One half of Norway’s world-conquering dancemasters Royksopp, talks to Time Out. Here's what happened
‘I think someone should make a pair of jeans made of banana peel; that’s what I’m thinking,’ says dance producer Svein Berge dryly during a brief lull in conversation. ‘Instead of washing them, you just throw them away and they will decompose. Ideally, it shouldn’t be lots of banana peels – you should be able to make it in one piece so it’s one big seamless thing.
They would be yellow, which is the colour of the insane.’ Well, indeed. And while he might not be actively bonkers, Svein has spent the eight years since he and Torbjørn Brundtland (in the pics Svein’s the one on the right) hit the charts as Röyksopp with their debut album, Melody A.M., cultivating an interview personality as unique as his music. But the talk of whimsical fruit garments evaporates the moment we bring up Junior, Röyksopp’s latest album, and Senior, the partner album that will be released later this year.
‘Junior is, compared to what we’ve done before, more driven by vocals,’ enthuses Svein. ‘It’s also more energetic than what we’ve done in the past. Senior is completely robbed of vocals – it’s all instrumentals. It’s more introspective, withdrawn and atmospheric whereas Junior has the more youthful, direct energy.
‘We wanted Junior to be connected to how we experienced youth as young adults, so there’s the classic boy-girl relationships, the difficulty in communicating, the paranoia, the anxiety and the interest in nightlife. And then in Senior it’s about being 40 or 50 years old, looking at all these potential fates – there are tracks called ‘The Alcoholic’, ‘The Fear’ and ‘Coming Home’.
We want to have a lot of variety and let people experience a number of different emotions, from happiness and bliss to anxiety and melancholy. Ultravox has a song called ‘Dancing With Tears In Your Eyes’, and we like to have two conflicting sentiments in one song like that. I don’t know if that answered your question, but my brain took me somewhere there.’
Frankly, we’d forgotten what the question was – it’s easy to do that, once Svein’s train of thought picks up steam. And we’re not the only ones to have been drawn in to his and Torbjørn’s world; both rising electropopper Lykke Li and Swedish star Robyn were invited over to Röyksopp’s ‘shabby apartment’ to join in. The duo discovered Lykke’s MySpace page before her recent fame, but Robyn was another matter – in Northern Europe she’s as big as Madonna. So was it intimidating to work with her? ‘You never know when you meet people of a certain stature – you get a bit anxious in case they’re a little demanding.
But Robyn is – oh, she’s perfect. Not only is she a great musician and singer, but as a human being she’s so down with everything, easy to work with, so cool. It was truly remarkably to work with her.’ And did they tidy up that shabby apartment first? ‘No need. She wasn’t bothered by the cans and hair lying all over the floor. She didn’t mind the stench of experimental trousers.’
Always good to know. And what now for Röyksopp? The boys had been fairly consistent about releasing one album every four or so years up until now – suddenly they’re releasing two in a single year. What’s going on? ‘I don’t know,’ he shrugs. ‘Creativity seems to have been boosted – hopefully the quality hasn’t dropped to compensate for the frequency, but we are making quite a lot of music these days and it would be nice to break the pattern.
We write, arrange, engineer and play everything, but we have a few ideas of how to do it quicker in the future and we hope to kick that four-year habit. We’ll go to three years! No: three-and-a-half, three-and-a-half. We hope to deliver quicker, anyway.’
Good news for Röyksopp’s thousands of fans worldwide, then. And for one fan in particular, since he has a connection with the band that no others have. ‘We received a letter from a guy who said that he wanted to take his own life and was ready to do it, but he heard some music that we had made and it changed his mind. That is something I will carry with me forever.
I know that music is a strong power because I can feel it in myself, but having that effect is truly remarkable. We wrote back and – well, it was hard to put our feelings in writing, but we said that hopefully things were better now and… yeah…’ Svein’s voice trails off and it seems like this is the one thing on the planet that might actually cause him to be lost for words.
So what about the less emotional, more hedonistic side of the biz? Any tales of backstage debauchery? ‘I think it looks very strange in print if people say, “Oh yeah, we were at this party and everybody was naked.” It looks as if you are bragging. We do often get asked if we have groupies.’ And do they? More importantly, can we borrow some? ‘Oh, sure. We have a flight case full of groupies and we’ll post it over. It’s currently residing at Axl Rose’s place, but we’ll hopefully get some of them back.’
Svein and now
Svein waxes lyrical about his junior years What were you like as a kid? My parents used to call me Professor Tanke, which means ‘professor of thinking’, because whether I was playing with Lego or drawing or whatever, I would go totally hog wild with my imagination and disappear into my own little universe.
What advice would you give to a child? ‘Children! Beware the strong and the bewildering words of a withered soul!’ Actually, the kids of today are doing OK. At least, as far as I know. I guess they should respect the elderly, but the elderly should respect them back.
What would you say to your younger self? I think I’ve seized every opportunity I’ve been given, so I would go back and say, ‘Keep going, you’ve done all the right things.’ Although I never got to have a mullet when I was a kid. So actually I would say, ‘Quick! Now’s the time to get a mullet!’
What was the happiest moment of your childhood? A fond memory is me and three of my friends biking into the woods, putting up a tent and going insane in nature with fireworks and music. It was very much Lord Of The Flies, except we were all on the same side. Junior is available in stores now