Interview with Northern Portrait’s Stefan Larsen

Northern Portrait are a relatively new indie pop band. They formed only two years ago, yet as you’ll find out (or perhaps, as you already know) they have released two EPs and are to release their very first album. They come from Denmark and are on the look for the best pop song. Apparently, they have come quite close to this. If you want to check some of their so far released tracks, just go to their MySpace and have a look.

I invite you, while reading the interview, to push the play button for one of their most acclaimed (and best known) tracks:

[display_podcast] northern-portrait-crazy

Read about the band, generally, about their music and live performances, about their musical tastes (this including Stefan Larsen’s hot party tracklist) and many more!

bandfoto-hamburgCredit for the photography goes to Danielle Mandix !

ZME: Hello Stefan! „Northern Portrait” is represented by the Danish trio – Michael Sorensen, Stefan Larsen, and Rune Reholt. Would you please make a description – each of you, using no more than 4-5 words, words that best characterize yourselves, your way of thought and life, your musical preferences etc. Also, mention what each of you exactly does in the band, who plays what instrument, vocals etc.

Hi Alex. Actually, we’re now a five piece band; Michael Sorensen plays the drums and co-writes some songs, Rune Reholt and Jesper Bonde play guitars, Caspar Bock Sorensen plays bass and I (Stefan Larsen, try to) sing. We all consider ourselves easy people.

ZME: Each of you has been previously a member of other bands. Could you mention who belonged to which band and how and why did you decide to leave those bands and form your own „musical factory”?

Caspar has an excellent band of his own called ‚Champagne Riot’. Michael and I have been in several bands together, the latest one was called The Mirror Lounge, where we did a more Scott Walker and Chris Isaak influenced kind of music. The reason for the change from The Mirror Lounge to Northern Portrait was really just the songs that suddenly came along. I won’t call The Mirror Lounge dead, it’s just hibernating at the moment. We might wake it up again some day.

ZME: You’re signed to Matinée Recordings. It represents so many other talented groups (Cats on Fire, Bubblegum Lemonade, The Lucksmiths, Razorcuts, The Siddeleys and many more). How did that happen and how did you sign so soon, after only two months, as far as I know?! How does it feel, for you, as a pretty new member of the indie pop music scene to hold a common ground with these other great bands?

Well, you’re right. It all happened quite quickly. After the first three songs had been written and recorded, a couple of German labels showed some interest in our music, which was something we didn’t expect. Then all of a sudden Jimmy who runs Matinée Recordings sent a message saying that he’d love to put out our songs. We were of course completely thrilled by that. The better I get to know our fellow Matinée bands the better I like the label. So far I haven’t heard anything that I didn’t love. It’s a most well respected label and there’s certainly good reason for that, and we’re just proud to be part of that musical family. We recently visited Jimmy in California, where we played some lovely gigs. Going into the Matinée office was really like entering the treasure chamber of Indie pop. Again, thrilling.

ZME: You’ve already released two EPs – the first one was „The Fallen Aristocracy”, followed by „Napoleon Sweetheart”. Tell us a bit why you chose those names for the two releases and use one word to perfectly characterize each extended play. Also, mention one song from each of the two EPs, that best represents each of them.

That’s a difficult one.. Hmm. I cannot really remember where the titles came from. Probably just random ideas in a notebook of mine. The words I would use to describe them from my perspective are: ‚good’ and ‚better’. From the first EP i probably like the title track best (The Fallen Aristocracy, that is) and from the second one, probably ‚I Give You Two Seconds To Entertain Me’, but it’s hard to say, really..

ZME: Since your first release, people who have come across your music couldn’t stop talking about the very jangly and catchy song „Crazy”. Tell us a bit about the story behind it. How did it come together? Who wrote the lyrics, who plays what instrument? Why do you think, in your own words, was the reason why this song had become so popular?

