Sondre Lerche opens up about his breathtaking ninth album ‘Patience,’ a musical masterpiece whose sweet sounds and deep emotions speak directly to the present age of uncertainty, and discomfort.
It came from this need for patient music: Music where there’s room for you, a sense of space.
Sondre Lerche is like a fine wine: He ages well and only gets better over time. Whereas most artists have one, maybe two album’s worth of material in them, Lerche recently released his ninth – and it is his most musically ambitious, lyrically meaningful record yet. Arriving on the cusp of his twentieth year releasing music, Patience is a breathtaking, organic masterpiece of sound and emotion. Sondre Lerche has captured a wealth of colorful, nuanced textures and powerful, evocative feelings that speak directly to our present age of uncertainty, fear, and discomfort.
Here we are, laughing at the sea
Baby, you and me
Kissing like lovers long deprived of human touch
Whispering with two tongues
Afraid of saying too much
Why would I let you go?
Here we are, burning down the sun
Prisoners on the run
Drowning our sorrows in another desperate embrace
Pushing back anything that might get in our way
Why would I let you go?
– “Why Would I Let You Go,” Sondre Lerche
Released on June 5 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement, Patience feels particularly prescient. It is a soothing record full of tenderness and space – a soundtrack for introspection, self-reflection, and personal growth ready to bring us in and see us through to wherever we may need to be.
Life was turbulent and chaotic well before 2020; we have long needed shelter from the storm, some sort of reprieve. For Lerche, Patience represents a kind of immersive escape. “It came from this need for patient music,” he shares. “Music where there’s room for you, a sense of space. All these things I found in mainly non-songwriting based, instrumental music. It was so compelling and soothing to me, and I liked the sense that the spectrum (for me at least) went from really gentle New Age music to really intense, digital dissonant music. So I felt that the term and the record could serve as a safe space for all sorts of comfortable and uncomfortable confrontations. Deep love, deep doubt. As long as there were no sudden movements, it was patient music.”
Born out a desire to create a natural, warm, free-flowing entity that encapsulates this notion of “patient music” as he calls it, Patience is mature and finessed, unfiltered and wide-eyed. Its songs move into one another with grace, coalescing as singular pieces of a greater puzzle that feels both cohesive, and yet so diverse at the same time. Lyrically, Lerche’s words come from the heart and address matters on a very intimate level: He embraces such classic tropes of love and connection while simultaneously reckoning with his own need for balance, inner peace, understanding.
“It’s always hard to make something that just feels essential to you,” Lerche explains. “That’s what I’m after, and it’s a feeling I’ve become more attuned to in the process of Please, Pleasure, and Patience. I don’t really care if it feels new or old or daring or bold, as long as it feels essential to you. I need to only share what’s urgent at that moment, and for these songs to belong together, somehow. It’s just a feeling, an intuition… So I’m more driven by that, and it means that a good song alone isn’t enough. A good song may have to wait, until it feels right and urgent. In terms of keeping things fresh, I feel more inspired and liberated in my process than ever.”
Lerche considers his most recent three records – an era beginning with 2014’s Please and running through 2017’s Pleasure – as an unintentional, unanticipated trilogy of sorts. “There was no masterplan to make a trilogy, but one record seemed to point to another, and they overlapped and suddenly it’s almost 10 years of your life. I think Patience is the conclusion of something, but I’m always working on something new, so there are songs pointing in many new directions now. Anything could happen, and it feels good.”
The trilogy’s finale, Patience is a world unto itself. Songs like the magnificent “Why Would I Let You Go” and the title track “Patience” excel at conveying sound, color, and feeling. “I knew that it likely was the best thing I’d ever written,” Lerche says of “Why Would I Let You Go” (recently named an Atwood Magazine Editor’s Pick). A beautiful dream brought to life in music, “Why Would I Let You Go” is itself a masterpiece – a graceful, haunting, and humbling vessel of love that elegantly captures the artist’s feelings without dictating the listeners’ response. It’s a vulnerable message of tenderness intended to capture the fullness of knowing; of partnership and togetherness, that most intimate of relationships. Stripped-down and dressed to the nines all at once, the song resonates through a soul-stirring arrangement of instruments that evoke the intensity, as well as the raw, crippling honesty of Lerche’s feelings.
