Efterklang: the clever Danish band that brings new meaning to that classic song from Barney, “You Can Make Music with Anything.” Spending time on every piece of music they create, Efterklang manipulates sound into soothing, yet emotive songs with a sense of endearing personality. They create beautiful works of musical art from everyday sounds some might have never realized they’ve heard. Their latest album, Piramida, was an adventure into sound beyond anything they’d done before. In 2011, they traveled to a former Russian mining town, Piramida, which now lies desolate and decaying in frigid abandonment. Here they gathered over 1000 field recordings, embracing the spirit and sound of the island. The album combines these sounds with haunting vocals and traditional instruments to produce a sound that embraces their journey through Piramida and connects it with their daily life experiences. Efterklang generates refreshingly honest music that showcases their creativity and mesmerizes audiences.
Before their show in Philadelphia, I had a chat with bass player, Rasmus Stolberg, and learned all about the band, their distinct music, the sounds that comprise it, and how they integrate their music into film.
S: How did Efterklang begin as a band?
Rasmus: Casper [Clausen], Mads [Christian Brauer] and I were friends from childhood. We played music in several groups in high school. We grew up in the country but in high school we decided we should move to Copenhagen and give it a go with music. We were very naive and had a lot dreams and ideas about what could happen. We moved but the drummer and the bass player actually never made it to Copenhagen, which forced us to make a new band. That is sort of when Efterklang started, in 2001. We were young and didn’t know many people in Copenhagen and I think this resulted in us spending a lot of time rehearsing in the studio, geeking out, writing songs, ditching songs, and experimenting. We didn’t play a show until I think 2003 as Efterklang though. We used all that time to really find our sound.
S: Your band has a really unique sound. How did that experimenting help you create your sound?
Rasmus: We started out with a classic rock band formation but we sort of had a feeling that wasn’t what we were meant to be doing or what we would be best at doing. Over that two-year period, we invested in synths and computers. We built up our own mini studio and (started) experimenting. That’s kind of how it happened. For our very first release, ‘Springer (EP),” that was the first time we all agreed that this music was something we were all proud of and would like to share with someone. It also formed our approach to making music. We don’t really feel any limitations. We are very good at thinking big and envisioning big projects. It’s a little like the bumble bee, you know. We are not supposed to be flying but we make it fly.
S: Combining all of the sounds in your music takes a lot of time and care and Efterklang does it very well. What kind of music and different artists inspire the music you have been making?
Rasmus: One of the main inspirations for us that have been important since the beginning of the band is the German band called Einstürzende Neubauten. This whole Piramida album, making music out of found sounds and also making instruments out of industrial elements is very much an inspiration from this band. We have been listening to these guys for the last 10 years. Of course bands like Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and the Talking Heads and all of those bigger name bands have been very inspiring as well.
S: Speaking of Piramida, tell us more about the album. How did the idea for this unique album come about?
Rasmus: When we started talking about making a new album, one of the ideas we had was to see if we could somehow connect an album with a specific location in terms of field recordings. We have always been using a lot of field recordings. Our music has always been made of our own recorded sounds. We were thinking about stepping our game up a bit. Our original thoughts were going to a forest or something. We could sample the sounds of the forest but we could also record the drums and the vocals in the forest. We spun around a lot of ideas as to how to connect a location with an album. During this process, we got an email form a Swedish film director. He wanted to make a music video for one of our older songs. He attached photos of Piramida and we were blown away. It was just too good to be true. You can just see in the photos that there are so many things to make music on. I was checking out online and I read that world’s northern-most grand piano still remains in the ghost town. That’s when it really clicked for me! Then, it sort of became like the only place we could go. It was very difficult for us to get permission to go there and also very expensive. We tried to come up with alternatives and we blanked out every time because we just wanted to go to Piramida.
S: Did the isolation of the island help in the experience as well?
Rasmus: Absolutely! When you get up there, you are totally blown away by how dramatic the nature is. Its not really made for humans. Its simply too dramatic. It’s a little sad to see how hard humankind is trying to settle there. You see these settlements with all of the pipes and smoke and gigantic mining trucks in amongst all of these beautiful landscapes. It’s a special place.