‚Crazy’ was the first song to be recorded. At some point I was just browsing through a dictaphone I use for recording random ideas for songs, and I suddenly came across this strangely catchy song. Normally I record a few different versions, where I develop the songs, but there was only one take, and it almost seemed like a finished song. So I decided to spent a couple of hours recording it. Then we thought of the band name and uploaded it to Myspace. I can’t see any other reason for the song being a favourite amongst some people, than the fact that it is quite catchy. It’s not a perfect recording or anything. It was done very quickly and intuitively.

ZME: Mention one song from the 8 so far released, for which you have worked the hardest. Which one has been the most stressful and why? Also, mention the one song you’re most satisfied with.

There hasn’t really been a song that was hard to record. The hardest thing has been the mixing, because the recordings have been done on very low tech and primitive equipment. The most stressful one was probably the entire first EP, because we were kind of anxious to get it released, and didn’t have any real production experience. Listening to it now, i think that really shows, but I actually think it has a charm of it’s own not being a very polished production. The second EP sounds better to my ears. I think I’m quite satisfied with that one, altogether.

ZME: You’ve also done a cover: Cliff Richard’s „Some people”. Tell us the story behind this: why have you chosen this song? And should we expect more covers from Northern Portrait? Are there going to be any covers on the to-be-released album?

We were invited to participate in something called ‚Rewind’ which was a project where different bands were asked to record a cover version of an 80’s track. We went through a lot of different possible songs, but ended up with the Cliff Richard one, because it seemed very open to interpretation. We didn’t want to record something that would be too obvious, like a song by The Housemartins or something. We have no current plans about doing other cover versions, but if somebody asks we’ll consider it.

ZME: You’ve announced last year that you had started working on your first album – „Criminal Art Lovers”, yet it still hasn’t been released. In a previous interview with another website, in March 2009, you’ve mentioned that you were expecting to have the album out by May, this year. Why didn’t that come true? Why has it taken so long to finish it up and when can we expect to see it in stores, or online, available for purchase?

The reason is quite simple really – we’ve been preparing and executing our first live gigs. Starting an entirely new side of the band of course doesn’t just happen over night, and we didn’t want to show up and play gigs in Europe and America just sounding rubbish. That has meant some breaks from the recordings (we were for example away from home for six weeks in May). Also I have been involved in publishing a book here in Denmark, which has taken some time too. So basically it’s just because other things, many of them band things, have stood in the way of the finishing of the album. But now I can definitely tell that it’s about to arrive.

ZME: You’ve also mentioned earlier this year, that you aren’t that pleased with the music that comes from Copenhagen, and that „there’s so much rubbish out there”. However, there must be some music you must like, that comes from your city, or Denmark in general. Mention a couple of bands or solo performers from Denmark, to whom you enjoy listening to.

I’m a long time fan of a singer called Lars Hug, a band called Love Shop, and a band called Gangway. There’s a couple of very good indie pop acts in Copenhagen though: Roadside Poppies, Ampel, Sockpuppets are amongst them. And then I really like our bass player Caspar’s band Champagne Riot, who issued an EP on Shelflife last year.

ZME: In this order of ideas, tell us what you think about these Danish bands: „The Asteroids Galaxy Tour”, „Racetrack Babies”, „Mew”, „Figurines” or „The Raveonettes”. Tell us if you like their music and mention if you would agree to tour with any of them, if the proposition ever presented itself.

I only have a very superficial knowledge of most of them, so I’m not the right person to say if they’re any good. I mainly know them by name and a few songs, which hasn’t made me want to find out more. What I’ve heard sounds very professional and well produced, though. I’ll have to take a closer look into them before praising them or slagging them off. So please ask me this question again next time. Regarding shows with them, I’m sure that we’d love to play with them sometime if we were asked.

ZME: Considering the whole Scandinavian area, what do you think about the indie pop bands from Sweden. Tell us a couple of bands you like and whom you’d definitely want to see performing live.

The Swedish indie pop scene is a completely different story. There’s just so many great acts from there. Liechtenstein, The Electric Pop Group, Days, Japan Air, Compute, Tellus About The Moon..The list goes on and on. I have seen some of these and would go and see them any time they are in the neighbourhood. I can certainly recommend these and many more.

