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Sondre Lerche

Singer and songcrafter Sondre Lerche arrived on the broader music scene of his native Norway in 2001 with a hit single, "You Know So Well," and an acclaimed full-length debut, Faces Down, when he was still a teenager. With a U.S. release arriving the following year, the album introduced the tasteful pairing of his distinctively warm voice and his talent for writing appealing pop tunes that were alternately sunny and melancholic. Also evident were the influences of '60s American pop, '80s U.K. alternative bands, and the Brazilian music he studied as a guitar pupil. He also demonstrated an affection for adventurous chords and a certain experimental bent that would rarely, if ever, take his songs out of ear-pleasing territory as his career progressed. Lerche's skills were quickly validated with the Spellemann Award (Norway's Grammys) for newcomer of the year, and he followed up with the more intimate Two Way Monologue in 2004. Relocating to the U.S. shortly thereafter, Lerche hit the Billboard contemporary jazz Top Five with the jazz-pop set Duper Sessions in 2006, then switched to short, spiky rock for the next year's Phantom Punch. Throughout these and subsequent style explorations, his ear for melody and way with smart, heartfelt lyrics remained a constant. Along the way, he also dabbled in soundtrack music; part songs and part guitar instrumentals, his score for Dan in Real Life (2007) included an original duet with Regina Spektor. For the 2014 thriller The Sleepwalker, he honed an eerie, fractured ambiance conceived with his long-time producer Kato Ådland. Over the course of the next seven years, Lerche issued the unofficial trilogy of Please (2014), Pleasure (2017), and Patience (2020), which took on matters of the heart with art-pop, exuberant synthesizer pop, and subtler ambient influences, respectively. 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, Lerche 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 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). He 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 his own Mona Records label, it was also his first of many albums the 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.
© Marcy Donelson & Tim Sendra /TiVo
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