The expansive, ethereal sound of Efterklang goes route one on new release ‘Windflowers’, their most pop-fuelled, melody-driven LP yet

“The world is very big when you’re from a small island,” muses Casper Clausen, looking back across Efterklang’s sprawling 20-year-long journey, to where it all began. The singer and his bandmates – electronics guru Mads Christian Brauer and bassist Rasmus Stolberg – grew up together on Als, a verdantly pretty island in the Baltic Sea off the south-east coast of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. 

They left the island long ago, lured in their teens by the bright lights of Copenhagen. And yet, by the end of a long interview – which feels at points not dissimilar to family therapy, the three members now in separate locations discussing ripped-up plans, drifting apart, creative reawakening and a pseudo-fraternal bond, which they probably couldn’t escape even if they tried – it’s tempting to wonder if the island ever really left them.

The three friends formed Efterklang (a name inspired by a Danish word meaning remembrance or reverberation) in Copenhagen in 2001 and began crafting dreamy, electronic-organic, chamber pop micro-opuses of such vision and elegance that they quickly hoisted themselves high above most of their noughties Scandi-pop peers. They signed at first with The Leaf Label, then later with legendary British indie 4AD, and recently inked a new deal with City Slang. 

Propelled many times around the globe by their music, they’ve played concert halls across Europe, North America and the Far East, en route collaborating with symphony orchestras, opera groups and a Belgian baroque ensemble. They even wrote an album – 2012’s masterful ‘Piramida’ – at an abandoned Russian coal-mining settlement in the Svalbard archipelago.

Over the years, various members have come and gone, yet the trio at Efterklang’s heart have remained solid. In a kind of answer to Withnail and Marwood going on holiday by mistake, they even survived an accidental break-up, following an emotional homecoming show on Als in 2014, which was widely assumed to be their swansong – an assumption no doubt influenced by its billing as The Last Concert, despite their insistence that it wasn’t the message they intended to convey. 

“The press release we sent out was maybe a little bit too sharp on the edges” is as much as Brauer will concede on the point, still seeming a tad unsure as to what all the confusion was about.

While he, Clausen and Stolberg did take a break that year from Efterklang “to reflect on their artistic practice”, as they put it, it certainly wasn’t a break from one another. Efterklang never formally ended. For a while they formed a new group, releasing two long-players as left-field electronic pop ensemble Liima with the Finnish percussionist Tatu Rönkkö – an experience Clausen describes as “liberating, like being in a teenage band”. The following summer they toured an “explorative opera” called ‘Leaves – The Colour Of Falling’ under their own name, fully resuming Efterklang business as usual in 2019 with the release of their fifth studio album ‘Altid Sammen’ (‘All Together’).

In early 2020, just as Efterklang rounded off a run of European shows in Milan ahead of a US tour in the spring, the pandemic struck and the whole world spun off its axis. For the first time in the group’s long life, everything suddenly ground to a halt. Performing and recording plans were abruptly suspended. 

The three were left blinking in the harsh light of inactivity and uncertainty, wondering how to continue to relate to one another and where to go next. Was this to be the end of “a creative journey that’s brought them closer together, even as their lives grow apart”, as the press release for their sixth and latest studio album, ‘Windflowers’, suggested?

“I personally feel we relate as family more than we relate as friends,” reflects the business-like Stolberg, trying to explain precisely what the sentence refers to. “Even if the three of us stopped being friends, we wouldn’t be able to split up because we are tied together with history and music and our livelihoods.” 

Stolberg cites having kids and settling down in Copenhagen as his personal explanation for “growing apart” from his bandmates in recent years. Brauer, who also lives in the Danish capital, is laid-back and thoughtfully spoken. His work beyond Efterklang includes a critically acclaimed, hyper-modern reinterpretation of Mozart’s ‘Don Juan’ with Danish theatre company Sort/Hvid (and looking after his cat, which clambers onto his lap several times during the interview). By contrast, the wiry and flamboyant Clausen, who recently released his debut solo album, ‘Better Way’, lives a more restless lifestyle (he joins our chat from Brussels, but during lockdown he was living in Lisbon and before that in Berlin). 

“The beautiful thing about family is that you can all be different,” says Stolberg, continuing his point about the almost brotherly relationship shared by Efterklang’s core threesome. “But you’re always there for each other and you love each other.”

With those heartfelt words, he has to excuse himself to take care of some even more immediate family business – collecting his daughter from school. After he logs off, I jest that now is his bandmates’ chance to talk about him behind his back. 

“How long do you have?” jokes Clausen.

At least, I think he’s joking.

‘Windflowers’ – the title of Efterklang’s first album for City Slang – owes its origins to a type of riotously colourful wildflower that carpets Danish forest floors every spring as a fleeting symbol of hope and change in the cyclical rush of nature. It’s a suitably wholesome image to represent what is the purest record Efterklang have ever made. Typically complex arrangements are forgone, lush textures relinquished and the orchestra given the day off on tracks such as sparse, sensitive, slow-burning opener ‘Alien Arms’, featherlight electro-banger ‘Living Other Lives’, and ‘Hold Me Close When You Can’ – the nearest thing Efterklang have produced to a lighters-aloft ballad. 

Written and recorded during a lockdown that proved looser in Denmark than in most other European countries, ‘Windflowers’ owes its genesis to a countryside retreat and a kind of ritual of renewal – a ritual that occurred, not altogether surprisingly, on a small island just off the south coast of Zealand. 

photo: dennis morton

Møn is a magical place, its towering white cliffs glimmering in the Baltic some 50 miles directly south of Copenhagen. Efterklang made five trips there across all four seasons from summer 2020 until spring 2021, variously basking in sunshine and trudging through snow between sessions. 

