Röyksopp Interview: « We don’t want to be standing on stage at 70 years old »

After 13 years and 4 albums, Röyksopp announced the release of a new project called The Inevitable End, on November 10th. This will be their final album. We met Svein and Torbjørn and asked them about the making of their LP, the future of the band, and the music industry. We also discussed their numerous collaborations, in particular with Robyn.

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Royksopp en interview

The Inevitable End is your last album. Why “Inevitable”?

Torbjørn: There are so many answers to this question, but just to pick one of them, we feel that we have, throughout our careers, done what we wanted to do in terms of the projects we’ve done. So I think it’s fair to say that we believe that there is a limit to how long you can stay fresh in terms of what we want to say. We have had our say, and now it’s time to move on, it’s time to try other things. Obviously, we will still continue to make music, but with that specific album format we feel that we’ve done what we wanted to do. In that respect, I guess it’s fair to say that this end is kind of inevitable because in terms of our creative capacity as human beings, that’s as far as we wanted to go. Some people perhaps have a bigger span of things they want to do, and therefore stretch it out, but it’s fair to say that we’ve said what we wanted to say. There are so many examples of people who have done quite the opposite, and sort of just go on and on and on, forever.

Svein: It also has something to do with the fact that our albums have become more and more thematic. Melody AM is not about anything. Moving on to The Understanding, it becomes more and more about a certain direction, and it becomes clearer and clearer with Junior and Senior that we have full-blown concepts. And we love that! Sometimes we have directions that we want to go in, and it’s not needed to make twelve tracks in that direction. Those were the thoughts that were incorporated into this choice of ours. As with so many things, the album has many layers.

Torbjørn: As Svein pointed out, the album speaks to an end in our career, but that’s only part of it. We like when something can mean many things. So a little part of the album title refers to ourselves, or what we are doing, but it’s also saying something general; like, when we first thought of the title, it felt so right with us and this space that we were in as human beings. We wanted to say something general about things coming to an end, and not necessarily an album about death, even though that’s sort of lurking in the background as well, but the death that comes to all things, in people’s lives. Like emotions that were once blossoming that are now withering, stuff like that. A general project about things coming to an end.

When did you make the decision that this was your last album?

Torbjørn: There are a lot of people talking about different ways of doing things, and for an onlooker this process might seem kind of chaotic. What’s the « best » way of doing things, really? I think for every artist now, it is different. It’s not one thing that’s the best. I mean, some of the biggest artists in the world still concentrate on only their singles, or an album with mainly singles, and that works for the big names. Like, worldwide big, pop stuff. And some more underground artists never release anything ressembling an album, but still have a big audience and big followers.

I just think that we’ve been thinking about all this for a long time. We know that the album concept is for music lovers and people who really appreciate music and want it. It seems that this is something that takes a little bit of an effort from the listener to really take his or her time to devote a moment to listen to an entire album. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that people have smaller attention spans, it’s just a fact. It’s neither very bad nor very good–well, maybe it’s a little bit bad–it’s just a fact! But so do we! And in terms of future artistic expressions, we’ve always wanted to make very concise things that don’t interrupt what we’re trying to say. In short, this is something we’ve been thinking about for many years.

Svein: There is no right or wrong in consuming music, really. I think, however, that perhaps the idea of an album is more appealing to people who are very into music or an artist. They say to themselves, I want to spend some time with this music or this artist. I want to sit down, put on my headphones and be in this space for the next hour or so. There’s no right or wrong in this, it’s just how you choose to devote your time.

Do you think this is the end of the album format in general or just your choice? How do you see the future of music?

Torbjørn: Well, it’s certainly declining, the interest in albums. I don’t have the statistics for it, but it’s been on the decline. Who knows what will happen in the future? Perhaps the album format will become really popular again. I’d be surprised though, because the album format is really built around a physical object, a CD for instance, or vinyl. The CD has been a standard for an album for many years, and the CD thing probably won’t be popular again. Unless there’s some hipster generation in the future that will decide to bring it back.

Svein: I think it’s fair to say though that the concept of an album itself will not perish though, especially for nostalgic people. Which is fine! I appreciate that. But if one looks at the history of the album and its origins, the single obviously came first. The single is then a promotional tool, for a live band at least. Then you can take this song and listen to it at home. I believe it was jazz musicians who started with the concept of a long LP, because they had written longer pieces that physically wouldn’t fit onto a 350 format, on a 7-inch. So that’s why we have the full-on 12-inch, the album as we know it. Obviously later, as you point out, in the eighties, came the CD, which became the benchmark. But the album-vinyl format has never disappeared, it’s simply declined, and now it’s ressurging as the CD begins to disappear. I think the album will survive but I don’t think the CD will ever be much more than a little funny memory. Vinyl will still prevail, through it all.

Torbjørn: Vinyl is in a way more eternal. Also physically, it can contain the music longer than a CD. In hindsight now, the CD is so unnecessary, because it’s 16 bits, it’s not really high definition like an audio file should be. Who knows, though? Perhaps it’s all the same. The placebo effect is very very important to people. Perhaps people want to make something even bigger, longer than an album! Who knows?

