After two decades of making music together, the circumstances of 2020 forced the members of Efterklang to work together in a way they hadn’t for years, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of their enduring relationship.
Formed in the early noughties, Efterklang began life as school friends looking for reasons to spend more time together. They collaborated, grew and cut their teeth musically in each other’s company. In 2004 they released their debut album Tripper, a stunning and sparse collection of inventive electronica and ethereal songwriting.
Over time, the trio of Rasmus Stolberg, Mads Brauer and Casper Clausen have experimented, developed and produced a diverse body of work together. Along the way they’ve worked with the Copenhagen Opera Company on their immersive opera LEAVES: The Colour of Falling, collaborated with baroque ensemble B.O.X, which spawned 2019’s Altid Sammen, participated in the Berlin-based PEOPLE festival alongside the likes of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner, and started the Liima project with Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö. New record Windflowers is their sixth studio album and first on the City Slang label.
Written during the early days of the pandemic, Clausen and Brauer began working on sketches of ideas for songs, from short notes to longer loops, uploading and sharing them with each other via Dropbox. The group eventually came together in the summer of 2020 and found they had over seventy ideas for new songs.
Working together in person after months of separation, they hired Real Farm, a residential studio on the island of Møn, just south of Copenhagen. Clausen had spent most of the lockdown in Lisbon where he had been living for several years, also working on a debut solo-record of psychedelic krautrock-inspired jams. Brauer and Stolberg had seen each other occasionally during the easing of lockdown in Copenhagen, but for the trio it marked a series of intensive and isolated recording sessions.
Often used to working with outside musicians and collaborators, the trio of Clausen, Brauer and Stolberg found themselves pushed into self-sufficiency. Much like their formative years of writing and recording, they had to play or generate every sound, with Brauer also working as engineer and co-producer with Clausen and Stolberg. As well as pushing them to challenge and innovate, it forced them to address internal tension and conflict. There were no outside distractions to deflect or distract. Instead, through a series of sessions, and every season of weather, the trio created their sixth studio album, reconnected as a band, and produced some of their best songs to date.
Windflowers is a beautiful record, rich in sentiment and melody. It feels joyful and tender, and reflects the warmth of the musicians behind it. Its title references the delicate flowers that cover the floors of Denmark’s forests every spring, blown open by the wind, and just as easily destroyed. The cover art, produced by frequent collaborators Hvass&Hannibal, shows a single flower, isolated or preserved in a block of ice. It’s as open to interpretation as the music inside, full of honesty and relatability, with a pinch of Clausen’s charming absurdity. The album is greatly influenced by the nature that surrounded them, and a little reluctantly, by the times they found themselves working through.
I sat down with all three members of Efterklang to discuss the record and where the group finds themselves in 2021, after two decades together, as the world begins to wake up again.
MADS BRAUER: Nobody wants to come out and say we made a pandemic album.
RASMUS STOLBERG: The whole way through we've been talking about, this is not a Covid album and the story cannot be that, because all stories are this. But then I'm also thinking, in twenty-years when I look back at this album, it's our pandemic album.
BRAUER: I don't think that anybody wants to say this is a song about how hard it is to be isolated. It seems so pathetic to say that, to write music, one to one on that situation, but of course we live in this year, and of course we're gonna somehow react as artists to what's going on around us. I don't know, it’s difficult to reject any influence from the pandemic.
STOLBERG: Piramida, there was a very specific story, but if you look aside from that, all our records are about the three of us going deep down into creating music together and to the bare fact of musical waves hitting us and inspiring us and swimming around in this gigantic world of music.
CASPER CLAUSEN: We rarely write music from text, it more appears from a space between some chords, some sound, maybe a melody and a vocal line, but usually not so much with lyrics.
STOLBERG: In a way, I don't even consider Altid Sammen a proper album. For a long time, it was a collaborative project with a baroque ensemble. Making this one, it feels much more related to how we did all the previous albums. Where it's like from the beginning, OK, let's make an album, what’s the premise? Piramida - OK, let's go on an expedition to this place. Magic Chairs - OK, let's try and work with choruses. Parades was like, let's try and make a super weird electronic record where almost everything is actually acoustic instruments. It usually starts with these ideas. And for this one it was kind of like, OK, there’s all the time in the world. We are spread out in Lisbon and Copenhagen, but let's just start writing. This thing of starting from scratch, saying let's try and make an album, it made it more similar to how we did albums in the past.