Among rolling green fields at a back-to-basics residential studio, Real Farm, they cultivated the scattered seeds of a mass of new ideas into a trim nine-track album. Prior to recording, the band’s songwriting laboratory of Clausen and Brauer had been demoing songs independently, as they would normally do (“homework” as Brauer calls it). But without the usual pressures, inspiration flourished like never before.

“Because we didn’t have a schedule or a plan, I would just go into my little studio and experiment and play,” says Brauer. “So we ended up with 90 little song sketches.”

Ninety strikes me as… a lot?

“We often struggle to make enough songs for an album,” he responds. “We have maybe 12 songs and we finish 10.”

“With this one, it was more like having fun,” adds Clausen. “Playing around with stuff you didn’t have time to play with before.”

Once the work began in earnest on Møn, it was only ever the three of them in the studio – no producer, not even an engineer. Unlike typical Efterklang recording experiences that are crammed into the space of a couple of days snatched here and there, on this occasion they were able to take a much more leisurely approach, focused on spending real time with one another and not solely on making music.

“It takes maybe two weeks for good things to start happening, especially while creating,” says Clausen. “But on Møn we also had time to take short walks, go for a swim, cook and listen to music together. There was even a small tennis court, so we could do some tennis training. It felt way more like just spending time together and getting back to our roots – and for us the roots are back in 1998 or 1999, which is crazy.”

Beyond the purely practical benefit of enjoying more space to work on a new record, Clausen suspects the temporary cessation of touring may have had an even greater effect on Efterklang. He muses about how, somewhere in the essence of writing and recording the songs for ‘Windflowers’, there may have been an innate desire for connection with other humans, which they would usually get from playing live. 

It might sound hokey on paper, but if you’ve ever seen an Efterklang show – one of the most joyfully expressive and intensely human concert experiences you’ll witness, with full-beam smiles lighting up the band’s faces and Clausen ranging into the audience to embrace the crowd – you can understand where he’s coming from.

“I feel maybe the music is a natural reaction,” says Clausen. “To the point where you’re like, ‘OK, if we can’t hug each other and sing and be this kind of new religious, spiritual entity, then where do you go and what do you do?’. In this case, I think we went a bit more into our own immediate, intimate sphere and maybe also tried to look a little bit for the strengths and differences within it. But I can’t wait to play live again.”

If the pandemic has left Clausen with any one single realisation, then it’s “how fucking amazing it is to perform and how much I miss and love that part of doing it”.

When we speak, 46 Efterklang dates have already been scheduled from autumn through to next spring across Scandinavia, the UK, Europe and the US – the band’s first shows in close to two years. They remain anxious as to whether or not the tours will all go ahead amid the ever-shifting landscape of the pandemic. Yet Brauer can’t help but let his imagination run away with him when he thinks about it.

“The moments in our show where the room is full of focus and everybody’s just present,” he ponders. “I think it’s gonna be really emotional for everyone. Like, ‘OK, we’re actually breathing the same air in this moment, and it’s fine’. That’s going to be quite wild.”

Before we wrap up, I invite Casper Clausen and Mads Brauer to take me back to Als, figuratively speaking. It’s a place many fans already feel an affinity with, thanks to a beautiful, intimate and unconventional film the band released in 2011 in collaboration with French director Vincent Moon (who also shot ‘The Last Concert’ in 2014). 

A weave of live music, video montage and abstract documentary filmed in close-up, it depicts Efterklang playing songs from their 2009 album ‘Magic Chairs’ in specific settings, including a pickup truck rolling through woods and the gym at their old school. Local kids sing backing vocals and add sound effects with crumpled balls of newspaper. Clausen refers to ‘An Island’ as a “Hollywood movie version of going back to where we come from” – in other words, Als isn’t necessarily the bucolic idyll the film made it out to be.

“I don’t want to spoil the romanticism about the little island, because it is a good story,” says Brauer. “But I mean, there is a bridge.”

Growing up on Als in the 1990s, the closest any teenager could get to the grunge and indie scenes exploding around the world was through a single show on Danish national radio or albums ordered at the local record store, which could take weeks to arrive. For the band, it was a matter of wishing themselves into a bigger, brighter world.

“Music becomes a real vehicle of dreams in that situation,” says Clausen. “Before that, for me, it was football – Paolo Maldini, AC Milan. It was all a crude form of escapism. When things aren’t happening around you, you kind of have to make them up for yourself. Which is just brilliant for creativity.”

What do they think their 20-year-old selves would say about Efterklang today if they could see them?

“‘Hang in there, guys, and one day the computers will stop crashing in the middle of shows’,” says Brauer. 

“Er, something like ‘What the fuck, guys?’,” laughs Clausen. “I’m kidding. I think they would be fascinated by the purity of playing music and making a living from music and calling it a job. But looking at us as a band and the way we do our shows – all the smiling, all the positivity, all this shit – they’d feel like that was the lamest fucking thing.”

At this, both Clausen and Brauer dissolve into laughter.

I feel I should probably let Rasmus Stolberg have the final word, given that he had to leave the interview early. With the amusing image in mind of the three Danish musicians amateurishly whacking yellow balls around a scruffy countryside practice court outside their Møn studio in high summer, I later email him to ask one last quick but vital question – who is the best tennis player in Efterklang?

“I think Mads and Casper are pretty even,” he writes back, with warmth and admiration – and maybe just the driest hint of sarcasm. “Like Nadal and Federer. But it’s for sure not me. I hurt my back after hitting the ball twice and never went back on the court.”

‘Windflowers’ is out now on City Slang

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