An Exchange: Sondre Lerche, November 11 at Huckleberry’s Print
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 05 November 2009 08:47

Sondre LercheThe singer/songwriter Sondre Lerche speaks of his audience like a pool of friends and acquaintances -- a blob that's ever-changing.

With each album, he said, "you're gaining someone, and you're losing someone. ... You're going to be reunited with someone you met in the past, and somebody else is going to take some time off and not be a part of what you do, and then also someone brand-new is going to enter the field and be excited about what you do. ... I like that idea."

That speaks to a healthy attitude toward the consequences of his artistic exploration, as well as the fickle taste of the public, but it also reflects the intimate nature of his adventurous, manicured, instrumentally omnivorous pop music, which seems to foster a relationship between artist and audience.

Lerche should be right at home at his show on Wednesday at Huckleberry's, with the small venue offering him plenty of opportunity for that give-and-take.

"I like to address the audience directly on stage, and I like to try to have some sort of conversation ... ," he said in a phone interview this week. "I like the idea that you're not just up there and closing your eyes and sending out the stuff you do and moving on to the next city. I like that there is an exchange." It would be a shame, he added, if one were "immune from what you get back from it there and then."

Born in Norway and now living in Brooklyn, the 27-year-old Lerche has already had an impressive career. He wasn't yet 20 when he released his debut, Faces Down, in his home country; he took a risky jazz detour with 2006's Duper Sessions; and in 2007 he did the soundtrack for the Steve Carell vehicle Dan in Real Life -- for which he was given a nearly impossible charge.

Lerche said that director/co-writer Peter Hedges was insistent that he do the music, and he offered him two models. "He has in mind Harold & Maude [with music by Cat Stevens] and The Graduate [Simon & Garfunkel]," Lerche said. "And now go to work."

Beyond the fact that Lerche had never done soundtrack work, those are movies whose music is iconic, and essential to their effects.

"The first thing you have to do is realize that you're not going to be able to live up to that," Lerche said. But the comparisons "gave me an idea where he was coming from, and [in] what way he wanted music to relate to the film."

Lerche spent a lot of time around the movie as it was being made, he said, and "it was really helpful for me to see ... how personal it was to Peter, the director. ... He really did what he could to make it as private a thing as possible. To me, that was sort of inspiring, because you don't really know if you can maintain that when you make a film of this size." That gave him license to approach the music the same way he approached his demos.

Lerche's output is often called chamber pop, and he's the type of songwriter, singer, and musician who gets both the complaint and compliment of being "charming" and "breezy."

His music is certainly gentle, but that overlooks the strangeness of it. He sings and writes the songs, but they're built and composed as much as written, and he seems hell-bent on seeing how much he can get away with and remain accessible. As said of his second album: "Lerche is consistently experimenting with alternate chord voicings and more complex song structures, not to mention broadening the scope of his production ethic. Nevertheless, he refuses to sacrifice the integrity of his melodies."

The All Music Guide called his latest album, Heartbeat Radio (released in September), "his best work to date. Rather than being some kind of surprising U-turn, the album is a consolidation of everything he's done so far. It has his best songwriting, most effective vocals, and most accomplished sound, and stands as some of the best modern pop around at the end of the decade."

Lerche said writing the record was difficult. He said he wanted sturdy songs that were "distinct enough and that had enough identity ... that we could really, really play around with them in the studio, and take some liberties, and go in different directions, because I really wanted to make a really colorful, really varied album."

He also said that as he's gotten older, he's gotten "more critical in a sense." Exposure to more life and more music can reveal new possibilities, but it can also highlight shortcomings in one's own work. "Your instinct has to get sharper with every song you write," he said.

Lerche said, however, that he still has a good relationship with most of his old songs.

There are some, though, that he refuses to play. "I'm not ashamed or embarrassed, but it belongs to a certain time, at least for myself," he said. "The reason I don't play them is because I have an issue with certain parts of the lyrics."

He was hesitant to say which songs, because they have their fans: "I don't want to mess with their own experience ... ."

Yet some of those fans have given Lerche pause. A few years ago in a conversation/interview between the two musicians, The Shins' James Mercer complimented the lyrics to Lerche's "On & Off Again," from his debut record.

"The brilliant songwriter from the Shins ... his favorite lyric of mine is 'On & Off Again,' which is the one I can't perform," Lerche said. "Maybe I'm in the wrong here. ...

But he is ultimately confident in his own judgment. "I thought it was flattering that he liked the song," he said, "but I still haven't been able to perform it."

Sondre Lerche headlines a show on Wednesday, November 11, at Huckleberry's (223 18th Street in Rock Island). The bill also includes Lissie (article here) and JBM. Admission is $10.

To hear Lerche's Daytrotter session, click here. For more information on Lerche, visit or

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