Trentemøller on the chronology of “Memoria” and embracing family life: Interview

In 2003, during the peak of my Berlin techno years, a friend who used to pick me a weekly selection of new twelve inches by rising artists in the club scene gave me the debut EP by Danish (at the time) electronica/techno artist Anders Trentemøller. The tantalizing beats and electronic sound got stuck and after a few more majestic EP’s – just listen to “Rykketid”, “Polar Shift” and Nam Nam” – a debut album was announced, The Last Resort, set to be released in 2006 – and for the fans of “Technomøller”, it became quite a shock.

With The Last Resort, Trentemøller had found the sound he was searching for while releasing his club EP’s, and it was far off what the techno fans were used to. But his debut album drew accolades across the world and with The Last Resort his music would start to evolve. Over the course of six studio albums, his sound would end up in a dynamic mix of shoegaze, post-punk and electronica as displayed by his recently released sixth studio album Memoria.

When Trentemøller swung by Gothenburg for a gig recently, Messed!Up sat down with him for a chat about the work process behind his new album Memoria, leaving the DJ scene behind him, and learning to combine studio work with family life.

The Techno Years: “It wasn’t the music I wanted to do”

We’ve had quite many Danish bands for interviews the last few years and many new bands see you as one of the role models that opened the door for Danish bands in the international music scene. Do you feel like a veteran in the Danish scene today?
Well, I’m turning fifty this year, maybe I am (laugh). But I have never really thought about it like that because I’ve never really felt as if I’ve been a major part of the mainstream music scene in Copenhagen. I’ve had one leg in the indie scene and the other in electronica, a mix of two worlds I would say, but it’s not the music scene that gets most of the attention in Denmark.

I came across you when you were completely new in the scene and had released your debut EP Trentemøller. But you started out in the minimal techno scene. I read an old interview where you said that you’re a bit embarrassed about that period in your career. Why?
No, it’s not really true, that’s just something journalists got wrong. I’m not embarrassed at all but my sound has evolved way beyond that scene today and in retrospect, that period of music was quite short. I was doing the kind of music I release today already back then but I never released it because it was such a hype around my club music which made it a lot more interesting to release that type of music. But I grew tired of it quite soon after my fourth or fifth EP.

I was bored about getting pigeonholed and put into a box, and it wasn’t really the music I wanted to do because I’ve always listened to so many different types of music, not electronic music only. That was also what I wanted to prove with my debut album [The Last Resort, 2006] which wasn’t really a club album. It had some electronic influences on it but most of it was very different from the first EP’s. And it became quite popular and I continued on that path because I felt that it was right for me.

I still see some similarities between what I did on that album and what I do today although the sound has evolved a bit over the course of fifteen years, the basics from The Last Resort are still with me. The album isn’t far off what I’m doing today, but the first EP’s are very different.

But you are also one of those artists that combine a band career with a DJ career. I remember the last time you played in Hamburg, in 2019, you did a long DJ set at Uebel & Gefährlich.
I actually don’t do DJ shows anymore because I grew tired of it and I just felt that it is much more fun to play with a band and to play your own music. Sure, I play a few of my own edits at the DJ sets as well but it’s not really challenging, it’s just press play and mix it (laugh). It’s more satisfying to play live with a band. I’m passionate about it and have played in bands since I was a teenager.

That DJ set at Uebel & Gefährlich three years ago was my latest and probably last. I haven’t done it since then and don’t plan to do anymore either.

You’ve always evolved quite much between albums, but sometimes fans don’t like at all when artists change direction too much. I know that some older fans were quite upset about your debut album The Last Resort for instance. At the same time, as an artist you want to evolve. Is that a sort of sacrifice you have to go through to evolve as an artist?
I don’t feel that my sound has changed that much lately. I just continue to do the kind of music that feels right for me at the moment I do it. But at the beginning, it was a bit of a problem because people expected me to continue doing pure electronic music.

I remember when I released The Last Resort and some people were going mental because I had guitars and a drum set on stage. They couldn’t really understand what I wanted to do. Today, it would never happen because my fans know what my music is about. People have learned to know my sound and although it develops it has been fairly similar over the last ten years.

The Chronology of “Memoria”

On his sixth studio album Memoria, Trentemøller walks down memory lane and captures the essence of the 90s dreamy shoegaze wave. Few other genres succeed in their juxtaposition of beauty and harshness like shoegaze does, and in such dark times as these, shoegaze is the perfect refuge. But Trentemøller points out that it’s not a tribute to the 90s shoegaze, it’s still an album coated in his electronic identity markers and put into the framework of the Trentemøller sound.

But working with Memoria brought change into the process. First, he became a dad which changed the whole work process, especially how much time he could spend in the studio. Second; unlike on his previous albums, he only collaborated with one vocalist, not the usual four or five. And he wrote all lyrics and melody lines on his own for the first time ever.

Memoria, your sixth album, was released in February and to some part it sounds like something that Slowdive would have released in the nineties. But it’s also an album made during the pandemic. How much did the pandemic affect your work with the album considering restrictions, especially collaborations with other people?
Not at all actually, I always isolate myself in the studio when I work on an album anyway so it didn’t really change anything. I’m used to being locked up in the studio.

