It seems Hans-Peter Lindstrøm can do no wrong. His latest album, Real Life Is No Cool, has been rapturously received by every publication from Pitchfork to the Irish Times, and the praise is wholly justified. Whether he’s knocking out a 40-minute cover of Little Drummer Boy, or crafting a superb full-length album, the man has a svelte touch that appeals to pop fans and disco beards alike. We spoke to Lindstrøm about quitting the DJ circuit, his next productions and how he almost covered Boney M.
Real Life Is No Cool is a return to the standard album format – how was that after the epic “Little Drummer Boy” and Where You Go I Go Too?
For me it is always easier to do something different. Some people might be disappointed because they were expecting another epic, but no doubt others thought the big stuff was too much in the first place. I have no intention of making the same album with the same kind of songs over again. The next album I make will be different again. I think it is more fun that way, and hopefully I will surprise a few people along the way.
How long did the album take to make?
Some of the songs on the album were first recorded in 2002 or 2003. We’d make one track here and one track there – it’s probably not the best way to construct an album, but it worked for us. People are surprised when they find out some of the songs are nearly 10 years old, but I really worked to make it sound like a whole, not just a collection of songs.
Taking that into account, how hard was it to make the album flow?
Well the final versions of the songs were mostly recorded last year. Often all that was left from the original recording was the vocal or the basic structure of the song, plus a few instruments here and there.
How did the recording dynamic between you and Christabelle work?
We didn’t work together in the most traditional way, it’s not like we were always together in the studio – we would just send each other things from time to time. I did all the production – some tracks I just did myself after a rough first recording.
How did you guys first meet up?
I heard some demos she did 10 years ago, and we used some of those original recordings on the album. The problem was she had these great, mad, crazy sounds, but couldn’t make a song out of them. That’s where I came in I guess (laughs).
Let’s talk about your version of “Little Drummer Boy” … how did you go about composing it? Did you sit down at the start and think, right, I’m going to make an epic 40 minute piece of music?
Well Rough Trade asked me to put together a mix CD that was ‘Christmassy’, to come out with the album. I was supposed to do a regular mix with Christmas tunes, but I’m not really making mixes anymore or DJing, so I thought it would be better to make some of my own music. I was thinking of what Christmas tracks I could cover and I thought I’d make one track that took up the entire CD. So I made “Little Drummer Boy” crazy long, it was really just a joke to make it 40 minutes!
“DJing at a club is a natural extension of playing at a house party and there are always the people hanging around the stereo, fighting over which song to play. They are the ones who make good DJs. I’m not like that”
How long did it take to make?
It took less than two weeks to mix and master it all from start to finish. It’s funny because in Norway the big newspapers really praised it and some even put it in their best of 2009 lists, which is so wild, I couldn’t believe it.
Did you consider covering any other Christmas classics?
Well at first I was going to do something from the Boney M Christmas album, which is my favourite ever Christmas album. In my head I thought there must be one nice track on there, something that is quite funky, but listening to it, it was just too cheesy! But it’s still one of my favourite albums (laughs). Last year I did a cover of Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”, with two Norwegian vocalists, so I think that’s enough for me, no more Christmas songs.
Most people throw you into the “nu-disco” pigeon hole, but Real Life Is No Cool shows a real nous for pop music. Do you think you could crossover into that side of things?
I’m very interested in pop music as a format. It’s a genre that hasn’t been explored enough. Most music on the radio sounds the same – I think people can be much more interesting. In the 1970s, guys like Todd Rundgren would make one pop song, and then make weird beautiful things too, wild and far out. I like that. When I made “I Feel Space”, I was so happy because at first it was regarded as a track for disco DJs, but then I heard it was big with trance DJs. Then came a remix by M.A.N.D.Y, so the track began reaching out to people I wasn’t really aiming for. If they get something out of my music, then I am happy. With this album, I think it works for people who like the easy pop style of music, but I have tried to confront them with something more difficult, like a psycadelic track. That’s why I really hope people listen to the album as a whole, because it is not just a collection of single tracks. I guess with any music I make, if it can help open some eyes, that’s the best reward for me.
