Søren Løkke Juul has experienced a whirlwind twelve months, the like of which even his blizzard-swept indigenous Denmark has rarely seen. The Copenhagen native who now masquerades as Indians back then (or earlier on just last year, rather) released a track entitled Magic Kids, and the thing snowballed. New-wave melancholia at its most refined, it was wistful as a frozen lake lonesome but for the company of the impenetrable shadow of night and as it continued to tumble about the innards of the internet, it began to pique the intrigue of some of music’s higher rollers. Without a whisper of warning, 4AD quite remarkably put themselves in touch on the back of just the one (albeit astounding) song, and the rest is history in the writing or, as Juul will later recurrently say, “in the moment.”
“We are really treating ourselves really well – we are experienced guys”, Juul staunchly contends despite there being a six-pack of Braeburn apples still enwrapped in cellophane sat on the table before us, at which he impatiently taps throughout. “We’re not crazy at all – we are actually so responsible.” Pangs of the sardonic ping about his every word as he muses softly, whilst violently cracking open another Beck’s on an already highly ineffectual fridge. And though the 33-year-old may drink immoderately during our somewhat protracted time together, one senses he’s old enough to take care of himself. There’s an almost paternal air to him – like an estranged uncle who’s only too happy to share the liquid wealth, and as he quite rightly declares, he’s an experienced guy: on predominantly exclusively Nordic jaunts, he’s been playing in bands for “ten fucking years”, backing his two band members who continually mumble on unintelligible to my ears in the background. Touring has become something of a default MO for the man, and that despite his music being so morose; his demeanour so demure.
These are tropes to recur throughout his début full-length Somewhere Else, which was incidentally released via 4AD at the start of the week in which we meet. It’s a quietly complex record with plenty going on thematically, if only momentarily from a musical perspective as it’s more often than not a quite pared back listening experience. Fittingly then, as a character Juul is equivalently subdued though no less complicated – an inscrutable type in a beautiful pea-green coat. Though the one thing to neatly tie the record up into a cohesive whole stems from the immediacy with which it was bound – “that all the songs were recorded in a very short period of time. They were all recorded in half a year.” It’s needless to say a rarity for a label of such imposing stature to come knocking in such an unannounced manner then, and indeed with only the one solitary song to his name Juul was placed under a not insubstantial amount of pressure to fabric compositions of commensurate worth. “It was all about that getting to catch a moment; or maybe being in a kind of mood; or just trying to capture whatever, you know?” His English momentarily stilted and his mind seemingly clouded by ethanol indulgence and the proverbial glare of the spotlight which is now resolutely fastened in his general direction, I’m not quite sure I do know. Though the opacity then recedes: “I was forced to work pretty fast on this album, but then I wanted to make it within the window of opportunity that had been opened. And I wanted to just work really fast. I’d be working every day, mostly like a normal job so from eight ’til four.”
It’s an enlightening revelation, and one to contradict the perhaps substantially more London-centric mentality of bands and the artists involved being bogged down in Dalston bedsits and so forth for months on end, savouring their artistry and consequently surrendering all form of efficiency. “I didn’t have the occasion to dwell on any ideas, or to save them away for later” he confirms, another beer spewing newly frothed juice over the floor and a little on a wall caked in an immovable veneer of graffiti. That by which I become transfixed is a particularly raucous doodle which practically screams off creamy paint – a kind of mutated genitalia that’s decidedly blue, if pigmented an almost biblically sanguineous red. Only Juul’s muffled emissions bring me back: “You start from scratch, and that’s fucking nerve-wracking. So I had no idea where any of it was gonna go, and I was constantly thinking that it might all be nothing worth keeping. But if you keep on working on things… I mean I had opportunity, but not to wait on inspiration and so I had to force myself to work with whatever was already there. If there was nothing, then I would have to keep on playing again, and again, and again until suddenly, I would find something that I could use. And in the process, I would tell myself to strive for songs from beginning through to the end and that process could take two or three hours, or weeks and months. But in the writing, and the producing, and the mixing of the [individual] songs, once I felt that they were there, I was satisfied and could return to the start, going again from scratch.”
So there were no preconceptions, nor premeditated notions as to how the record might have panned out before embarking on its composition? “No” he sighs, serene as a twilit fjord. “I didn’t think that much about any of it, but instead I got inspired by having my headphones on and my wires plugged into my synthesiser. I could obviously hear my synthesiser – I’d have a clean signal. But I wanted to make it fun by putting some pedals on it, or playing it through a guitar amp, or miking it up to basically make it sound completely different. It’s much more fun when you start playing around with the actual tones, patterns, and processing.” And this is one of several approach to songwriting to set Juul apart from his every contemporary, in that he is, quite discernibly, considerably more concerned with the structuring of sound, as opposed to the composing of song.