Svein: Well the CD was obviously sort of portable, at some point, but it almost came too late. Had the portable CD appeared at an earlier instance, perhaps it could have been significant. However the Discman came too late, almost. Remember jogging with a Discman? It’s not fun. Also the CD that could be played in a car, that came late as well. We’re kind of through with this. It’s the way of the world, we’re moving forward. Obviously we love to speculate of course, about what might happen. We’ll see what happens in the future, I don’t know. Sony probably knows! Or Apple.

Röyksopp

When we listen to the album, it sounds like a « Greatest Hits » with new tracks. Was it on purpose? How did you develop the story / lyrics?

Torbjørn: We mentioned that we feel like all five of our studio albums that we’ve released are related, that they all have a sort of kinship to them. There’s also a sort of development to them, in one direction or the other. T pointed to us being more focused on themes, and we wanted things to be kind of full-circle; you’ll notice that the last two tracks on this album point to what we did on Melody AM, sonically. It’s more gritty and a bit more acoustic, with the live bass and live drums. We wanted things to be full-circle so it’s obviously done in the same way we do everything, with intention, it’s deliberate. We started out with this album at the same time as we were working on the mini-album that we did with Robyn, so the two are kind of related in themes, it’s the same themes that are being discussed at least. The two projects then are emblematic of the state of mind that we were in at that time, as well as a few years prior to that.

We have experienced certain hardships, I think it’s fair to say, and it was necessary for us to go into more detail, lyrically, then on this album. I guess it’s just about the hardships of being a human being, with emotions and some sort of intellectual capacity. There’s also morality and choices that are involved in being human, and doubt as well, and lust. The album is really all these things put together. Finding the right sentiment for that specific emotion or theme that you want to communicate is always challenging, but it’s the kind of challenge that we appreciate and we always wanted to work. We spent a lot of time getting the feeling of the album right, and finding the right expression of all this. That’s part of the reason why we have mixed and engineered the album the way we did. We decided to keep it almost a bit subtle, and not so « in-your-face », and that’s obviously done very deliberately.

Just to finish on what was said, I think one might say that the album is put together with the running order that it has, because it contains some sort of story. However, it’s not like a story that you’d read in a book, because in that case, we would rather just write a book! It’s more open to interpretation, but there’s a development, without putting too much into the listener’s ears. A development, and as Sven said, a conclusion. When it comes to production, since this is the most lyrically-based album we’ve ever made, we wanted the production to shine, but in a polite manner. There’s a lot of producer-tricks in the book, that you can do to hook people and get their attention, but we tried to wash away most of that, and make it like a subtle, sparse, and polite object. Not sparse as in minimal, because it’s not minimal, it’s multi-layered, but it is polite.

In comparison to contemporary pop music, electronic pop music in the US market, we wanted to drag it down a bit. It’s fair to say that we have always been very present in the lyrics, at least our personalities. However, we’ve never been as present in the lyrics as we are on this particular album. It’s more candid and present here.

Do you think working with Robyn changed something in your songwriting?

Svein: I think so, definitely. Ever since we started working with lyricists at all it’s changed, because we don’t have that background at all. We are curious and keen to learn, so we pay attention to these people in the working process. We’ve definitely learned a lot from Robyn, she being herself a great songwriter and obviously a great lyricist. It’s a learning process and it’s good for us to partake in their talent and hopefully develop ourselves, and become better.

Robyn said in an interview that your album is “dark but not cold”. Now, do you have any clue about Robyn’s new album?

Svein: Yes! We’ve heard a lot of the stuff that she’s making. We obviously know, but we can’t tell. I like the development that she has, the direction she’s going in. One of the great things about her is that she does her thing without it being forced or constructed in any way. It feels and sounds like it comes from a sincere place. I also like that she’s just doing what she wants to do, which is what we’ve tried to do in our careers, to a certain extent.

• In your biography, you speak about the importance to choose the right vocalist. How did you actually choose/find them?

Svein: Susanne Sundfør, just to start with her, is a fellow Norwegian, and she is an artist in her own right, she writes her own music and is very determined in her work. She has her own way of expressing herself and her own voice, if you will. She is without competition, the best female singer in Norway, and I think she’s very high up.

Torbjørn: When you hear her voice, it just feels so like her, there’s so much personality and it’s all her own. Something generally that I dislike is this wave of female vocalists that have some sort of « quirk » [truc, truc « spécial »] to their vocals, but it’s not believable, I don’t buy it. With her, it’s just like, « wow, this is fucking cool. » We knew we wanted to work with her.

Svein: She really does have an amazing voice and her own style, she can do anything. In a way she’s almost inhibiting herself at times, she could have gone completely overboard and done like Whitney Houston, but she doesn’t, which I always like. She’s a great person and a great singer, and the qualities in her vocal chords are very distinct and unique, which is something we always look for. There’s almost a certain tristesse or sadness attached to her voice, which is what we were looking for concerning this album.

