Q&A: Disco Producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm On How To Make A Pop Album
Norwegian disco producer Hans-Peter Lindstrøm is notorious for his extended, drawn-out, cosmic dance tracks. His success lies in never-ending synthed-out grooves that brood without ever hitting a point of explosion--the entire point for his particular brand of space disco. In the past several years, live instrumentation and a lean towards krautrock have infiltrated in his work--most frequently alongside fellow Scandinavian, Prins Thomas--but this year's release of Real Life Is No Cool on Smalltown Supersound / Feedelity is Lindstrøm's first album to embrace pop head-on. The album sports ten tightly configured songs that feature singer and long-time collaborator Christabelle Silje Isabelle Birgitta Sandoo (known as Solale on early Lindstrøm tracks) contributing breathy lyrics and sultry hooks. While the production does stray--Lindstrøm mixes in more funk, r&b, and pop than we've seen from him before--his unmistakably laidback vibe remains. In our opinion, it makes for one of the better dance albums of the year. In advance of the producer's show this Saturday at Le Poisson Rouge, we caught up with Lindstrøm to chat about the album, his live shows, and what's coming up next.
You've been working with Christabelle for seven or eight years now. Did you always know you were going to put out an album together eventually?
We had been talking about it on and off after we realized we had some tracks that we liked and wanted to share with more people. But I had been busy with other projects by myself and together with Prins Thomas, so we didn't decide to do it proper until around 2007. It took a long time to finish it because I was working so slow. [Laughs]
You often seem to be doing a million projects at the same time.
Yeah, I think I used to be like that. I'm much more strict with myself these days. My quality control gets harder and harder to pass for myself. I'm working on a lot, but a lot of that won't ever come out. I was actually working on the album I did before Real Life Is No Cool--the long epic one with 30-minute long tracks-- and the Christabelle one simultaneously. When I was finishing one of the albums, I would work on the other one. They finished around the same time.
In this album you both clearly influenced by an '80s aesthetic. Christabelle's got this Grace Jones thing going on. What other influences played into the collaboration?
When I met her almost ten years ago, most of my friends were into house music and club music. I was interested in everything that was '80s--soul, or pop, or whatever. I think that because I grew up in the '80s listening to the radio, that was my school of music in a way. And then when I met her she was into the same music that I was. She was not interested in anything with a 4/4 beat, or disco, and that kind of house thing that was going on at the time. We were both into that kind of '80s motown or '80s soul. Actually, Grace Jones was one of our biggest influences when we met in the beginning.
Anyways, I thought that maybe this was a way for me to work on something else than just club music. I didn't really know how I was going to use my liking for pop in music-writing or songwriting because I was stuck in club music and nightlife. So, we just decided to do a pop album with a lot of mutual influences. I've been into drum machines since forever and my main instrument is keyboards--it just seemed very natural for me to do. When we finished the album, I wanted it to sound different from the other things that I'd been doing. I think it's nice when every album you put out sounds a little different from every other one. It's very easy to get tired of the one sound or style.
Like you said, you tend to make those 30-minute long tracks, or the 42-min long "Little Drummer Boy" last winter--how did you tackle making a pop album?
I think I was just getting tired of doing long, epic tracks and so on. It was a relief to work on something different. I kind of liked going from one thing to the other because it made me think. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone. The good thing about working with very different songs for a project is that when you get tired of one thing you can go to something else with fresh ears. I really enjoy working like that. It was difficult to go from an epic, long-scale album to a pop album, but what was more difficult for me was to actually finish the album because I had so many ideas and visions. My main thing with this was getting to a place where I was like, "Okay, I'm going to actually finish this." [Laughs] It's a big problem I have actually.
"Keep It Up" channels Prince and "Baby Can't Stop" seems to be a Michael Jackson tribute. Was that your intent?
I think that on a lot of my tracks that I've been releasing since the early 2000's, there's a lot of references from music that I like, and different styles, like funk. It's my way of sampling, really. It is kind of a tribute because obviously [when I'm] working on a new thing, I'll use parts from some of the best music I know. I didn't really want it to be, but I think that after the album was released, maybe "Baby Can't Stop" sounded a little too much like Michael Jackson and maybe that "Keep It Up" sounded too much like Prince, but there's a lot of more subtle, hidden references in all of the tracks that maybe not everyone has discovered. It's really just my style of working and, yeah, also a tribute to the [artists] that I love.
On the other hand, there's "Music In My Mind" which is feels distinctly disco, or "Lets Practise" which has a Moroder-Italo vibe. Is that something you were doing to hold your fans over?
[Laughs] Usually I'm aware of the obvious and I'm trying my best to hide the reference from taking over too much like, "Oh this sounds exactly like Moroder" or whatever. I'm not that interested in doing that. I mean it's impossible to do Moroder better than Moroder. I'm much more interested in mixing all of my influences and my musical heroes, into something that I'd like myself. I don't think I succeed every time, but sometimes I do and I like to make it as original [as possible]. I'm just trying to do the best I can.
I was wondering if throwing those kind of tracks onto this album was an attempt to try to keep your long-time fan base happy as well....
