Bringing post-punk and Danish food to the US: Interview with The Foreign Resort

It seems that post-punk is currently on its way back to center stage – or is just my wishful thinking?

The Foreign Resort from Copenhagen have been part of this new wave right from the start. They have toured relentlessly since forming the band in 2006 and have become a tight-knit team on stage, tight on the level that they’re even able to finish each other’s sentences in an interview situation.

And these chaps are inventive in their marketing too; they managed to finance a US tour with crowd-funding. The novel idea? Fans could book them for exclusive house-shows – including a Danish meal cooked by the band, an idea that even put them on national television in Denmark. Of course I was curious to hear, how they pulled that one off.

Currently, The Foreign Resort are gearing up for the launch of their new album “Outnumbered”, due out in April 2019. And this time around, frontman Mikkel Borbjerg Jakobsen (MJ), guitar player Henrik Fischlein and drummer Morten Hansen (MH) want to take their music beyond the expected sonic imagery of post-punk, using The Cure’s legendary “Disintegration” album as a point of reference.

We met them at Hafenklang in Hamburg where they played their first show of 2019. As usual, guitar and bass player Steffan Petersen (SP) was standing in for Henrik, who can only rarely join them live, and we talked about music, touring, gear, and of course their forthcoming album.

The Politics of “Outnumbered”

As a start, my impression is that the whole post-punk, darkwave and coldwave scene has been growing for the last couple of years, especially the last three years. You started in 2006, if I’m not mistaken?
MJ: Yes, but that was not post-punk, that was just some music, maybe indie-rock (laughs).

MH: But you’re right, it has been evolving and it has been evolving in different directions.

MJ: If you ask me, I came from pretty much only listening to shoegaze, and then we started playing in Germany and realized “Why does everyone have make-up and eyeliner and whatever?”, and we realized we weren’t playing shoegaze, we were playing post-punk. And that was like, 2013 or something.

That’s when I started listening to that kind of music; before that I listened to eighties music, whatever that was because I didn’t characterize it as post-punk. I had no idea because I hadn’t listened to it for a very long time. The whole Bauhaus thing; I can’t mention a Bauhaus song because I don’t know them!

We come from a completely different place with our post-punk, and we’re still learning what post-punk is and its history.

It’s a great timing for this interview as you’ve just announced your new album. Hopefully we can talk a bit about what’s coming. You called it “Outnumbered”. Why?
MH: I think everything just came down to the whole situation in the world today. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. You know, the “top one percent”; and it’s all political, I guess.

In Denmark we don’t have a limit for being poor anymore, they got rid of that. You can’t claim you’re poor in Denmark anymore, there is no such thing. It is just a statement that goes in that direction.

MJ: Talking about “Outnumbered”; in German you have a word “Minderzahl”, we have the same in Danish, “Mindretal”.The minority, that’s what we’re thinking. That’s the combination of the rich exploiting the poor where everyone is stepping on each other, and that’s very few people. It’s a very pessimistic view of the world, but that’s how I see it.

MH: That’s the way it goes, basically, nowadays.

MJ: The people [in power] now, and it’s the same in Germany, Donald Trump or whatever, convinced the poor people that foreigners are the problem, like the foreigners taking all the money. So basically, if you ask me about “Outnumbered”, it’s about feeling very alone in the world today against a huge mass of ignorant people that just hate.

The new album ended up being more political than you anticipated then?
MJ: There are three love songs on the album, but you could put those love songs in a political context if you want, or turn the political songs into love songs.

I had some basic ideas for lyrics, and then because time was running out – we’ve been playing way too many shows to find time to write an album – we sat down and had a couple of nights, just going over stuff. Some lyrics, they turned into another love song and others, like “Here’s a political message!”.

You’ve just touched a subject I wondered about. With all your touring and other obligations, like day jobs, how do you still find time for song writing? And how do you go about song writing?
MH: It’s hard, we’ve tried to maintain two practice evenings a week, and we basically hold on to that. When we record, of course we’ll take more days to do it. But mainly all songs are written Tuesdays and Thursdays (laughs), that’s it!

MJ: And sometimes, what really saves our songs and ideas, is this little old iPhone with the VoiceRecorder app. At anytime I get an idea for a song, for a theme or a vocal line, a bass line, I’ll be “ Ne-ne-ne-ne, bu-du-dudu-dudududu” [Voices hooks], just like that. Then I sit down at home and say “Ok, today I have five hours or something” and I listen to my recording, and an idea comes up. I prepare a one and a half or two-minute song and bring that into the practice space, “Hey do you like this, guys?”, and they’ll be like “Yeah, cool!”.

