Interview with Henriette Sennevaldt and Thorbjorn Krogshede
Spotted by Rolling Stone's chief editor David Fricke as one of
the ten bands to watch in the future, then recruited by Howe Gelb to
play on his 2003 album " The Listener", Under Byen won't stay
Denmark's best kept secret for a very long time. The Aarhus based 8-piece
went early 2004 to the Eurosonic festival in Groningen (NL). Here, they
played a one-off gig at the Muziekschool, and met label bosses, festival
headhunters and people from the media, the latter including the Rockomondo
man, fan right from the start ( both Under Byen's albums have been "
Album of the Month" in the radio-show). This interview took place
the day after the gig, in a small café, with Henriette Sennenvaldt
( vocals, songwriting) and Thorbjorn Krogshede ( keyboards, songwriting).
ROCKOMONDO: When talking about Denmark, everybody knows, of
course, Copenhagen, the capital. Aarhus, the place you're from, hasn't
got the same international reputation although it's Denmark's second
town. Can you tell us more about it, how it's like and what's happening
there, so we can better imagine the place you live in ? Do us the tourist
Most of all, Aarhus is a city by the sea. It's even the main characteristic
of this town: wherever you are, you're never far from the sea. So we
have a harbour, beaches, forests each side of the city. Then there is
a university, lots of young people, lots of people playing music. All
in all, it's a very small and very charming city. I've lived there all
of my life, so maybe it's starting to become a bit boring to me, but
I think people who come there for the first time think that it's quite
a charming place, especially during summer. Everybody's going outside
again after our long Danish winter, people sit in the streets for a
chat or a drink, they go to the beach and have a good time: it's really
a great place to be.
The former core of the band was made of you and Katrine Stochholm. You
know each other since your childhood. What was your musical background
? Does it come from you childhood too ? Did you get some classical training
for instance ?
HS: I haven't got
any training at all, or any backgound that could explain my love for
music. My father has a huge record-collection, that has certainly been
a big part of my musical education, but that's all. It's quite different
for Katrine and her two brothers - one of them also plays in this band
- who have played music all their lives. She has been playing piano
since she was a child.
I've been suprised not to see her at the gig you did yesterday. Why
didn't she came to this Eurosonic show with the rest of the band ?
HS: It's just that
Katrine doesn't like travelling. She only does shows in Denmark, but
doesn't come when we play abroad.
Your biography says that you and Katrine first had the idea of forming
a band in the mid-90's, almost ten years ago. As you're still all in
your early twenties, it's something that started very early for you,
that urge to express yourself through music ?
HS: Yes, that's right,
and it's a chance that we know each other for so long now. I think the
group as it is now, we have been playing together for four years or
so. That makes quite some time, and it's great, because we know each
other well, and we feel safe around each other.
One thing I find amazing is that, right from the start, it looked like
you had a very definite idea of the music you wanted to do. For instance,
when you formed the band and chose the musicians, you didn't choose
any of them: you found musicians who played acoustic instruments like
accordion, violin, cello. So, even before the band started, you already
had a very clear idea of the music you wanted to do and how it was going
HS: It was not the
idea of how we wanted to make it sound, but more an attraction to these
instruments because they were so exotic. You know, when you play music
at school, all the traditional stuff, you don't have often the chance
to play with instruments like these. I think we just found them exciting,
especially the strings. Katrine and I were both very fascinated by this
romance, and the strong feelings they can produce. But none of us had
any pre-conceived idea of how it was going to turn. We didn't even know
the instruments, by the way. We just wanted to have them in the band.
Your first EP is really stunning. It doesn't sound at all like the debut
recording of a young band. Most of all, it firmly sets up the Under
Byen sound, which is something a bit difficult to pigeonhole: there
are clearly classical, folk and jazz influences all mixed together.
Where does it come from actually ? What are the roots of your music
HS: Well, it just
comes from the people who form the band. Again, I don't think that there
was any idea behind this band. The sound we have now is just a reflection
of these people, with their personalities, their particular instruments
and how we manage to assemble all these elements together.
At least, there is an influence you can't deny, it's the one of Swedish
artist Stina Nordenstam. Actually, you chose the producer of your first
album, Manne von Ahn Öberg, because of her ...
