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A Conversation with Sondre Lerche

Puremusic: So where are you calling from today?

Sondre Lerche: I am in New York.

PM: Ah, yeah. I was just there and have to go right back, my father's brother passed away. You have a Joe's Pub gig coming up, right?

SL: I do have one on June 1st.

PM: Well, I'm gonna try and be in the city for that, 'cause I'd love to see you live. That's a solo gig, right?

SL: Yeah. It's a solo gig. I've been wanting to play at Joe's Pub for a long time. I went there a couple years ago, I think, to see Allen Touissant. I really love the room, so I've been trying to get a night there myself. I'm looking forward to it.

PM: It's a super room. I'm sure you'd get a wonderful crowd at Joe's pub. I'm sure New York must be going crazy for you right at the moment.

SL: [laughs] Well, we'll find out.

PM: Although one of our writers, Bill DeMain, reviewed Duper Sessions for us when it came out, and I think he interviewed you around then, too--probably for Performing Songwriter.

SL: I think I remember doing an interview with them, yeah.

PM: He's a very good songwriter and a writer for us. I really first turned onto you with the DVD of Dan in Real Life.

SL: Oh, cool.

PM: I really liked that movie, but I thought that your music made it a much better film experience.

SL: Oh, thank you.

PM: Music rarely does that.

SL: It's not often that you think anything about the music. Sometimes a film is impressing and emotional in its own sense, and you don't really notice the music, which is very often a good thing. The director [Peter Hedges] of Dan in Real Life wanted to make some room for the music and try to make it be a part of the story in a way.

PM: It was so much so. It was, to his credit--and yours, of course, but especially to his--a brilliant marriage of an actual movie and not just songs, but a songwriter. He carefully picked a guy with the right sensibility.

SL: Being a songwriter and a performing solo artist, what I started with, of course, was the songs. That's where I come from. But he wanted to blur the lines between what is a song that appears in a film and what is the actual score. I think we did something there that you don't see too often in films, where the songs are score and the score is songs. It sort of blurs the line between those two things.

PM: I think that's absolutely so, because when you're writing for the movie--I definitely wanna talk about this as much as we can--using your songs for the movie was a brilliant stroke on its own. But whenever you're composing all the cue music, as they call it, for the other dramatic bits, it's very in line with the songs that are used in the movie. You can hear the continuity of the guitar and bass tones throughout, for instance.

SL: That was really important to Peter--to have the texture of each instrument, and have those instruments linked emotionally to some of the characters, to some of what is going on, so that when you hear a song, it echoes also later in the film when something happens or when there's something--it's fairly subtle, but for me it was creatively so exciting, 'cause it was also a nice way for me to approach scoring. I'd never done that before. I started off with the songs, and then slowly we turned also to some of the songs or parts of the songs--stuff like that. I would work on that to make it sort of become a score, also.

PM: I think that other people are gonna pick up on how well that was done, and we'll start to see a little bit more of that in the kind of films where it would be appropriate, in those situational kind of lighthearted comedy-type stuff where you could get away with that, and not only get away with it, but have it be incredibly appropriate.

What was your initial contact with Peter Hedges like? How did that happen?

SL: I would say a lucky break, in a way. Very early on in the stages of Dan In Real Life, his music supervisor provided him with music to see if he wanted to find an artist to work with. He was imagining that it would be cool to find a songwriter who sings and whose songs could accompany Dan on his venture in the story.

PM: I mean, who would even think of such a thing? That's amazing.

SL: Yeah, I know. And he had asked to be sent music. He says he was provided with hundreds and hundreds of records and artists, and one of those records was mine.

PM: What a drag. They give you hundreds of records. [laughs]

SL: Yeah. I was just lucky that a record that he heard was mine--the records that he liked best were mine--and that my music resonated with him personally, of course, but also with the story that he was in the early stages of developing at the time. It was just a great and lucky stroke for me.

PM: Right, and just meant to be, you know?

SL: Yeah.

PM: Since a lot of Phantom Punch, your most recent CD, hits a lot harder than the more acoustic stuff you've cut, one wonders what Hedges was listening to. I wonder if it was earlier material.

