Sondre Lerche has sustained nearly two decades of music-making. His style of indie pop is smart, often complex, lending to jazz and groove-centric jams laden with chords and matured melodies. This began with songs he describes as “lounge-y baroque pop” in his 2001 debut album, Falling Down, and has been heard in his ear-catching blend of jazz and Tropicália-inspired indie pop album released this week, entitled Patience. Lerche has full control over the songwriting process, giving listeners a fully-crafted song, play after play, with new discoveries along the way. His lyrics are sincere, and his personality (as an industry veteran) is honest, humble, and approachable.
FRONTRUNNER spoke by phone to Lerche, based in L.A., about his love for ambient music, running, and being off the road for a while in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk. It’s really great to get to know your music. Tell me a little bit about the writing process on this latest group of songs: how did it come about for you? Were you having some happy accidents along the way? What was the recording process like?
Well, yeah. This album has been a big undertaking in terms of time. The first song for this record I wrote eight years ago and and it’s sort of the process of recording. This album runs parallel to two other albums that I’ve put out in that time period. So, I guess I would say, you know, I started working a bit more conceptually, but also more personally. In a sense, it just meant that I. Whatever songs I was writing, I would feel a very strong intuition about what song(s) belong together and what was the most pressing theme for whatever record I was working on.
A lot of the songs for this album that I was working on over the last eight years, they just had a different sense of time than a lot of the songs on the other albums. I was working on that was directly called Please. That came out in 2014 and then Pleasure in 2017. Those were also two very different albums, but they’ve had more of a physical urgency. You know, that you needed to sort of spit it out. At the moment it happened, the songs on this album had a sense of patience to me. I could feel myself stretching towards sort of learning that sense of patience and trying to in a way like slow down time, expand time. So that was just the natural sort of progression that developed along the way. About four years ago, I got the idea for the title and I realized, “Oh, these are old patient songs I’m making. I’m making patient music. That’s that’s what I’m needing, and that’s what I’m searching for.” Definitely a lot of happy accidents happened along the way. Your own image of what the album is or could be or will be becomes clearer with every step of the way, and very often as a contrast to whatever came before. So, this is definitely the work of patience. All these songs, really.
You’ve been incredibly prolific. To have that kind of patience, but that also to be so productive. How do you think you’re able to balance that out? Is it a case of it being sort of a lifestyle choice of sitting down and writing songs every day and making it part of your daily routine? How do you make sense of that?
It’s a strange thing to do, but I just started trying to write songs when I was eight years old. It took me eight years to actually write a song that I now, in retrospect, think was good. So in a way, to me, songwriting is an act of patience. It’s an act of having faith in it amounting to something at the end, even if it feels, you know, completely hopeless or stupid, or not good enough at the time. All I’m looking for really is this this sense of – I don’t know – it’s a really very intuitive feeling. I’m just looking for that feeling of this song is ready. This song, I’m ready to share it with the world. I don’t care if everybody says, “This song is terrible.” I am ready to stand up for the work. I’ve had songs that I’ve worked on for fifteen years on and off, and they’re still not done. I’ve learned from trade trial and error that you can’t really rush it. You can definitely focus more on something that you’re hoping to achieve now, and not in ten years. But if it’s not ready, it’s not ready. There’s no use rushing it. I rushed out songs and I’ve tried to convince myself that they’re done and released, and it just doesn’t feel good. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from making all this music all these years, it is that you have to just honor the process. That’s what I’ve done with this sort of trilogy of albums with Please and Pleasure and Patience. It’s about learning how to learn, to accept that you can’t fake it. There are no shortcuts. It takes a while, but it’s very rewarding work.
How do you feel that translates to a live performance setting?
You can hear with some artists where they have a demo, and then the demo becomes an analogy – being more of a polished stone. From that then it becomes, you know, sort of more in the raw and alive performance setting. Or, it evolves into something different in a live performance setting.
Oh, it’s the payoff, really. I think I prefer a live performance [as] the payoff. Writing the song and recording it: it’s very time-consuming. It’s about getting it as close to that feeling that you’re searching for that you can’t quite articulate. But you’ll know it when you hear it. So you’re searching and you’re honing in on it, then zooming in and performing it live. You get to share it physically with someone. But you also get to disrespect the song. Or you built it up, and you put the song on a pedestal, and you’ve tried to make it as great as possible in the studio.