HS: Yes, we knew
him from the Stina Nordenstam album called " Dynamite". It
was mainly because of the way he had produced her voice, but also the
strings and the drums. We really liked these three elements: very heavy
drums, shimmering strings and feathery vocals. These three things display
some kind of very allusive eeriness, and he brings them even further.
That was an interesting soundscape he created, and we thought that it
would fit perfectly for us, so we worked with him. He's a very gifted
man and has a great talent in producing, particularly the strings...
Signe, from the Danish band Jomi Massage, firmly claims the female aspect
of the music she plays. If we consider that the creative team in Under
Byen was mostly made of two girls at first, would you say also that
there is a female aspect in what you're doing ?
HS: Yes, very much
so, but it is something that is hard to explain. We are so many in Under
Byen and this is very much a group, above all. There's a perfect balance
in the band's line-up: four boys and four girls, so there is indeed
a big girlie influence, but the opposite is true as well.
The thing is that the creative team in Under Byen doesn't only consist
of two girls. On the contrary, you have to think of the band as a bunch
of people united with the aim of doing this particular music together.
Each individual fulfills a role which is quite unique in the band. It
would give totally different results with other people. So the idea
that Under Byen has a creative team with a blueprint of how the music
is going to be - belittling the rest of the band to the status of simple
performers - is wrong. By saying this, I'm not undermining the value
of Katrine's songs and Henriettes's lyrics which, of course, are truly
blessed. I'm just pointing out the fact that the actual creative team
in Under Byen is the band as a whole. Regarding that feminine/ masculine
aspect, our music contains it all, one of its main structures being
actually the tension that exits between these two poles. It is very
difficult to differenciate between the two anyway. One side always contains
the other, otherwise it will soon become unbearable. You could argue
that Henriette's way of singing is very feminine, and indeed it is,
but not only. And then we mix it with the sound of the saw, which I
think is very masculine, and there you have it: a nice mixture of it
Thorbjorn, you joined the band between the first and second album as
a keyboard player but also as a composer. Has it been easy to join a
songwriting team made of two girls who were friends since their childhood,
and how did you manage to adapt your own songwriting to a music that
had already such a strong identity ?
TK: Yes, it has
been very very easy for me to join this band. The fact that the former
songwriting team consisted of two girls is not important at all. It's
simply not the issue. The important thing is that Under Byen's music
contained all the space I had always needed to go further into the music,
very deep inside. It is something that demands a lot of discipline.
I had never experienced something like that before, neither in jazz
nor in classical music. The things we do in this band, you can't learn
them at " The Royal Highschool of Music". So I just forgot
all that to get deeper into the music. But I don't consciously adapt
my composing to anything. I hear Henriette's voice in my head, and from
there it follows that I base a composition on the mood from her voice
and poetry. That's all. You can call that some kind of adaptation. But
it also goes the other way round, that Under Byen adapt to me. Actually,
Under Byen adapt to everything that can make a promising song and sound.
I think my songs make a good balance to Katrine's ones. Both her songs
and mine stand out better in the light of each other.
the end of 2002, you've been chosen by Rolling Stone magazine as one
of the ten most promising bands for the years to come. Then you've had
numerous connections with the USA, some of you have contributed to the
Howe Gelb album " The Listener" , you also played at NY's
CMJ festival, did it help in opening doors for the band in the USA ?
TK: We talked with
people over there, negociating, but it's too early to say yet. I don't
know if it looks that promising, but it has definitely opened doors
in the mind of people over here. I can really feel a difference since
we've been in New-York. People are more concerned about us. They look
at us a different way.
And what about the rest of the world ? Until now, we haven't heard much
about you outside Denmark ...
TK: That's true.
But we're working at making things change. That's one of the reasons
we are in Groningen right now. Anyway, next month we're going to play
in Norway and in march 2004 we'll fly again to the United States to
play at Austin's famous SXSW festival. It's amazing that such things
are possible now, because we didn't play much outside the Danish borders
Have you been told already that you should better sing in English if
you wanted to reach a wider audience ?
HS: Yes, it's something
we've heard already. Guys from records-companies wanted to sign us only
if we changed our lyrics to English. So we talked together about it
and we finally decided not to accept. It was the right choice. Actually,
people are responding very positively to the fact that we sing in Danish.
