Our favorite Norwegian producer, Lindstrøm, is what most would call a dedicated career artist. The man doesn't just stumble upon genius like, say, five kids known as the Strokes did a decade ago. No, Hans-Peter works and works and works and works some more until genius is all that's left from his labors. The man finds it quite difficult to share the process with anyone else (that's not named Prins Thomas) for fear of losing creative autonomy, yet he finds it even more difficult to stay still and pump out the same thing over and over. So, while most may best know Lindstrøm as Oslo's cosmic disco composer and connoisseur, he would never pigeonhole himself in such a way. Case in point: Lindstrøm and Christabelle's latest LP, Real Life Is No Cool (Smalltown Supersound/Feedelity), the most exciting release of 2010 so far.
The long-player decidedly moves away from Lindstrøm's more recent kraut and new disco experiments (i.e. II, which he created with Thomas, and Where You Go I Go Too). The album can really only be described as one thing: pop! Lindstrøm successfully chopped his song arrangements down from 40 minutes to four, reverently integrated the angelic and soothing vocals of Christabelle, and threw in some dance floor-ready bass hooks, synth grooves, and bogeying beats. Not surprisingly, the whole piece flows perfectly and will instantly make your jaw drop.
Before we got into the thick of the 2009 holidays we had a chance to talk with both Lindstrøm and Christabelle about the LP and beyond. Before chomping into the meaty Q&A's, though, download two spectacular remixes of the lead single, “Baby Can't Stop”!
Be sure to read through all of Lindstrøm's interview as it's followed by a chat with Christabelle that shouldn't be overlooked!
Let's start by talking about Real Life Is No Cool. The name itself has a unique ring to it―could you explain its origin?
It's taken from one of the tracks―”Keep It Up.” Christabelle is responsible for all the lyrics, so I can't really speak for the meaning of her words, but it sounded good and it looked good in print, and that's what's most important to me. I like it because it's sort of an escape from real life or reality.
The look of the record is interesting too since it looks almost exactly like Where You Go I Go Too, except it's Christabelle and not you. What motivated you to choose that photo?
I left everything to the guy who did the photos and the artwork, Kim Hiorthøy, who's been working with Smalltown Supersound for ages. He's an artist and I really trust him. I told him he could choose whatever he wanted, the same with Where You Go. To be honest, I probably would've selected something different myself, but it's the same when it comes to mixing and mastering: I'm not the best to actually do that stuff, so I leave it to other people. Like if you asked for a remix from somebody, and when you get it back, you say, “Oh, maybe you could make it a little more like this or extend it here.” I don't think that's how you handle things when you're asking for a favor.
I like how both cover portraits just… make you feel good. It's nice to see artists smiling and look happy. Too often you see frowns and serious expressions. You seem like an optimistic, lively man.
I'm not depressed or anything. I'm really happy most of the time.
That's good to hear! So, let's talk about music! Real Life is definitely poppier than previous works of yours. When you decided to make this LP, were you trying to make more of a pop record or were you trying to move away from other things you've done recently… ?
Maybe a combination. When I started working with Christabelle, because of the vocals she contributed, I wanted to do my version of pop music. Also, it was definitely great to do something different than the instrumental stuff I've been doing myself and with Thomas. I really enjoy doing different things at the same time. When I get tired or bored or one of the projects, I just jump to the other one.
I found that there was a pretty heavy sense of rhythm with all the songs. Your stuff is already rhythmic, but the Real Life material is punchier, maybe…
I mean, I don't think I'd be able to do something really heavy and punchy―like M.I.A. or Diplo―because I'm working with a lot of melodies and chords and pop song buildups. I mean, I guess since I've been in the dance/DJ world for 10 years or so now, it's very easy for me to use rhythms and electronic rhythms.
You keep talking about how a pop song sounds in your head, so now I'm curious: What does a “good” pop song sound like to you?