What really has changed my life is that my girlfriend and I had a son two and a half years ago. A year later I started working on the album, and suddenly I realized that I can’t spend all my time in the studio anymore. I had to start being more disciplined, and now I usually arrive at the studio at eight in the morning and then leave to pick up my son from the kindergarten at three. My time is a lot more limited, but I’m also more focused when I know that I just have these few hours to be creative.

I was really scared about how it would work out at the beginning. You know, I was used to spending whole nights in the studio for weeks before I went berserk and had to have a break, and then I restarted the same procedure again. I could do whatever I felt for because time was in a way endless. Now, I have to be disciplined and work after a schedule. But however strange it may sound it was quite easy to go through that transition, it feels really good to have it like this. My life is more coordinated after putting up a few simple dogmatic rules about work.

It feels like Memoria follows a kind of dramatic structure used in movies. It starts with a dreamy, calm, and slow introduction – “Veil of White” – then there’s a rise in tension before you reach a climax with “When The Sun Explodes” and “Dead or Alive”, just to slow down again with “Like a Daydream” and “Linger”. When you reflect on the structure like that, the album seems to be organized in different sections.
Yeah, but it isn’t, it was quite a different process with this album because I wrote the songs in chronological order. The first song on the album, “Veil of Light”, was the first song I wrote, and “Linger” [the last song] I did at the end. Usually, I write a few songs and then start to think about in what order they should be on the album, but not this time.

What’s fun is that I did the mid part really quickly. I just felt that I needed something that wasn’t too dreamy on the album – everything else was – and I wrote “Dead or Alive” in fifteen minutes, just to wake up the listeners a bit (laugh).

It just felt natural to follow my work rhythm this time. When I started on a new song I had the last one in the back of my head, and on the back of that, I tried to tap into what I’d just finished. It became a kind of natural flow in the writing process.

After I was done with “Veil of White” I had the whole foundation for the album ready. I knew what I wanted it to sound like and what theme I wanted to have on it.

For the first time, one of your albums is also narrowed down to just one guest vocalist. Unlike your previous albums, you only work with Lisbet Fritze. Why did it happen that you chose to work with one vocalist only?
For artistic reasons. I was a bit tired of featuring three or four, or sometimes even five vocalists, on every album. It’s always a bit challenging to get personally involved with each and every one. They only need to get along with me – one person – while I have to have a good work relationship with as many as five different people and that stresses me a bit although it’s fun at the same time.

This album is also the first time I wrote all the vocal melody lines and lyrics myself. I usually work closely together with the vocalist to do it, but I just felt it was about time that I tried to do it myself to learn. But it was a bit scary, lyrics haven’t been my strongest suit. But it was really fun and the melodies just came to me naturally, maybe because I’m used to thinking of melodies when I write the sonic parts of the songs.

You’re not interested in doing a whole album on your own, even the vocals? At times you do the vocals on your own, like on “Dead Or Alive”.
No, I just do very simple lines. “Dead Or Alive” is only two sentences and it would sound terrible if I did a full album. I actually tried it out once, but I have to be realistic – it doesn’t sound good at all (laugh).

I was thinking that shoegaze is flooded with reverberated vocals and you would get away with it.
I can see your point (laugh).

But I need to say that although I have lots of shoegaze influences on the record, I like the vocals to be clear. Sometimes, shoegaze vocalists drown in the music. For me it’s very important to find pop melodies in shoegaze, and some of the best shoegaze songs have that. That’s what I look for, a good melody with a hook and clear vocals even if there are a lot of reverberated noises in the background.

But I didn’t want to make a shoegaze album that was a tribute to the 90s, I wanted to do it with my sonic markers and with more electronic sounds, like on “Swaying Pine Trees”. And the last song, “Linger”, isn’t much of a shoegaze song. I’ll rather see the album as a combination of high-energy songs like “Dead Or Alive” and songs that have a kind of cinematic quality, all coated in good melodies. The melodies are very important for my music.

On the cinematic quality; many of the songs could be film scores. You’ve never been interested in exploring that side of the scene more?
Yeah, I’ve always been lurking in that direction and my music has been used in films several times. In fact, about twenty years ago I wrote a score for a Danish movie, a thriller. But it wasn’t a good experience for me because it was way too much work and I wasn’t really ready for it. And I think they wanted something electronic from me but I had already started to move on from my early electronic music and was somewhere else in my thoughts about music. The director had an idea that I didn’t really share and I felt kind of pushed to do a certain type of music that didn’t give me the freedom to write what I felt was best for the movie.

If I would do it again it would be with someone who would give me a great deal of artistic freedom. But of course, film scores are also a team effort and to some part, I like it although it takes a lot of time. That film score required as much time as I use for a full album, and it was too much. But maybe if David Lynch gives me a ring (laugh).

Like I said at the start, it’s nearly 20 years since the release of your debut EP. Do you plan for any kind of celebration next year?
No no no! For me the real start was with my debut album, that’s when I discovered my own sound. Before that, it was just me trying things out and copying a bit of what others did in the electronic scene and then, suddenly, it was released although it wasn’t really my intention. It was me trying to find the sound that I have today. But the electronic sound became quite successful and it was of course fun at the time. But like I said, I was afraid of getting stuck in this DJ techno box that I didn’t really want to be in.

Maybe when my debut album is turning twenty, then I may celebrate.


Photograpers: Krichan Wihlborg and Björn Vallin
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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.