We spent 24 hours in Copenhagen to catch up with Denmark's own CHINAH ahead of their biggest headline show to date.
CHINAH are Fine Glindvad, Simon Kjær, and Simon Andersson they’ve been working together as a band since 2014, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2015 that they debuted the beginnings of the CHINAH project at SPOT Festival.
Last year their faultless debut EP Once The Lights Are On gave us a formal introduction to the band. Despite hangups that they’re forever being pigeonholed as 'the R&B band', their music blurs the lines between genres and brings in spaced out electronica, synths, and clear pop melodies - R&B is just one of the many different soundscapes they use.
The release of their second EP Hints earlier this year offered us another collection of music from this passionate band, and last month they played their largest headline show to date at Copenhagen’s Vega - a prestigious venue in Denmark’s capital where the band have seen a number of amazing shows from their favourite international artists, such as the Flaming Lips. Kjær explains that these euphoric experiences "make the stage a bit more frightening".
Any nerves had disappeared by the time took to the stage. The band were enthralling and even in such a large venue they managed to create an intimate atmosphere and still fill the space with their sound. We caught up with the band backstage before the show to discuss their place within the Copenhagen music scene, their working dynamic, and the plans they’re cooking up to make a perfect album.
This is your biggest headline show to date, do you feel any different ahead of it?
Kjær: The last month we’ve been touring around Denmark and we haven’t done any kind of headlining things in the small cities around Denmark, and I think I felt some of the same nervousness going to a big venue in Aarhus, the second biggest city, or one of the very small cities where we don’t know if we have any kind of audience. That’s frightening in a different way, but this is frightening because of the size.
Andersson: We feel pretty good though, because we’re pretty comfortable with the set that we’re doing. We’ve done it before and we’ve got the lighting guy with us and our sound guy and our drummer, so it’s like The A Team.
You’re playing at The Great Escape - on our stage! - have you played there before?
Glindvad: No, it’s our first time. There are some other Danish acts going and some friends of ours who went to the same school so it’s really nice and a thing for us to go there together at the same time.
A: Playing shows in the UK is kind of part of the whole dream of being everywhere.
When you started CHINAH did you have any dream experiences you hoped you’d be able to live out as part of the band?
K: I just think it was funny when we started making music together that we had no thoughts about greater ambitions with what we did. We thought it was a big thing to just contact the label and we thought they’d probably say no. From the point where we got in touch a lot of things changed, especially because we met a lot of people who told us that we could expect way more than doing just small gigs with one hundred people. I think that changed the mind set for us, but I’m really glad that when we started making music that it was because we had some songs in our heads and felt like doing them together. We just wanted to make some music that we liked and that was our greatest ambition.
G: Everything happened so fast that we didn’t even have time to dream about all those sorts of things, it was all just happening.
Have you had chance to think any more about this now you're at the stage you're at?
G: I think now I have this vision for the band about what people’s perception is of us. To not be that commercial pop artist, but still make catchy stuff... I think have more dreams about that, more than to be on the stage.
A: I think for me there’s definitely a dream to keep on having these opportunities to make the music that we want in the way that we want. Go out and play for people and to have the stage to show what we do to people. If that could keep on going, as long as it’s our way.
G: Also, to come to point that no matter what you’re doing people will listen. Having that freedom and respect from people that this is the new track from that band. That’s also about freedom and being able to not feel the pressure, making sure it’s still magical thing to do music and that you’re not too influenced by the outside.
How do you think Copenhagen, as a place of work, influences you?
A: That’s a hard question because you live it and it’s hard to know how it would feel to do this in another city.
K: I think though, because you always get more inspired by a friend who makes music, because you understand their music in another way than when Rihanna drops a track, or whatever. I think that can often be more inspiring and more often want to copy the way they work. When Simon and I were living together for a couple of years, it’s just easier to suck all of the small details that people do when they work, I guess in that way it’s a very personal way.
G: I guess there’s more energy in a bigger city, than in like Aalborg the small city that I am from. There I had more of a distance from other musicians, but now I’m right in that place and in that flow.
Have you found there’s a strong sense of community in Copenhagen between people making music?
G: I don’t know if it’s different from any other city, but of course it’s a small country so you know more people, because there’s less space and you’re playing at the same festivals and the same venues.
A: I think the community is just sort of in the shape of friendships. Like we know a lot of people who make music, but it all comes down to that specific person if you know what I mean. I think it’s so hard to know if there’s really a community between strangers.
G: But there are lots of vibes going on in Copenhagen at the moment, like bands that do the same thing or have a similar sort of style, they go in groups. That’s interesting, because it’s more to the pop world than some years ago. So I’d definitely say there are some interesting thing going on.
A: Maybe there’s some invisible influence. I think that has to do with if someone succeeds in doing something that’s different or new, you get the feeling that’s it possible to do that too.
K: I think we’ve seen some good examples of bands who are able to do pop music in a nice way or who have their own interpretation of pop music and I guess we’re part of that scene too. I hope that inspires more people, and that other people inspire each other, to take something from the popular scene and do it some way that it’s different, but still commercial.
What are your favourite things about the city?
K: I think I like the size of it. I think it makes a big difference to a city when you can get around, bike around. When I’m in London I never have the sense of the different parts of the city being connected, because you’re always going underground to get somewhere very different. I feel like here all the different people and places are connected, like it was a smaller city, but it’s actually quite big.
G: It’s not cold, in the way that it doesn’t feel like you’re just you, alone in the city, that you can actually make a difference, but still there’s so many possibilities, there’s always something going on, something new and fresh.
What are your favourite parts of the whole music making process?
G: The best moments for me as a musician is when you catch that melody or that feeling and you know where to go with it or you feel the vibe in the song, that’s always a very sudden thing with me.
