. So when I got new studio it was really great that it was possible for me to really isolate myself. This album took about 12 or 14 months and I was totally in my own space and not thinking about anything else and just focusing on making music.
Your performances are very theatrical and really give you something more than just what’s on your album. How do you look at the relationship between your recorded music and live performance?
For me, the working part after the album is to turn to music from the studio into something for the live stage. That is also the part that I really like because, after not seeing any people for 12 or 14 months, it’s really great to be with friends and show them my vision for the album and also for how to the music could be played. But also, it’s quite natural for me because I started music in a very different vein, so I also have quite a good knowledge of what is possible to do with drums and guitar and bass. It’s important to me to do different versions than are on the album when I play live. I think it’s boring sometimes when you see artists and they’re playing the same versions on the album—certainly in my case, I can maybe record a guitar like six or seven times on top of each other to give that very big sound but if I can’t recreate that—so it’s about adapting the music to the event. We’re actually changing quite a lot, so the only thing that is similar to the version on the album is the melody and the synths and maybe playing the different cuts, but it’s definitely something that I like to do because it gives the audience a new experience rather than just a band that plays the album exactly as it is on the album. My music has that cinematic feel, so it’s great to also put some kind of visuals with that—it’s not just a normal rock concert but something that I don’t think you can see in any other place.
As someone who loves cinema, do you listen to a lot of film scores?
I’m really not very inspired by movie scores anymore, that was something I listened to in the past. But one of the things I have been inspired by is the dark, simple sounds in film. But I have also been inspired by a lot of classical composers—those minimal melodies.
You’ve worked with so many great artists—on this album and prior—is there anyone else you’re really dying to collaborate with?
Yeah, but there are many. One person I really respect and listen to is Nick Cave. His vocals are so cool and so special, and somehow I think his voice would work well with my sound.
Where do you look for inspiration when you’re creating? Is there something that you do to get away from music for a bit and revitalize your creative energy?
One of the best things to do—because my studio is right near the beach—is, it’s nice to sometimes just take a walk and forget about music and look at the beautiful light on the water. And even going to the beach in the winter time when it’s cold and snowing, it still has a very kind of lonely feeling—in a good way. So that’s something that I sometimes do to get away from the music and be with my thoughts, where I can just be inspired and then go back to making music with a new energy. I also love to watch movies; I’m a huge fan of David Lynch and Woody Allen. So I’m also inspired by Lynch’s use of music and the whole sound design in his movies.
Yeah, even besides the brilliant Angelo Badalementi scores it’s as if sound is a character of its own in his work.
The great thing about Lynch’s films are all those ambient sounds, even the smallest things have such a sound, like lighting a cigarette. I love that about his work, he uses sound in a very different way, and that’s sometimes something I do in my own music. I just record and try to incorporate these low sounds in my music so there’s space and when you listen to the music.