Image credit: Sofie Nørregaard

Six years ago, Anders Trentemøller played a show at a midtown New York venue that doesn’t exist any more. He had just released his second album, Into the Great Wide Yonder, developing upon the melancholic electronic melodies of his debut, The Last Resort. That night, he opened with Resort‘s first track, “Take Me Into Your Skin,” an initially subdued yet epic number filled with crackling percussion, moaning synthesizers, and a driving bassline that propelled the swelling seven-minute journey to its explosive apex.

Trentemøller would repeat himself years later by playing Fixion‘s first two opening tracks, “One Eye Open” and “Never Fade,” as the openers at another New York show, this time at Le Poisson Rouge.

Across his releases, Trentemøller’s live and studio sounds have evolved to incorporate more band members, which he believes has always been a natural progression, a slow build going from the more electronic base to his hybrid sound now.

Fixion, his fifth LP, took around a year and a half to complete. “I started writing material after the last tour in December 2014,” the frontman says. “We played more than a hundred shows all over the world that year, so I definitely needed the time to recuperate, to do anything but music. After two or three months, I slowly started getting back into making music. I was afraid of being rusty. Getting into the creative vibe is sometimes hard if you’ve been apart from it for a while.”

Trentemøller began his musical journey by figuring out radio songs on a drumkit made of pots and pans and a “really awful piano” his parents bought him. “The piano didn’t sound good but I enjoyed playing it all the same. My parents were really supportive and finally bought me a drum kit. It’s crazy to think about, because my room was right next to their bedroom. They should have soundproofed it.”

Today, Trentemøller is a self-professed gearhead. He claims to check plugin sites nearly every night before he goes to bed, so it’s fitting that one of his methods for combating potential creative blocks is to purchase a lot of new equipment. During the writing of Fixion, Trentemøller bought a new spring reverb, a fascinating and intuitive little tool for generating new sounds on the fly. “It’s a good excuse for actually making music,” he says, laughing. “I use a mixture of new and vintage gear. The spring reverb, the Ekdahl Moisturizer from Sweden, is new. I also bought some new synthesizers and a few lo-fi cheap Casio keyboards that sound really awesome. I love to mix high fidelity sounds with the low.”

For all his gear fascinations, Trentemøller hasn’t gotten into the recent modular trend. “It’s too complicated with all these cables. I would spend too much time on the technical side of things. I want something I can quickly play melodies on. I’ve never been the person that reads the manual. I just start doing something because I need a sound. For me, I could get most of the sounds from a modular rig with a normal synthesizer.” In one sense, the modular fascination is a visual one. For example, while the sounds coming from Datach’i’s new album don’t sound all that revolutionary, the cascade of blinking lights emanating from his modular system are am absolutely mesmerizing watch, wheter or not you’re a gearhead.

The Ekdahl Moisturizer has a dozen knobs that can be controlled, compared to potentially hundreds on a modular. Trentemøller thinks of effects pedals as building blocks. “Maybe each pedal can produce only one or two cool sounds, but then I know exactly what they can do, so I know how to combine them to make something special.” Often, he’s surprised by happy accidents in the studio. “I was doing this really overdriven sound for one song and forgot to turn the knob and got this other pretty crazy sound. I would say twenty or thirty percent of the sounds I create come up by mistake.”

Watch the video for Trentemøller’s “Redefine:”

Fixion‘s sound is indebted to New Wave bands, though Trentemøller tries not to listen to any other music when he’s working on an album. “Since I’m working totally by myself, it sometimes can be a mindfuck to know if you’re choosing the right path. When I listen to fantastic new music, I want to replicate it. I start questioning what I did yesterday, and end up doing something that’s not really me. There are definitely some inspirations on Fixion of bands I listened to when I was a teenager. Those bands define who you are. The Cure, Joy Division, a lot of bands many people are inspired by are also part of my youth. Their influence is definitely there. ‘Never Fade’ has those Cure and Joy Division strings which come from the Logan String Melody from the late 70’s. It’s supposed to sound like violins but it doesn’t really, but it has that amazing instant 70’s vibe, even if you play something modern. It has so many memories and nostalgia for me. It’s like smelling a smell you haven’t in awhile.”

Though fascinated with both old and new synthesizers, the beginning stage of Trentemøller’s creative process involves a more straight-forward approach involving his upright piano to scratch out melodies. “If I work without the computer to focus on the songwriting, I’m not too sidetracked by all the sonic possibilities. You have so many, especially in electronic music. Working with too much technology can make you more lost. You can very easily fall in love with all the possibilities or the song’s first spontaneous feeling. First, I focus on writing good melodies, chord progressions, and bass lines at the piano. Afterward, I go to the studio to figure out which way to go with the sounds. When I’ve been working on a song for a week, I go through and delete the parts that aren’t necessary, which means often it goes back to what things sounded like the first day.”

Vocals tend to be added last on tracks, though their melodies arrive at the initial songwriting stage. “Sometimes it’s me humming or singing really badly. The writing process is very naked that way. The lyrics and the fine adjustments are added much later. It’s typical that most of the song’s finished before I figure out who will sing on it.” Most of Fixion features fellow Dane Marie Fisker, unlike Lost, which featured a wide array of singers. Fisker also provides vocals when Trentemøller is on the road. “I was pretty sure I wanted Fisker to sing on all the Fixion tracks. I didn’t want to do this ‘feature’ album like on Lost. It was a bit schizophrenic to have six or seven vocalists.” Constraining the number of vocalists was the original intention, but then Trentemøller met Jehnny Beth of Savages through mixing her album Adore Life. “The idea to have only one vocalist was gone, because I really wanted to do something with her. I had also already written two or three songs that really had her energy and vibe to it.” Trentemøller’s girlfriend also sings on Fixion‘s last track, “Where the Shadows Fall.” “She’s not a vocalist, but I really needed some vocals on the track, so I played it for her and she tried it.” Of course, working with one’s girlfriend could get tricky, but the song is successful due to the ghostly vocals, made possible through a massive shoegaze chorus overdub.