Patience is involved; it requires its listeners to slow down and listen, and even then it’s the kind of record that requires repeat visits for one to even begin to understand. It will take considerable time and “patience” on to absorb the nuance and depth of this album.
What’s obvious from the outset is that this is Sondre Lerche at his best, and in his element: If the Norwegian singer/songwriter hadn’t yet reached his artistic crescendo, he has now.
Speaking to Atwood Magazine recently Sondre Lerche opened up about his artistry, his songwriting, the depth and intent of Patience, and everything in-between. Dive into this album below; for Sondre Lerche, a little Patience goes a long way.
I really wanted to allow things to be very emotional and explicit, but always with some sense of minimalism and clarity.
Stream: ‘Patience’ – Sondre Lerche
A CONVERSATION WITH SONDRE LERCHE
Atwood Magazine: Hey Sondre! Thank you so much for taking the time to “speak” to me – I hope you and your family are all doing alright during this quarantine, and I have to say, I have found your album to be a light in the dark during these times. It’s already proven a special, uplifting experience, and I’m excited to dive deeper into it with you.
Sondre Lerche: Thank you — this makes me so happy to hear. I’m doing good and am thankful I have been able to keep the wheels of Patience in motion during this wild time.
To start things off, we’re coming up on almost two decades of your professional career – you released Faces Down in 2001. When you look back on the artist you were then, and think about who you are now, what are the most striking differences? How is that person, recording his debut album twenty years ago, distinct from the Sondre Lerche I’m speaking with today?
Sondre Lerche: I’ve definitely changed my mind about all sorts of things a couple of times since then. I guess life has that effect on us. You start off with ideas about who you are, and hopefully with time that becomes a real human being. I wasn’t all that different, my core is pretty constant, so I can connect with that guy, even now. If anything, I feel more driven and consumed with music nowawdays, than I did then. And I was plenty consumed back then, believe me. I think music was a protective shield for me. It was a safe space where I could be completely selfish and tend only to my own needs. I was a responsible kid. I was quite patient and attentive. I did not feel any need to rattle the cage — I read the room and the room needed me to be good. It became really easy for me, maybe even gave me some purpose at an early age. I’m still that way: I’m a pleaser. Except when it comes to music. When I found started trying to make music, I realized that some artists just create whatever they need to hear. They’re not trying to please anyone else. That sort of freedom to re-create yourself and be free of whatever external expectations existed, appealed very deeply to me. I still feel that way. What’s different now, is that I feel more at ease with the intensity of it all. When I look back it sometimes feels like I was in a one-man cult. Thankfully, I no longer feel so damn defensive all the time, like I have to protect myself, or my music, against the world. I was so strict with myself and everybody in the years leading up to and beyond Faces Down. I never wanted to be a kid, I just wanted to grow up so I could get going and be independent. I made up so many childish rules that I thought would make people take me more seriously. “This is acceptable, this is NOT”. Ultimately, I was 18 in that silly way where you’re desperate to make sure everyone knows what you’re most DEFINITELY not, at all times. It can get a little exhausting.
Nine albums sounds like a lot; does it feel like a lot? Do they eventually all flow together in your mind as one mass of sounds you’ve previously made, or do they remain distinctive entities and eras for you?
Sondre Lerche: They’re all very distinctive entities to me. I’ve devoted my life to this body of work, and so much of my identity also, so when I think back in time, it’s all divided in order of these records and the process and touring behind them. Of course, there are some other factors as well, but nothing as intuitively defining in my mind than these albums. It sounds a bit much when I say it that way. Each record represents very distinct eras, but the one that really feels like a big before and after, for me personally, is Please. That whole process was so rich and liberating, it changed everything for me.
Another result of such longevity is that you’ve built up, and put out into the world, this wealth of artistic expression. Does it get harder to keep things fresh, or not retread over steps you’ve already taken? Do you ever feel pressure like that, to not re-make something you’ve already made?