That means you start with an initial idea and then flesh it out?
MH: Sometimes, we’ve had songs that we’ve been rearranging several times, even threw them in the trash can, took them back out and dried them off.

MJ: A funny thing is that, if you remember “Orange Glow”, that’s a jam! That’s us just going for it and realizing “Oh, this sounds great”. Or our new single “Outnumbered”; I had like three notes on the bass and Morten said “Yeah it’s pretty cool, but you know you should …”, and then our bass player Henrik changed some notes, and it was like “Oh!”. I didn’t change anything on the guitar, but the notes he changed – boom! [snips his fingers]. It changed the whole vibe of the song. Sometimes things just drop down from the sky.

When you had your songs you went to Bo Karlsson at White Dwarf Studios in Copenhagen. He’s been working with you right from the beginning, correct?
MH: Oh yes! He recorded the first album and the EP that came after that, and actually “Scattered and Buried” too, so he’s been involved a lot!

SP: The studio is actually AT the rehearsal room.

MH: We are sharing a space with him. But he wasn’t involved in “Part Time Punks” and “The American Dream”.

MJ: (laughs) “The American Dream” was basically just me and Morten going for it.

Bo is a geek. Right now he is building his own guitar amp in our practice space. He’s that kind of guy, like “I want this, so how do I get it?”. So he reads and studies, and then he gets it done.

MH: He also builds his own outboard gear and stuff – an amazing guy. He’s a researcher and a really good technician.

I have to say that I really like your “Part Time Punks Sessions” that you recorded in LA. You picked two songs from “The American Dream” and two older songs, and kind of lifted them, at least to me, onto a new level – they sound really fat.
MJ: The funny thing is, because Morten is very much “linked” to the backing tracks that we follow, the songs are at the exact same speed. But what’s different is that the “Part Time Punks Sessions” were recorded towards the end of a US tour, like 60 shows into the tour, where we played every day.

SP: We were top-fit (laughs and agreement)!

Since “New Frontiers” in 2014 your music generally seems to have evolved and also has become more “edgy”. Was that a conscious thing or did that come naturally from you playing together so much?
MJ: I always wanted to have a sound pretty much like the Cure’s “Disintegration”, and no one has been able to reproduce that. This time we’re getting close. With the new album I’ve been sitting with Bo mixing, like “The snare drum, no! More ‘wet’, more reverb! A lot of reverb. More. More!”.

We worked on the drums until we had it exactly our way, and it’s very close to what I had in mind – and that’s the first time ever. Jason Corbett [frontman in Actors] did the mastering.

MH: He did some aggressive mastering!

Gearing Up with iPod Nano

For a touring band, reliable gear is of the essence. You don’t want to end up having issues with amps breaking down, instruments out of tune – or the backing tracks failing. Especially when you are just a 3-piece, every man counts, literally. So how do The Foreign Resort handle this? Get ready for some pragmatic surprises when Messed!Up talks gear with Mikkel, Morten and Steffan.

I couldn’t find anything about the gear you’re using when I did the background research for the interview. When you produce music, do you do it all “in the box” or do you record it all in the rehearsal room and then tweak it up?
MJ: Yeah, pretty much, I’d say that. There are some things that are done post-production; there’s a lot of tweaking with the guitars. Sometimes I have this thing, that if a guitar is mono I like stereo reverb, which means that I can’t record it with a reverb because it would be too much. But mostly we just record double guitars and add compression and EQ during mixing. But the drums are heavily post-produced.

MH: But it’s a tough instrument, it’s a complex instrument to mix because you can take it in so many directions. You can have the snare “in your face” and the rest of the drums out in the back or vice versa.

MJ: That’s the cool thing about Bo too. We were like ”We want this”, and he was ”Well, you can’t have it because there’s too much cymbals for ambient drums”. The drums are super-closely miked now and then artificially “ambienced”, and sound like in a room upstairs. For example “She is Lost” in the new mix sounds huge, but everything is closely miked, because there are so much cymbals on it.

Is the new version re-recorded, then?
MJ: No, Bo just had a different approach. I mixed the first version, well, me and Morten did.

Going back to the equipment; you basically use the same equipment in the studio that you use live?

MH: Totally, yeah!

SP: No! No! You got a cheap drum set for touring now!

MH: That’s right, that’s right! I used to bring my ’69 Slingerland on tour.

MJ: For years!

MH: But that’s over and I got my hands on what I call a “bastard kit”; I found one in a container, one I got from somewhere else and just put it all together. And I’m really good at tuning drums, so it sounds amazing!

MJ: You can just take it and throw it in the van!

