If one thread binds Norway’s somewhat infrequent musical exports, it’s a penchant for globetrotting. Even if we dismiss the brass horns that Vikings left scattered around the Northern Hemisphere and the ceaseless touring of 19th century classical innovator Edvard Grieg, rest assured, Norwegian pop phenomenon Sondre Lerche will carry on the footloose trend of his countrymen.
“These days I’m vacating in different parts of the world,” he posts in poetic non-native English on www.sondrelerche.com. “From my little house on the Australian Bay I can see big waves. One of them might just as well be a dream come true. Maybe a French tour in May?”
Lerche’s online updates may be wincingly confessional and consciously jet-set, but when you get him on the phone his candor and sincerity are disarming. He chats about favorite places he’s visited in the last whirlwind year — San Francisco, Paris, London — and it seems like Lerche’s wanderlust has no limits.
“I need to go to Brazil someday,” he says from his Bergen home. “I suppose when I was writing and recording I was just thinking about all these Brazilian artists and I was rediscovering their music with some of the ’60s and ’70s Tropicalia movement. It just got a little bit into my own music. Someday I would like to see the place that inspired Jobim’s “Quiet Nights” or “The Girl from Ipanema.”
But judging from a spin of his full-length debut, Faces Down (Astralwerks), Lerche’s snowcapped home in Norway seems to have little to do with inspiring his songwriting. In fact, tunes like the bossa nova-based “Virtue and Wine” and the sunny, McCartney-oriented “You Know So Well” seem more like stylish B-sides to retro-minded Mancini favorites. Throughout Faces Down, Lerche’s innocent croon and hip-swaying grooves bring to mind contemporary Europop cult heroes Tahiti 80 and our own Incredible Moses Leroy. The problem is, both Tahiti 80 and Leroy had the music industry kiss of death: They were critically triumphant and criminally unpopular. Pop music just doesn’t sell — especially while we’re within the eye of the rock-revival hurricane.
“To be honest the rock movement doesn’t move me,” Lerche confesses. “It is very popular, but I’m not very interested in that. It is cool that rock bands and Scandinavian bands are finding an audience. But, it seems that in general that all that music lacks melody. Melody is something that … the most hardcore rock kid would react to so much more. I think people today lack harmonic adventure — and take the easy way out.”
In Norway Lerche is considered something of an expert on melody. He attracted a major deal with Virgin in Norway in 2000 and was named “Best New Act” at the Norwegian Grammys (Spellemannprisen) the next year. Though his acclaim here in the States is only starting to gain momentum, some critics have already warned that, if Lerche plays his cards right, he could be the biggest Norwegian export since a-ha. Ironic, since his big sister’s a-ha records were responsible for getting him into music in the first place.
“When I was very young — 4 or 5 years old — my older sisters were listening to a-ha and it really changed me,” Lerche says. “It made me start playing music and writing songs and taking music instruction. In that way it changed my whole life.”
Sure, it might sound extreme — to American audiences a-ha might not be at top of their game anymore — but Lerche owns an astonishing 200 a-ha recordings. When he got to open for the ’80s idols awhile back it was the realization of a lifelong dream.
“It was like the Sondre Lerche arena rock show,” he says, laughing. “It was terrific and I felt so warmly received. But that warm feeling can happen just as easily in a small club. Traveling for a long time and traveling by yourself is very tiring, and for you to not be dead you have to feel that warmth and have people like it. If not, I would probably lay down and die.”
Sondre Lerche will perform Wednesday, May 28, at the Shelter (431 E Congress, Detroit) with Nada Surf. Call 313-961-MELT.Nate Cavalieri writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail email@example.com