It's something that you would suspect from one listen to a densely melodic and cinematic track of his like "Take Me Into Your Skin," or any other number of otherworldly tracks that have come from the mind of Anders Trentemoller.
My focus is definitely playing with the band because that gives so much more and it really allows me to play on many more levels.
Or you might infer it from not one but two rigorous US tours in the year 2011 with a host of one-off remixes littered in between gigs.
But talking with him for half an hour confirms that this freakishly talented, genre-straddling Danish musician and producer lives, eats, breathes and sleeps music.
It was a mere six years earlier that Trentemoller (he adopts his surname as his artist handle) was a relative unknown DJ and producer in Copenhagen creating slinky, bass-heavy minimal tracks that would immediately catch the ear of Poker Flat founder Steve Bug. One EP on Poker Flat, a string of attention-grabbing remixes of the likes of Royksopp and Moby, and a universally praised debut full-length album later...and Trentemoller is a name many music fans outside of Denmark can now pronounce.
One thing that you would never guess from his talents and his rapid success is that he is extremely humble and clearly grateful for every day that he is able to share his music with the world. As he takes the US by storm for a second time around in 2011 with his band of the same name, effortlessly melding indie rock and electronic music sensibilities better than any other two acts attempting the trendy fusion today, we caught up with him for a few questions.
Talk a bit about when you first started out, what you were doing just before Steve Bug put out your first EP on his label Poker Flat and how he helped jumpstart your career.
Steve Bug heard me play in Copenhagen and asked me to send some stuff to him because he was into my sound. So I sent him three or four tracks that he wound up signing. And then from there I released a few EPs and 12-inches and Poker Flat asked me to do a studio album and I was really happy about that. Making EPs is less tangible musically...there are certain kind of rules that you have to work under that were for me a little bit limiting creatively because I also wanted to show other sides of my music and sound. It was a great to have an opportunity to do that with a studio album. I was more thinking of the album not as a concept album but more as an album you listen to the first track and go on and on and listen to the last track in one big go. I think right now people are only picking up one track on iTunes or one from a blog, but it's rare that people are thinking in albums anymore. It was very important for me that my first studio album have this quality of being a whole album.
The Essential Mix that you did in 2006 that won so many accolades, including Essential Mix of the year, also had that same feeling of a complete journey.
It was a mix that I did quite fast, actually, so I was pretty surprised that it got so much attention. But BBC Radio 1 was always nice to play my music and promote my first album. That was just great for me, and then with a mix that I didn't put that much effort into doing it, to be honest, only to have it suddenly lauded...it was fantastic.
It was not something that I really decided or planned…It was something that happened quite naturally, it was just a development from only working with my computer.
These days, it's increasingly rare to see a Trentemoller DJ set billed anywhere. Is that intentional or has the focus just been more on the band lately?
My focus is definitely playing with the band because that gives so much more and it really allows me to play on many more levels. And DJing is also fun but it's something that I do more rarely now and we have a lot going on with the band, a lot of European festivals and now the US again. So for me, DJing is not something that I miss doing that much.
How did you make the move to more band-oriented music?
It was not something that I really decided or planned that now I want to make more instrumental music. It was something that happened quite naturally, it was just a development from only working with my computer—working "in the box"—and then slowly beginning to include the real drums and the guitar and bass and more acoustic elements. It's something that happened very slowly.
I think that a lot of electronic musicians wind up staring into their laptops during performances. Its really important to have the freedom to not be a slave of the laptop .
What's the secret to fusing electronic and indie music while still somehow retaining the spirit of each?
For me, it's very important that when you're playing live with the laptops on stage, you're using them but it isn't the main focus. I like to play the keyboards and really concentrate on that, I think that a lot of electronic musicians wind up staring into their laptops during performances. It's really important to have the freedom to not be a slave of the laptop and instead, playing together with the band and trying to establish contact with the audience while we are playing live.
Has any part of the scene in your native country Denmark influenced to the move to more organic music? It seems like Scandinavia in general is starting to make an impact on the global music scene, especially with bands but also with electronic music. What would you attribute that to?
I don't know, maybe, in Copenhagen a lot of artists have begun to trust in their own sound. Earlier it was much more about sounding like your favorite band from the UK or the US and now there's a newfound believe in the Scandinavian sound. It's not only Denmark, if you listen to The Knife, Fever Ray...it's a little bit mellow and melancholic. It's something you can hear in a lot of new Danish artists. They all kind of have this cinematic quality, something inherent to Scandinavia.
I've been lucky to work with The Knife because I did those two remixes and I was happy to because it's a band that I really admire. I think, of course, there's this sort of special Nordic sound but I don't really think that so many people are working across countries. If you're listening to folk music two or three hundred years old, especially Swedish and Norwegian folk songs, it has this kind of mellow or melancholy vibe, it's not a totally new thing, we've learned to use our background music-wise and not just sound like a band form the UK or the States.
Speaking of collaborations, were you surprised when Pedro Almodovar got in touch to license your song "Shades of Marble" for his new movie The Skin I Live In?
For me it was a big honor because he's a great director and I have seen almost every movie he has ever made. Actually, he wanted the stems for the track because he thought that the guitar should be a little louder. He remixed it a bit but it sounds pretty much the same. It was fun how much he was into the music. It's also in the trailer; it's great that someone who you really admire also admires your work.
It's no secret that dance music is growing exponentially as a scene in the US right now. What sort of differences are you seeing now versus your last tour with the band in 2007?
