Interview with Bjarne Druedal.
When one listens to your entire album, Kølig Regn (Cool Rain), it’s like a kind of travelling across the universe with the song “Verdens Hjerte” (World Heart) zodiacs, reason and emotions, nostalgia, longing, and all the way into an almost naive description of relationships between two people. What do you think?
Well, that’s absolutely correct!
Has it been the intention from the start, or did it come along the way?
What certainly has been very important for me is to reflect that something very happy has happened, having experienced real love that I have so often seen others have – perhaps naively, but hopefully not nauseating.
The opening track “Verdens Hjerte” (World Heart) is different than most of your other songs, which circle more around yourself. What inspired you to that song?
The starting point is certainly the 11th September, which I also refer to with the line “..towers are tumbled down..” and with the line that the enemy sometimes is not so far away – it is many times inside ourselves. And so it got me to thinking about the novel “Lord of the Flies” where Piggy at one point says to the main character Ralph: “The beast is inside ourselves” and it is so true. People have almost become paranoid after 11th September.
Did you write the song right after that?
No, it was written shortly after my first album “Sommernatten Bølger” (Waving Summer Night) came back in 2003. It kind of describes the pent-up desperation.
Talking about your first album. It is now seven years since you had your debut. What expectations did you have in terms of a career in music?
I’m probably not the kind of person who is ambitious enough to go all the way with my music, but if I do, it is of course fine, but if not, it is also ok. I write songs because I cannot help it. I would obviously like to have my songs out to people, but I would never compromise with anything – I do what I do. Not to please anyone; I’ve never been good at that.
Did you play any live jobs after releasing your first album?
I played a few gigs with the musicians who played on the album, but it is incredibly difficult, because the venues most often focus entirely on those who are well-known. Actually, I have asked many times how those who are not well-known become well-known. Actually, people often say that if I have made a record, then I should enter X-Factor or other talent shows, but to me that seems like kind of the opposite world. But now I actually plan to go out and play solo gigs.
Well, the reason is probably the same as before. If I have to book jobs with the band, then it is almost impossible, but if I offer myself as an almost young man with a guitar who can come and sing some songs, then I have this theory that people will say: “Well, come on – that sounds nice.”
Which venues do you have in mind?
Probably some cafés or small venues. There is also an organization called “Songs Alive”, which I will try to contact. In that way I’ll try to get out and get in touch with an audience and maybe sell some albums. And my songs are as they are, whether they are played with a full band or just a guitar.
Despite the problems of being well- known, you had some success with the single “Drømmepige” (Dream Girl), which was number one on the Danish Radio hit list “Dansktoppen”. Was that something you had expected?
No, but if there was supposed to be a song from the album that could make it, this was the one. Also because I wrote it together with Stig Kreutzfeldt, who – if anyone in Denmark – is a hit maker. And I knew that it was a good song.
Did he write the melody or the lyrics?
Mostly the melody. It began after we had talked about co-writing. Stig had just produced an album for Stanley Samuelsen, and afterwards he had taken one of the tracks and used just the drum track rhythm groove and jammed over it, and then he came up with chords for “Dream Girl”. Stig always sings “nonsense-English” in his songs when he composes, and over and over he sang the phrase “dream girl”. And since I had just met my wife, Carina, I said to Stig, that I had just met a “dream girl”. So it was natural that I should write the lyrics, Stig thought.
When did Stig Kreutzfeldt and you started co-writing songs?
He has always been a great icon for me. And after having recorded my first album, Mikkel Nymand who has produced both of my albums, said that it would be great, if there was an outside person with completely fresh ears who heard the album. And so it was Stig who came and heard it and he came with a lot of good inputs. Some time after the album we started co-writing.
Isn’t that difficult? I mean, you have always written your songs by yourself.
Yes, it is damn hard, but it’s actually one thing I’d like to do more of. I have an arrangement with Peter Busborg who has made a lot of the back-up vocals on both my albums that we should try to write something together in the near future. I also have others in mind. It is also a great way of networking with other song writers and many make concerts together and attracting more audience.
I would like to look a little bit closer into your songwriting. Many of your songs seem to be written as a retrospect of what you’ve experienced. When do you typically sit down and write a song?
I’m not the type to dream a melody and then wake up and write it down. Most often, I just sit down with my guitar and improvise or jam. I need to be alone when I write music – I’m very shy. I used to be very bad at picking up the leaves when they fell from trees, so to speak. Today I am better at recording and saving just fragments of songs, just when they appear. Right now, I have about 20 fragments of songs lying on my hard disk recorder. 3 of those have almost turned into whole songs. The lyrics are almost always a kind of “whole package”, which I usually write after the melody. The worst thing for me is when I make a song and may have a pretty good melody and a hook line with some spread lyrics. Then it often happens that the lyrics never come. So for me it’s best if the paper is completely blank, and the melody is there. Then the lyrics come to me almost without any need for corrections.
