Trentemøller’s Happy Accidents on ‘Memoria’ Don’t Sound Like Accidents at All

Anders Trentemøller, the Danish chillwave luminary known simply as Trentmøller, has only grown more confident in his vision—and more obsessed with analog sound-sculpting techniques—over time. His latest album, Memoria, out now via Trentemøller’s own label In My Room, is characteristically dreamy, but Trentemøller considers it more personal than his previous records, since, for the first time, he penned the lyrics and melodies entirely himself. 

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Musically, Memoria‘s 14 tracks feature synths, guitar and bass parts, and vocals that pulse and eddy, multiply and dissolve. Sometimes these songs project danger or disorientation, but they also project wonder and weightlessness. “They’re mostly about life and death,” Trentemøller tells American Songwriter, “and about longing, and about relationships that maybe aren’t always so happy.”

The Copenhagen-based musician and producer spoke to American Songwriter a few weeks ago about some of the “happy accidents” that shaped Memoria, his collection of vintage guitar pedals, and collaborating with his girlfriend Lisbet Fritze, whose vocals help guide listeners through the album. He also offered a preview of his upcoming European tour, which features stage and lighting design from Leroy Bennett. Check out the full interview below.

American Songwriter: Where are you right now?

Anders Trentemøller: I’m in my home. I actually just some hours ago got a positive test for corona. So I’m one of them now. But I’m feeling fine. I figured that I had a cold, but I’m fine.

AS: I’m glad to hear you’re feeling okay.

AT: Yes, and this is my second time actually, so I’m prepared.

AS: You’re a veteran. I just read the self-portrait feature you did for Under the Radar. What an incredible Kanye story.

AT: Yeah, that was crazy. That’s one of the most crazy things that I have experienced. They were asking if I could mention something from my career that was special, and that was definitely special.

AS: If you had the same opportunity [to perform an impromptu set with Kanye] now, would you do it?

AT: Actually no, to be honest. It’s not because I don’t have respect for him as an artist, but I still think that, you know, if you’re gonna play a show – if you need someone to be part of the show – I would like to prepare it. And I also think it should fit into the music, and I couldn’t really see his rapping fit into the atmosphere and vibe. But of course, if we had the chance to rehearse something, that would be fun to do. 

AS: Anyway, where’s home right now?

AT: Home is in Copenhagen. It’s the house that I have together with Lisbet Fritze… We are staying here with our little son, he’s two-and-a-half years old. It’s quite close to the beach in Copenhagen, so it’s a nice place.

AS: Is that where you write and record, or do you have a separate studio?

AT: The funny thing is that I actually have a separate studio not so far away from here – it’s only like five minutes away on bike—and it’s a bigger studio where I have all my stuff, but most of the writing [for Memoria] was actually done in my little home studio set up here in the basement of my house. I somehow get a little intimidated by all my machines and all my stuff in the big studio when I’m trying to write music because I feel I have so many opportunities and so many choices there that I actually like to keep it quite simple when I’m writing the songs to keep the focus on the melodies and the core of each song. I mainly do it with my little Wurlitzer that I have in my basement.

AS: What else is in that setup?

AT: There’s a lot of guitar pedals there and I have even more in my studio because I actually use them quite a lot for my music-making and for sound sculpture and stuff like that… I [also] have a guitar and a bass there, and that’s it.

AS: Have you always turned to guitar pedals for your music, or has that tool become more important over time?

AT: I think it’s become more and more important over time. I think I started about ten years ago collecting them and really using them. I have something about especially old, vintage early ’80s Japanese pedals because they are all analog and they just sound so fantastic. Especially the old chorus pedals, stereo chorus pedals, it’s something that I use not only on guitars but on synths, even on vocals and drums sometimes. I just like the fact that I can actually turn some knobs and sometimes through some happy accidents set three or four or even more pedals together and sometimes I can create something that I wouldn’t come up with if I was only working on the computer or only working with one synth.

AS: Do you have any of those happy accidents on the new record?

AT: Yeah, there are actually some, but maybe [they don’t] sound like happy accidents. The first track, the opening track, “Veil of White,” has some noise – it sounds like guitars, but it is actually synths that have been run through my guitar amps and then through a weird old pedal called XP Space Station. It’s one of the first digital multi-effects from the early, early ’90s and it just has some crazy presets and it sounds fantastic. You can put anything through it, [but] I used it mainly for synths. Then I put that through some distortion stuff, and one of the distortion pedals actually had a preset that was made for some heavy metal kind of sound, but somehow, by mistake, I ran it through my synth and it just sounded incredible. Not like heavy metal, but more like shoegaze-y, really ghostly sounds. Sometimes pedals have their own life and they bring something to the table that I could never plan.