SP: You still use your snare and that’s the Slingerland.

MH: Yeah! The snare and my 15” Zildjian Hi-Hat from the fifties, I bring that on tour – and cymbals of course.

What about MIDI-triggers?
MH: No! We’ve only used that once when we recorded “The American Dream”. We MIDI-triggered all the drums and I played all the drums on MIDI, but live I don’t use that. Live we just use an iPod Nano and a 2-track mixer for backing tracks.

MJ: The more equipment, and the more special equipment you have, the more equipment can break. The whole idea is to have something that’s sturdy. We even had our practice space flooded, and that little iPod Nano was floating around and we were like “Ok!”. So anyone who brings a laptop, a mixer and different stuff for backing tracks, it’s going to break, but an iPod Nano – it can survive a nuclear war.

SP: And you can get an extra one really cheap.

MJ: We do! We have two (laughs)! “Oh, it’s broken, here’s the other one”.

MH: But that basically also means that I don’t play to a click track. I play to whatever comes out of the PA, and that could be anything from synths and handclaps to whatever.

Mikkel, what about your equipment?
MJ: Well, a guitar, pedal board, a Japanese 90s Fender Telecaster, with a Bigsby Tremolo. And pedals; always the RAT [classic distortion pedal]. The RAT is always on, that’s the “crunch EQ”.

SP: And on the bass, too.

MJ: What else? I got the MXR Carbon Copy [delay pedal], that’s pretty much always on, the Line 6 Echo reverse delay – I got two delays but the second one is reversed. And I’ve got a Holy Grail [by Electro Harmonix] for reverb, and then for the chorus the [TC Electronic] Corona.

SP: The RAT is at the end, so you get all your delays and reverbs kind of distorted.

MJ: Everyone who sees that, they are like “What are you doing? You have your distortion pedal at the end of the chain!”, and I am like “Sounds great?!” It’s messy!  

What the RAT really does is that it compresses the whole signal, whatever I do with the fuzz pedal, it doesn’t go up in volume. It’s very compressed; nothing gets out of hand. If I turn of the RAT pedal, the whole guitar system explodes in volume. But we never do that, that’s why we are very streamlined.

Steffan, you have a RAT as well?
SP: Well, we swap instruments. So yeah, the RAT is more or less the main sound. We are sharing two RATs! At one point we actually had three; we had two on the bass, just for boosting, but it was too much (laughs).

MH: We replaced that with a fuzz.

What do you use to get this Cure-like flanging sound on the bass?
SP: Chorus! It’s an old school chorus pedal, a [Boss] CE-2 if you can afford it. On the older stuff we don’t use the chorus much though. It’s basically a RAT and a chorus, and then we supplement that with a fuzz when we want it to get really dirty – and a reverb pedal for ambient things, but reverb and fuzz are only used once in a while.

The Danish Chefs

As most musicians in the digital age are well aware of the industry has changed, and in many ways those changes are mostly positive. More bands are touring, which means more venues are booking music; music consumption is at its high thanks to portable players, smartphones and streaming services as Spotify; finding an audience for your music is easier than ever, and reaching that audience is a thousand times simpler using social media tools.

However, you can’t rely on labels anymore for the survival of your band. The economics of the music industry and your band’s economy comes down to your own efforts to raise money for touring and recording albums.

The last ten years crowdfunding campaigns have become a great way for musicians to raise money for studio and mastering time or touring funds, but they are also large undertakings that involve a lot of planning and preparation. Many crowdfunding campaigns fail due to poor planning or unrealistic goals. 

The Foreign Resort know more than most bands how crowdfunding both can be of great help but also how it can increase the workload on a massive scale.

A change of topic; I read somewhere that you did two successful rounds of crowd-funding, one for your US tour where you were cooking. And a second one where you wanted to get your sophomore album re-released on vinyl. Can you tell me a bit about this?
MJ: Well, about the cooking – what a nightmare! We thought about bringing culture to the States.

The idea came up because we were applying for Visa, that’s why we needed all the money. And in order to get Visa – this is long and complicated – one Visa, the P1, is for cultural exchange. The second one, the P3, is more like a contribution – if you’re an internationally recognized band!

We were going for the P1 and I was thinking that contributing with culture is more than just music, it’s also our behaviour, us being Danes representing Denmark – and Danish food! We just thought that we could do something special. Why not do house-shows and then cook a Danish meal – Danish dinner for the people! It was as simple as that, but it was not simple at all in reality, like shopping, and finding the right groceries on tour.

MH: It was a nightmare! I am not going to do that again (laughs). But it was fun though, to see how some people didn’t want the house-show or “Oh someone just bought the whole package!”, and I’d say “Oh my god”.

