The other week I went to see Sondre Lerche at Hoxton Bar and Grill, a brilliant little venue I am ashamed not to have been to before, and I have been impatiently trying to find the time to write about it ever since. It was a surprise birthday present from my husband, the idea presented to him via the power of Songkick.
On a buzzing October night in London town, we jostled through the cool Hoxtonians outside thirstily drinking up the last of the evening light, nudged past the stocky doormen and joined the queue leading to the cavernous venue tucked just out back. A strong rum and diet coke in hand, I waited with great anticipation as the crowd started to pile in – this is someone I had wanted to see live for a very long time.
For those who haven’t been acquainted with the great man just yet, first please allow me to make a few introductions.
Sondre Lerche is a singer/songwriter and guitarist from Bergen, Norway. His music is described by Wikipedia as Pop, Indie Rock and Jazz, although I prefer to simply categorize it as stunning. Growing up he was influenced by ‘80s pop like a-ha and Prefab Sprout, as well as the Beach Boys, and this inspired him to write his first song at the age of fourteen. It was performing underage in acoustic gigs at the club where his sister worked where he was discovered by a producer and exposed to diverse musical genres such as ‘60s pop and mainstream Brazilian music. This led to a deal with Virgin Norway, an increase in popularity in his home country and a debut album, Faces Down, in 2000 at the age of nineteen.
Faces Down received critical acclaim in Norway and the US and Rolling Stone Magazine put it in their top 50 albums of 2002. He has toured with Beth Orton, Elvis Costello and won numerous awards. So far he’s produced six studio albums and three soundtracks each winning rave reviews. In 2011, he released a self-titled album with collaborations with Midlake percussionist McKenzie Smith and embarked on a huge European tour.
Yet in the spring of 2008, I had never actually heard of him. In the current climate of over-produced pop I guess you have to shout very loud to be heard (or auto tune your voice). So it was on a plane from Sydney to Auckland that I stumbled across Sondre Lerche by accident. I had just left behind not only a happy life in Sydney but a boy called Alex Kirby who had boarded a plane back to London a few hours earlier. After three weeks of paradise travelling down the east coast of Australia, I was distraught, having lost not only my travel partner but what felt like my right arm. I was determined to complete my onward solo travels, but this hurt. A lot. I needed a distraction.
So I got lost in a quirky little movie called Dan in Real Life starring Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook. I was instantly mesmerised not only by the film but by the beautiful soundtrack. The music was contagious – acoustic guitars and heartfelt lyrics, melodies and harmonies that were sophisticated rather than syrupy. I was totally hooked. The romance and melancholy that filtered out through the lyrics resonated with me instantly.
A few months later I was back on British soil and in a new and sparkling relationship with Alex Kirby and wanted to know the identity of this special artist. A quick Google search revealed him to be Sondre Lerche and so I read and listened a little more.
The story goes that the director of Dan in Real Life, Peter Hedges, went looking for an artist to exude the true meaning and feeling of the film through this music, and came upon Sondre. He was part of the process from the very beginning – even going along to auditions for the main characters and slept in the big house where the film was shot. The OST for Dan in Real Life is made up of songs from his previous albums, a sprinkling of instrumental stuff and songs that Sondre composed especially for the film, including a beautiful duet with Regina Spektor called Hell No. (Oh and this is very good live, at the Regina Spektor concert in Oslo in 2009).
When I listen to Sondre Lerche I think of sunrises and sunsets. The string arrangements and refined lyrics make me want to be in Paris. Or by the sea. The acoustic ballads and harmonies declare romance and the melancholy tugs at your heart-strings. It is stellar and eclectic. It can make you feel wistful and reflective; then suddenly you are happy and as light as a feather. It is a journey through fine lyrics and breezy vocal jazz that leaves you exhilarated.
So with the introductions dispensed, back to the gig itself. After being suitably warmed up by the supporting act Young Dreams, Alex and I and the tightly bunched in crowd were treated to a generous set of old and new material sprinkled with witty anecdotes and touring tales. Sondre’s voice was unfaltering and his guitar playing totally accomplished. His acoustic encore brought gasps of joy and excited whoops from the crowd. With My Hands are Shaking, the ladies giggled softly and swooned just a little bit and the men nodded their heads to the music in respect. The first line of his final song, Modern Nature, was greeted instantly by a splendid sing-along by the audience. Sondre momentarily forgot the words but it didn’t matter.
We were all intoxicated, drunk on the music and the rum and the romance of it all. We happily filled in the gaps and our voices got louder and braver as we showed our appreciation for a truly great artist. We clapped him off the stage and made our way back out into cold reality.
Just a few months earlier, Alex and I had walked down the aisle at our wedding to the sounds of the beautiful To Be Surprised which to me evoked images of the final celestial scene in Dan in Real Life and made me think of how significant Sondre Lerche’s music had been in my life so far. (To be fair I think Alex just really liked the song).
I am ending this post with a plea to you, dear reader. One chilled weekend, grab a steaming cup of your favourite coffee or a glass of deep red, whatever takes your fancy. Delve into your Spotify account and go hunt Sondre down. Sit back in your favourite cozy chair, take a long, deep sigh and listen.
Plan to be surprised.