Singer, songwriter, guitarist
Norwegian pop star Sondre Lerche released his first album in Europe in 2002, when he was 19 years old. Faces Down followed a pair of successful singles that had already established the young singer/songwriter as a major force on the European pop scene. His United States debut the following year was just as enthusiastically received, with the Boston Globe's Christopher Muther proclaiming that "amid the cacophony of processed teen pop, Lerche's sweet, gentle songs stood as a reminder of the power of a well-written melody." With catchy, 1960s pop-flavored tunes that are by turns upbeat and melancholy, Lerche has followed in the footsteps of his idols A-ha, the Beach Boys, and other trendsetters.
Sondre Lerche (pronounced "Sondra LAIR-kay") was born and raised as the youngest of four children in Bergen, Norway. The town of 25,000 people has produced many successful pop artists, including Lerche contemporaries Royksopp and Kings of Convenience. As children, Lerche's older siblings listened to earlier hitmakers such as the trio A-ha and the Beach Boys, and Lerche himself was soon listening as well. He began playing music at the age of eight, and it was the pop bands he loved that he wanted to emulate. His formal instruction proved unsatisfying, so at the age of 14, Lerche began experimenting on his own, writing the kinds of songs he wanted to hear. His first effort was a song called "Locust Girl." He began to perform acoustic sets at a club where his sister was employed.
Music producer H. P. Gundersen heard of Lerche's work, and he took the young musician under his wing, introducing Lerche to a wide range of musical styles. He gave the young artist access to a studio, where he began recording the songs that were to make up his first album. He also helped him find his manager, Oslo-based Tatiana Penzo. Penzo in turn helped him secure a record deal with Virgin Norway.
In 2000, when he was 17 years old, Lerche signed with the Virgin label's Norway division. By the end of the year he had finished recording his first album, but he and Virgin delayed the album's release until Lerche finished high school. In the meantime Lerche released a sampling of the album in the form of singles. In February of 2001 he released "You Know So Well," which went straight to the charts. He followed this up in June with the equally well-received "No One's Gonna Come." He later described the attention he got as a surreal experience, since he was still in high school trying to concentrate on his final exams.
Lerche was 16 years old when he wrote the songs for his first album, and 18 when he recorded them. He has cited his main influences during this time as British songwriter Elvis Costello, American songwriters Burt Bacharach and Cole Porter, and assorted Brazilian artists. Since he was in high school at the time, much of the music reflects the experience of "being stuck in school," as he termed it in an article on the CNN.com website.
In September of 2001 Virgin released Lerche's first full-length album, Faces Down, in Norway, where it landed in the top five on the pop charts and received extensive radio play. From there the album enjoyed widespread popularity throughout Europe. Lerche also made a splash at the Norwegian Spellemannprisen Awards by taking home the title of Best New Artist in 2001. In Oslo, as part of a concert tour to promote the album, Lerche even had the opportunity to share the stage with his idols, the members of the band A-ha.
Faces Down saw release in the United States in the fall of 2002, and Lerche launched his first U.S. concert tour to promote the album. The American press lionized the album and praised Lerche's concerts. Rolling Stone called the album one of the 50 best of 2002, while Spin named Lerche one of its "Artists to Watch." "I want the whole world to hear these songs," Lerche told George Paul in Riverside, California's Press-Enterprise. "If they like them, I'll be happy as a kitten in a tree."
Lerche's desire to have the world enjoy his music is helped by the fact that although English is not Lerche's first language, he prefers to write and sing in the language of the music he grew up listening to—even when, by his own acknowledgment, his phrasing sometimes seems a bit odd to native English speakers. He thinks of that as part of the charm of his work, and by all indications, the press and his fans wholeheartedly agree.
Lerche has also made a lasting impression on critics and fans alike by writing and playing tunes that carry some emotional depth. Lerche himself has attributed much of his success to his desire to write songs that can be just as effective when played solo on an acoustic guitar as when they are mixed with other instruments in the studio. The music itself, Lerche has said, must be good enough to stand on its own. "If someone hears it in the supermarket and thinks 'that's catchy,' I'm happy," he told the London Observer's Emma Warren. "But I like to add jazz thinking, a new dimension."
Returning to the same Bergen studio where he recorded Faces Down, Lerche went to work on a new album in 2003. The new album also made use of the same production team, headed by H. P. Gunderson, and the same backing musicians, now comprising a band called The Faces Down. "The swing of the musicians playing together is probably what I'm most happy about on this record," Lerche said on his official website. Virgin released Lerche's EP Don't Be Shallow in advance of his second full length album, Two Way Monologue, which hit stores in the spring of 2004.
Critics raved about the new album as much as they had praised his earlier work. Ernesto Lechner of the Los Angeles Times called it "one of the most mature and sophisticated pop-rock albums of the year," and marveled at how much was possible from an artist who was only 21 years old. Far from being a flash in the pan, Lerche seemed to have proven his staying power.
For the Record …
Born in 1982, in Bergen, Norway.
Played in clubs while still in high school, 1990s; signed with Virgin Norway, 2000; released hit singles "You Know So Well" and "No One's Gonna Come" in Norway, 2001; released debut album, Faces Down, in Norway, then in Europe, 2001; released Faces Down in the United States, 2002; released Two Way Monologue, 2004.
Awards: Spellemannprisen Award (top Norwegian music award) for Best New Artist, 2001.
Addresses: Record company—EMI Music Norway, P.O. Box 492, Sentrum, N-0105 Oslo, Norway. Management—Stageway Artist AS, Skuteviksbodene 11, N-5035 Bergen, Norway. Website—Sondre Lerche Official Website: http://www.sondrelerche.com.
"You Know So Well" (EP), Virgin Norway, 2001.
"No One's Gonna Come" (EP), Virgin Norway, 2001.
Faces Down, Virgin, 2001; rereleased, Astralwerks, 2002.
Don't Be Shallow (EP), Astralwerks, 2003.
Two Way Monologue, Astralwerks, 2004.
Boston Globe, February 14, 2003, p. C15.
Boston Herald, May 14, 2004, P. E4.
Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2004, p. E3.
Observer (London, England), October 20, 2002, p. 24.
Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), March 7, 2003, P. AA12.
Seattle Times, May 28, 2004, p. D2.
"Biography," Sondre Lerche Official Website, http://www.sondrelerche.com/biography.asp (July 5, 2004).
"Sondre Lerche," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (July 5, 2004).
"Sondre Lerche: Sunny Sounds from Norway," CNN.com, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/24/mroom.sondre.lerche/ (July 5, 2004).
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