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Sondre Lerche

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AboutStill in his early twenties and with two impressive, critically acclaimed pop albums already to his credit, you might expect Sondre Lerche to launch into his third recording by adopting the same music-making credo. After all, if nothing is broken, why fix it?

But the ebullient Norwegian singer-songwriter-guitarist-bandleader, who has been living the last few years in both his homeland and New York City, has taken a new approach on "Duper Sessions", which features his longtime trio, The Faces Down, augmented by pianist Erik Halvorsen. Instead of exploring complex arrangements and hip production like he did on "Faces Down" (2002) and "Two Way Monologue" (2004), Lerche decided to take a batch of new songs into the studio and, as he describes the experience, "just play and not think too much." The result? A fresh, back-to-basics collection of pop tunes with indelible melodies and smart lyrics that are rendered in a soft-and at times buoyant-romantic and jazz-infused sensibility.

The genesis of "Duper Sessions" came when the rock album Lerche was planning to record was delayed six months. "I had a bunch of totally different sounding songs I had written, so I gathered the guys together in Bergen [Norway]," he says. "I went through the songs with Erik, and we worked out small arrangement details that we went on to develop spontaneously with the band in the studio. We set out to capture a group of four terrific musicians playing together, while I could focus on singing and getting the intention of the songs across."

Most of the songs on "Duper Sessions" were recorded live, with minimal overdubbing. "The idea was to keep the sessions naturalistic and to give the impression of the flow we have in concert," says Lerche. "Usually I work a lot with the production, but this time I just wanted to capture the raw, unpolished sound of the five of us playing some swingin' songs together".

The band recorded a couple of songs a day, a pace much quicker than his previous outings. The impetus for the shift? "I'd look at jazz records from the '50s, like a Chet Baker album," he says. "The liner notes said that he recorded all 10 songs in two days. That inspired me to do something similar. I've been playing with the same band for five years, and the members are all really skilled and versatile. We communicate instinctively."

Key to the new approach is Halvorsen, who will tour with Lerche as a member of The Faces Down Quartet, which includes guitarist Kato Ådland, bassist Morten Skage and drummer Ole Ludvig Krüger. "Erik is essential to the record," says Lerche. "He's a jazz nerd. He brings so much to the solos. He adds subtle little ideas to the songs."

On "Duper Sessions", so named for the Duper Studio in Bergen where the album was recorded, Lerche delivers 13 songs that are pure pop with jazzy undertones. Most of the songs are originals, many of which clock in at the two-to-three-minute mark, with the playful "Across the Land" lasting only 1:17. "Keeping the songs short was deliberate," says Lerche. "On my first album, I tried to stretch songs as long as possible. Somehow I thought long songs were more important. Luckily, times change. This time I wanted to keep the structure of the songs tight and concentrated. Even the solos are short." He laughs and adds, "That way I could fit more songs on the album."

"Duper Sessions" opens on a bright note with the upbeat and cheerfully sweet "Everyone's Rooting for You" (written the night before the sessions), followed by another pop beauty, "Minor Detail," one of Lerche's favorites on the disc. "The song itself came together in a pleasing way, and the lyrics are very personal," Lerche says. "I also like the melody the most on the record. It's as close as I've gotten to writing a proper Brazilian pop song. Plus, the band performed it fantastically. Everything was so loose and unorganized, but we all hung in there."

The skipping, rockabilly-tinged "The Curse of Being in Love" was originally slotted for the upcoming rock record but rearranged to have an "old-fashioned feel and good energy," while the balladic sad song, "Dead End Mystery," slows the proceedings to a crawl with Lerche beautifully singing the chorus in falsetto (inspired by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso) and Ådland providing a pedal steel guitar weep.

The pedal steel is also featured on the pop swinger with scruffy background vocals, "Once in Awhile," one of Lerche's newer songs written with a Tim Burton film atmosphere in mind. In contrast, that's followed by a melody written a couple of years ago, "(You Knocked Me) Off My Feet," which is a quiet, low-paced ballad that features a romantic piano open and fine guitar break. The album ends with a loping swing through "I'm Not From Here" (about falling in love and not having the slightest idea of how it works) and the dark-toned, but romantic "You Sure Look Swell," featuring a vibrato guitar. "I wanted to give it a dangerous feel like a David Lynch film," says Lerche. "It's a sweet song inspired by the romantic pop music from the '50s."

The only song of the collection that veers from the spontaneous is "(I Wanna) Call It Love," a fun romance number that has a musical theater quality, complete with a string arrangement. "We've played this live so long as a rough rock number that we had to do something different in the studio," says Lerche. "We kept the rock edge, but sweetened it up. It's a celebration of being in love, even though it may not last. When you're young, grownups always warn you to be careful, saying it probably won't last. They're often right, but this is a song celebrating being in love even if it is bound to end tomorrow."

Three covers are in the mix. Lerche and company render the 1940's hit song "The More I See You," written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren and recorded over the years by such vocalists as Nat King Cole, Nina Simone and Chris Montez. (On the U.S./North American version of "Duper Sessions", this song is replaced by the jaunty piano, crash-and-swing drum take on Elvis Costello's "Human Hands" from his Imperial Bedroom album. Says Lerche, "He's my absolute favorite artist-songwriter. I wanted to do one of his songs for the session, but I didn't want to choose something obvious.")

Also getting the graceful and swinging Lerche treatment is "Nightingales" by Prefab Sprout's Paddy McAloon, another major influence. "We do a version of it that's just the song, straight and simple. The Prefab Sprout song had all those '80s filters and echoes that buried everything in the mix. It's such a great melody with great lyrics that there's no need to cover it up."

Equally remarkable is Lerche's distinctive pop-rhythm interpretation of Cole Porter's classic, "Night and Day," recorded live on one take. "I first heard this when I was very young," Lerche says. "I didn't know anything about it. To this day, this is my favorite song of all. I was born with an appreciation of harmony and melody, and that's what Cole Porter is all about. I've always felt he would be my link to jazz because so many jazz players did his songs. One of my first pure jazz records was Charlie Parker Plays Cole Porter."

Lerche hastens to note that he has no intention of becoming a retro jazz crooner who performs Porter standards in a black suit and tie. Says Sondre, "I really care about this kind of music. It's both fun and interesting." He adds that his renditions of the old tunes reflect his very contemporary pop aesthetic.

During the sessions, Lerche wrote in the "Monologues" section of his Web site (sondrelerche.com) about the back-to-basics project: "I don't know when I'll release these songs, but I do know that it's a dream come true to finally be able to collect [these songs] together and put them on tape with my band and producer Jørgen Traeen. I am very fond of these songs, and I've been longing to record them a long time."

Now that "Duper Sessions" is seeing the light of day, how does Lerche feel about his pop music masterpiece? "I'm really excited," he says. "There were no expectations as to what would come of this, so it's all the more pleasing."

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