A few years ago by chance I came across a video by a Norwegian band I hadn’t heard of before and whose name alone – Das Body – intrigued me. The video, to a song (‘Graceland’) with a great tune and with a scorching instrumental outro, was of a tall, blonde young lady parading around just in a red Mac and her underwear while a muscle building type worked out somewhere in the jungle.
More like The Go-Go’s ‘Disgraceland’ collective apartment just off Hollywood Boulevard you might think.
I didn’t get it then and I still don’t but I immediately marked Das Body for further attention and have listened out for them ever since through a variety of singles and a debut album a couple of years ago.
Now they are closing in on their second album, having already released three singles. Time to subject them to one of our probing interviews, and kudos to them for taking some serious time of their own to provide some erudite, fascinating and funny replies and observations.
Find out here how their studio is above a weird basement where a cult meets to sing ominously; how their band name arose out of 1980s electronic body music; how they think they’re terrible musicians but still sound great; that they once played a gig in a ‘stoned’ American house with just one power extension cord; how they feel they are ‘meant’ to play live music like an ordination; how ‘family, music and beer’ kept them going throughout the pandemic; how they played a gig during Covid to just 12 people, all lumped together in a corner; how they’d love to make music for a David Lynch film; how there’s a live acoustic jam on the new album; and much more, folks!
For the record the responders are:
E – Ellie
P – Patrik
K – Kim
Before we start, here is ‘
DisGraceland’ to get you in the right mood.
Where are you from? I believe the East side of Oslo? Sometimes a locale can influence a band’s songwriting. Is that relevant to you?
Yup, we’re from the East side of Oslo, born and raised (except for Kim, but we don’t talk about that). And our studio is there, specifically at Økern, and our view out of the window certainly influences our mood while writing. Ain’t nothing as inspiring as that gray, dreary place, and we absolutely love it. Also, the studio is on the second floor of an office building, sandwiched between a weightlifting gym above us and a car repair shop below. (NMC – that will be a Das Body Shop, then?) There is also some kind of cult that meets down in the basement and sings once a week. If you are lucky you can hear them through the ducts. It’s almost like chanting. Pretty ominous vibes.
How did you meet?
We actually went to the same high school. We all had Kim as our music teacher. A few years later Ellie ran into Kim at Bonanza (Norway’s best bar and our favourite) and started to toy with the idea of starting a band over a beer. Sometime later Ellie called Patrik and asked if he could come to Økern and shout a bit like they do in ‘Bone Machine’ by Tom Waits. Then Didrik joined about a year after that, and just like that Das Body was born.
How did the band get its name? I wrote once “The band name started off as the Norwegian ‘Kroppen’, which was translated into English (The Body) and then retranslated partly to German.” Correct? It sounds like a krautrock band. Was that ever your intention? And who is ‘the body’?
Yeah, you’re pretty on point! We probably owe our name to electronic body music, or EBM. The genre from the early 80s in Western Europe. We liked the name of it and the idea of music for the body, not for the brain. So we decided on our own version of that, “The body”, but with a lil German spice to make it a bit harder and as a nod to EBM.
Were you (individually) with any other bands previously? Are you now?
E: Kim was in Superfamily and they were really really good, and quite successful as well. If it wasn’t for my love of that band I might not have wanted to start this band with Kim, who knows, maybe we owe Superfamily a lot. BUT! They don’t exist now, so Das Body is the one and only for all of us. No other bands.
Das Body is love, Das Body is life.
Are you a full time band or do you have other careers as many musos do these days? (I thought that Ellie might be an actress or a model?)
E: I’m actually a full time model and the band is just a silly little side project 😉
P: I’m actually just waiting for Ellie’s modeling career to take off so I can piggyback it and live off the fruits of her success
Do you have any formal music training or are you self-taught?
We’re all self-taught, which is why we’re all terrible musicians and can hardly even play our own songs live. Somehow we still sound great though. I try not to question it.
Kim is probably the exception though; he’s a super nerd who knows about different keys and shit, major and minor scales, and all that stuff, which the rest of us don’t. He’ll sometimes ask us things like “What key is this in?” We have no fucking clue, we’ll just stare blankly back at him. That boy, he never learns that we’re idiots.
You seem to be ‘genre-unspecific’ and about mid-way between hard electro rock at one end of the spectrum and dream pop at the other. How would you class yourselves, if at all?
We never really felt the need to label ourselves with a genre, and certainly never the need to stick to one. It’s not really important to us, but it seems to be important to most other people so we’ve tried to get away with just calling it pop. However, that seems to make people a bit overwhelmed when they listen to us with the expectation of what they consider pop.
P: I would classify our single ‘Baby, you know I’m a stranger’ as ABBA-esque but don’t tell Kim, he’s afraid of ABBA.