And it can be a lonely exercise, as have been his touring patterns at times: more often than not a lone ranger in his wandering of the more remote parts of continents with which he is no more than superficially acquainted, if playing live has become something of a routine (he reckons on tonight being his “98th show of this past year, or something”) then it’s something of a novelty to have his “boys” in tow. Though with regard to the record, it’s spawned of the particularly insular process one might feel compelled to anticipate: “There’s definitely a sound of that, because the record was done in such a concentrated period of time. I spent many, many days just waking up, making myself a cup of coffee, going into the studio and doing things. And so whenever I wanted to go outside, it would feel weird. I had to buy lunch and make myself something, but I’d go out and feel weird around people. Like, so isolated. I wasn’t used to it.”
Which is in turn a somewhat less expected theory of sorts, given that Somewhere Else was conceived and pieced together in Copenhagen – Juul’s hometown also therefore his and its definitive where. Though even at the centre of a bustling capital city, he would feel alone to the world – a ghostly reflection maintained by the frequently spectral refrains of much of the record. The album epitomises that sensation of solitude even in company; of a disconcerting disconnection from every fellow human. “I like that idea” he swiftly retorts, “’cause in a way you’re so focussed on making things that other things stand still in your head. And so it’s only when you exit your space and enter the outside that you realise that it’s all been going on the whole time. It’s busy; it’s noisy. There’s traffic, and people doing what they do. You feel alone in the world and even though you can go out and be among people, you still feel lonely. Yeah…” He tails off, his eyes a vapid white. The dregs swill down his throat like grubby bathwater swirling the drain and though it may not be Carlsberg trickling down his gullet, Denmark has had an inextricable effect on Søren.
Somewhere Else indeed sounds how I’d imagine Denmark to look. I mutter something of hjemland in a pretty feeble, and with that wholly phoney attempt to connect on a linguistic level, harrowingly inevitably stumbling ungainly as an elk atop a filmy sheet of glacier with my one lone Danish attempt. No matter: “It’s difficult to say when you’re living there, but yeah. I think there’s a reason it sounds that way… In the same way that there’s a reason as to why The Beach Boys sound like The Beach Boys, there’s a reason for bands from the Nordic regions to sound as they do. We don’t have sunshine; we don’t smoke a lot of pot. People smoke in Denmark, but they smoke hash and find themselves in a mental state that’s impossible to understand.” Whether or not a direct consequence of this relish for hash, the Danes according to Juul envelope themselves in a snug wrap of fear and self-loathing. “It’s not that easy to be from the north, you know? The whole melancholy thing… You don’t get many sunny days in London, but for six months a year the place is totally dead with everyone inside. Just getting into themselves, and that’s weird and hard to live with.” My eyes judder back to the heinous graffiti. It gapes back, all the more ominous than before like something out of a Terry Gilliam adaptation.
Though to revert to conversation, for as far as I can recall Britain has upheld an intense attraction to the alternative culture of Scandinavia. Yet where previously all we would hear of would be Swedish, there’s been something of a multimedial shift over to their neighbours from just across the Kattegat. With the world now tuning into Denmark (not least via epic TV thrillers Forbrydelsen, Borgen and Broen), does Juul feel proud of such developments in perception? Yes and apparently no, his response a reticent “yeah” betwixt the two. “Of course we have a lot of potential, but we have a huge problem in Denmark which is that you can’t believe in yourself. Yeah, you can be a nice person and you can do what you want, but only in a certain way. You can’t fucking change things, because then people will think you’re an asshole. ‘What the fuck do you think you’re doing thinking you can make things differently? Why would you do that?’ It’s difficult to be different in Denmark.” The nerve hasn’t so much been touched as torched. I think to a certain explosion of a speedboat in Forbrydelsen II Episode V, though the fury rages on: “We all want to be a part of this safe community, but in a way that’s of a long time ago. There are a lot of bands that don’t give a shit, and it all turns out really wrong. Ten years ago, we’d never seen a Danish band having success outside of Denmark but now at the moment, we have three or four bands playing really well. I’m not talking about them earning money; I’m talking about quality, you know? And it’s because times have changed, but we don’t care anymore.”
As for whether or not the country’s soils seem all that fertile to Juul at the minute, he returns to this notion of the Danes being an all too self-deprecating people: “We have this small idea of being popular. We don’t allow ourselves to be popular in the world, or even around our friends. We can’t allow ourselves to be famous, even in Denmark because we’re Danish. But I don’t believe in that!” One band to have once positively bursted with potential were Mew and despite their at once universal allure, although they made it over they never fully crossed over so to speak: “Why not? Well, they seemed to have their period in Denmark, but… We get many bands we think will do great and get outside the borders, but it’s not normal. There was this band playing ten years ago at a time when we had so many earning so much in Denmark. They were playing good shows, and doing what they did well but Mew is totally original. That’s a fuckin’ original band, and that’s a long time ago. They’re a part of the Danish music history in that there is a band that actually made it out of the country. It’s really, really rare.”