Do you shudder at the term ‘nu-disco’?
I don’t mind what people call my music, but some people probably take it too far. There is one Dutch newspaper doing a story on me in which they say I’m the creator of nu-disco. But you’ve got guys like Idjut Boys and Daniel Wang who inspired me. As for the Space Disco thing, you know I don’t really like that sound at all. They were talking about Space Disco in the late 70s so it’s not new. The nu-disco affiliation definitely helps me, but it’s dangerous, because nu-disco will go out of fashion and I will probably suffer in the same way Jazzanova and Jazztronik, or anyone with jazz in their name, suffered a few years back. Not long ago the nu-rave thing was big and then everyone went to hating it. But I never put a disco tag on my music, because it doesn’t benefit you in the long run. I was speaking to Prins Thomas recently and he said if he made a techno track and released it, it would still be put in the disco section, so what can you do?
You said earlier that you weren’t DJing much anymore – why is that?
I have stopped DJing really, I’m pretty mediocre (laughs). I will leave that to the others, I’ll just do what I’m good at. I realised to be a good DJ you need the urge to show people music. DJing at a club is a natural extension of playing at a house party and there are always the people hanging around the stereo, fighting over which song to play. They are the ones who make good DJs. I’m not like that, I don’t feel the need to convince people about the music I like. It’s not hard to get technically good, I think in a few years I pretty much managed to do what people expect from a DJ. But I wasn’t really interested. In the beginning it was fun because I was learning something new, but when I started DJing for money, I felt that people were expecting me to play new stuff that I didn’t necessarily like. To do that, you have to keep up to date with what’s coming out and dedicate a lot of time to it.
And what about live performances – is that an ongoing option?
To support the album, Christabelle and I wanted to do two or three special live performances, but there has been much more interest in us than I thought there’d be. I’m not sure if I am going to be able to say no to some of the offers, although so far the only official show is a festival in Norway in August. We haven’t rehearsed yet but I want to get rid of the laptop thing – I am sick of it. It looks very easy and some people say it’s cheating in a way. To me it doesn’t feel right, I’ve played in bands, and I know the feeling of a good live show.
What will you use then?
Keyboards, synths … it’s important to me personally to make it work. I also think two people on stage will be better visually, and Christabelle’s vocals will be a good addition.
“There won’t be a new album in 2010, I’ve had too many releases recently! So it may look like I’m not doing much this year, but trust me I’ll be hard at work”
You’ve been based in Oslo for a while now – what’s it like in terms of creative inspiration?
I love it here, although before I met Prins (Thomas) and Todd (Terje), I did feel it was a bit isolated here, like nothing was ever happening. It’s a place where you can lock yourself away and make music. I like the size of Oslo, it’s not too big but not too small. It’s not crazy like London or New York. I don’t think it’s necessary to live in a music capital to be able to make music. The best thing is to be somewhere you can concentrate on your music. I know people like Daniel Wang tired of New York and went to Berlin, so I guess it’s a personal thing.
How is your own label, Feedelity, going? Do you have much day-to-day involvement with the label? And you also started Strømland with Joakim Haughland of Smalltown Supersound—is that right?
I was running Feedelity as a personal outlet until 2007, but I kind of stopped because I felt I was spending too much time in the office and writing emails and not enough making music. I met Joakim and he has great contacts and networks – I only knew DJs and people at clubs. But I really like to say I have my own label, it looks good on the CV! And if no one wants to work with me in the future I can just release on that (laughs). But Joakim and I started a new label, because Smalltown Supersound is his baby. We were discussing a few things and they didn’t fit in SS or Feedelity, so we started Strømland for stuff we accidentally stumble across that is too good to pass up.
One last question – what does 2010 hold in store for Hans-Peter Lindstrøm?
Well I have to focus more on the live show than I was expecting to! After that I will work on a new album, I have lots of ideas I want to try out. I won’t release an album in 2010, I’ve had too many releases recently. So it may look like I’m not doing much this year, but trust me, I’ll be hard at work.
Intervew: Aaron Coultate