Svein: The same goes for Jamie (McDermott), obviously, he’s very flamboyant and nearly theatrical when it comes to his voice. But yet, I buy it, and I know it’s real, because I know him. I know it comes from a real place. He’s an extremely talented singer. Again, it’s really just the type of voice we were hoping to find.

Torbjørn: Yeah, Jamie‘s a singer but he goes about finding a terminology of sadness or sorrow in a completely original way, whereas normal people would have not found it. You know the expression that Inuits have twenty words for snow (which is not true), well Jamie has like 150 different expressions for certain types of sadness in his vocal vocabulary, which he can then communicate when singing.

Svein: He’s been, someone, like Susanne, whom we’ve followed. We discovered his music in 2010, I think, just after Junior and before Senior, and we knew we wanted to work with him, but we wanted to find the right moment. What we were doing at the time, Junior, didn’t make sense for him and for his voice.

Svein: Ryan James, again, we had sung before in the past, but we wanted someone this time with a voice like ours. That was the intention, to find someone who sings like us, but only better! That’s why we came across him. I’m sure there’ll be more tracks with him.

Torbjørn: To sum up, we couldn’t believe our ears at how well it turned out with Ryan. Many vocalists would sound funny while singing the track Sordid Affair, but with him it sounds so sincere. He was exactly what we were looking for, he really was the right choice.

• You recorded twice with Karin Dreijer from The Knife. How did you react to their split? Would you like to work with her again?

Svein: I love Karin, and her voice and her work, and The Knife. Same goes for Olof. The first time we did something with Karin was on The Understanding, in 2005. That was just around the time that they released Deep Cuts. They have been so influential and unique, and as we mentioned before, like all the people that we’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with. Not only in their music, but also in their presentation, their performances on stage, and their videos. I don’t know if I can say that we’ll do something together again in the future, I would love to do that, but we don’t wish to repeat ourselves. I know that Karin is the same kind of artist. I would love to work with everyone that we’ve worked with again, to keep the same team, if you will, but I fear that people will lose interest and we will become repetitive. I do think, however, that after a certain time you are allowed to work with someone again. It’s okay to revisit things. Right now we have no plans to work with them, but we wish both of them the best in every way, really.

• Are you gonna go on tour? Do you plan something special for the end?

Svein: Well, just to say something about the album, and the end, we don’t want it to be this sort of progressive rock type of end, with fireworks and screaming, that’s been done before. We wanted this ‘end’ to be more like the natural end would probably be, sort of just fading out. I’ve never been at the end, obviously, but that’s how I imagine it. You fade out. Like a party, there’s never an abrupt end, you just all of a sudden find yourself alone and want to sleep.

Having said that though, we haven’t planned any sort of megalomaniacal show, with pyrotechnics or anything like that. No, there’s no such plan as of yet.

Torbjørn: Also that being said, we never thing about the live shows when we compose. We’ve met other artists who are concerned that a certain part of a song is too long, and they have to sing it for a certain amount of time, but we never think about that. Therefore we also are forced to re-approach our music when we take it to the stage. I’m positive that some of these tracks on this album will, after a little readjustment, work really well in our live sets.

Svein: One other recent development in the past fifteen years in terms of pop music and electronic music is that it is now being accepted and embraced to come on stage with a computer and play your own bootleg of a Rihanna song, for example. It’s live, it’s good, it’s there! As long as people are there and enjoying themselves, it’s fun. There are no rules. Since there are no rules, it means that it’s easier for us to maintain our production when we go live. Being live and having our synths, having certain things being played by sequencers, is really great. Before, if you went on stage like that, people would make comments about how the drum machine should have been a drummer, et cetera. This is more accepted now, which allows us to have the studio and album production’s transition to the stage be a lot smoother and easier than it was a few decades ago.

Do you think you’ll ever produce music for other artists?

Svein: Perhaps. I don’t want to be The Rolling Stones, you know? I don’t know how old they are, but I don’t want to be standing on stage at seventy years old. It feels awful, that, for the audience and for them! So in that respect I think it’s probably really great to produce music for other artists and not have to worry about live performances. We haven’t made any decisions concerning that, either. We just don’t make plans that far ahead.

• For which big pop artist would you dream to produce an album?

Svein: Hmm. That’s a good question! I think had you asked that question about twelve or so years ago, we probably would have said someone really commercial, or a hip-hop artist, because that was very interesting to us at that point. I need to give that a bit of a thought. It’s a very tough question. A « comeback » for someone would be great, because the risk is so high! Depeche Mode, maybe.

Torbjørn: Yes! That’s the one. There would be an ungodly amount of pressure on us, because they have so many fans. I think we could handle it, though.

Any guilty pleasure you’d like to share with us?

Svein: Oh, lots of them! Well for example we’re in France now. I’m going to go with F.R. David, the track Words. I remember growing up on that. I still like the production and his voice, the lyrics are what they are, but that has stayed a great memory for me, because I was about five when I listened to that. That’s my French guilty pleasure.

Röyksopp, The Inevitable End, out 10 November (Polydor)
Transcription by M. LoJacono / Photo by M. Gastaldi