Since forming in Bergen, Norway in 1998, electronic duo Röyksopp have served as pioneers of down-tempo musical mood-sculpting, their debut album of 2001, ‘Melody A.M.’, regarded as something of a classic of its chillout genre.
The pair – Tobjørn Brundtland and Svein Berge – grew up in the same hometown of Tromsø, but did not begin to make music together as Röyksopp until meeting again in Bergen. ‘Melody A.M.’, picked up in the UK by Wall Of Sound, spawned successful singles including ‘Remind Me’ and ‘Eple’, establishing the duo as an outfit with commercial reach. Indeed, many of their songs have been used on advertisements, so accessible yet oddly unique are they.
Music television also helped the band on their way – ‘Remind Me’ won its category at the 2002 MTV Europe Awards. Today, that side of the band remains strong, evidence enough presented by their latest single, ‘Happy Up Here’, with its Space Invaders over a cityscape visuals.
Röyksopp’s third album, ‘Junior’, is released on March 23, and features guest vocal turns from Lykke Li and Karin Dreijer Andersson (The Knife). Clash met up with Tobjørn to talk about the band’s relationship with the magical world of the internet, and more… Pretty much what we did with Howling Bells!
You’ve a slick-looking official site and plenty of social groups – did the band embrace the internet at an early stage?
I’m afraid not! Being seen as a very electronic-inspired act, it’s perhaps a surprise that we can take our time with things, and not rush anything. That’s maybe why, back in 1998, I didn’t have the internet.
Can you imagine a band starting now without using what the internet offers?
A band without internet? That sounds like a band’s name. A band’s name on their MySpace page.
But the way music is consumed now, is it possible to be successful without the internet?
I guess if you’re a classical musician, maybe, because you can go through different channels. But if the music you’re making is folk, or electronic, or indie… I can’t see that happening. Unless you’re so hardcore, I guess – like, there are some people who still only put their music out on cassette. Which seems funny because most stereos do not come with cassette players. I still have cassettes, a lot of them, at home, and still play them. But I can’t… It’s a good question, because I really can’t see a band becoming big without ‘advertising’ itself through the internet.
Is the accessibility to new music that the internet offers a good or a bad thing? After all, the quality control is next to non-existent as sites like MySpace are user-generated. Has the internet ended local scenes, confined by geography?
I still think that geographical boundaries are prescient and prominent, because the locality is not only based around culture, but we also believe that your physical surroundings – be it a concrete jungle or some breathtaking scenery – has to have an effect on what you do. So, it’s going to give your music a sense of identity. But then again, when we were growing up in Tromsø, which has the latter of the two, a lot of pretty scenery, our biggest inspiration was, at some point, Detroit techno. That was then, but I really believe and hope that music can be coloured by a local scene.
So that can be as influential as a favourite band?
I think… Well, if you are determined… Seeing this from a Scandinavian perspective, you have two approaches, one of which is that you are determined to be part of a scene. Say, in 1991 there were bands wanting a ‘London’ sound, and some bands could pull that off impressively, without anyone raising an eyebrow. But then you’ve the other approach, which embraces your own culture and background. There’s a line from when Björk became so famous, because of her accent: she is proud of where she comes from. At that time most people in Norway, not in Iceland, were trying the copying approach, trying to sound like something spawned on the other side of the world. It’s changed, and maybe since Björk. Lots of bands that now get attention outside of Norway, I think, show some identity. It’s not necessarily authenticity, but they at least present themselves as authentic. That’s how cynical I am! (Laughs)
You gave away a single from your new album, ‘Happy Birthday’, away for free. Do you think that today’s music fan expects something for nothing?
Well, I just had a chat with my old man, and he remembers when people got 8-track tapes, and the fight against that format. And he told me about when the photocopier was invented, and how it was meant to destroy the publishing industry, but of course it didn’t. And you couldn’t tape off the radio, either, but at that age you are a casual user – you have not developed your tastes yet, and are bouncing between things. It’s ludicrous that anyone would charge you for that. So I think technology is just moving on, but people are the same. You need to convince people that your use of technology is intuitive; if it’s not natural, you are doomed to fail unless you use excessive force.
I think you have to give the impression that you’re on board, especially on a social side. Do you personally update your sites like Bebo and Facebook?
Oh yes, we actually have a real story connected to that, which is how we found Lykke Li – simply through her MySpace page. She’d put up some early tracks, just sketches really, that wasn’t anything but her and a piano. But that was enough for us to ask her if she would want to work with us. It was enough.
Do you find a lot of music simply by stumbling across MySpace sites and the like?
Well, I think MySpace is a bit annoying, because of the name. Maybe that’s just me, though, as I have many particularities. I just don’t like titles with ‘my’ or ‘I’ in them. I don’t want to say it, but I have to. I don’t want to say those words, and I hope they will make technology that does not use these names as I find them embarrassing. But there’s no way around it right now, so you accept it or you look like a prick. And I really don’t want to look like that (laughs). I think MySpace can lead you into things, but we don’t use it all that much.
It’s a new twist on word of mouth – or not so new I suppose. You find someone and then see what their friends have to say…
Yeah, I would say that.
Are you an active downloader, or do you prefer to head to a shop for the physical version?
I think we do both. We’re very much collectors, so the physical format is something we want. But when on the web we’re keen to buy things, if we can get it in WAV – it’s a shame to download something in an inferior format. We’re blessed with pretty fast internet so it takes about a minute to download a WAV, and when that’s possible I’ll do it. That’s how I like to operate.
Is there a generational divide opening, where teenagers today won’t go to a record shop and maybe hunt for something, finding other treats along the way?
I see what you mean, but I am more in favour of not having to be hopeful for a record – I’m never going to buy an LP for one song. If you go far and see things from an environmental angle, it really doesn’t cost much to produce downloads, and there are no real distribution costs.
Does it not bother you if people are picky, and take only two or three songs off of ‘Junior’?
That doesn’t bother me at all. Obviously it’d be nice if people got the whole album, as it’s part of a concept that’s in two parts. I don’t know if you know this, but ‘Junior’ is to be released along with ‘Senior’, which is out later in the year. We worked on both simultaneously. It’s true! It’s a nod to the old ‘70s concept albums – one in spring, and hopefully the other in autumn. So we’ve made something with a naïve belief that people will take time and listen to the whole thing. But we know that not everyone will do that, and we don’t mind. Perhaps, from an egocentric point of view, it’s better if people listen to three songs and then decide not to get the album, than get it and never play it.
What about including download codes in LP versions?
That’s smart. If it’s the vinyl you’re talking about, because it can be a hassle transferring that to digital. But sometimes the results can be preferred, you know. If you have a good set up, and something with a lot of dynamics in it, you can treat it and make it something… That’s something we do a lot. You have your own little digital library.
Okay. Finally then, do you ever Google yourself?
Sometimes we’ve done that, and sometimes I want to kick the guys who decide what comes up the top of a search. I know there’s lots of interesting stuff on the internet, and I know we’ve done really good interviews that are on the internet, but what comes up on searches is always really generic. In a way I don’t mind that our official site does not come up first – Royksopp.com is a pretty obvious address. But we don’t make a habit of Googling for ourselves. Do you ever Google yourself?
No, but my dad has done, and then called to say: “Did you know your name comes up on Google?” Yes, dad, I assumed it might....
(Laughs) Well, you’ve got to make sure the system works at least, from time to time.
‘Junior’ is released on March 23. Find Röyksopp at their official site (which links to many a social site) HERE.