Teitur Talks Production, Composition, & My Dad’s Best Song

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 14:03

An Interview with Teitur Lassen

by: Casey Pukl

When John Mayer talks about an album like this: “…it may be one of the best albums to come around in the last five years…Music like this is jet fuel on the fire of a broken heart. Even if you think the flame has died, there’s at least one lyric that’ll hit that last hot spot, and then you’ll find yourself as fucked as you were the day you lied and said you never wanted to see her again. Enjoy.” it’s tough not to take notice and do a little research. Meet Teitur— singer,songwriter, guitarist, producer, composer, and overall evil genius that continues to break and re-break every last piece of my heart.

Hailing from the Faroe Islands, Teitur has come a long way since he first opened for John Mayer. His latest record, Let the Dog Drive Home, is perhaps his most adventurous and charming to date. I had the opportunity to chat with Teitur about recording this latest effort, how he continues to challenge himself as a writer, and just what the heck that awesome monster noise is on his latest track, “Stormy Weather”.

CP: Let’s talk about your latest record, “Let the Dog Drive Home’. I know this album was a little different for you since you recorded it in Copenhagen. How did you decide where to record?

TL: Well, it was because I realized I’d always been recording outside of home. This was a time in my life when I wanted to travel less and just be at home and feel safer.  I could be with friends too. Also, I wanted to make a record where you explore becoming more involved in the environment and everything. A part of the whole album was about that— about letting go and taking it easy. It just made sense with the kind of record that I wanted to make.

CP: You also produced the entire record, correct?

TL: Yeah. I’ve produced a couple of records before; I produced “The Singer” before that. I also produced a French record for a French artist, and I produced my Faroese record as well. I’ve actually produced a lot of my recent releases; actually, I’ve produced most of them. I’m getting old already!

CP: Do you have any formal training in music or arranging?

TL: I’ve had a little bit of training— music theory and that kind of thing. I study music still today. But I’ve pretty much self-taught from just being a songwriter.

CP: I had to ask because your arrangements are sometimes really large-scale string arrangements and things like that. Did you just pick it up as you went along?

TL: Well, I started when I started making records and tours. I would have arrangements written for me by different arrangers, and I gradually just started writing them myself. You learn a lot from recording sessions. I would tour with string quartets and ensembles, and I would have to teach them how to play the scores. So over time, I just got more and more familiar with working with scores, and then it was just something I became more into when I write. When you write it down in a score, it’s there the next day. You’re taking the process further with your hands. You’re not just sitting there strumming a guitar. It suits me as a songwriter to write in scores. Then comes the natural part of making the arrangement and making sounds. It just opens up the whole palate of making sounds and atmosphere and all of that.

CP: I’m really glad you just said that, because I’ve been listening to the song, “Stormy Weather”, and the arrangement is really cool, but I cannot for the life of me figure out what that sound in the low end is. It that a synth or a vocoder?

TL: (Laughs) It’s a vocoder. We used a lot of synths. We triggered a lot of different sounds through old synths, choir voices, that kind of thing to make them sound synthetic. And then we used this program called AudioSculpt. It sort of isolates overtones and so on so you can create this really big sound. Basically, you’re making your own synthetic sounds out of analog instruments like clarinets, flutes, things like that.

CP: That’s really cool. So you’re basically adjusting the frequencies to make it synthetic?

TL: Yeah.

CP: That’s really rad. I was listening to that song, and it was making me insane because I couldn’t recreate the sound on my keyboard or get even close. It’s a neat texture.

TL: Yeah, it almost sounds like a monster sometimes (laughs)!

CP: It totally does. Synths are something that have really started playing a larger role in your recordings lately.

TL: Yeah, it’s just my interest. It’s very different when you’re 21, and now I’m 35. You kind of figure out what you want to achieve and what you want to do. For me now, I feel like it’s completely necessary to do that in order to know what you want to say and how you want to say it.

CP: Going along that road, I know you decided to go out on your own and start your own label, Arlo and Betty Records. What precipitated that decision?