How do most of your songs start life? A piano part? A chord? Or a melody? Lyrics?
We believe that part of what makes it so genre-unspecific, as you asked about in the previous question, is the way we approach making music. We all have different musical preferences and listen to various types of music (although, of course, we have some common ones that form the basis of our music).
However, when we work on music, we tend to work individually with different ideas at different stages. So, it’s not necessarily Ellie who’s written a vocal line, Didrik who’s created the drum groove, Kim who’s made up the chords, or Patrik who’s played guitar or bass; we all contribute to everything. That way, we feel like you get a pretty unique blend of ideas because we all draw inspiration from different places. Collectively, though, it weaves together into our interpretation of pop and what has become Das Body’s distinctive sound.
How important is melody to you? You do seem to find a tune easily
Melody is very important. We love it when a melody surprises us because it doesn’t go where you expect, yet sounds like it belongs in the song. Whatever the instrument, if a melody is good enough to sound great on its own, then we’re gonna love it.
All the songs I’ve heard from you so far are in English. Does that indicate international ambitions? Would you write and release in Norwegian?
E: To be honest it’s simply because I personally don’t like using the Norwegian language for art. Feels forced and unnatural to me, I really don’t think I’d be able to sing convincingly in Norwegian. So English was our only choice, really. I’d maybe like to sing in another language than these two, but unfortunately I’m only bilingual (FOR NOW).
Some artists and bands move away from their home country in search of a larger audience and greater opportunity. Is that something you would ever consider?
It would be tough to move from Oslo and leave our studio at Økern behind, but that being said, we’re no strangers to perpetual touring. Weekly, we reminisce about our month-long tour in the US. Big stages and large audiences are fun, but there’s something special about playing in small, cramped, sweaty clubs. One show we played was in the basement of a house in Michigan. There were only stoners there, and they had no power or anything. The one extension cord they had for us to power the whole band got damaged, and the guy organising it was just like “Duuuuuude, what do we do now?” He was physically there staring right at us, but man, he had left the building a long time ago.
Many of your song and album titles are a little cryptic to me, even confusing. They sound like they mean something deep but it isn’t easy to identify exactly what. Is that deliberate or is it just my imagination?
We feel like our song titles are usually just excerpts from the lyrics. But what our lyrics mean? That’s a whole ‘nother story.
We’re not really into song lyrics that try to tell a coherent story or a logical argument. Maybe a songwriter like Bob Dylan can tell entire stories that don’t come off as flat and uninteresting, but even he is pretty cryptic in a lot of his lyrics. If you start looking for a cohesive story in the lyrics, the focus becomes different from what we want our audience to experience. As our name suggests we’re trying to make “body music” – it should evoke physical feelings, not be an assignment for the brain.
When we create a track and have a theme, the aim is to evoke the emotions associated with that theme. We find that it becomes more accessible when listeners pick up on hints and keywords along the way, without their brains getting bogged down in solving something or finding the logic. Of course, this requires the listener to be open to experiencing lyrics and music that way, so it’s probably not for everyone, but it’s our approach. Also, there are other considerations when creating lyrics for music, like how the phonetics of the words contribute to the musical expression. If we provide enough hints with the words and the way they’re sung, we hope people can have their own complete experiences of what the songs are about.
Do you see Das Body as a ‘studio band’ or a ‘live/touring band’, or both?
E: I think we’re meant to play live shows. The music, the vibe, me. It’s all meant to be played on a stage and meld with a crowd. We always strive to bring our live energy into the studio and recordings, instead of the opposite that seems like the more usual approach: trying to make the live sound like the recording.
(Serious question). I went to a music conference in Manchester a few weeks ago and there were several sessions on the mental health of musicians as there are at many other festivals these days. There is much focus on the subject since the pandemic and the lockdowns. Did it affect you or others that you know?
We were lucky to have built our own studio before Covid. We considered each other as family during the pandemic, so at least we had a social life with each other. The isolation didn’t hit us as hard as it probably did for many other musicians. We could continue making music in the studio, so our creative work didn’t come to a halt. The worst part for us was our US record label losing funding due to the music industry crisis, setting us back completely commercially. Everything we had built was essentially based in the US, leaving us with no connections in the music industry. It was a significant setback, but perhaps not in a way that affected our mental health. We dealt with it through music and beer in the studio – the best cure for depression throughout time.
What’s the best gig you’ve ever played? And the worst?
We played a gig at Blå during Covid. We usually love Blå; it’s the perfect venue, holds around 400 people—not too big, not too small. But during Covid, there was a limitation of 20 people. Out of those 20, 8 were in quarantine, so only 12 people were in a room that holds 400, and they were all seated. They weren’t even distributed across the room; everyone sat all the way to the left in the venue. A nightmare.