CLAUSEN: I think we all had through the first lockdown this idea that who knows how long this will be, but at some point we will be able to see each other again, and why not just spend the time on trying something out.
BRAUER: It seemed like there were no boundaries last year because nobody knew what was going on. So there was no set deadline at any given time. So it's just more free creatively.
CLAUSEN: It was not made with too much thinking. It was just, I did this in the studio, send it to the others and see what they think, and then this big list was building and building.
BRAUER: It's also super fun and sort of like, today I want to do this, today I want to do something totally different. So for me it seemed nice to come back to that working method. I also like the jamming, like with Liima, where we play together and then just edit that together. This seemed more like the way to go, because we were separated for so long, and so many ideas that we could just pick from. So it's not like we don't know what to do. There's always so many ideas flying around.
CLAUSEN: When you're there you're just there to hang out and then there's a beautiful studio and it was just really nice the way that works. It’s so much more than just the music, I find. It's a nice place because you can kind of multitrack record loads of different things like drums and piano and vocal and bass and whatever you want, but it's set in a kind of farm where we also make our own food. So you're creating food and you're creating music, it becomes way more multicoloured and I like that a lot compared to this city thing where you're like let's meet at ten in the studio and then we work and then at six I'm off again.
BRAUER: We spent a lot of time working out in the countryside in Møn, and you're closer to nature. We were there in all seasons, beautiful summertime, but we were also there during a blizzard, stuck in the snow. You feel the elements much more when you're not in a city. It's good to be reminded that we are all a part of nature. And that nature is very cyclical. All these things that will come and go.
CLAUSEN: This time also reminded me of a lot of other things that are also part of our lives that we just don't really spend so much time on, or I didn't spend so much time on before I had to stay put for a while. I think that kind of natural life became a little bit of a guideline for me, turning the lens a little bit away from us as humans and maybe finding some kind of synergy between us and the rest of this world and the air we breathe and so on.
BRAUER: We had made demos, but not really finished demos, they were more like sketches that me and Casper had been writing separately. It was really funny because Casper said at the beginning, ‘I would like that we don't talk.’ We were like, what? ‘Yeah, I think we should write everything down. I will listen and don't stop and talk afterwards because it's gonna take too long and we’re just going to start arguing.’ I think it was a good suggestion and it worked out in the sense that had we been discussing as we were going, it would have taken all week I think, because it took almost two days without any talking.
STOLBERG: We used to play everything ourselves. We always enjoyed having great people come in, but in a way it felt a little bit like the very beginning again, of where you have to just try out the instruments and stuff. It was fun, and something else came out of it. It just feels nice for the three of us to be so invested in the album and to not rely so much on other people coming in.
BRAUER: Yeah, sort of just accepting our own limitations in that sense, because we play with a sort of personality. We're not trained musicians. So it's also about like, emphasising yourself. Instead of trying to be like, oh this has to be played really beautifully by someone who's really good at it, or like, working with the baroque musicians that are really classically trained. It’s more like, let's just try to express something with what we have right here, right now.
CLAUSEN: I think it was good for us to spend this time a little bit away from Copenhagen in our own space, not being distracted by having to see friends and family. Just to find a little bit of space on our own, for me that was a huge difference.
BRAUER: It's always nice to collaborate and work with other people, but it's also nice just to go for it and make it happen. And then taking it all the way into mixing and sort of wrapping it up and getting to finish it, and saying this is how I hear it.
STOLBERG: in addition to playing most of the instruments ourselves we also were lucky to have Christian Balvig, Øyunn, Indre Jurgelevičiūtė and Bert Cools join us for some sessions. You can hear them on the album adding piano, drums, guitar and vocal parts. They are close friends and their contributions are so valued by us.
BRAUER: "Hold Me Close When You Can" is a really emotional song that also still can really get to me, and it's sort of a bit sad to spend hours on.