A: I think the most intense thing for me is when we’ve been working on something on the screen in the studio and you get to lean back and take a listen and that excites you, that happens sometimes and that’s a really nice feeling. It’s a like celebration, also if we make something that’s really simple or just imagining that on a stage like this, the feeling that we could actually just decide to play it.
G: Yeah, the freedom.
A: The freedom of everything sometimes gives me goosebumps.
Where do you find most of your inspiration for the lyrics?
G: Definitely dynamics between people, relationships in any way.
Your new EP Hints is out now, can you tell us some about how it came together?
A: Compared to the first EP, the time period during which we created the second one was a lot different, as we were out a lot of the time playing gigs. I think a lot of the songs, or at least the first ideas for many of the songs, started on the road, some of them on the back of the tour bus. In a way the conditions were a bit cruder than the first one, but it didn’t matter that music because the first ideas can just happen anywhere. That was a difference in how it was made as in some ways it probably translates into the sound of the final product. I think it’s a little bit more immediate in a way, a little more raw sometimes, but that was something that we wanted to do consciously.
K: When I listen to the first EP I like that the sound is so controlled and when I listen to the new EP I like that’s not as controlled. The drums are rougher and a lot of the synthesisers have more edge.
G: There’s also one idea with the first EP, it’s really consistent. I guess Hints is more to do with lots of things at the same time, so maybe it’s a bit messier, like style-wise.
When you work on new music, does it tend to be the beat/instrumental which form first and then the lyrics, or the other way around?
G: It really differs from song to song, but I think we like to do it at the same time. It would be the best way for us when a song’s melody is made along with the production and the lyrics, then that would be really magical for us. It’s not often that it happens, you can do it with some lines or maybe the core of the song - it often starts like that.
A: It’s very natural to us how the starting point for the different songs vary a lot. Sometimes it’s a melody, sometime it’s a lyric, sometimes it’s a beat or just a cool sample. I think that’s actually a good thing, because in the end when a track is done it takes on the shape of what its starting point was.
G: We’d never try or will try to run with all of the lyrics or all of the production first, we’d never do that. We could do it, but I think it’s sort of against the whole aim of our project.
K: It’d be a fun thing to try, because it really makes more difference to the music than you can think of from the top of your head.
A: We often have components so we’d have some melody lines, not the whole melody lines and some ideas for melody phrases and maybe we’d have some drum beats to and that’s how we’d start. Then when we meet up and have whatever small components, we’ll start to arrange everything together.
What’s working on the road like?
A: When we’re playing we always feel the drive to make new songs so that we can play them, we always feel like playing the new stuff we’re doing, so there’s always an urge to do thing in between the shows. Even when we’re home in Copenhagen we often work in Simon’s bedroom, there’s a small home studio there and we like to work there, so it’s still not a big studio, it’s a small and kind of DIY.
K: The funny thing about being on the road is that you don’t feel compelled to finish stuff, or take your time with the detail, you work faster and so of course all the things we’ve started on the road, we take home for a steadier environment. It’s tough to feel what the bass does when you’re in a car, there’s some basic problems to it, but I think that’s also what gives us different ideas.
A: The fact that there’s so much noise in a car actually contributes as an advantage, a strength, because you can’t focus on the details as you can’t hear them. So it’s going to be more just an essence of something and I think that’s really good for the beginning.
G: I guess it’s also because you’re forgetting the situation of writing the new song, because there’s no pressure, it’s just lucky and you’re more relaxed.
You’re signed to No.3 in Denmark - was it important for you that you signed a deal with a Danish label?
G: It was that long ago it had to be Danish, we just connected with No.3 and our musical tastes.
A: When we signed to them we were really new and it was comforting, and it still is comforting to be on the same page. We understand each other and if we had jumped straight into a foreign label it could feel a little more work.
Do you have any idea what your next project will be?
K: I think we would like to think about an album. When we did this EP we still wanted to try some more stuff and try some different directions and then it felt nice to that with an EP. I think now we’d like to dive more into ourselves before we start finishing something and finding out how we want an album to sound, in a period with less touring.
A: We have it in the back of our minds that the album is coming, but if it turns out it’ll be better to make an EP we’ll do that.
K: Maybe a movie...
G: I can feel that I’m sort of preparing myself mentally to make an album. In that way that you’re considering if you want to go through a phrase where you’re really into something specific - a sound or feeling - or does the album have to reflect to period I’m going into in my life? There are a lot of thoughts about which way and which approach we might take.
An album feels like a more permanent step as a band - do you think you’ll feel pressure from the weight of that?
G: It has some heavy weight definitely.
A: The way that it needs to be really good and I think we all need to be really proud it. The problem is that we kind of viewed the EPs as music that came out of us during that period of time, but an album as you said is probably going to stick with us even after that period is over, so it needs to be, in a sense, a little more timeless. Or maybe that’s a bad way of thinking about it.
G: That’s one of the kind of thoughts we’ve been having about it... 'what is an album to us?'
Are there any standout albums that you’re planning to look towards for inspiration?
G: Since I was a young teenager I’ve always seen Joni Mitchell’s Blue as what an album can be like. I know the order of the tracks, so when this song finishes I know it goes into that or the next one.
K: I’d love to still be able to give people that feeling even when they’re listening on shuffle.
When you do the album, would you try and make it so people listen cover to cover?
G: I guess it’s okay to do so for yourself, but it doesn’t really fit with the time and I’m not really an album person, I love hits, that one good song, I really love that, but I think the weightiness with an album it’s something that doesn’t just capture one day, but it captures a period of time in one person’s life. Just hopefully in that period of time it will be interesting things, problems and issues. I think more in feelings, than in the big album in a musical way, more of the vibe. That’s what we're trying to capture.