Indians: Denmark’s Søren Løkke Juul

BG-1-3For Denmark’s Søren Løkke Juul and his band Indians, the process of getting a record deal was anything but typical. When 4AD contacted him about making an album he only had 2 songs ready to go.

After a decade of playing keyboards in various bands back in Copenhagen, Indians was Juul’s way of stepping out of the shadows and writing his own material. Once he signed to 4AD, Indians went from personal project to an official solo band.

On his debut, Somewhere Else, released this past January, Juul plays every instrument creating layered compositions that combine shimmering keys and delicate acoustic guitars with heavy-handed drum machines and pensive, reverbed vocals. It’s folk music set in a foreign territory of somber soundscapes and dreamy atmospherics. It’s electronic music with teasing tempos that toe the line of danceability, but rarely cross it.

I was lucky enough to to interview Juul twice this year—once in person at SXSW and once over the phone as he prepared for his recent US tour. Both interviews are included below.

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April 2013

So is this your first US Tour?

No it’s already like our third. The first time I was here was in April [2012] and I did a few shows in New York, a session in Seattle, then flew to Vancouver and opened for Beirut and then flew to LA and played four shows there.

How long have you been recording versus touring?

It was actually a mixed process because when 4AD contacted me I had only 2 or 3 songs. I didn’t even have an idea myself that I wanted to make a record. I was just spending my time making this music. It’s been a mixed process; every time I would make a new song I would send it over and get their opinion.

How did they find out about you?

Blogs, I think– music blogs and stuff like that. I had one song and it was very busy touring music blogs around the world.

Is English your first language?

No, it’s Danish.

Bands I know from Copenhagen all sing in English. Is that typical?

We have a lot of Danish bands singing in Danish, but to me its pretty natural for me to sing in English. I think the English language is easier to express yourself and I like traveling and I like the idea of sharing my music with people. If I was only singing in Danish, I think I would only be able to share with Danish people. Here’s an opportunity for sharing with people all around the world.

Did you play all of the instruments on the record?

Yes.

Do you tour on your own sometimes or do you always play as a band?

This tour is actually the first tour with the band. Last year I toured as support for other bands, so it was only possible if I figured out some kind of setup on my own. I would always prefer to bring a band though.

Is the band from Denmark?

No, Laurel is from Portland Oregon and Hillary is from New York. I had never met them, they were recommended to me by the label. I have two people I play with back in Europe as well.

So you said you made each song one-by-one. Do you think they link together at all or did the sporadic process change the mood from song to song?

It’s been a process of recording and telling stories about what’s happening in my life so it’s natural to tell stories like that. It’s not fiction. Writing song by song I was in a position to record each day and wake up early and spend all day in the studio.

I’ve seen you play 3 shows already at SXSW, how many are you playing overall?

I’ve played 7 and then I have one tomorrow. I don’t know though, this feels normal.

Does that make it hard with such a busy schedule? Do you find yourself worn out? Do you feel you have limited energy from show to show?

I’m not worn out before a show. Yesterday we had three shows and I was prepared for all of them. Of course I came home and I was very tired. In a situation like this with lots of bands and lots of noise and people, you don’t have a lot of time to worry about that and you don’t have much time to set up which can be very stressful. I feel like when you play a concert and you don’t have time for a soundcheck you just have to work with you got.

What’s the music scene in Copenhagen like?

It’s very good. There are lots of bands. More and more bands are making it out of there and I think it’s because people have been making independently for about ten years now. They don’t make music to get popular; they make music for a human need. That makes it real. There are a lot of bands in Denmark that make really good records because the whole music industry changed their position to make music for the music.

Have you thought about what next or how long before the next record?

I still write and I have an idea for the next record. I don’t think it’s going to be different process. I still want to do it myself, but I just need quiet time to make music. I have new songs ready and I have a lot of ideas of how I want the next thing to be. I hope to make a new one too, but I can’t promise anything before it’s there.

July 2013

Tonight. I basically go straight from the festival here in Denmark and fly to New York tonight.

Tell me again about being signed. You only had a few songs. Is that true?

Yes, yes it is. I think I only had two songs before 4AD contacted me and asked if I would be interested in making a whole album. I was like “Yes if you want to work with me then I will try.” First of all I was really surprised that a label like 4AD wanted to put out an act that never had done a record before. In the start it was a lot of pressure, but I had to forget about the pressure and do what I like to do and enjoy myself making music. I was really, really excited about the opportunity to work with 4AD.

How were people able to hear your songs before the record came out?

Basically there were not very many people who had heard the songs because I had made one song and made a small video for it and shared it on my Facebook page to get some response from my friends.

Were you performing live before the record came out or is the record what led you to take the project from a personal level to a performance setting?

I’ve been in different bands for ten years as a keyboard player, but I had never played an Indians concert before. The first show was in February last year and I remember I only had 8 songs to date to play at that show.

Where did the name Indians come from?

I think it’s about sharing and making music and it’s part of nature. We all need music. We are all born listening to the heartbeat in our mom’s stomach and that’s the first time we hear music. It’s so close to our nature and in a way it’s a celebration for Indians in general. We are all natives from somewhere and I think it’s beautiful to have a simple life so close to nature.

You seem to tour a lot in America. Do you perform as much in other parts of the world or do you feel like you have a bigger reception here?

I think that we have been touring a lot in the States, but things have been coming a lot in Europe too. America is a big country, so there’s a lot of work and opportunity when you go there. There are a lot of venues to cover.

When I saw you in Texas you had to women playing with you. Are you playing with the same band this time around?

Actually that was just for that tour. I’ve been playing with two guys in Denmark sometimes, but at the moment I am playing by myself without a band. It works really well, it’s easier to get around and it’s much cheaper.

How does the live show compare to the record? When you were playing as a trio there was a big sound and three people playing at once? Does playing solo make it hard to sound as big? Or do you even think about playing songs like on the record at all?

I think sometimes you have to change things. Sometimes things work really well on record and it doesn’t necessarily work out live. Sometimes you have to build different arrangements for the songs to keep it intense. It’s different.

So with you playing solo, what is the live setup like?

I’m looping stuff and I’m playing a synthesizer and a piano. So I’m pretty busy. It’s not like an acoustic show. It’s still a pretty epic sound live. I try to have as many elements on the record as possible when I play live.

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Have you had time to start thinking about or working on a new record?

I have some new songs and recently at a show in Denmark I was asked to play a longer set than normal so I played three new songs.

Do you have an idea when you might have a new record ready or is it too early to tell?

Hopefully within a year. I hope. I hope. I spend as much time as I can trying to figure out new stuff and writing new songs.

When you made your first record you made songs one-by-one. Do you think your songs will be different this time around? Are you approaching songwriting differently now that you have more experience playing solo? Have your experiences on the road made their way into your work?

I think it’s different because the story that I’m telling with that old record is a new story now. Now my new songs are about traveling around and the people I meet and places I have seen. My new songs are about what’s going on right now.

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