Sondre Lerche: It’s always hard to make something that just feels essential to you. That’s what I’m after, and it’s a feeling I’ve become more attuned to in the process of Please, Pleasure, and Patience. I don’t really care if it feels new or old or daring or bold, as long as it feels essential to you. I need to only share what’s urgent at that moment, and for these songs to belong together, somehow. It’s just a feeling, an intuition. So I’m more driven by that, and it means that a good song alone isn’t enough. A good song may have to wait, until it feels right and urgent. I wrote “Why Would I Let You Go” when I was working on Pleasure. And I knew that it likely was the best thing I’d ever written, but it wasn’t the right time for me. I wasn’t there yet. So I wait. I think my timing is slightly better nowadays than before. I could be more self-sabotaging before, I would rush things that weren’t ready, and abandon things that could’ve been great. But in terms of keeping things fresh, I feel more inspired and liberated in my process than ever.
When I wrote the songs that would become Faces Down, I would never really allow myself to appreciate having written a good song, cause I’d immediately start worrying about the next one. That I’d never be able to make anything good again. So when I had some success, that feeling of course multiplies. You don’t feel more confident, you feel more pressure. Maybe it’s rooted in the fact that I have no training in songwriting or composition. Whatever I’ve learned about songwriting comes from just absorbing, trying and trying, and doing and doing. Since I was 8. I wrote at least 300 terrible songs before I wrote a good one. And so that fear that it would be another 300 till the next good one, was always with me on those early records. It’s a little exhausting to feel so at the mercy of this somewhat mystical force. Now I feel inspiration is the ability to see opportunities. I see opportunities for songs, records everywhere, all the time. It’s so liberating.
And ever since Please, I’ve just felt completely confident that I can make special things happen, any day of the week. And then time will tell what’s most urgent in terms of what I put out, but inspiration is no longer some elusive mystery to me. I’m in the process all the time, making stuff. It feels great!
I so enjoyed Pleasure, and to tell you the truth, I actually love Solo Pleasure even more; I think your solo rendition of “Siamese Twin” is among my favorite Sondre Lerche performances of all time. What was the experience like of completely re-crafting this set of songs you’d spent so much time building up?
Sondre Lerche: Thank you. For some of the songs, like “Siamese Twin,” it felt very natural. Like retracing steps back to the process of writing the song. Others were more of a dare I gave myself — a way of seeing if some of the more stylistically written songs actually had legs and a pulse, dressed down like that. I’ve enjoyed doing that with other albums before also, when I perform live. But the contrast between Pleasure and the solo format felt more explicit and charged, so it gave me great joy. And I get a kick out of showing those listeners who maybe weren’t all in with Pleasure, that these songs ring true, without all the get up.
Continuing down that line of thinking, what lessons if any did you take away from making Solo Pleasure? Was the recording process for that record special for you, and do you feel like it had a lasting impact that bled into Patience?
Sondre Lerche: Well, recording Solo Pleasure was just one day in the studio. Like an old jazz record, you just record what you do, and that’s it. So in that sense, it doesn’t quite feel like a recording process — like the other albums that I write, record and layer over time, for years and years. This album was just a raw reaction of sorts — to both the album and the 140 date world tour that had followed. It was a come down. The heavy lifting had already been done. So in that sense, I don’t really consider it one of the albums. But I really dig the idea that to some people the Solo Pleasure versions would be the original versions, that they’d becomes the blueprint to those who never knew Pleasure. That the songs are what’s essential to me. I had already written so many of the Patience songs by the time I recorded Solo Pleasure, so I was already in it, and I’m sure it served as a way of transitioning both myself and the audience into the age of Patience.
When and where, for you, does the Pleasure era end, and the Patience era begin?
Sondre Lerche: For me, it begins when I wrote “Why Would I Let You Go” four years ago. There are songs on Patience that are older, but that one was clearly the centerpiece of something new, and it was soon thereafter that I decided on the title. I was needing patient, soothing music. I was listening to so much ambient, abstract, and avant garde music that I could get lost in while running. I called it patient music. And that was the beginning of Patience, even though that really marks the mid point of the recording.
