Musical adventures in a Norwegian ghost town. A line up change leading to a trail of “totally badass drummers”. Finding the sole tuned chord on the world’s most northerly grand piano. Each of these elements have been of paramount importance to the creation of Efterklang’s fourth masterful album, Piramida. Never a band to do things by anyone else’s standards, this record sees the band set out to unify time, place and sound, and to capture the spirit and essence of a town otherwise forgotten. We caught up with the band’s Rasmus Stolberg to find out more.
“Pyramiden is the official Norwegian name , and then the album title is the Russian word for pyramid, Piramida,” Rasmus explains of the eerie location that would inspire the Danish trio’s new record. An abandoned Russian coal mining settlement situated on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, Pyramiden is a quintessential ghost town. There’s an abandoned hospital, power plant and an empty swimming pool. A sports hall, complete with footballs unlikely to ever partake in a match again. Derelict buildings line the abandoned streets, the site of a once bustling mining community brought to a silent standstill would prove to be the location that provided Efterklang with their muse.
“We were introduced to because a Swedish film director emailed us photos from it suggesting we should do something out there,” explains Rasmus. “He was thinking of a music video or something, but we just connected with the place instantly and got really sure that we wanted to go there. We started reading about it, and quickly found out that the world’s most northerly grand piano still stands in this town, so we thought ‘wow! we have to go and play this piano!’, it was kind of boyish energy, or adventurous energy that led us there.”
“Before this, we thought about how on the next record, we wanted to try to connect with the location somehow. My brother has a forest, and one of the first ideas was to build a camp there and to sample the forest, and then to go back and record the drums and the vocals. So these were ideas we had. Then suddenly this place got introduced to us and it all clicked, and we thought we could go up there, we could bring our microphones and this could be the start of everything.”
The album’s sleeve is a stunning selection of photographs taken during the band’s time in the forgotten town, a fascinating mixture of industrial ruins and abandoned home comforts, in a settlement surrounded by snow capped mountains and the arctic ocean.
“The Russians have put a few people back now, but it’s still totally empty and dead,” Rasmus states. “It’s a fascinating place, you just have this feeling of life that was once there. You can picture how things were when it wasn’t dead, and there’s still furniture and pictures on the walls, so you can go around to people’s old houses… it’s a bit creepy as well. It’s on Spitsbergen whichis an incredible place, but it’s also an extremely dramatic place, nature’s very powerful and that’s one of the feelings you get when you’re there – that human beings really don’t belong there. It all feels kind of meaningless, all of this effort that’s gone into building settlements and this crazy place. And then of course, you have nature there which is incredibly beautiful, as well as this dumped stuff left by humans, so it’s a place full of contrasts.”
The band found an instant source of inspiration in Pyramiden, with it’s hostile natural surroundings and plentiful relics of recent generations providing a plethora of sounds for the band to use. The next task then, was to figure out how to capture the spirit of the location in a musical format.
“We had to go on this crazy three hour boat ride to get out there, and we had these waves of Arctic waters splashing us the whole time,” says Rasmus. “We finally got there, totally soaked and freezing, and Mads was sick for two days. So the first two days was me and Casper running around, investigating, making plans, looking for sounds. Then when we got Mads back, we picked locations. We’d record two or three different locations every day, one location would be the power plant, one would be the hospital, the swimming pool, but we’d also use, like, objects at the harbour, so we spent a lot of time on simple things too. That was all before we had the idea of collecting libraries from each location. So if we had twelve buildings, we could have twelve libraries. When we started writing the songs, we thought we could base each song on each of the libraries of sound. That was the initial idea, but it didn’t work out like that!”
“So we collected all these sounds – way too many sounds, because there were so many things up there – and we also played things on the spot, which we later used. Then back in Berlin was when the music writing began. Mads started picking out some of the sounds and working with them, and then Casper started adding piano and stuff like that on top.” Was there space for the world’s most northerly grand piano in the end? ”Yeah, it’s on the album. It doesn’t sound like a grand piano, but it’s there. We used it in different ways. There’s a song that didn’t make it onto the album – there was only one chord that was in tune, and we used that one chord for one song! But the grand piano was great, it was great to get there and actually play it, but it wasn’t a highlight, actually! It sounded awful! And it is just a piano after all. But I can now say I’ve played the world’s most northerly grand piano!”
“The idea was for all three of us to start at the same place, so this trip Spitsbergen was the beginning of the whole thing. It meant that all three of us had the same frame and the same ‘day one’ for this album. That was really helpful in the process of making it, making choices, deciding which route to go etc. We spent nine days up there, collecting sounds, getting inspired, and then we spent nine months in Berlin, working with the sounds, turning them into music, writing songs and then recording them.”
It’s certainly an interesting way to approach an album, and as we’ve come to know Efterklang as a band to do things on their own terms, it’s an approach that is perfectly fitting of their character. After almost ten years and the creation of four albums together, it would seems as though the band has worked out an ideal methodology for creating an Efterklang album.
“Yes, absolutely,” Rasmus agrees. “It’s not like we have this one guy in the band who writes a lot of songs on a guitar, and who has a rock writing style. Our stuff is more eclectic, we use any instrument and we use the studio a lot, sort of like electronic musicians do, and this gives you an insane amount of opportunities and options. It can be very confusing. Sometimes we have an idea of what we want to achieve, and sometimes it’s more specific. This time was great, because it meant we had a very specific frame for everything, but we had no idea what waited for us up there and what it would turn into. It was a controlled process, but it was full of surprises! Very unpredictable.”