Rare as it may be, I speak for every realm beyond Denmark’s borders when I say that we should continue to count ourselves exceedingly lucky to have had Piramida seek international refuge. Efterklang not only made it out the country last year, but they brought much of the listening world to a standstill with the sweeping grandeur of their fourth, and irrefutably finest to date as Casper Clausen & co. not only broke out, but blew up. Nonetheless, they arguably only did so once they had already upped sticks and fled for Berlin though their success perhaps strangely hasn’t made that great an impact on Juul, even if “they’re friends. The community of musicians in Denmark is comparatively so small, that we all know each other. It’s a very small scene, but that’s another thing with our music business – we help each other out. There’s no jealousy. It’s instead just about getting out.”
And so if 4AD may thereby be deemed the knotted bed sheet down which Juul has clambered out of his hjemland to be with us tonight, then it’s one which was passed down to him (inadvertently, maybe) by the aforementioned Efterklang who are indeed now label mates. And the signing with the London indie was “ideal” he guffaws, a look of genuine disbelief washing across his bewhiskered features. “You’re asking a question that doesn’t need answering!” Though if it all begun with a 4AD Session comprising Magic Kids, alongside fellow album tracks New and I Am Haunted all performed beside a barely lulling lake at varying times of day, then a pertinent question there for the asking concerns where he can see the Indians project leading him. “I don’t want things to go too fast. And it’s the same thing again: I don’t want to disappoint myself; I don’t want to disappoint my boys. I want the best out of them, and I want the value of this music to be like it was in the ’40s, and the ’70s. The mentality of, ‘We’re gonna play a show in one fuckin’ hour, and of course we can play shit. We can be stoned, and drunk [there’s certainly a drop of the latter a little later on] though we know how to get the best out of one another, and really focus.”
Palpably, you can sense Juul really open up as the door slams shut behind his dear band members departing. “I think this is really simple, and so I made this rule which is, ‘Well guys, no fuckin’ smartphones. No computers, or fuckin’ Facebook for half an hour before the show. Lay down your fuckin’ shit, because we have to concentrate on being present in what we’re gonna do in the moment. And I’m not sure where it’s gonna go, but it’s just that thought of being present; of being there; of being. It can go totally wrong – I really don’t care. That’s a part of fuckin’ reality. And so I’m not nervous of things going wrong onstage, or breaking because I don’t care. If that happens, then it’s supposed to be. I don’t fuckin’ give a shit – it’s just another moment, you know?”
And he’s right to be flippant in his attitude to performing, for he’ll undoubtedly have plenty more moments to come. Though with him now on his own, I can’t help but wonder of those many moons to have waxed and waned before that enlightening tonight – days in which he would back up these evidently cherished “boys”. With the shoe now on the other foot, I can imagine him being a far more authoritative force than they ever were: “In a way, I always feel that it’s nice to be in control of everything but there’s a lot of work that has to go into that. And yeah, it doesn’t make sense. I was in my bedroom only one year ago, writing these songs and now I’ve been travelling around… We’ve been travelling around England, and it’s so nice to just be in the car with your best friends. And the most important thing is to just play a really, really nice concert and share that experience with each other while performing every night. That is really special but also, it’s a big privilege that you get to leave your own fucking boring city – I’m so bored there – and I like the German autobahn; I like watching out the windows and just getting away into the unknown. Any show could be a disaster – it could be fuckin’ terrible, or equally amazing. You wouldn’t know. That’s what I feel right now, though in a way I’m a bit tired. When I’m a private person, in the moment this year’s crazy. Even when I don’t have anything to do, I can’t relax because I just want to be doing something. I’m used to things going on all the time, so I have to get used to allowing myself to relax. There’s a lot of things going on, but I like it.”
As we depart, there are bits of our jaw he implores I omit, before extending an open invitation to go visit him in the “fucking boring city” he for the moment calls home. On his feet, he’s tall. Tall as the sylvan darks of Zealand seen only through our television screens. And there is both a reflection of his music in his hushed tones of gratitude, as well as of his lyrical ambiguity. Despite his impassioned affirmations otherwise, he’s a guarded and quite insular individual, and the habitual chugging of lager appears to offset the observable agitation of his jangling nerves. That he talks that bit more candidly away from the attentions of his band members corroborates such conviction though he quite clearly is Indians and, whether he likes it or not, Indians is now he. There is complication, though no pluralisation. And as with Denmark itself, there is much we’re yet to discover as we set about contemplating this exceptionally intricate songsmith.
Somewhere Else is out now on 4AD.