One of the really good ones was our show at Parkteatret in Oslo, on the day the Covid shutdown was over. People hadn’t been allowed to stand or buy a beer at a concert in forever, so the mood was already incredible. Then we played an amazing show, the crowd couldn’t have been better and everything felt electric. Then to top it all off we had a surprise guest on stage, Sondre Lerche, who is huge in Norway. And he did a song with us; he’s a really great guy. It was just such a fun experience.
Who is the main songwriter or do you share it around?
We share songwriting duties, contributing to different aspects. Often Kim handles chords, Ellie brings the attitude, Patrik focuses on melodies, and Didrik takes charge of the groove. Lyrics start with Ellie, but everyone contributes. It usually begins with a basic idea from Kim, developed by Patrik with some vocals, and then Ellie turns it into her own song. But not always. Sometimes one of us comes in with a more or less finished song idea. Quite a few songs also come from late-night jam sessions during our annual trip to Kim’s cabin.
What would be your dream collaboration?
Creating music for a David Lynch film – we hope he gets to make another one in his old age. We’d also love working with artists who share some of our musical visions, like Caroline Rose or US Girls. If we could choose freely in time and space, we’d have Elvis visit our studio to create alternative rockabilly with a David Lynch vibe.
Do you work mainly with one producer, several, or do you do it yourself? Do you have your own studio?
Yes, we have this studio of ours at Økern. It’s (barely) good enough for professional productions, so we can do a lot ourselves. But for the final recordings, we like to have a producer who knows more than us about microphones and technique, and to provide an external perspective. On this album, we had Erlend Mokkelbost, excellent at capturing our live energy. This requires production experience, which we couldn’t achieve as well on our own.
Did you ever work with that choir of four young ladies that you had at By:Larm in 2020?
Aaah they were great. We miss them. We actually kidnapped one of them, Sunniva, and she is now forced to join us at every concert with backup vocals and synths. We think she likes it, but she doesn’t really have a choice either way.
You seem to be mainly a synth/guitar/drums band, do you use any more unusual instruments?
There’s a live jam on the new album, essentially a live rehearsal. We play completely acoustic with accordion, piano, mandolin, and flute. We even had a friend on an oud. Initially, we were just learning the song together, but the recording from the rehearsal was so nice that we wanted it on the album.
Apart from that? Patrik’s abs and Ellie’s rib cage.
Which, if any, artists have ‘influenced’ you?
We’re inspired by many artists but maybe not by anyone very similar to us. We find inspiration in elements of others’ music, usually not to emulate but for harmonies, vocal techniques, soundscapes, attitudes, or other intriguing elements. US Girls, Geese, Tom Waits, Kendrick Lamar, The Associates, Suicide, Bob Dylan, Röyksopp, Julie Cruise, Caroline Rose, Kate Bush, Sex Pistols, Flaming Lips, Beastie Boys, PJ Harvey, Pixies, Prince, Talking Heads, Lykke Li…
Latest single – ‘You look so pretty when you’re on your knees
What are your short-term and long-term ambitions?
Short term: Play lots of concerts, starting with a club tour in Norway, then festivals in the summer, followed by a club tour in the UK. Long term: We don’t think about it much. We try to make interesting music, perform cool concerts, and maintain the great friendship within the band. Anything beyond that might just be distractions. Of course, we want to establish ourselves in the UK, but all we can do is make the best music, and the rest has to fall into place, right? Industry professionals and commercial players probably think this is the silliest plan they’ve ever heard.
But the most important ambition in any type of term, long or short, is to keep drinking beer. Maybe even drink more beer than usual if we’re feeling particularly ambitious.
If you were asked to perform a Eurovision song for Norway would you do it?
E: Not really our cup of tea, I would think. We’re coffee drinkers mostly…
K: We don’t understand music competitions. The only thing we’re sure of is that we would be very unpopular in that competition.
Vinyl, CD, Download or stream? What’s your preference?
Why choose when you can have it all?
Who would you want to play you in the film of your life? (That’s a question for all band members!)
P: Danny DeVito
K: David Lynch
D: Kim (he looks the most like me)
E: I wanna see this band play
What’s the music scene like in Norway right now, in your opinion?
Cool stuff is happening in small clubs and niche scenes, especially within a broad range of electronic music, but on the radio and popular playlists, its super commercial, not much fresh stuff, unfortunately.
Tips for whom to watch out for in 2024 in Norway?
Maybe Bo Milli and Hannah Storm, also I’ve heard that this group called Das Body are releasing a killer album in 2024.
What chance is there of seeing you play live in the UK?
We’d love to play in the UK again and we’re working on it. I wanna say the probability is 3, but I don’t know on what scale though. Don’t know how probability works.
Apart from the album Das Body has just announced an extensive tour around Norway in the New Year.