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Sondre Lerche

Pairing an intimate and warm voice with a talent for writing appealing pop tunes that are alternately sunny and melancholic, Sondre Lerche's work shows the influences of 1960s American pop, '80s U.K. alternative, and the Brazilian music he absorbed while learning guitar. He arrived in 2001 with an acclaimed full-length debut, Faces Down, that already demonstrated an affection for adventurous chords and the experimental bent that would regularly surface afterward. From straightforward guitar pop (2004's Two Way Monologue) to gentle jazz-pop (2006's Duper Sessions) and short, spiky new wave-influenced rock (2007's Phantom Punch), his ear for melody and way with smart, heartfelt lyrics have remained constants. His talents stretched to soundtrack work (as on his score for 2007's Dan in Real Life and the 2014 thriller The Sleepwalker) and serving as a mentor on Norway's edition of The Voice. A string of records -- Please (2014), Pleasure (2017), and Patience (2020) -- took on matters of the heart with art pop, exuberant synthesizer pop, and subtler ambient influences, respectively. His restless artistic spirit has never dimmed, and even the perils of the global pandemic barely slowed him down. Ironically, he recorded his most collaborative and lush-sounding album, 2022's Avatars of Love, during that period of lockdown and isolation. Born and raised in Bergen, Lerche was weaned on the '80s pop that emanated from his older siblings' rooms. Compelled by a fascination for acts such as a-ha, the Beach Boys, and Elvis Costello, he began formal guitar instruction at age eight. His frustration with classical guitar eventually led his teacher to switch him to Brazilian style, while Lerche experimented with writing original tunes on his own. He penned the first song he would deem fit to record, "Locust Girl," at 14. He performed acoustic gigs at the club where his sister worked while he was still underage, and was "discovered" by Norwegian producer HP Gundersen. Under Gundersen's mentorship, Lerche was exposed to diverse music genres, including psychedelia, '60s pop, and mainstream Brazilian music, broadening his appreciation for eclectic music styles. Around this time, Lerche also met up with Oslo-based manager Tatiana Penzo, leading to a deal with Virgin Norway. The EP You Know So Well saw release in February 2001, and the title track went to number two on Norway's singles chart. A commercially successful follow-up EP, No One's Gonna Come, followed in June of the same year, accompanied by numerous local performances and increasing industry buzz. The songs from his full-length debut, Faces Down, had been completed before winter 2000 but were postponed for release until Lerche fulfilled several academic requirements. In the interim, he was named Best New Artist at the Spellemannprisen and performed locally in support of major acts such as Beth Orton. Faces Down was finally released in Norway in September 2001 and gradually throughout all of Europe. Lerche toured with various acts, including a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share the stage with his longtime idols a-ha in Oslo. October 2002 brought the release of Faces Down in America and Lerche's first major tour of the United States. He treated fans with the live/studio EP Don't Be Shallow the following year. Lerche got personal for his sophomore effort, Two Way Monologue, which appeared in March 2004 and furthered the chamber pop sound of its predecessor. After relocating to Brooklyn, Lerche took a stylistic diversion and recorded an album of low-key, jazz-influenced tunes with a mostly acoustic version of his Faces Down band. Duper Sessions was released in 2006 and reached number five in the Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart. While touring that year with idol Elvis Costello, Lerche was inspired by Costello's energy and interaction with his group. This led Lerche to record a batch of punchy rock songs for 2007's Tony Hoffer-produced Phantom Punch. Among the fans of Lerche's work was director Peter Hedges, who was looking for someone to provide the music for his 2007 film Dan in Real Life -- specifically, someone to be his Cat Stevens (Harold and Maude) or Simon & Garfunkel (The Graduate). Hedges chose Lerche, and the soundtrack featured a mix of songs from his back catalog and some newly recorded tracks, including "Hell No," a duet with Regina Spektor. In 2008, Lerche offered the tour-only CD-R EPs Polaroid Pool Party (West Coast) and Polaroid Pumpkin Party (East Coast), and in 2009, he released the sophisticated Heartbeat Radio, which doubled as his debut for the Rounder label. He provided the song "Dear Laughing Doubters" for the end titles of the comedy Dinner for Schmucks in 2010, and a self-titled album followed in 2011 that included collaborations with Midlake percussionist McKenzie Smith and Ådland, who again produced. The debut of Lerche's own Mona Records label, it was also his first of many albums to feature drummer Dave Heilman (Jupiter One). Sondre Lerche entered the Norwegian album chart at number eight before climbing as high as number six. The following January, he began a three-season stint as a mentor on the Norwegian edition of TV's The Voice. To celebrate his 30th birthday later in 2012, Lerche released his first live album, Bootlegs, and reissued his first four albums on vinyl with bonus tracks. That year, he was also honored with his own postage stamp in Norway, as part of a series featuring male pop artists. Before his next album, Lerche and his wife of eight years divorced, which gave 2014's Please a bitingly personal lyrical character. Co-produced by Lerche, Ådland, and Matias Tellez, it also solidified a regular recording and touring backing band in Heilman, bassist Chris Holm, and keyboardist Alexander von Mehren. That same year, Lerche's (and Ådland's) soundtrack for the indie thriller The Sleepwalker was released. Lerche's career had always been a series of surprising artistic shifts, but the biggest one came with the release of the first single for his next album, Pleasure. Forgoing the sophisticated guitar pop of the previous couple records, "I'm Always Watching You" was a very '80s-influenced, synth-heavy club track. Released in March 2017 on his rebranded PLZ label, Pleasure proved to be just as synthesized as the single. Considered the second in a trilogy of albums, it featured the same team of producers and musicians as Please. Following a move to Los Angeles and an album of Norwegian-language kid's songs for TV puppet star Fantorangen (2018's Er Det Morgen Nå?), Lerche's 2019 EP BRITNEY included three Britney Spears covers alongside an original song recorded with the Silver Lake Chorus ("Slip into Character"). The final installment of his trilogy, Patience, arrived in June 2020. The album ranged from waggish glam rock to ornate orchestral pop balladry and included a collaboration with Van Dyke Parks. Lerche had planned a worldwide tour supporting the album but instead moved back to Norway to ride out the early days of COVID lockdowns and isolation. While there, he wrote many new songs, and once the country opened up in the middle of the year, he began playing solo shows throughout the country. Near the end of 2020, he was able to spend time in local studios, recording songs in short bursts as soon as he finished writing them. Along with contributions from producer Kato Adland and members of his band, many of the songs were given string arrangements written by Sean O'Hagan of High Llamas' fame and recorded in London. Other collaborators included Japanese pop band CHAI, vocalist Felicia Douglass, and harpist Mary Lattimore. Released under the title Avatars of Love in April 2022, the album presented Lerche at his most musically adventurous -- with songs stretching from ten-minute-long avant-chamber pop excursions to those inspired by sleek city pop of the '80s -- and bubbled over with typically well-constructed melodies and bracingly honest lyrics.
© Marcy Donelson & Tim Sendra /TiVo


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