I really like pop music that is very “correctly” written. Written by the book, with the verse and refrain and the bridge. When everything makes sense together. I like a lot of the cheesy stuff―Kenny Rodgers and Dolly Parton and the Bee Gees. I grew up in the 80s and started to listen to the radio [then]. Some of the tracks I was listening to then got stuck in my head, and that's the blueprint for what I consider to be a “perfect pop song.” In recent years, I've been interested in trying to make a pop song with disturbing elements. Like, having a melody that is really nice and mixing it with something that's not that nice-sounding… using sounds that crash together. I've been listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren and I really like how he did a few of those early 70s albums, with some really pretty singer-songwriter songs and then some really crazy, mad, synthesizer and distorted stuff.
Was “Music (In My Mind),” a track you did with Christabelle, the first thing you put out as Lindstrøm?
No, it was the second one. I put it out on my own label, Feedelity. Before that, there was an EP with four instrumental songs.
It was one of the first two things you did then. You did another thing with Christabelle (as Solale) a little later on, but you haven't worked much. What inspired you to do Real Life with her now?
We only released two songs before this album, but by then we had three or four more―almost an album. I was really happy with some of the unreleased tracks and she was really up for doing an album. Three or four years ago, though, I was trying to do something on my own or with Thomas, but now it makes more sense. To do a vocal album or a pop album.
I like to do different things all the time. The last two albums were all long, instrumental tracks. Kraut, maybe, and progressive… but this is something totally different. There's a common line, but it is very different from the other albums―and I'll probably do something different next time too.
I think by doing that you make your audience into a bunch of lifelong fans.
I really hope that some of my listeners are thinking like that. It's the same with me: If I follow a band or an artist, it's always nice to have them surprise me. If it's always the same thing, sooner or later you just won't be interested anymore.
With you, I always get the impression that you work a lot. I have this image of you waking up at 9 AM and staying in the studio for the next eight hours.
You're pretty much right. I'm a family man now, so it makes sense to work during the day. Before, though, I still liked working during the day, maybe returning to the studio after dinner. I'm not like the romantic vision of a songwriter who just sits there, waiting for his inspiration. I just work and work until it suddenly happens. A lot of the stuff I do ends up in my waste bin.
That's the sign of being a career artist! To me, you seem to view your musical career as something more than just a side-project or a hobby or something fun to do.
I haven't thought about it like that, but you may be right. When I started, I was really afraid that if I did anything wrong or had any missteps or released something that people didn't like, sooner or later it'd be over and someone else would sell records. Recently, I've become more certain that I'll be able to do this for at least a couple more years. I mean, there's also always the feeling of needing to do the next thing, though.
You play a lot of instruments yourself.
Did you play everything on this record?
Yeah, everything. Except for the horns on “Baby Can't Stop,” which was added later by the guy who mixed that track.
Do you just pick up more instruments as time goes on or do you always work with the same setup?
When I started, I only had a computer. I guess I'm classically trained with piano and I've played in bands, but after I decided to establish a personal studio… I just didn't want to depend on a drummer or a guitarist or anyone else. I decided that if I did everything myself, I'd be able to work faster and always get [my music] that way I want with no compromises.
I'm really happy I've chosen that way of working.
I have picked up a few instruments that [take learning] recently, though. I bought a sitar and a pedal steel guitar and with those, you really need to know what to do. But if you're able to play the piano and the guitar, it's really easy to pick up a bass and… a banjo, maybe? And synthesizers. If you listen to music and practice, it's easy enough to play drums, I guess. I'm not a good drummer―on this album, everything's programmed. I don't really regard [my multi-instrumentalism] as a big thing. I really like people who play a lot of instruments themselves… and produce their music. It sounds very personal this way. Even given [the Real Life] music to the guy who mixed the record was hard for me. If he added a lot of reverb to the drums or did minor adjustments on my mix, it could totally change the dynamics of the track. That's more than enough external help for me.
You want a purity of your vision.
Yeah. The more I do myself, the more I feel it belongs to me.
On this album, Christabelle wrote all the lyrics and probably 50% of the songs are based on her sketches from when she worked on them on her computer at home. But since I'm playing all the instruments and doing all the recording and everything, I feel like it's very personal and something that's mine. I haven't really asked Christabelle if this is a problem for her, but I guess that since she has all the vocals and all the lyrics and probably half the songwriting, she's happy with everything.