ZME: Please mention 10 other indie pop/rock bands you like listening to when you’re at home, relaxing, or working, or doing chores, etc.

Apart from the ones already mentioned I’m currently into Pocketbooks, Magic Mullets, Help Stamp Out Loneliness, Horowitz, Sloppy Joe, Slipslide, The Siddeleys, The Smittens, The Tartans, and Sucrette. Oh, and let me recommend Standard Fare, too.

ZME: Let’s imagine the perfect party. Mention 10 tracks you always want to hear, in order for the party to be a successful one.

1. Pulp – any song, really
2. Blur – There’s No Other Way
3. Thrash can Sinatras – Only Tongue Can Tell
4. The Jam – When You’re Young
5. Sleeper – Delicious
6. EMF – Unbelievable
7. Lightning Seeds – Fingers and Thumbs
8. Erasure – A Little Respect
9. Stone Roses – She bangs The Drum
10. Lars Hug – Kysser Himlen Farvel
11. Echo and The Bunnymen – Bring On The Dancing Horses
– those would be nice ones..

ZME: If you could choose the list of performances for a festival in which you would also have to perform, whom would you love to see performing, next to your name? You can ignore time frames and choose bands that aren’t performing anymore. Give us a couple of names…

Jarvis Cocker/Pulp, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Lightning Seeds, Suede, The Jam, The Clash, Weeping Willows, Jens Unmack..Well, there’s really too many..

ZME: Also, please tell us a bit about your experience with the San Francisco Popfest this year. How did that go through? Any funny, interesting stories to tell? Who did you see performing live, who were you the most excited to see and also, mention how the American audience reacted to your music. I’m sure you were a smash!

San Francisco Pop Fest was absolute joy. If there was a way to extract it and put it on bottles one could become a millionaire selling it. The way it happened was that they just asked us to come and play, and we said ‚Yes’. I saw some incredibly good acts, Magic Bullets probably being my favourite. Oh and Ballboy too.  I think the audience reacted very, very well to our music. It was funny to see how so many people seemed to know the lyrics all over the venue. Quite surreal really.

ZME: I checked your „upcoming shows” list on MySpace and there is only this one gig in August, in Copenhagen. After releasing your album, will you play more concerts and will these be around Europe, or just in Denmark? Also, when could we expect to see you performing live more in the Eastern part of Europe, maybe in Romania?

We have three new dates in Germany in October (where we’re gonna open for The television personalities), we just need the last couple of things to be in place before announcing them. That’s gonna be incredibly exciting. And then there’s some requests for us to come and play in the UK again, and hopefully a Danish gig too in the Fall. We would love to play in Eastern Europe. I think we’ve all been to many Eastern European countries many many times, and love it. We haven’t been asked yet, but I surely hope it’s gonna happen sometime. We’d love to come to Romania – do you know anyone who’d want to have us?

ZME: For the last question, tell your readers what to expect from your very first album. Is it going to be very similar to the two EPs you’ve already released, or are we supposed to expect some surprises or changes? Also, mention how many tracks the album is going to contain.

The album is going to be a ten track affair. There’s gonna be just one song that has been released before, and that is ‚Crazy’. All in all I’ll say that the album picks up, where the ‚Napoleon Sweetheart EP’ left. There’s gonna be a good variation in the songs. It’s not gonna be entirely different from the style presented on the first two issues, but some development will be noticable. I think people who enjoyed the two Eps will definitely enjoy these ones just as good, and hopefully even better. The sound will be a little more complex though still very guitar based, and quite jangly.

ZME: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this for us.  Congratulations! again for all your so far released tracks. Hope the album comes aut soon!!! Can’t wait! And hope to see you guys somewhere around Europe as soon as possible! Best of luck!

Thank you for your interest in our band. We hope to see you out there in real life sometime, hopefully sometime soon. Cheers!

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