For many people, turning 30 represents the inevitable transition into middle-age. It's often a difficult adjustment, especially for those who aren't entirely satisfied with what they've accomplished so far. Sondre Lerche, who turned 30 this week, says he's looking forward to the next decade. In fact, he celebrated his birthday on September 5 by kicking off his fall tour.
"I guess the tour is a desperate attempt to prolong the celebration, since it's going to last for an entire month," laughs the Norwegian singer-songwriter. "I feel great about turning 30. I've been counting the years, and there's no way outside of it. I feel it's a privilege to do what I do and to realize I have been doing it for 10 to 12 years. It feels good to be able to look back a little and discover songs that I've forgotten about and bring them back into the repertoire."
The tour coincides with reissues of Lerche's first four albums and the release of his first official live record, Bootlegs. Not bad for a guy who struggled with music lessons when he was younger. "I signed up for guitar lessons, and I thought I could learn what I wanted," he recalls. "It was classical guitar, and it was not for me. I kept trying to do that for a couple of years, and I was terrible at it. I wish now that I could impress people by playing some classical pieces, but I remember nothing.
"I'm thankful that I had a good teacher who eventually realized it was a dead-end road, so he taught me Brazilian music and bossa nova, and that became a way into the music that I now appreciate."
Influenced by exotic Latin American music, Lerche started writing songs in his early teens; growing up in Norway, his influences were much more varied than they might have been if he had been born in the U.S., where radio stations adhere more strictly to formats. Living on what he calls the "outskirts of popular culture," he was introduced to a wild mix of music that has subsequently informed his pop sensibilities.
"I think I was excited and influenced by the stuff my mom would play in the car, which was the soundtrack to Grease and bands like Wham!," he says. "My sister was going through the goth thing, so she was playing the Cure and Depeche Mode. My brother was playing A-ha and the Pet Shop Boys. And by the time the '90s started, I had access to MTV, and they were playing Nirvana and Elton John side by side. None of the boundaries that I see clearly now existed. I was just into pop music, and I realized it could also be jazz and grunge and electronic."
That mix comes across in his own music, which recalls everything from Fleetwood Mac to Erasure to Elliott Smith. It didn't take long for someone to notice Lerche; he scored a record deal when he was 19. "I feel lucky, because when I released my first record, I was signed to a major label, and it was right before everything went to hell for the major labels," he says. "I benefited from the last peak of that world, when they had a lot of resources and money to build my career. I don't know that I could have lived up to their expectations, but we were never to find out, because everything fell apart."
Everything fell apart for the record companies, but not for Lerche. After parting ways with Astralwerks, he rebounded with the soundtrack to the indie film Dan in Real Life and a tour with Elvis Costello. Last year's self-titled album, the first record on Lerche's own Mona imprint, is a departure of sorts for the singer-songwriter, who usually takes his time making records. Everything on Sondre Lerche was written and recorded rather quickly. So songs like the brisk "Private Caller" and the folksy "Living Dangerously" sound a little rougher than his past work.
"It was a record that I didn't prepare a lot for it," notes Lerche. "When I had the songs, there was no preparation — we just went in the studio. I gave us two weeks to record it. If it didn't go well, I wouldn't have released it, but it went really well. That limitation sparked a certain energy and the desire to strip things down and make do with less in a sense. It was energizing."
But Lerche says he probably won't take the same approach the next time around. "I've been looking back at the different periods of the last 10 years, and what I was really trying to do, and what I succeeded at, and what I still haven't achieved artistically," he says. "I have some songs I want to pursue, so we'll see. I probably won't put the same limitation on this one. It might take more than two weeks to record."