S: Once you collected all of those field recordings, how did you turn them into sounds and what we hear on the record?
Rasmus: We did many different things. There was a lot of metal and a lot of industrial things. There were a lot of percussive sounds that you could use to make beats or rhythm patterns. Often certain elements would fit nice together while we were there and we would jam out on the elements and record that to a certain tempo. We would also sample those sounds to do other things with when we came back home. We even found a drum set up there. On the song “Told to be Fine“, the reverb you hear on the drums is the reverb from the gym we found up there. In the whole song, the only thing that isn’t from Piramida is the vocals. We mostly look for sounds with a pitch. If you find something and it has different pitches depending on where you hit it, it’s the best because then we can actually use it to make instruments. If you get four notes out of a certain object, we can put it into a computer and generate the missing notes. We can manipulate this and put it out on keyboard. You suddenly have a very special sound that is in the key of something and we can start composing using this specific sound. The instrument has a big role in what you compose. Getting our hands on these very special instruments sets the composition in a certain direction. That’s why the trip was very important to the album.
S: It’s a great collection of sounds and songs that really connect to Piramida and that experience. What was your favorite song from this album?
Rasmus: I haven’t really decided on one favorite so far. I think that’s is a nice pat on the back to the album. When we play live, I really like ‘The Ghost’ and ‘Black Summer.’ I also like ‘Between the Walls.’ I like a lot of them.
S: Is there a particular sound you recorded on the island that you like the best?
Rasmus: The first 20 seconds of the album on the first track ‘Hollow Mountain’ is me playing live on this really crazy instrument we found. It was a cylindrical fuel tank, about 3 meters long and 1.5 meters high. It used to be insulated. For some reason, all the insulation had come off. Then there were all of these spikes welded onto this tank to hold the insulation on. There were about 200 of these small metal spikes on this tank. We hit these spikes with drumsticks and they all resonated with really nice pitches. We put a microphone inside the tank where water had come in. So, we had a really nice watery reverb form inside the tank and a microphone on the direct impact of us hitting the spike. What you hear on the beginning of the album is the sounds of those two microphones combined with me playing a pattern. That was my favorite sound by far.
S: Getting the chance to make and record all of these sounds seems like it would be an amazingly fun experience. Was the experience all fun?
Rasmus: I had a really interesting and fun time. But, halfway through the experience I was sort of thinking, why in the world did we travel all of this way? What are we doing up here? What’s the whole purpose? But, then we started finding some really interesting things and it all started making sense. Looking back at it now it totally made sense but it was quite a bold move. It was an expensive expedition. We didn’t really know how much we were going to use this or not. We certainly got a lot out of it, much more then we thought we could have. It turned out really great.
S: Another part of Efterklang is the two films you’ve made centered around your music, An Island and The Ghost of Piramida. How do they integrate with your music?
Rasmus: They are sort of connected to two different albums. An Island is songs from the album Magic Chairs played in various special settings. We go back to the island where we were born and collaborate with a lot of people, kids, our parents. We meet different people on the island. For us, it’s sort of like piece on the level of one of our albums. It is more an art film than it is a documentary. We filmed it a year before we went to Piramida. A lot of things we experimented with in An Island we took with us to Piramida. The Ghost of Piramida is a straight up documentary. It’s about our trip up there. It’s mostly about a Russian man named Alexander who used to live up there for 30 years. He came to visit one last time and we met up with him. He turned out to be a filmmaker himself. He filmed his own life up there in 8mm and he had a DVD in his pocket with all his recordings, which he gave to us. So, a film came out of that. It was insane.
S: What is coming up for Efterklang?
Rasmus: This year is mostly about touring. When we get back from the US, we have a month in Europe and then we have all the summer festivals. We have new things that we are preparing: some new music and some new orchestral work. We have plans but not long term plans at the moment. It’s too early to start talking about another album. Once we finish touring, we will take some time to settle down and take a break. Then, we will start all over again!
Efterklang is a musical experience unlike any other. The time, effort, and overwhelming dedication to crafting their compositions show in every part of their music. Be sure to check them out:
An Island: http://anisland.cc/home/
The Ghost of Piramida: http://www.theghostofpiramida.com/