Known as one of Norway's premier young pop balladeers, Sondre Lerche is preparing to embrace a new sound for his fourth album, tentatively titled Phantom Punch.
Meeting up with Rolling Stone at Los Angeles' Sunset Sound recording studios, Lerche, in a vintage a-ha tee and paisley scarf, says the effort, due this fall, will be made up of tougher, less orchestral material, inspired in part by touring with Elvis Costello. "Seeing Elvis with his band doing the rock stuff every night, it really energized me," he says with a smile. "It made me just want to get back into playing with my band and trying to write some short, punchy songs."
Sessions for the record were initially conducted on the East Coast with Raphael Saadiq. But those recordings were shelved after Lerche and his band, Faces Down (guitarist Kato Adland, bassist Morten Skage and drummer Ole Ludvig Kruger), took his sophomore effort, 2004's Two Way Monologue, on tour with the famously spectacled rocker. Lerche says he returned with a flurry of ideas and began searching for a new partner in crime. "I thought, 'I gotta make this record with someone who doesn't just think 'This could be interesting,' but someone who wants to do it." He turned to Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air).
Due to scheduling conflicts, Phantom Punch had to be delayed, and Lerche absconded to Norway where he laid down another new set of songs, for Duper Sessions, out this past March. "It's a record I'm desperately happy with," Lerche says of the easygoing album, which includes a cover of Costello's "Human Hands." "It's kind of fun, because it comes out right before [Phantom], and it's really the opposite. A really romantic, very old-fashioned pop record."
So does that mean Phantom Punch is its punk antithesis? "It's not a punk record. I'm Sondre Lerche," the smooth-faced crooner says with a laugh. "But I definitely wanted to make a record that has a more primitive attitude, and I mean primitive in the best sense. I wanted a record that was more direct, concise -- simpler songs. I didn't want to mess about with strings or these lush arrangements I'd been perfecting on a couple of the other records. I wanted to make songs that you could just take up the guitar and bang away and get into that sort of physical energy."
Slated for the effort are cuts including "Tragic Mirror," "Well Well Well," "The Tape" and "Happy Birthday Girl." "It's kind of a birthday song, but it's probably a couple of blocks away from [sings] 'Happy birthday to ya!'" says Lerche. "It's a slow, noisy one."
But it's the potential title track, "Phantom Punch," that Lerche seems most thrilled with. "That one's actually a disco waltz. I'm hoping it's the first of its kind," he says. "My wife and I were going to IKEA in Newark [New Jersey], so we were taking the free bus that runs from Penn Station. On the way back, I had this riff in my head, and I recorded it on my cell phone. I haven't done that before -- it's my first riff song. It's got a real rock riff!"