Then after all that, get on stage, you get to take it all the way back down to earth again and reinterpret it as you please. I love to improvise. I love to follow whatever the energy in the room is – to read the room. That affects how you reinterpret your own work. So I do like taking certain liberties with my own music because then you have the recording which has its own quality that comes from all of this long work, then you have the opportunity in the moment (together with the audience) to do something that only happens right now. So there’s no point in being exactly what happened on the record. It’s actually more fun. It’s a reinterpretation. Maybe there’s a little bit of, “Let’s see how much that this song can actually take.” You know, that you actually challenged the song in a different way. It’s very gratifying and it’s a lot of fun, especially when you play the songs over time and you see the quality that lives within the song. Some songs I’ve written, I’m impressed over time because I see, “Oh, shit, this is better than I thought.” Then others, you fall out of love with. Maybe a certain weakness in the song that you weren’t ready to be aware of. That weakness, of course, is yourself. You see a vanity that comes from yourself or you see a certain hang up on something that you thought was important, but it wasn’t.
It was interesting to me to see that you had a live album, Bootlegs, in 2012. With some of those early albums, where they felt comfortable on on the stage, what was that like for you? Is that something that you would of intentionally made; the live recording with the hopes of flexing a new sort of creative muscle in the recordings?
Yeah. I had attempted capturing the live show on record many times, and we had done several professional recordings with a band solo and string players. Then, when I heard it and reassembled the feeling, it didn’t match my mind, my own experience performing in that one. That changed, for some reason, with the recording that became the bootleg live album. I had intended to put out a live record. I went looking for it, and this was basically just my sandwich. I just recorded it from the mixing board, just to channel. It’s actually really good.
I just started touring with a new group of musicians and we were getting really good, really quick. That new energy, a new reinterpretation of a lot of my old songs was really – I felt really inspired. I felt like we had this, and what it feels like to be at the center of this music onstage. It’s messy and sweaty and dynamic. I thought, “Well, this would be so cool to put out.” It’s definitely not like a professional live album. You like a bootleg recording. I thought, “Well, this is the closest probably I’ll get to capturing that”, and capturing some of that irreverence almost to the source material. It’s almost like I’m a different person playing these songs than I am when I’m writing them, recording them. I come at it from a whole different angle. Definitely with less reverence and more just – well, what’s in it for the audience? What’s in it for me to keep it exciting? So it’s it was it was sort of it was it was an unexpected lesson for me. And it was unexpected that I released it. But it was a good moment in time.
We’ve had these long conversations around thinking differently about being in New York and how it’s evolved. How much of it for you is an identity – who you are as a songwriter and where you are right now? We don’t usually interview too many musicians who are in New York. Not necessarily natives, because we’re all from kind of someplace else. I’m wondering if that kind of plays a part for you.
It’s a strange thing that I have in New York, that small town in Norway. You know, I’ve been touring a bunch already. I’ve taught for three or four years around the world, and I taught a bunch in America. I really, really enjoyed performing there, and I like performing for the American audience. I felt that people really listened to lyrics and it sharpened my senses a bit to communicate with an audience who were natives of the language that I was using my music. I felt I learned and gained a lot just from that. I was 22 and I fell in love with a girl who was moving to New York. I just thought, “Well. I could go.” But in New York, I wish I could live anywhere. I’m gonna have to time this way. So, I just moved on. Sort of a whim. I didn’t think, I didn’t plan really how long I was going to stay. I certainly did not expect to to find myself years later when I then, eventually, decided to move to L.A..
I don’t plan much ahead. I live in the moment. I try not to look back too much, try not to look ahead too much. I’ve been that way for a long time, of course. Now, at a different age, I’m 37. You think a little bit differently. I still just really try to be hyper-present wherever I am. Of course, New York was a very exciting place to be. In your early and mid 20s, it’s a very exciting music scene there. But I have to admit, like I said, I would tell people this and they would be sort of surprised because I was touring so much. I enjoy living in New York because I enjoyed just disappearing into the mass of people. I guess whenever I came home from tour, I wasn’t really that hungry to be a part of a scene, or be a part of the city. I was happy to go a place where there was so much going on, and so many people that I could just, you know, just be a drop in the ocean, disappear, write my songs, and have my friends and my little community.