They seem to find the language kinda exotic and interesting. So I don't
think it is a problem anymore.
Your music is strong enough so that we can enjoy it without understanding
the words. But as I'm curious, I find a bit frustrating not to be able
to know what you say. So, what are your lyrics about ? Do they tell
stories, or is this something more poetic, more elusive ?
HS: Thorbjorn, could
you answer to that one ?
TK: Ok, thank you
very much, I'm honoured. Erm, I can try to say what they mean to me,
at least the one that I wrote, and it's... well, maybe there's little
stories in it, but not like narrative stories. For me, it's much more
a mood, it's more something
poetic. For example, the title of our second album " Det er mig
der holder traeerne sammen" that you can translate by " It's
me who is keeping the trees together", well, what do I get out
of that ? It is meant to create a special mood which I think is also
in the music. There's a close connection between the two. It's quite
a difficult thing to explain, really. For the next album, we'll try
to put an english translation on our website (1).
The last recordings you did were for a movie-score. Can you tell us
more about this film ? Is it a Danish movie ?
TK: Yes it is. It's
some kind of a teenage-movie called " 2 ryk og en aflevering",
which is pretty hard to translate. It is actually a soccer expression,
but it also has sexual connotations.
How did you work to do that movie-score ? Did you actually compose the
music from what was happening on the screen ?
Actually we saw the movie while we were playing because we didn't own
any modern movie equipment. So we couldn't work on computers like regular
composers do. It was very primitive in fact: we just sat and played
while watching the film on a video monitor. It was a pretty hard process.
Was it the first time that you played music for a special purpose, other
than doing you own records ?
TK: No, it wasn't.
Before that, we also made music for a big event on the Aarhus harbour
called " Portpolis" where Henriette was actually the main
figure. It included sailing and theatre while Henriette was singing,
very imposing, very beautiful ( laughs)
You also did songs for a theatre play...
HS: Yes, we did
a song but it was not one of our own compositions. It was an old german
song that we performed for this theatre play about a German serial killer
called Herman. It was actually with the same guys who were with us for
that big project on the harbour which was, I don't know how to call
it... it mixed sailing, theater, architecture, movies and music all
together. It's a Danish theatre group from our city, and it was very
interesting to work with them. But it was also an exhausting experience.
When we had finished we were really tired, all of us, after trying to
adapt ourselves to somebody else's needs, and we were quite happy to
do our own stuff again. So, I think there will be some time before we
do this again.
I quite like the cover-art of your second album with that very intriguing
photograph series. It shows that things are not always what they may
seem at first, but it also displays some kind of very peculiar sense
of humour. Is there a place for humour in Under Byen's music ?
HS: Yes, I definitely
think so, and sometimes it's quite a frustrating thought to feel that
nobody ever sees that. But I swear it definitely exists. If it didn't,
it would mean our music is... pretentious, that it takes itself very
seriously, with all those emotional outpourings, it's just too much
you know. So you have to believe there's humour in it. You have to keep
some distance and put a certain amount of irony in it, just to do it.
Otherwise you'd just get sick.
What will happen now after the music score you've just released ? Did
you already think about how your next album will sound like ?
TK: We are in a
quite difficult situation, because we don't know at all what we are
going to do now. We just know that we have a great need to do something
completely new. It would be boring to do something we've done already.
Lately, we tried to record some old songs, but we finally gave up. We
were not satisfied with them, maybe because we were not surprised by
them anymore. So, if we do something, it definitely has to be completely
different. We are looking for new directions. Because of the theatre
and film music we've made, it gave us new ideas, and most of all it
helped us knowing what we DIDN'T want to do. The rest is a matter of
(1) An excellent
English translation of Under Byen's lyrics ( and fine pics of Henriette
live) is now available on www.alwaysontherun.net/underbyen.htm
( At the time
I put this interview online, Under Byen are on the verge of doing their
first French tour with the itinerant festival " Les
Femmes s'en Mèlent" . Their second album
" Det her mig
der holder traeerne sammen" will be released in
the Netherlands by Excelsior
Recordings and in France by Telescopic.
The SXSW gig was cancelled due to a change of venue - the stage was
too small in the new one-)
- Under Byen: "
- Under Byen: "
Det her mig..." review
( excellent unofficial website okayed by the band)