Though Sondre Lerche may have a thing for Scooby Snacks, America (“I am hoping to cross the Atlantic to see if they’re giving birth to my dream, and most importantly, find out what that dream is”), the Beach Boys and fellow Norwegian pop musicians a-Ha (he owns 200 a-Ha records!), don’t mistake the newest flavor in the pop music landscape as just another media creation. The Scandinavian singer-songwriter is much more than that. Music was always been in Lerche’s blood. Raised in the “ideal, perfect and inspiring” city of Bergen, Norway, and nursed on the pop music of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Lerche is a genuine musical prodigy for the modern age. He was formally trained on guitar before he was nine years old, composed original material by age 14 and recorded and gigged in nightclubs while still a minor. By 17, he had already achieved Top 3 chart status in his homeland, impressed audiences with his captivating stage performances and written a luxurious assortment of songs that would soon form the basis for his well-received debut, Faces Down. While he has spent the past couple of years honing his skills and sharing the stage with illustrious mainstream artists (a-Ha, Beth Orton, Gemma Hayes), his unique voice and endearing approach to pop music has earned him much praise (Best New Act at the Norwegian Grammys in March 2002) and acclaim (Faces Down went Gold in Norway almost overnight). Slant Magazine thinks it’s time the rest of the world got to know this 19-year old talent as he sits on the verge of conquering America.
Do people ever mistake you for a woman based on your name?
[Laughs] Many people tend to. But “Sondre” is a very Norwegian name. It’s starting to become somewhat more common here although I think I was among one of the first boys in Norway to be called Sondre. Now a lot of 3 and 4-year old boys are coming to be called Sondre.
Oh no, already children are being named after you!
I don’t know if I’m the reason. [Laughs] I can wish!
How did you first come to know that music would be extremely important in your life?
I think my real first music experience—the turning point—was when I was four or five years old. My older sisters were listening to a-Ha at the moment and I [got] really into them. From then on I just wanted to try to play music myself. I just thought, “I have to play an instrument if I want to continue with music, not just listen. I have to be in there, be active and not passive.” So I started playing the guitar, took lessons and then I started to want to write music myself. Then it was really the only thing that interested me.
Your music has been called “deeply melodic pop” with a style that blends multiple sounds. How would you categorize it?
Most artists, if you ask them to categorize their own music, will probably say “Oh it’s not like anything else, it’s a totally different genre.” Basically, it’s just because they don’t have any true insight into their own work. But I make the music I make because it’s based on the music that I like. Certainly I try to write something that I am happy with or, in one way or another, describes or expresses something worth mentioning. What I create reflects everything about who I am and where I’m at musically at the time. Lately I’ve been listening a lot to PreFab Sprout, who I think is really probably the best band in the world. I think the songwriting is really—in pop terms—the most exciting. Also, in the last two years, I’ve been listening to some Brazilian pop stuff from the ’60s and ’70s, and [I’ve discovered] that the popular songwriting of that era in Brazil is creative far beyond the more daft pop from western countries.
Your website features an online diary. In one of your entries you speak highly of Van Dyke Parks, a name that isn’t well known to many modern music fans. Why did you find it necessary to make mention of him?
Writing about him was really just from rediscovering his music and hearing his album Song Cycle. Plus, he’s worked with The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, who I admire greatly. Van Dyke Parks is a kind of a mythical person in experimental pop music. I just think he is somewhat of an underrated genius; some of his work is really fantastic. I wrote about him because I use the diary to write about whatever I’m into at the moment, whatever I’m doing. And I would always like for more people to be able to get into whatever I find interesting and compelling. It’s always nice to be able to share whatever I’m into with others.
What was your experience creating Faces Down?
Most of the songs came about as the result of this big inspirational rush in my head. After struggling with songwriting for quite a while, I suddenly took some small steps in the right direction. I was just discovering new ways of writing and suddenly the songs just started popping up. Faces Down is my first record and it’s always strange because you hear stories about people who kind of look back on their first record after a while and aren’t happy with it. But for me, after all this time, it’s really still as fulfilling as when we first did it.
You’ve had the opportunity this past year to perform on stage with a-Ha, a band that has been around for quite sometime. It must make you think about your own chances for pop success and longevity.
I worry about one day not being able to write interesting songs anymore and not be able to continue what I do. But I can’t worry about how people react to the music, [whether or not] somebody calls me a genius or a wonder boy or if somebody else calls me a bad songwriter. I’ll have to just be certain that what I do is interesting to myself. I just have to keep discovering new ways to write new songs and not write the old songs again and again like some people do. I wouldn’t find that interesting at all.
On a somewhat separate issue, what would you say is your generation’s greatest challenge?
That’s a really interesting question because sometimes I think about that as I see and meet a lot of people who are having a hard time. I think the challenge is to allow yourself to find a thing you are really good at and be open to find your own niche. I think a lot of young people are kind of closed off in a way and don’t allow themselves to develop in any kind of direction. Maybe I’m on shaky ground right now, starting to philosophize about stuff that I don’t have a clue about [Laughs], but I think that in today’s society people are, in a way, taught to limit themselves.
Well, apparently pursuing your passion has been paying off. You’re going to be performing in the United States for the first time this autumn?
Yes! I am coming to New York City sometime around Halloween [as part of the CMJ Music Marathon]. I’ve been traveling a bit—performing in Europe, France, and England, but I’ve never been across the Atlantic, never been that far from home. So it’s both a bit terrifying and, of course, very jolly. I’ve heard the record is getting some good response in the States and I really look forward to meeting the people at [my U.S. label] Astralwerks—they’ve been very nice and enthusiastic about the record. I think just being in America will probably be quite different to what I’ve experienced in Europe. I imagine the USA to be even more diverse and different to what I’m used to. I have friends who say it’s really a huge experience, so I hope I have time off to just walk around in New York, in—what do you call it?—Greenwich Village? It sounds really fantastic. I look forward to that. Maybe I will see you there! [Laughs]