I remember just that every time I came home, I love the fact that everything is happening here. That gave me a sense of peace. In a strange way, I just wanted, O needed to rest between tours, and I wanted to have peace and quiet. For some reason, New York was just great for that for me. I didn’t really necessarily partake that much in the scene. When I decided to move, I’d been through a divorce. Life changes you. You’re a different age. I came back from a big war. I’ve been away for almost a year. Almost everybody I knew had moved. They had children. They got married. They moved to different cities. They moved out of the city. I felt, well, I don’t know, maybe this is a good time for me also to relocate.
I’d become really, really into running. I was running as much as I could. And I hated the new New York winter, as you know, we all do. They were really putting a damper on my running. So, I just decided to move to L.A. where I could run more freely all year round and and and also slow down. I wanted to not travel and tour as much, and I wanted to live, you know, in a different way. So I said “bye bye” to New York.
So are you in L.A.?
I’m actually in Hollywood. I found this bungalow sort of tucked away in plain sight, almost. Just in Hollywood. I am close enough that I can run in Griffith Park, pretty much every day I can run. I can run down in Hancock Park and go up and down. Pretty quiet. But it’s very dynamic. It’s really, really great. I can even take the bus out to Santa Monica. Run, run on the beach there, on the pier. There’s a lot of great terrain. To a Norwegian, also, just the nature in that area in Los Angeles is very exotic. It’s pretty great. It’s the edge. It gets hot sometimes, but usually I try to run early in the morning. It was definitely a big shift in my life. When I found running, and then eventually moved to L.A., I made a big change.
What do you have for your sort of future goals? What are some things that you’re excited about doing right now? Are there things that you’re excited about? We could keep talking about running.
Well, actually, that’s funny because, like, I have found and accepted that when it comes to running. I really enjoy having a goal, not necessarily like a time, but working towards a marathon, working towards something. I was training [for a] half marathon, which was going to be on April 26, and in the moment all of this started happening, I started realizing that there is no way that [would] happen. You know, the air just came out and it was so disappointing. Suddenly I was having a hard time motivated by running. I was working really hard to try to get under three hours for for that marathon. My buddy, who was a really fast one, he had made me this training program and suddenly nothing matters anymore. I was not enjoying my writing. So actually, last week I started following a new schedule. I don’t know when the next run is going to be, but at least now I’m following like a schedule that I’m working toward something.
That’s been – it’s really strange for me to even have something like that in my life, like a hobby where it’s like gold – because music is so. Abstract and vague, in a way. I certainly never had concrete commercial goals with my music, and I guess I hope to make a living. But I’ve never chased the number one spot. It’s so fun because you’re out. You’re either run this fast or that fast. Clearly, I’m never gonna be the fastest guy in any run I partake in. But it’s still such a nice contrast to do something that has the very clear, non-subjective parameter, which is such a nice, refreshing contrast to music; completely subjective, abstract and emotional, strange and vague.
It’s an intense thing to devote your life to. The running has really been that’s been a great thing for me.
That’s cool. Yeah, I really like that. We’re FRONTRUNNER magazine and people always ask me, is that for running? The last question I have is: who are some artists that you’re excited by that maybe don’t get as much attention as they deserve?
Well, that’s really good. You always meet listeners who feel sort of disengaged with what’s going on musically, now. That translates into, “Oh, there’s no good music anymore.” I firmly believe that if you feel that way, you’re not paying attention. There’s more music out there than ever, and there’s more good and bad music out there than ever. It always upsets me a little when people have given up searching, and they just assume whatever the market puts in front of them, that that’s the best offer.
I have this playlist on Spotify called Sondre’s Infinite Playlist that I update almost every day with music. So now that you’re asking me what I think people should be paying attention to, I’m like, “Oh, that’s my reference!” There’s Nick Hakim, he put out an album a couple of years ago called Green Twins. It’s beautiful. I think he’s about to release something new. I listen to ambient music when I run, there’s so much beautiful ambient, abstract, experimental music out there. I find a lot of it on Bandcamp. A lot of Japanese ambient music – I’m afraid to say their names – there was an ambient album from the 80s that was just rereleased called Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura, and that’s really exciting. It’s fun to listen to music where you can be a tourist, and not fully understand what’s going on. There’s an L.A.-based artist, Celia Hollander, who put out an album called Recent Futures, which I think is beautiful, ambient music.