STOLBERG: I heard Casper play those chords, sing that melody in a soundcheck, and I said immediately, you need to record that. I heard the whole song in my head, at that soundcheck. But the thing is, I'm not a composer like that, I need Mads and Caspar to compose it.
CLAUSEN: I feel it's something that felt like it had some kind of weight to it, which was really exciting and also a little bit challenging, to see how we could formulate that in a nice way.
BRAUER: It was called “New Recording 14” for such a long time. We did a recording of it, and it felt really good. Then we worked with Christian from our live band on it and we sat here in this room and tried to do a little bit of progression with the chords, change them ever so slightly, so it's not just repeating the same four chords for the whole song, and then we asked Christian to do the string arrangement because he's also a really talented arranger. I mean, we were fighting for a long time with the third verse, just getting the feeling right, but I think we're all really happy where we ended up.
STOLBERG: I realised more and more that writing a song that potentially can become important to people and become important to your band, that is really something that is difficult. And maybe this song has that potential.
BRAUER: Then coming to “Living Other Lives”, that's more playful, the sounds and energy. It has the drive and the energy and then it has all these weird sound elements just hovering around it because there's just always this drive to keep forward.
STOLBERG: All the things I want from our albums, I realise it's not something I expect to get from other albums. Other albums I just press play and like, whatever, but my albums, every time a new song plays I want it to feel exciting for the listener. I just feel like the album opens up and builds up and goes down again and it has a nice movement that is natural and it's also a surprising movement that entertains me and keeps my attention.
STOLBERG: For many years, we've had an overall agenda of like, we don't want to play to people, we don't want to make music to people, we want to perform and make music with people. So when you see us play live, sometimes there's an audience choir that gets together to come up on stage, or we go down into the audience. I want to actually have a meaningful correspondence with the people that like Efterklang.
CLAUSEN: It became more about playing with people than playing for people. It becomes more and more natural and interesting for us as Efterklang, because it's been in our DNA from the beginning to always involve people and the pleasure we get from when we involve people. You’re initiating the thing, but the collaboration is really where things are breathing.
Being in a band, it also does require a whole other thing than being a solo artist. With Efterklang, we like to find this level where all three minds are recognised in a way.
STOLBERG: It's the fact that we share a life story. We didn't select each other to be in this band, the band came out of our friendship. Since I can remember, I've been making music with Mads, and since my first year in high school with Casper. Sometimes you want to get away from it because working with the same people for so many years, you can feel trapped. But I think we all now realise what a gift it is. We meet so many people that are in our little world and the fact that we can still make music together and we still can go on tours, I love that. But I think the reason it flows for us, it's because we are three different people that complement each other. So we're different in a way that when we all work together, we can really get stuff done, and the things I'm good at, works great in this constellation, things Mads is great at works amazing in this constellation, and with Casper the same thing.
CLAUSEN: It was an interesting experience. We spend a lot of time together, like on emails and on tour and on projects, but there's always this strange balance between work and this sort of colleagues. And then being also someone that made a band purely because we were friends, and wanted to hang out, doing some stuff together. And to spend that time in Møn, actually not even just making music, but making food and going to the beach, talking about the moon, doing a little bit of yoga together, stuff we haven't really done before. Talking about where we are in our lives and hanging out a bit, having that time together, I felt that was very, very important. It was a very, very good time for us to face some of the conflicts we can have. The thing is after all these years, we are also growing and things get more and more difficult sometimes, because we are growing more each in our own way. I mean, why are we doing this music, especially now after all these years? Like, why do we even want to do a sixth album?
BRAUER: At the same time, we were growing up and in some ways growing apart. So it's also about reconnecting all the time and making sure to let each other grow.
STOLBERG: It's both nice and it's also not so nice, but that's more and more how I look at this band. It doesn't always feel like we're the best of friends actually, even though that's how it looks from the outside. We don't have to talk to each other all the time. We also don't have to be super nice to each other all the time. But that doesn't ruin the friendship because our friendship is not a friendship, it's a family. It's much stronger than a friendship.
CLAUSEN: It must be the closest to truth, that word. It is really family.