TL: I made my first record on Universal here in the states. That sort of went awry, and I had to start my own label. I’ve been doing that since my second record. Basically it just means that I can do all of the productions and music as I want, and then I make deals with other labels to distribute it. That’s how I get it into stores, and then I have other people working with me for press and all that. My record company is basically like a production company.

CP: Do you have any plans to eventually sign other artists?

TL: Well, no not really. It’s really a matter of finances. At this point, the money covers my projects; I don’t really make enough to be able to put it into other projects right now. But I’m working with my good friends, and I’ve got other music that I can put out. We actually just opened up a studio on the Faroe Islands, so I’ll probably be doing more of that too.

CP: What kind of projects are you working on with other people; are they more production or writing?

TL: Different things. As a writer, I’ve written a lot of songs that have been recorded by other people. Seal just recorded one of my songs. Lots of singers have recorded my songs as a songwriter. As a producer, I did this French record for a French singer. I sometimes help make arrangements for my friends.

And then I made this project with Nico Muhly, an American composer, young guy; we made this project with the Holland Baroque Society, which is a baroque ensemble. That was a really good project. I learned a lot. We wrote new music for a baroque instrumentation.

CP: How many pieces was the ensemble?

TL: We wrote 14 pieces for this ensemble and performed it around Holland. Then at the moment, I’m writing a new project like that. It’s also for an ensemble from Holland. It’s a woodwind ensemble. Well, it’s called a wind ensemble. They have all sorts of brass and horns. But I’m writing them like what I call “long songs” (laughs). It’s a 25-minute piece that’s about a woman who goes through her everyday like we’re making a film. We’re filming this woman, she gets up in the morning, goes to work, goes for a walk, she does all of these repetitive things that you do everyday. It’s sort of about that. I really enjoy the project. It’s something I really feel that I learn from as a writer. It gives me a bigger perspective. I’m always just trying to become a better writer all the time. For me, the challenging part has always been form and length; storytelling. It’s a bit like seeing a TV series— you can learn a lot more from the characters than you can in a film. So I try to look at it like that. It’s just writing on a bigger canvas. It’s really fun for me to write.

For the last couple years, I’m always writing on something on the side while I’m writing songs. I think it’s important to know many different things as an artist.

CP: Are there any composers in particular that you draw inspiration from?

TL: There’s a bunch. There’s so much music out there. I listen to a lot of music. But I’m just as much inspired by what my friends say or what I read in the paper as I am by something I hear. I don’t hear music and think that I have to make something like that. It’s more about what I want to express myself. Whatever people make of it is sort of their own business. I love how music makes me feel, but it’s not necessarily what inspires me to make my own music.

CP: I read a comment you made a while back about how you think about the story of a song before the music or lyrics. Can you elaborate on that?

TL: Yeah. People ask me all the time about what comes first, the music or the lyrics. I always answer that it’s neither. It’s the whole story. It’s the song itself. It’s the meaning of the song and what I’m trying to say.

It’s different if you’re making a recording, of course, but if you’re writing a song, it’s not about the sound of a guitar or the sound of a voice. It goes much deeper than that. It’s about what you want to share, and what’s on your mind. I always have this picture of a family at a Thanksgiving table. You’ll probably recognize this, but your dad probably tells the same story every year. Every Thanksgiving, he tells the same one. That’s one of his best songs right there. Those are the kind of things I look for. That’s how songs are naturally born. Take something that happened to you that explains you and how you perceive life, and that has got a value. It explains something in the way of a song. It doesn’t have anything to do with a guitar or piano or a melody. Once you have that, then you can see if it should be fun or fast or slow. Then it’s figuring out how it should be played and what the rhythms are. That’s the best possible starting perspective. At least that’s my way of looking at it.

Come hear Teitur’s best songs this Thursday night, and be sure to pick up a copy of his latest release, Let the Dog Drive Home. Did I mention he also draws all of his album covers?

Let the Dog Drive Home on Spotify

WHAT: Teitur
WHEN: Thursday, February 9, 2012, 9:30pm
TICKETS: $10-$26 Buy Tickets
MORE INFO: Artist Profile