SL: Oh, yeah. At that time--he heard me early in 2006 when Duper Sessions was just coming out, and he had been sent Faces Down and Two Way Monologue.

PM: Right. Especially, it seems like to me, Two Way Monologue would really be the bridge to knowing that he'd found his man for the job.

SL: Yeah. There were a couple of songs on both those records that really resonated. Of course, we brought "Modern Nature" from Faces Down into the film as well. But he was drawn towards that, and then we met in New York. He came to my apartment. I was in the middle of releasing The Duper Sessions and going into the studio to record Phantom Punch. I was releasing one record and then recording an opposite record, in a way.

PM: Right, of course.

SL: I think he liked that, as well. I gave him access to everything I had of demos and records and the albums I had recorded, of course, and albums I was going to record--and also unreleased songs--everything.

PM: Wow.

SL: I think he got excited about that--that I sort of opened up, warts and all.

PM: [laughs] That's beautiful. When you see a guy--you're Peter Hedges and you're listening to Duper Sessions and you're kind of privy to the Phantom Punch sessions that may be underway in some fashion, you must think, "Okay, when we get in the studio and he's got to compose to cues or he's gotta improvise, he'll be able to because he's got this huge swing going on in his writing."

SL: I think it didn't hurt that I had an interest for different sounds and different energies. There are songs from Duper Sessions in the film. There are actually in the film two songs I used from Phantom Punch, 'cause they needed music, basically, that the teenage daughter was listening to. Peter insisted that she was a big fan of Phantom Punch. [laughs] So we have two of those songs in the film, and one that's on the soundtrack also.

PM: "Airport Taxi Reception" is on there from Phantom Punch, and what else got on there?

SL: There's a scene where they use the tape from Phantom Punch in a cafe scene. It's playing in the background.

PM: Oh, wow.

SL: It's just sort of a nod, in a way, to that record. But that was all Peter. He put that in.

PM: It's totally cool.

SL: I didn't have anything to do with either the tape or "Airport Taxi" being in the film.

PM: On top of all the great songs, I'm really into all the cue music. I like that, in its way, as much as the songs, even, and I'm a song man. Maybe you could get us into any scene at all where you were there with your guitar and Peter says, "Okay now, in this section we're gonna need something." What was some of that process like?

SL: I came up with this theme, it's sort of a Dan and Marie theme. I wanted it to be used very discreetly throughout the film and then burst out in the final scene, 'cause Peter had said he wanted the best for the scene where Dan goes after Marie. That, of course, is where it all happens. That's when he just releases and goes after her. This theme that I had played him, he really wanted that there, and it just seemed natural that that would be sort of the place where that chord structure, which I had used several times already in the film, but I'd used it with different melodies and different rhythms and tried to keep it really subtle--this would be the place where all of the different elements that are based around that chord structure come together. I also asked for Peter's permission to have some strings there. He wanted to keep everything very, very moderate and not use any orchestral elements. I wanted a small string section and a harp for that section, and he granted me that. I worked a lot on that. There's a voiceover there as well that I had to keep in mind, and it's a scene that they kept re-editing all the time, and it would be longer and shorter, and all of that really affected the final music.

PM: So the music had to keep changing with every edit, right?

SL: Yeah. He would change the film edit and he would shorten down the voiceover that he has there. Those things affect the music tremendously and I'd have to adjust to that, of course, 'cause the words are the most important. The music has to be powerful but not overpowering, and emotional but not pushing it too far.

PM: And it's still gotta follow the scene.

SL: That was to me the most exciting thing about scoring. A lot of the other score elements are very acoustic, so I would have a melody or a chord structure that I liked or that Peter and I had agreed to try. In my bedroom here in New York, I would record ten different versions. Different tempos, different ways of going in and out of the scene. I would show them all to Peter in the editing room, and we would try them all out, and I would make adjustments and come back. A lot of it was just guitars or guitar-driven. It was very easy for me to be flexible and to try out different things really fast and see if it worked.

PM: Wow, that's fascinating. That's exactly what I was after--that you'd be in your bedroom and say, "Here's six, ten different takes on this possibility. Let's pick one and I'll hone it up."

SL: Yeah. That's exactly what we did.

PM: Very interesting.  continue

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