The current live setup features a real bass player and less programmed sequencing. “Normally I would play the bass or it would be sequenced, but now that part is being played with a Moog synthesizer or a guitar. That enables the drums to play together and improvise, so at one point the kick drum can drop out or the bass can play something new.”

There are very few sequenced parts left, mostly just strings and intermittent effects. The drum samples themselves are actually on the kit, so a corresponding sample is triggered and mixed with an organic drum hit. “That used to be part of the backing track, so that’s also new to this tour. The old way was a bit boring since the music tended to be very quantized. This gives us the freedom to bend the tempo a bit.”

This freedom was clearly evident during the live show, where songs were prolonged to accommodate longer instrumental sections. Half of Fixion contains no vocals, a conscious decision. “It was definitely the idea to have both worlds from the beginning. When I started music it was almost all instrumental, and I really like the idea of soundtracks and letting the music speak for itself, where there isn’t necessarily a vocal that dictates what the song is about. With instrumentals, you can make your own pictures. They’re a bit more playful. I like the idea of the song starting in one place and ending somewhere else. That works better with the instrumentals. Traditional song structures with bridges and choruses tend to fit vocal tracks better.”

Image credit: Andreas Emenius
Image credit: Andreas Emenius

The echo chamber of working by yourself could be unnerving for some musicians who would rather have other musicians to democratically steer the music in a certain direction, but Trentemøller doesn’t prefer this method. “I’ve been working this way for the last fifteen years. It really suits me. I remember being in bands and rehearsing and the music never really went where I wanted it to. It was all about compromise. I never really felt I was playing the music in my head.” Fifteen years in, Trentemøller trusts the process, and has learned not to panic if nothing happens in the studio one day (or one week). “The world is not ending, you’ll have another go tomorrow. In the beginning, not knowing if the music would come really freaked me out. Sometimes I even still have that feeling when nothing’s happening for two weeks, and you’re just sitting there frustrated with all your gear and nothing is good enough. I’m hard on myself sometimes. I want to have that goosebump feeling when I’m coming back to the studio the morning after I’ve been sitting there the whole night. If I don’t have that spontaneous feeling of this being the right way, it won’t work for me. The songs should be great. We should want to be playing those songs live for years.”

Some artists have a large bank of possible songs to choose from when constructing the final album, but only three songs from the Fixion sessions didn’t make the cut. More surprising is that Trentemøller deletes sketches of songs that don’t work. “It’s a little bit crazy, maybe stupid even. My colleagues told me I could use part of the idea on another track, but the fact is, when I start a new album it’s always after two years of touring. I like the idea of starting from scratch with a blank page where everything is open.”

Image credit: Sofie Norregaard
Image credit: Sofie Norregaard

Listen to Fixion now, and check out Trentemoller live on his mammoth tour:

January 19: Netherlands, Amsterdam, Melkweg

January 20: Netherlands, Utrecht, Tivoli Vredenburg

January 21: Netherlands, Nijmegen, Doornroosje

January 22: Netherlands, Rotterdam, Annabel

January 23: Belgium, Brussels, AB (Ancienne Belgique)

January 24: Netherlands, Maastricht, Muziekgieterij

January 26: United Kingdom, Glasgow, SWG3

January 27: United Kingdom, Manchester, Gorilla

January 28: United Kingdom, London, Electric Ballroom

January 30: Luxemburg, Luxemburg, Den Atelier

January 31: France, Paris, Elysée Montmartre

February 1: Germany, Cologne, Essigfabrik

February 4: Germany, Berlin, Astra

February 5: Poland, Warsaw, Progesja

February 6: Poland, Poznan, MTP

February 7: Czech Republic, Prague, Roxy

February 8: Hungary, Budapest, Durer Kert

February 10: Greece, Athens, Iera Odos

February 11: Greece, Thessaloniki, Principal Club Theatre

February 13: Slovenia, Ljubljana, Kino Siska

February 14: Italy, Rome, Spazio 900

February 15: Italy, Milan, Fabrique

February 17: Spain, Madrid, Teatro Barcelo

February 18: Spain, Barcelona, Apolo

February 21: Switzerland, Zurich, Kaufleuten

February 22: Germany, Munich, Freiheizhalle

February 23: Germany, Hamburg, Markthalle

February 25: Denmark, Copenhagen, Store Vega

February 28: Sweden, Gothenburg, Pustervik

March 1: Norway, Oslo, Rockefeller Music Hall

March 2: Sweden, Stockholm, Debaser Strand

March 4: Finland, Helsinki, Tavastia Klubi

March 10: Canada, Vancouver, BC, Venue

March 11: USA, Seattle, WA, The Showbox

March 12: USA, Portland, OR, Wonder Ballroom

March 13: USA, San Francisco, CA, The Regency Ballroom

March 14: USA, Los Angeles, CA, Belasco Theater

March 16: USA, Denver, CO, Bluebird, Theater

March 18: USA, Minneapolis, MN, Fine Line Music Cafe

March 19: USA, Chicago, IL, Concord Music Hall

March 21: Canada, Toronto, ON, Danforth Music Hall

March 22: Canada, Montreal, QC, Corona Theatre

March 23: USA, Boston, MA, Paradise Rock Club

March 24: USA, Philadelphia, PA, TLA (Theater Of Living Arts)

March 25: USA, New York, NY, Irving Plaza

March 26: USA, Washington, DC, 9:30 Club