What draws you to the collaboration with Thomas, then?
The first album we did was based on a lot of my unfinished pieces of music. We hadn't worked a lot beforehand and he was more or less remixing my ideas. Then we each played about half of everything. On the second album, II, he wanted to play the drums and most of the guitar and bass, while I was responsible for the keyboard stuff. We did more of the songwriting together… most of it was based on jams we did together. He works much faster than me, so he took care of almost all of the post-production and arranging and mixing. This album is more mine than the one I did with Thomas.
As long as I'm able to work on my own music entirely alone, I have no problem with sharing the responsibility with him or someone else.
What's going on with Feedelity and your other activities… ?
The label has always been an outlet for me to put out my own releases. Real Life is coming out on my own label, but Smalltown Supersound is helping with distribution and promotion and stuff like that.
It's sort of like what Annie did with Don't Stop.
Yeah, I think so. Maybe it's just good to know that you have your own label, even if it's just a name. Also, since I've been working with [Feedelity] for seven years or something, it just feels natural to put everything of mine out on it. Like, II came out on Eskimo [Recordings]. I don't feel the same relation to that record. With Eskimo, we just sort of gave [the record] away. It's not ours anymore. When my own name is on something, though, it's my thing. I own it.
Are you up to anything else right now?
I did a 40-minute version of “Little Drummer Boy” recently. But I think I'll take a temporary break from studio work because of the album and the promotion that comes along with it. I've already started working on something that might become a new album, but I don't have anything to say about it, really. It's really nice to work on something when you're releasing an album, though. It's good to feel as though I'm involved with something else that looks to the future as opposed to being too consumed by what's happening right now.
Here's what Christabelle had to say about the album and her life in general!
Hi. Hi. Hi!
Hi! So, I just talked to Lindstrøm and now I get to talk to you! Since you wrote all the lyrics, he said it'd be better to ask you where the title came from.
Yeah, well, [“real life is no cool”] is from one song, “Keep It Up.” It's about violent relationships.
Okay, that's not what I was expecting as the explanation…
Yeah, it's about women in violent relationships…
That song aside, what was your lyrical aim? Storytelling or expressing a common theme or something else?
I wasn't really trying to do anything [laughs]. It just came out this way, as it often does in writing and any sort of self-expression.
Did you write these songs over the course of a few years or what?
Yeah, I did. It was over a period of time, during which I was producing myself.
One of the interesting things about this album for Lindstrøm is that the whole thing sounds much more pop-oriented than usual. What effect did you have on that?
I think I brought this pop vibe that you can hear, but I was also breaking out of the polished pop music I was doing before.
Well, outside of the projects you've done with Lindstrøm, I don't really know much about you. You said you were working with other people and producing on your own…
Actually, I've been faithful to him since our first release. Of course, I was free to do what I wanted during in-between periods. Before him, I'd been working with different producers on… mostly collaborative projects.
I really love your name. It's really memorable. It has this fun quality to it, but it's also elegant.
Thank you [laughs]! That's really funny! But yeah, it's one of my real names.
You also used Solale…
Yeah, that was kind of a nickname mixed up with frustration to be honest.
It's interesting how one of the first Lindstrøm releases―”Music In My Mind”―was done in collaboration with you. How do you think things have changed over the past eight or so years?
It's weird because it feels like it's just been a year. Even if there's been time between our releases, we've been working together a lot. How things have changed, though… I don't know. It's so cool to see and follow the work of Lindstrøm.
Also, I really enjoy your voice. Are you classically trained? What's your background?
I've been singing since I was a little girl and I always had access to music and instruments. My whole family plays music. My brothers, my dad…
What does the future hold for you?
I just recently started a collaboration with two other people and have been in talks… I think I'll be quite for a while, though. I'll keep producing, of course, and I hope to do more with Hans-Peter.
How do you like living and working in Norway and how does it affect your output? Americans tend to imagine the country as being very peaceful and calming…
No, it's not [laughs]. It's nothing like that! It's life. I think there's a lack of culture here. It's a very materialistic place. We need to bring it back up and give it new culture.
You're making plenty culture on your own.