Now, there’s seven years in between your two albums and I can hear a difference between them. On the new album you have become more narrative in ways of telling your stories. Is it deliberate?
I find it very hard to make something that does not touch me personally. I’ve actually made some really good stuff when I’ve tried to leave myself out from the lyrics. Although the songs are good, I can’t really relate to them. I don’t find any joy in playing them. I have to be very personally involved in both lyrics and music.
I think you are on both of your albums, but I have also noticed that you sing in lower keys on your new album.
It is very deliberate. I was tired of singing in high pitch. I would like to reflect that I too had become more relaxed within myself and in my expression.
When talking about the expression in your songs, I have noticed that your backup-vocal arrangements many times are like they often were in the 70ies, e.g. like Paul McCartney / Wings do it with lines from the melody used as a kind of answer.
I have prepared myself for this interview, and on my list of songwriters who have inspired me, Paul McCartney is one of the earliest, along with Justin Hayward of the Moody Blues and David Paton and Billy Lyall from Pilot. These four ones are my teenage idols, and I often hear that in my own music.
Is it deliberate that the sound on your new album is very like in the 70ies, a kind of analog style, with both Hammond organ, Wurlitzer and Moog synthesizer?
It is quite deliberate. Lately, I have become completely crazy about the Wurlitzer sound. I wanted it to be the main thread throughout the album. And when Dan Hemmer, who plays Wurlitzer on the album, is also a fantastic organ player, it just had to be these two elements that tied it all together. And to top it all, Jon Bruland plays what you could call a kind of McCartney-style bass, actually also with a Höfner bass!
If you listen to the songs on both of your albums, there seems to be a main thread in relation to melodic harmonies. I hear references to both jazz and west coast music. Which artists have inspired you through the years.
Well, both Danish and foreign artists have inspired me. If we start with the foreign ones, I could mention Steely Dan, Marc Jordan, Stephen Bishop, Bill LaBounty, Gino Vannelli and Michael Franks, in particular. And especially four Danish artists have meant a lot to me: Kasper Winding, Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Stig Kreutzfeldt and C.V. Jørgensen.
West coast nerds like us are also very interested in who have produced the albums. Which producers are your favorite ones?
Well, the star producer above them all for me is without any doubt Tommy LiPuma – especially the albums he has produced for Larsen / Feiten, Michael Franks and Randy Crawford. In addition, there are also names like Jay Graydon, Michael Omartian and of course Gary Katz.
Besides music, you have both family, full-time work as a schoolteacher and an active life with sports. How can you find time for all these things?
Things encourage each other. If I am in not in good physical shape, I don’t have the energy to play music, and I can hardly drag myself off to work. If I train every day, then I get plenty of energy to sit down and play music afterwards. Everything is sort of a circle of energy that sets in motion. And if one of the elements is set aside, it all breaks down. But it can also be an impediment. Noone knows how far I could have gone with my music if I had bet everything on it, but it just doesn’t work that way for me. I probably also could have made it as a triathlete and even have reached the world elite, but then again, it’s purely hypothetical, because I simply can’t dedicate myself to just one thing. The fact that I do all the things that I do, make me who I am.
As well as on your first album, you have joined forces with some of Denmark’s most talented musicians, including guitarist Poul Halberg. The solo he played on the tracks “Det er utroligt” (It’s incredible), I hear as a blend of Larry Carlton, as he played on Steely Dan’s Kid Charlamagne, with a twist of Carlos Santana and of course his own style – is it completely wrong?
No, it’s absolutely true! But I didn’t interfere at all in what Poul Halberg should play. At first, we recorded all the basic tracks – and after that, we went into Paul in his studio, where we listened through the tracks and I said what I felt should be added. Then I gave Poul totally free hands to dub the guitar tracks.
The song “Nogen Gange” (Sometimes), features a more country and bluegrass musical style, which I haven’t heard before in your songs. Where did that come from?
It’s one of the few of my songs that is a mystery to me. I sat down with my guitar, and from first chord the song almost played itself. Both lyrics and music are written in less than half an hour. I played it for Mikkel Nymand ( my producer) and said I did not think it wouldn’t fit into the album. But Mikkel thought it was a very typical Bjarne Druedal song. Guitarist Jonas Krag did all the guitar dubs, also with completely free hands just like Poul Halberg.
Currently, several of your songs are often played on DR’s various radio channels. Hasn’t that given you a lot of live gigs?
No, strangely enough not. Unfortunately, the music industry is hit hard at the moment. There is not sold so many albums, and people do not go out and hear so much new music at venues. My theory is that we have too many options and things we have to do in our everyday life. The damned computer takes so much of our time. Sometimes I would almost wish I didn’t have a computer.
If you had the possibility to live by playing music, would you do it?
I would definitely! After having written “Drømmepige” (Dream Girl) with Stig Kreutzfeldt, I have, as I said, become aware of the possibility of writing with other songwriters and maybe help to deliver songs for other artists.
Interview by Georg Forchhammer, June 2010