This time I can definitely feel that there are, of course, a lot more people going to our shows. We already have some sold-out shows on this tour and we had some on our last tour earlier this year also. It's really cool just to see that people are getting this kind of music, even if it's more of a crossover thing. Our gig at the Coachella festival playing in front of 25,000 people going crazy...that really did a lot for us. People at our concerts always mention that festival as a defining moment.
I was definitely one of those 25,000 people. It was an insane show.
We were surprised because we were kind of unknown and we didn't expect so many people to show up but it was great to see people get into the music and to build into this crazy climax with the crowd...it's still one of the best memories we have of that tour.
It's all the people that know my music from earlier that really also help promote it, but then playing live gigs is always, you know, it really does a lot to you as an artist because you are going out and playing for real people, it's not just about promos and doing interviews, but to do go out and show your stuff, it makes a very strong statement.
If Coachella stands out as one of the best memories of 2011, what are some of the landmark memories from your career so far?
Releasing my two studio albums are the two biggest landmarks because that's really when you have the chance to show who you are and something that I take very seriously. It's still fun to do mix compilations, but of course making my own music and doing it for a whole album is something that has really done a lot to me and we've had really good feedback on our latest album. To be able to play those two albums is the biggest thing for me.
How do you see the relationship right now between the mainstream and the underground of electronic music?
For me, it's always fun to talk about underground and mainstream because it's melding together more and more and music that sounds underground can suddenly be found in a car commercial. It's a very thin line right now because people are always finding new music on the Internet and blogs. Electronic music IS becoming, to me, more mainstream.
Your sound with the band has some mainstream elements to it, but it's clear from the variety of the tracks that you make and the albums that you've released that you aren't interested in repeating the same sounds much, if at all. To unify all these aesthetics, how would you define yourself outwardly as an artist?
I think it's totally up to the listener, but for me, I'm basically doing music for my own pleasure. Even if I wouldn't sell a single record, I would still do music because it's my passion. It's true that I don't like making the same album twice but that's because I would get bored and the listeners would get bored of things. So for me it's a very natural thing that I want to challenge myself and maybe try new things out that I haven't tried before. I think some artists get big on one sound and then do that thing over and over again and that is fine but I personally cannot work like that. Even if you lose some elements and people might prefer what you did earlier versus what you're doing now, that's ok.
And what is the next way in which you want to challenge yourself musically?
Working on my next studio album will be my focus. I just built this new studio with our drummer so we have a really cool space now. It's really easy to record and really easy to try out things quickly and being able to record day and night. I was thinking about challenging myself by putting up some rules: trying to simplify the sound and limit myself to only 10 or 12 tracks per song. My latest album had this dramatic, epic sound and I think it could be fun for me to have a very stripped-down sound next time, only keeping the most important parts in the song but still with the layers that I'm known for.
And how would your describe your own relationship with music and your approach to making it?
I think for me one of the most important things is that it is not just enough if you have a cool beat or it sounds fantastic and the production is pure and clear. It's much more about having some melodic qualities to the music. I really like if it's not only a loop but has some chord progressions and cool bassline and some sort of hook going on. And I'm not only talking about vocal lines, but something that you can play on a piano alone, not just with a big band setup or a lot of production on top. So when I write new songs, I'm actually doing it on a piano and not working so much on a computer in the writing process. It's later that I put it on the computer and layer on top of the chords or the simple melody that I have in mind. It's very important for me to always have that in mind.
I think a lot of electronic music is still really centered on a cool loop and a great beat but after two minutes you've heard the whole song. Maybe it's not suitable for the radio but it's great to have the freedom to take the music to another dimension. Also the cool thing about writing instrumentals is that you don't have any vocals that are dictating the feel of the music. It's up the listener to put their own thoughts and feelings and vibe into the music. It's easy for us to play in Europe or in Asian or the States because the music is global in a way and it's not so much about lyrics, it's more about atmosphere and vibe.
So bearing all of that in mind, what is your favorite track of your own that you've made?
[long pause] "Miss You" is one.
I wrote it and recorded it in two hours and I was actually pretty satisfied with the whole sound. It's also a sound that still works well when we play it live because it has a very simple but touching vibe and I can see that when we play it live.
Also really happy about the opening track on my latest album ["The Mash and the Fury"] because it has really strong, massive inputs and it's a track that starts in one place and builds up and ends in this climax and has this symphonic vibe to it.
And the flipside to that: what artists are you blown away by right now?
Right now, there are many artists but I really like. A Place to Bury Strangers from New York City is one. They have this kind of traditional rubber road atmosphere mixed with electronic drums. Very cool. Dirty Beaches is another. It's very lo-fi, just a guy working with samples and he puts those samples and his voice through an old guitar and that is his sound, very lo-fi and simple. Old Suicide or some David Lynch stuff as well, those are two artists on my iPod right now.
And lastly, what advice would you give to musicians just starting out right now?
Before you are releasing any stuff, you should really try to work on defining your own sound. It's really easy to release your music by putting it up on Soundcloud or MySpace but I think a lot of people who just started doing electronic music are maybe lacking this thing about being able to find their own sound and not just trying to sound like whatever the hype is right now. Use time to define your own sound, use your ears.
Is there anything else you wanted to add before we wrap up?
We are really really happy to be back in the States and it's really a fantastic honor to be able to play for so many people and we are always looking forward to our next gig. Even if there's only like 200 people showing up, it's still really fun and people seem quite dedicated when they go to our concerts. It's nice to play big venues like Coachella but also play for people who are happy about the music in a smaller setting.
And we are REALLY looking forward to playing in LA because we haven't played our full set in LA, only 50 minutes at Coachella. We can't to do our full show in LA with brand new visuals and some new music as well.