I first came across Indians entirely by accident courtesy of a CMJ schedule screw-up. On the first night of the annual music marathon back in October, I had been bouncing from the Rockwood Music Hall to Pianos to Cake Shop when the list of bands I had hastily scrawled in a notebook led me to the Living Room on Ludlow for a cozy show with an Irish rock outfit I’d never heard of. I hightailed it to the venue and elbowed my way into the back room, only to look up and see that there was a man onstage accompanied by nothing more than his keyboard and a guitar–which hardly fit the physical description for the five-piece band of Dubliners I was expecting.
Indians, on tour with Other Lives, play the Bowery Ballroom tonight and at Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow.
Pissed, frazzled and bewildered, I opted to stay as I had an hour to kill before the next set on my list started at the venue next door. “He’s got a minimal setup and this feels like a coffeehouse,” I thought. “Good enough for at least three songs and then I’ll shove off. Not a bad way to start, but nothing revolutionary, right?”
Wrong. I didn’t stay for three songs. I stayed for the majority of his set, and I left thinking that this guy was the Scandinavian secret twin of Justin Vernon, as Indians–aka Søren Løkke Juul–put forth the same kind of tortured, meditative despondency set to a jarringly minimal backdrop as Bon Iver had with For Emma, Forever Ago.
Like Vernon, who wrote For Emma while holed up for the winter in a cabin in the woods of Wisconsin, Juul composed Somewhere Else, his debut record out on 4AD on January 29, in a slightly less voluntary state of hibernation in Copenhagen. “Now that we’re on tour, people come to me and say, ‘You have a very Nordic sound,'” he says, calling in from the road somewhere north of Chicago. “I never thought about it that much, but we have this kind of melancholic light to us. In Denmark, the summertime is for socializing and hanging out with friends in parks. In winter, we have a lot of dark nights because it’s so cold outside, and that’s when I did a lot of the recording. I wrote the whole record with my headphones on in my apartment.”
Of Somewhere Else‘s 10 tracks, “I Am Haunted” reflects the dark and dreary landscape from which it sprung, a gut-wrenching echo mourning the end of a relationship that coasts on heavy-handed strumming and Juul’s unassuming falsetto. It stands out as one of the two songs on the album that rely heavily on the neck of a guitar in a sea of electronic, engineered soundscapes. That’s partially why “I Am Haunted” stands as one of his proudest accomplishments, but the fact that he never played the guitar before recording Somewhere Else probably has something to do with it, too.
“I’ve been playing keyboards for many years, so I think differently when I play the guitar because I don’t know what I’m doing,” he laughs. “I like the sound of the acoustic guitar because it’s more human. It’s real. The lyrics and the life of the song … I was scared when I started playing live because the music is so personal. You have to tell personal stories if you want people to listen to you. If you want to paint a painting, you have to give a part of yourself in order to make the painting interesting. It’s a big challenge: you give something of yourself and you expect people to listen to it. The lyrics are pretty simple, so I think everyone can recognize the feeling of what the songs are about in general.”
While in New York on tour with Other Lives–which brings him to the Bowery Ballroom tonight and the Music Hall of Williamsburg tomorrow–Juul will be working a basement video shoot for “I Am Haunted” into his itinerary, along with some scheduled snack breaks (“The coffee places are really good here!”) in the city where it all began, in a way. Before playing his first show last February, Juul made a trip to New York, wrote a song about it, “Somewhere Else,” and the rest of the record followed.
“The song’s about New York, and being in New York,” says Juul. “It’s about the experience of being in New York for the first time and feeling like leaving it is terrible. I always wanted to go there, and when I left it I felt so emotional because it was so inspiring being there for the first time. It was such a big wish. I always wanted to go, and actually being there, working and playing the music … it was just really moving. The whole city is just really special.”