Was this concept of embracing ambient music and “serenity” your mission statement from the very first song you wrote, or did that theme come later on in the process?
Sondre Lerche: I guess I just answered that above. First song I wrote and recorded for what became Patience, was “Put The Camera Down,” which I recorded in New York 2014. I also wrote and rewrote “Don’t Waste Your Time” since 2012 or something. They both pointed towards a place where I was not yet. So this has been a very long process, and it’s like very slowly watching a photo develop. It overlaps with both Please and Pleasure, and one informs the other.
What is it about the name and idea of “patience” that is so compelling and powerful to you? What about it do you find alluring?
Sondre Lerche: It came from this need for patient music: Music where there’s room for you, a sense of space. All these things I found in mainly non-songwriting based, instrumental music. It was so compelling and soothing to me. And I liked the sense that the spectrum (for me at least) went from really gentle New Age music to really intense, digital dissonant music. So I felt that the term and the record could serve as a safe space for all sorts of comfortable and uncomfortable confrontations. Deep love, deep doubt. As long as there were no sudden movements, it was patient music.
The title track is so spacious and airy – an ethereal, soft groove. Why do you open the album with “Patience”?
Sondre Lerche: I suppose it just felt like the mission statement. It was a no-brainer, really. I obsessed over the running order for at least three months, and I remember trying out a different opening track, and showing it to my gf at the time, and her saying you can’t have a song like Patience on the album, and not allow it to be the opening track. On an album called Patience. It also feels like a natural transitional bridge from Pleasure to Patience. It just needed to be.
The song’s second half is incredibly provocative: Can you talk about these little anecdotes are that you’re whispering into our ears?
Sondre Lerche: Well, the first verse of the song is about writing songs, what a strange profession, especially for people close to you. They appear, inevitably, in your work. The second verse is about the absurdity of staging performances of these works, becoming a literal “performance-piece-of-work”, someone similar, yet separate from the person asleep in bed at night in the song. And I thought; the next part should be about the audience, the people at the receiving end of all this. I thought the music in the spoken word section was so beautiful, that whole stretch is recorded live, my band, and especially keyboardist Alexander von Mehren just doing beautiful, beautiful work. So I wanted to find a way to really showcase that, without introducing new melody or anything that stole too much attention. And I thought of Laurie Anderson, and how she employs the speaking voice so hypnotically. And I began writing down some of my favorite fan encounters from over the years, usually after a show, while we’re loading up the van, or at the merch table. I took some liberties and changed some of the details. But I wanted to share these little snippets of conversations or statements, that I found funny, or that took on a meaning to me that the sender probably didn’t intend. It’s a song about the wonderful absurdity of doing what I do, and how blessed I am to be able to do it, to have an audience to engage with, in a world that all in all is pretty unfair. “We can only take so much, but some have to take so much more”.
I find it fascinating that you increasingly drown your own voice out; was that intentional?
Sondre Lerche: Well, anything that happens on the album is intentional — although some great ideas are originally just happy accidents that you get to assume credit for with time! But the tendencies are not always clear to me at the time, I just lean a certain way, and patterns emerge. I definitely wanted to play more with the vocals on this one, and make sure there was plenty of room around it for that to unfold. For things to not always be so hyper-realistic, even though the songs often are written with explicit sincerity.
You introduced the album earlier this year with “You Are Not Who I Thought I Was.” Can you share more about this song and the place it holds on the record? Why did you make this the lead single?
Sondre Lerche: I really wanted this album to flow and feel as natural as possible. I did wonder if “YANWITIW” maybe wasn’t right for the album, that it simply moved too fast for Patience. But thematically it was so on point, and it just felt needed on the album. And when I decided to include it on the record, it was the kind of song that was just so obviously a single. It wanted to be a single. And seeing as I was big on letting things be natural, it just felt good to lead with that. I didn’t wanna start vague, I wanted to start big, especially considering we were already in March and everything was happening fast with regards to the pandemic. It felt good to release a song with that sort of uplifting musical spirit at the time, even if the lyrics reflect something less resolved.