MJ: (laughs) Yeah, “We’re going to see aliens cook meatballs with brown sauce”.

But the brown sauce got you on national television, right? I saw you saying that somewhere else meaning you got a lot of promotion out of this creative idea.
MJ: Yeah! For some reason. Crowd-funding was something really new at that point, in 2015, for Danish television and for the broad masses, although it had been going on for more than five years already at that point. They were like “Oh guys, you are doing this? Can we interview you?”, and I said “Yeah!”.

Whatever gets me on TV, I don’t care. I sound like a media whore right now, but seriously – why not?

And in 2016 you did the second round?
MJ: Yeah, but a correction here. It was not “crowd-funding”, it was a “pledge”. Basically, you pledge to buy. But really, in theory, it is a crowd-funding.

MH: Where you pay upfront.

MJ: A pre-order campaign.

I saw that you scored 115% percent. Did the pledging go smoothly? I could imagine that in terms of image, if you start a pledge and fail that wouldn’t be too cool.
MH: That’s the thing you know. We were talking about that “What if we fail? What if we don’t reach the goal?”. That would suck and of course it’s a lot of hard work.

MJ: The people we worked with for the first campaign, this Italian company Musicraiser, did it a bit differently. Because they had just started out, they had a lot of counselling available. They were telling us “This is what you need to do”. Well, not exactly but they gave us examples.

MH: They had suggestions.

MJ: They told us, “First off, everyone’s going to be excited, you’ll have a lot of money coming in, but if you have a three-month campaign, then after two, three or four weeks it stops and then you’ll have this long period where nothing is happening. And that’s when you need to bring the campaign over”. They said it’s “the magic 75%”, because that’s when you see a winning project. And they also told us these things, and we were like “Ok, how to get it up there?”. We were spogging everyone, like “I haven’t talked to you in a while, but do you want to…?”.

SP: “…put some money down?” (laughs).

MJ: The whole crowd-funding campaign was about cooking, the house-show but also buying “The American Dream” pre-order, so we had a whole bunch of stuff.

What a great idea, not just “We want money for an album, we’re even going to make pølser [Danish hot-dog sausage] for you”.
MJ: It was ”Frikadeller med sauce og kartoffler” [meatballs with sauce and potatoes] or ”syrad rødkål” [sour red cabbage] (laughs).

MJ: But seriously, you can’t do a tour, play a show every day and cook a meal every day. We drove, like, for 8 hours, and then had to arrive early, do some shopping – man, that was so exhausting! It was crazy!

MH: It didn’t work in the end because you don’t have time for anything. You don’t have time to talk to people properly, you don’t have time to enjoy it properly.

The Future: “Taking the New Album Out on Tour”

What’s next for you now? You are starting this European part of the tour and then you’re crossing over to the US again?
MH: We’re looking forward to releasing the new album and taking the new album out on tour, because this album is kind of different from the other ones. For me, it is a step up.

MJ: Because I was very afraid of producing pop songs – there’s “She is lost” but the rest is pretty tough material (laughs) – and maybe that’s why people will like it, hopefully.

But seriously, I can’t see the second “hit song”, really. The single that comes out now, is pretty much “in your face” and not very radio-friendly. And that’s the second most radio-friendly song on the album, if you ask me.

We wanted to try to do something else. When you listen to old albums and songs like “Take a Walk” or “Suburban Depression”, there’s always this bass, “8th notes!”. We tried to get away from that, which means that everything is non-8th notes.

So 16th notes now?
MJ: (laughs) Exactly, “Let’s go twice as fast! Diggeldiggeldiggel [mimics fast 16th notes]”.

SP: The new album is way more rhythmical.

MJ: It’s complex.

SP: I wouldn’t say complex, but way more rhythmical

MJ: Yeah, but “complex” sounds great (laughs)!

MH: I think you’ll find a lot of elements in there, elements of shoegaze and post-punk, industrial and everything mixed together – back to you saying how this genre is evolving, combining different directions.

*****

The interview is over, our journalist and photographer walk upstairs to prepare for the gig with a few beers and The Foreign Resort went backstage to get some rest – and maybe work on the first post-punk cookbook ever?


Photographer: ©Jule Rog
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About Ralf Schluenzen

Musician and music nerd (what else?), born like that. Picked up the guitar at 13, switched to synths and sequencers with the introduction of MIDI and never looked back. Loves all styles of music as long as there‘s a kind of urgency, ranging from post punk to electronic. Alarming attachment to vintage synthesizers and drum machines. Gear slut, totally.
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