The future sound of Norway

Sondre Lerche brings intelligent psychedelic pop from the land of rosemaling and lutefisk

In the early 1980s, while the rest of us were rocking out to “Bert & Ernie’s Sing-Along” tapes, 4-year-old Sondre Lerche was busy absorbing the glorious sounds of a-ha, the Norwegian synth pop group responsible for the MTV hit “Take On Me.” Little did Lerche realize fifteen years later he’d be the biggest musical act to emerge from Norway since, well Ö a-ha.

Although the experimental pop musician has created quite a stir in his homeland (his debut album, “Faces Down,” went gold there in no time flat), he has yet to become a household name in America. Nevertheless, the young pop star has been steadily building a fan base since embarking on his first North American tour in October.

Lerche learned to play guitar at the ripe old age of 8, and by the time he was 14, he had written his first song. “I guess I just felt that apart from just listening to music, I would love to be able to play music,” Lerche said. “And so I started trying to learn to play the guitar, and from then on I just kept going.”

As Lerche continued to mature, so did his taste in music. Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach, Cole Porter and Steely Dan now rank among his favorite artists. Sometimes haunting and evocative, other times bright and bouncy, but always sweetly melodic, Lerche’s songs smack of playful sixties psychedelic pop.

The artist’s innovative arrangements incorporate ghost synthesizers, Mellotron, toy piano, strings and tambourine over more standard instruments like guitar, bass and drums. His Donovan-style tenor and palpable Norwegian accent alternate between straightforward stories and streams of thought. Lerche sings in English (Norwegian is not a very musical language, he said), and diminished and minor chords abound.

“I suppose once I managed to write all-right songs that I would appreciate the day after I’d written them as well, then I started investigating different songwriters and trying to figure out which songs and which songwriters defined what I wanted to do and what music really triggered me,” Lerche said. “Basically I just try to write something that I feel has expressed something that was on my mind, and that I hope I won’t be embarrassed about in a couple of years.”

Lerche says one of the first steps to making “Faces Down” was gaining confidence in his work and allowing himself to see its potential. “No One’s Gonna Come,” a disconcerting song that deals with making difficult decisions, took time to grow on Lerche but has since become one of his favorite compositions. “I think you only realize which ones are particularly special after some time,” Lerche said. “You have to live with the songs for quite a while until you realize what they mean to you and why they are special.”

Despite the complicated arrangements found on “Faces Down,” Lerche is performing solo on his current U.S. tour, which he said he enjoys. “It’s kind of like taking the songs back to where they started,” he explained, adding that he keeps his performances fresh by slightly changing his approach to each song night after night. “Sometimes that can lead you out of your track and maybe you’ll end up stumbling across the room with the song, but most of the times it will lead to hopefully a great performance,” he said, stressing the importance of playing each song as if for the first time.

After wrapping up his North American tour, Lerche will return home to mix tracks for his upcoming album, tentatively titled, “I Think I Love You, Scooby Doo.” Although he loves performing for an audience, Lerche especially enjoys spending time in the studio, “because there you have all the time in the world to formulate yourself and really investigate every detail of what you’re putting down.” According to Lerche, the new record will be warmer, looser, and not as uptight as “Faces Down.”

Fans will have to be content listening to “Faces Down” a while longer, however, as the new album won’t be ready until at least autumn. Lerche consoles eager listeners by telling them, “Whenever you’re ready, I’ll probably be ready as well.”

Nada Surf, Sondre Lerche

3:00 pm., March 1, Electric Fetus,

(612) 870-9300, Free

Nada Surf, Sondre Lerche, the People

6:30 pm., March 1, Whole Music Club, Coffman Union, (612) 625-2272, $10

Vicious Vicious, Sondre Lerche, the Winter Blanket

8:00 pm. March 1, 7th Street Entry,

(612) 332-1775, 21+, $6

Jennifer Schneider welcomes comments at [email protected]