It felt good to release a song with that sort of uplifting musical spirit at the time, even if the lyrics reflect something less resolved.
To me, your finessed inclusion of orchestral instrumentation so quickly reminds me of Pet Sounds and Sgt. Pepper – not that it hasn’t been done since then, but because they, to me, are the templates for incorporating orchestral music in pop. Beyond the ambient concept, were you guided by any specific musical inspirations during Patience’s creation process?
Sondre Lerche: Thank you. I was really into making elements feel like they could just be samples from old records or collage work or something. I didn’t want everything to feel played and sculpted to the song, but rather cut and pasted into the arrangement. So that was on my mind a lot. I kept asking people to play it like it doesn’t quite fit. And I really wanted to allow things to be very emotional and explicit, but always with some sense of minimalism and clarity. I wanted things to be big, but not cluttered, somehow.
I utterly love “I Love You Because It’s True” – can you tell me a little more about this love song?
Sondre Lerche: Thank you. It’s very special to me. It’s the first song I wrote after moving into my bungalow in Hollywood. It felt as big a deal to me as “Why Would I Let You Go” did, when I wrote that. Only this song gravitated towards a completely different sense of economy and brevity, songwriting-wise. It had this measured, calming effect on me, that makes me really enjoy singing it. It summed up a lot of things that are now clear to me, in a kinda concise way, that I felt I hadn’t succeeded in achieving before. I played that, and a few other Patience songs, at Largo all the time last year — both during my own nights there, and as a musical guest with some of the comedians doing shows there. Finding a musical home and a performance outlet in LA has really played a great part in expediting the songs on this record. By the time I recorded “I Love You Because It’s True,” last spring, I knew I wanted to build it around my solo performance, and just let it be very fluid and informal like that.
“Are We Alone Now” is just gorgeous in the way it resonates throughout. Can you talk about that song’s inspiration?
Sondre Lerche: I think it just began with the title phrase. And I thought of that song or phrase, “I think we’re alone now” that you sometimes hear on ’80s radio. I need and enjoy a lot of alone time, it’s a luxury I can afford largely because I know I’m not alone in life. And for some reason I was thinking a lot about how we spend our lives trying to get close to each other, cause no one wants to be alone in life, at least not all the time, and certainly not in spirit. But that we have to enter and leave this live alone. You can’t take all these gifts with you when you go. We are ultimately all alone. And it seems sort of harsh and cynical, but I just wanted to write about this acceptance in the most rational, clear eyed way possible. I thought that would be beautiful. When I played it the first time, during Pete Holme’s comedy show at Largo, the audience laughed nervously during the first few verses. They thought I was trying to be funny. But by the ending it’s clear (I hope) that it’s a love song of sorts: “It’s such a blessing to be brought into this world to love someone, and die alone.”
Your second single, “Why Would I Let You Go” is a stunningly intimate song – I really appreciate its message and dreamy textures. What was your goal in creating this song?
Sondre Lerche: To not fuck it up. It was the most intense 24 hour long songwriting session in bed writing that song. And I knew it was a real special one — at least to me, you never know where the world’s at when they hear it. I hoped others could feel it too, and they have. But I waited three years to record it, and it was a long process, just really making sure we served the song right. It was very important to me, and to the album, to not diminish that intensity I felt when I wrote it. So it was a big undertaking.
I so deeply love the bits of (samba?) flare you include in “Why Did I Write the Book of Love”! As you progress in your career, do you actively try to keep things new and fresh by incorporating new styles and instruments into your art?
Sondre Lerche: Brazilian music has been such a huge influence on my songwriting, always, that I feel most my songs are really bossanova songs at heart. I just dress them up differently. So with this one I felt for once I would let it show explicitly in the arrangement. I wanted to go full bossanova, and indulge. And I wanted to combine both the 50s bossanova aesthetics that are the DNA of the song, with both the ’60s Tropicalia touch, and even some of the 80s Brazilian sounds that I find compelling at times. I thing that arrangement actually might’ve blended in well on Faces Down. But I wouldn’t have been able to write those lyrics then.
