Dancing with tears in our eyes
Already making a name for itself in Europe, Danish trio WhoMadeWho brings its mix of melancholy rock and electric highs to a show in Tel Aviv next week.
The tracks on "Knee Deep," the previous album recorded by WhoMadeWho, are pretty depressing, but at the same time they make you wiggle your butt and throw your arms in the air. "Sometimes, it's a relief to come from dark feelings and then, from a really low place, get high with an energy that lifts you up," says Jeppe Kjellberg, the singer, guitarist and songwriter of Danish trio WhoMadeWho, scheduled to arrive in Israel for a September 21 show at the Block club in Tel Aviv.
WhoMadeWho combines melancholy rock with disco-punk and dance music, and has appeared alongside other well-known electronic and rock groups like Daft Punk, LCD Soundsystem, Justice and Hot Chip. The band was started in 2003 by Kjellberg, who came from the avant-garde jazz scene, and his bassist buddy Tomas Hoeffding, who came from the Scandinavian rock underground, and they were joined by drummer Tomas Barfod, nicknamed TomBoy. This year the trio put out its fourth album, "Brighter."
"What we tried to do with the last two albums, 'Knee Deep' and 'Brighter,' was to go beyond the pop, radiophonic style of the first two albums, but it's not as if we said to ourselves, 'So let's make a dark album now.' Rather, the music reflected what we felt at the time of recording," says Kjellberg.
Is that why you called the last album "Brighter"? Because it's less dark than "Knee Deep"?
"Precisely. It's all relative."
The music video that accompanies WhoMadeWho's single "Every Minute Alone" (from "Knee Deep" ) shows European men in dire straits. There isn't single woman to be found, only broken men in floods of tears. "The video was filmed at the time the Danish economy was peaking," Kjellberg says. "People were filthy rich and terribly spoiled. We could fly anywhere and buy anything we wanted. I remember people claiming that Danes are the happiest people in the world, while in fact our rate of suicide is terribly high.
"In the video, we wanted to point to the man at the socioeconomic peak of Scandinavia in the modern era," he continues. "Because he has it so good, any little problem assumes exaggerated proportions and is liable to break him. The people in the video break down and burst into tears because of really small, dumb things - stuff you probably wouldn't even notice."
Asked about the difference between him and the other two members of the group, Kjellberg says, "Sometimes things on the page aren't supposed to work, but in reality they manage to jell." When they started out, he was considered the musical snob, the one who listens to the doo-wop and jazz he encountered while living in New York, whereas his two bandmates come from different musical worlds. Hoeffding "was always more into song-type music, singer-songwriter stuff on the one hand, but on the other hand he was also into garage rock. TomBoy was always more into the electronic, club scene," Kjellberg says.
Why did you name the band after an AC/DC album?
"Well, it's the old rock cliche: The record label leans on a band because there's a deadline and that's how the name gets chosen. But it really happened to us. It all started really fast, in 2003. The German record company were into us and wanted us to put out our first single right away. The problem was that we still didn't have a name. When the company called us to say we only had a few hours left to decide, TomBoy started rummaging through his record collection and came across an album with this hard-core rock cover. We were sure it was some really old band, lik e totally dead, but it turned out to be AC/DC [still going strong since 1973]. The name appealed to all three of us."
Three countries in two days
The record company that was putting pressure on the band was Gomma Records from Munich, a label with a focus on disco and punk and various combinations of rock and electronica. The first two albums were released through Gomma, but for the second two discs the band worked with the highly regarded dance-music label Kompakt, based on Cologne.
Are you popular in Denmark or is your fan base mostly abroad?
"Today yes, but it took five or six years until we became famous in our own country. The moment it happened, everything got very intense. Our music was first put out by a German label so, naturally, we were bigger in Germany, France and more southern European countries."
How did you hook up with Kompakt?
"We'd always known about them and loved what they do, and then TomBoy, our drummer, put out a side project of his, Jatoma, with them. That's how Michael Meyer [one of the company's owners and a well-known DJ] got to know us as a band, so we started working with him and it was all very smooth going, and it still is."
Meyer is one of many musicians and DJs to create remixes of WhoMadeWho's songs. "Every Minute Alone" received his special touch, and the song was also remixed by the duo Tale of Us, which came to Israel some three months ago for a show at the same club where WhoMadeWho is appearing. The Rapture, another disco-punk band, electronic-pop group Hot Chip and the electronic band Digitalism have also created mixes for them, and this is only a partial list. Josh Homme, of rock band Queens of the Stone Age, recorded a cover version of one of the group's earliest hits, "Space to Rent." For its part, WhoMadeWho has made its own remixes of songs by Chicks on Speed, Digitalism, Tahiti 80, Hot Chip and others.
At the 2007 Benicassim International Festival of pop, rock and electronica in Spain, something amazing happened to WhoMadeWho. British indie-rock band Klaxons, which was at the peak of its popularity and was due to headline on the main stage, didn't make it to the festival. "We were also supposed to perform, but on a smaller stage and in a less attractive time slot," says Kjellberg. "Suddenly, someone from the festival production staff comes up to us and says we have to go on right now, on the main stage. We told him we couldn't, we were in the middle of dinner, but he insisted."
When WhoMadeWho took the stage, it was booed by the audience that was waiting for the headline act and instead got some unknown trio. At the end of the performance, the entire audience had its arms up in the air and was rocking out to the sounds of the newly discovered group.
Is it true that you recorded a track with Burmese freedom fighters?
"Yes. Amnesty International in Copenhagen asked us to do it. Up until then we were just partying. It sounded different from what we've done so far, and like an important think for us to do.
I assume the Burmese freedom fighters had never heard of WhoMadeWho.
"Yeah. They didn't really know anything [about contemporary music] because they were living underground and hiding from the government."
These days, the band is in the middle of an exhausting world tour. Kjellberg says he is very tired because they've just performed in three different countries in two days. "Instead of sleeping, we party all night. It's not easy," he says. After the band's visit to Israel, it's supposed to give four performances in France, three in Mexico, two in Spain and one in Portugal before going on tour in its cold motherland.
Two months ago, at the height of the world tour, Kjellberg was awaiting the birth of his son. "I was afraid to travel to a performance somewhere and then be told that it's happening. So I said to the guys, 'Let's hire a private jet.' It was so much fun traveling with our own plane," he says. Kjellberg's son was born and the singer was there for the birth and, he adds, "It was way better than the treks we used to make through Europe in this tiny, disintegrating car that stank of our sweaty costumes." During the time of the third album mostly, the band used to appear in freaky, flamboyant outfits, "so that we wouldn't feel like ourselves and as a result would be able to go really crazy onstage."
Will you be in costume when you take the stage in Tel Aviv?
"We don't know yet. I never say what we're going to do because we tend to change things at the last minute."