Maybe. I think it's important to keep some of the elements from when you started. I mean, the stuff that I make [now] isn't going to be like the the things I did five, six, seven years ago. It's impossible for me to make that stuff now, you know? Sometimes I wonder "How the hell did I ever even make those [tracks]?" I'm working very differently now, but I do think that it's important to be aware of where you started. It's important to make songs that make reference to your past, include influences from now and something that can hold over into the future. That's what I'm interested in, more than just reaching my old fans with an old style. I think it's kind of dangerous to do something completely new that strays from everything I've done before.... like, if I was doing something like a Brazilian-inspired album or something else I've never done before. I think it's important to slowly move forward without losing yourself.
I heard that you did all the live instrumentals on the album yourself?
Yeah, everything. I've done everything but the main vocals.
Would you ever do vocals?
I kind of like the thought of being able to do everything myself. That's why I've been learning everything, I've been using as much as possible. There are some instruments that I really like that I'll never learn even though I'd like to, like the sitar. It would take years. As far as vocals, if I get a remix request with some lousy vocals, it's not that hard to make a remix that makes it sound nice and make use of bad vocal parts, and make it more interesting.
Even though my vocals aren't great, I guess that should try to do vocals at some point. I should think about it and maybe try to do something, but I don't think I'm going to be the techno guy that turned into the soul guy. A soul crooner--that would never happen. [Laughs] How has this past year, with this album coming out, affected things for you? I mean "Lovesick" is on a Cadillac commercial...
Yeah! That was weird. That was very weird!
Is that the first time something like that has happened?
There's been some things before, though we haven't gotten that much exposure out of it. You know, I'm really just making music for people to listen to. If you asked someone 10 years ago about using their music for a commercial, a lot of indie artists wouldn't like it. But the times have changed and I think that's different now--I really get the feeling that a lot of people are cool with it and I guess I'm like that as well. The weird thing is that it reaches so many people that would never ever have had the chance to listen to this music if it wasn't for that commercial. I don't really mind it. I'm not selling many records [Laughs]. So to keep on making music, I guess that kind of income is getting important now.
Has it changed your live sets?
Well, usually I'm never that happy with what I'm doing live. Then, it's kind of a constant struggle to make something that makes sense to myself and also to the people who buy the ticket and come out to see me. I think what really works--what makes me think "This was a good night and my set really worked"--is when I'm kind of an outsider that doesn't understand anything about building up a set or playing music at a nightclub. I mean, if I was smart, I should just do a banging house set and pump everything up. Or do even more commercial sounding stuff. But every time I do something live, it sounds like whatever I've done before--it's that kind of weird left-field old stuff that a lot of people used to listen to. I think my live show isn't that different from before, It's impossible for me to do something like David Guetta or that kind of friendly commercial thing.
Do you think that the people that are coming to see you would want that?
No, I don't think they do, but it's hard. Of the people who come to see me, maybe fifty percent come to see me and fifty percent are there by accident. The crowd is always divided and it's impossible to please everybody. So, I'm just going to try to do myself and do what's right for me, even if I get complaints from the audience or promoter. I just realize that it's wrong for me to try to adapt to what they want, and it's better to do what feels natural to me.
That leads to the best sets anyways.
I'm not sure if I'm a good DJ. I think my stuff.... well, sometimes it sounds very low. I have to admit that. On the other hand, I keep asking myself, "Why do they book me again and again?" because I don't feel like what I do is that special compared to people who make a crowded dance floor. When everyone's doing the same thing it gets so boring. I guess I'm just trying to do something that I'd like to see myself.
What kind of music do you go out to see?
Actually, I haven't been out for ages. It's usually enough for me to see what happens before or after me at gigs when I'm traveling. Sometime I get to see acts at festivals. I'm not spending time in nightclubs or venues to see bands. But, I'm actually going to see MGMT in Oslo in December. I think their album is by far the best album of the year. For me, everything is about the studio and the studio albums and the recordings. I'm not interested in live albums. I think every time I get disappointed about a sound it's because it's not as good as the album or the record. Unfortunately, I expect everything to sound the same live--I guess I'm in the minority with that. I really like performing though, when it works. Every time I play I hope that this it will be nice--and obviously when the crowd is very supportive, it gives me the confidence to see that I'm doing something good. It's not easy! [Laughs]
Your Twitter says that you're always working. Are there any specific collaborations that are a priority right now?
I'm always working on new music and hopefully it will come together for an album in the next year. I was kind of hoping I would be able to put something out around Christmas. I've been doing some more remix work, which is nice to do because it gives me something else to do and gives me deadlines. I like it when they say "You have to finish this by this-and-this date". It forces me to finish something. But, then it takes time away from my own productions, so who knows. There is a digital edition of the [Real Life Is No Cool] album with all my favorite songs in different takes and different versions and I'm thinking it will kind of be a remix album.
There are some new remix tracks that are coming pretty soon too. One of the songs on the Glasser album on True Panther and also a remix of one of the tracks from Bear In Heaven album. I'm really happy with both of those mixes, but I'm not sure when they'll put them out. I hope before Christmas, I don't know!
Is there anything coming up on Feedelity?
Well, it's not going to be on Feedelity but, me and Joakim [Haughland] from Smalltown Supersound, we have a joint label which is called Stromland. There's this Norwegian guy that's between 50 and 60 years old now. He used to work producing for a Norwegian artist in the 70s, and in-between those sessions he made an album which he recorded and played and produced by himself. It got released on Harvest in Scandinavia and it sold 10,000 copies but was only distributed in Scandinavia. We're re-issuing that album. His name is Alf Emil Eik, and his music is something between cosmic and new age. It's a really nice album and it's nice to do something like that. None of us have done any reissues of old stuff so that's going to be fun.
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