Patience ends on a very quiet note in “My Love Is Hard to Explain.” Why close with this song?
Sondre Lerche: It was obvious to me when we recorded it. I wanted it to just go on forever. Originally the song ended with the final lyric: “I don’t know what I’ll do without you.” But it just felt like too much of a sudden move — too abrupt. It wasn’t Patience. So we returned to the intro and I just wanted it to float on infinitely. I love ending records in ways that imply that they just go on and on. I’ve done that on Faces Down, Two Way Monologue, Phantom Punch, Please and Pleasure. I dig it!
Sondre, I’ve shared with you a lot of my favorite parts on this album. What are your favorite songs; what are the moments on this record that bring you the most joy?
Sondre Lerche: Thank you for your lovely readings and thoughts. The song “Patience” gives me joy, cause it stems from a wonderfully inspiring band jam we recorded. I gave them the chords, the bass riff and a sort of groove idea, and they just went with it for like 15 minutes. It was just fantastic. This was in early 2016, while I was finishing Pleasure. I tried editing it down a bit, and making a song on top of that structure, but it just wasn’t working. I wasn’t serving it. I kept trying, as I learned more about where things were heading and I had decided the album would be called Patience.
And eventually, after A LOT of rewriting, editing, chaos, I found the melody and the words, informed by the title. “That’s All There Is” was special also, cause it happened so fast. I wrote it in the studio, which I rarely do. I had just been to the funeral of a friend, and I was looking at photos of us on my iPhone. I wanted to write about photos as manifestations of loved ones and moments that become the stories of our lives. Things we might forget, and need reminding. Maybe the iPhone isn’t just the devil, after all? It came together real quick, tracking one afternoon, lyrics written overnight in bed, and vocals recorded the next morning, and done. It felt pure, true and tender in a way I liked.
Now that you have this finished product in Patience, what lessons can you take away from its creation process? In other words, what did making this album teach you about yourself, and about your music?
Sondre Lerche: It’s still so hard to really gage what you’re learning, it still feels very close. I’m not sure I’ll know till a couple of years down the line. But it does feel like the truest and most complete summation of who I am, both in and outside the music. It encompasses everything I’ve done and learned in a way. It feels very big to me. It’s quite intense.
You’ve talked before about this new era that was ushered in with 2014’s Please and continued through 2017’s Pleasure, and you’ve described Patience as the follow-up and spiritual companion to the latter. What is it about this era that distinguishes it for you, and do you feel like Patience is the conclusion of this time, or the continuation?
Sondre Lerche: There was no masterplan to make a trilogy, but one record seemed to point to another, and they overlapped and suddenly it’s almost 10 years of your life. I think Patience is the conclusion of something, but I’m always working on something new, so there are songs pointing in many new directions now. Anything could happen, and it feels good.
I always like to end on this question and help pay it forward: Who are some of your favorite up-and-coming artists right now, that you would recommend to our readers? Who are you listening to?
Sondre Lerche: Yes, there’s a band from my hometown Bergen, called Evigheten. Real special stuff. And my bass player Chris’ band Orions Belte are releasing some great new stuff now. My friend in LA, Ian Sweet, is releasing new music, she’s sounding wonderful. I’ve really enjoyed Nick Hakim’s last album while working on Patience, and he just released a new one that sound good. This Japanese artist Ichiko Aoba is really something. And this ambient composer Celia Hollander is really interesting. There’s so much great music in LA nowadays.
I update this playlist all the time with old and new favorites:
Thank you so much, Sondre! I know I’ve asked a lot and probably tested your “Patience” with this, but I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your time and thoughtful consideration. Your art is helping me right now, just as I’m sure it helped you as you made it. Thank you, congrats on this record, and I sincerely wish you the best! Hope one day we can meet up in New York.
Sondre Lerche: Thanks Mitch — my pleasure.
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📸 © Jen Steele artwork © Loribelle Spirovski
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