AS: How did the tracks that feature Lisbet come together?

AT: Some people have asked me, “Did the pandemic change the way that you work?” and I have always said no because I always lock myself into the studio. I’m always in lockdown when I’m writing music for my albums because I like this solitude and I like to be alone in the process. 

But for this album, I also tried something new, because I wanted to write all the vocal melody lines myself and also the lyrics myself. I’ve always worked with different vocalists, sometimes even four or five people on one album, and I somehow felt it was time for me to write my own songs because I had so many ideas for them. It came quite easily to me. And then I also felt that I would like to do an album that only had one voice to guide you through the whole album – so only one vocalist should appear on the album. 

And then the pandemic hit the world, and Lisbet, my girlfriend, she’s normally an architect, but she also plays music. We had been working together before – she was actually the guitar player in my live band. That’s how we met. I worked with her on one song on my last album that worked quite well, so I simply wrote those five songs on the album and asked her if she would like to bring them to life. 

One thing is to write the melodies and the lyrics, but having the right vocal vibe, the right atmosphere, the right sound for the vocals was of course very important to me. And I think she has a very angel-like, ghostly sound that I really love. So I asked her to do all the songs, and that was a nice experience because it’s also different to work with your girlfriend. It can be difficult sometimes, but I think it helped that we actually met before we became a couple. We actually made music together [before we started dating]. 

AS: How would you describe the lyrical themes?

AT: I tried to make [the lyrics] very, very open in a way. Not abstract, but I really like lyrics that are not too much telling a straight story from A to B, you know, boy-meets-girls and stuff like that. I wanted them to be literally a part of the music, really like an instrument so that people could put in their own feelings, their own visions in the songs. They’re mostly about life and death, and about longing, and about relationships that maybe aren’t always so happy. 

I also, of course, looked back on my own life with this album. That’s something that you can hear in some of the lyrics but also in the sound. I had some sounds that are very much inspired by music that I have been listening to since I was a teenager. So I tried to bring everything together on this album – [and]  to make it more personal. That was quite easy because I wrote everything myself, so I was the boss all the time. It was nice to actually try that… finally having the guts to do it. I think that I didn’t really have the self-confidence earlier to do it, so that was also why I thought that now is maybe the right moment to do it.

AS: Where did that boost in self-confidence come from?

AT: It’s a very good question. I think I practiced from my first album [through] these five albums, and I slowly became better and better at writing melodies and I’ve got a little more confident in doing it every time. And somehow it felt very secure. Working with Lisbet, because I knew her so well, I could be totally honest and very open about all my not-believing-in-myself stuff. 

AS: You said you had some influences or inspirations that date back to your teenage years. What were you thinking of?

AT: Sometimes you can hear it in the music, sometimes you cannot. But I really loved back then listening to The Beatles because I really think they made some great melodies. And I’m not near doing anything like that, but I was very inspired that they always had good melodies. So I really tried to put a lot of focus on the melodies—not only vocal melodies but having small melodies in the guitar parts and the synth parts. So hopefully there are some… not hook lines, but something that captures your attention melodic-wise. 

And then bands like The Cure and Joy Division and all those post-rock bands that I listened to in my later teenage years and in my early twenties. They somehow still inspire me… I also try to let those inspirations be there but also try not to be a copycat and just try to do something that was one-to-one a Cure song or one-to-one a Joy Division song, because that wouldn’t work. It was always a thin line between honoring your heroes but also trying to do my own music.

AS: That’s beautifully stated. Is there anything else you want to share about making this record, or what your world looks like right now?

AT: I’m just really looking forward to finally playing our Europe tour. We’re going to play here in April, and we’re going to play in the [United] States in October. I’m really looking forward to going on tour again. I’ve put together a whole new band and then we have a really cool live stage design. 

It’s a funny story because the guy that [worked with] Prince, and even Kanye and Lady Gaga—you name it, The Cure, Depeche Mode—actually is a fan of my music. One day he was writing to me on Instagram that he was a fan. I was Googling his name, Leroy Bennett, and I could see that he had a lot of followers. And then I saw that he was the light and stage designer for Prince [from] the beginning until his death… And now he was asking me if I wanted to do something with him, so that was really a fantastic moment. This was just on Instagram, not through any manager or label. It was just me and Leroy talking. 

Now he’s designing some really fantastic stuff and he’s coming to Copenhagen in three weeks to set it all up… So we are going to bring that whole thing with us when we are playing live because the visual side has always been a very important thing for me. A lot of my music is quite cinematic, so I like when you come to a venue and you really cannot recognize the stage because it’s changed really drastically. That’s what we’re trying to do with this setup. I think it will be quite mesmerizing. 

Memoria is out now via In My Room. You can stream it here and buy it here.

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