Efterklang: 'Belfast's like an in-between city,but it's a special place'
They may have been to the Arctic wastes to record their new album, but the Danish rockers will be hoping for a typically warm welcome when they visit our own fair city
When in search of inspiration, many songwriters mine their love lives, the country they come from or even classic movies. For their latest album, cult alternative rock band Efterklang – who play the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's next Thursday – have gone several steps further. The Danish experimentalists sought their muse in an abandoned Russian coal-mining settlement in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.
The remote island chain – politically part of Norway, but geographically home to the most northerly towns on Earth – served as the musicians' base while they wrote and recorded ideas for their new album, the acclaimed Piramida. (The record's title is the Russian name for the remote location; it's called Pyramiden in Scandinavian languages.)
But what spawned the notion to make an album in a place where polar bears outnumber people two-to-one and the temperature has been known to plummet as low as minus 46 degrees centigrade?
"We became fascinated and excited by the place through some pictures we saw, and at the time we were also looking in to making a new album," explains vocalist Casper Clausen.
"We went up there with a mission of making an album, but it was very much an exploration. We had no idea what kind of album – or even if there was an album – up there.
"Our mission was mainly to record sounds and investigate the place, without thinking too much about the songwriting. In a way, we could see ourselves as scientists or explorers. The 10 days we were up there was just about trying to get to know this place. The whole creative part started when we got back."
And at least the band didn't have to worry about any run-ins with the locals. "It's a ghost town," smiles Casper. "People left in 1998. But the coal company that used to run the city still owns the place, so they have a few workers maintaining bits and pieces."
Casper says that he and his bandmates – bassist Rasmus Stolberg and electronics man Mads Brauer – embraced Pyramiden's remoteness, as well as the inherent danger. "It's a wild place," he shivers. "We had to have a guard with us, carrying a gun and we had to prepare ourselves and get clothes and equipment that could cope with the weather up there."
But Svalbard's wildness complemented Efterklang's fondness for studying the link between sound and place – an approach which spills over in to their live shows. "In Efterklang, we're always curious about the space we're in," Casper says, "and we find it important to connect with the place. Sometimes, we've been lucky to play places that inspire us to use metal poles, or sometimes there's an organ. The main mission for us when we play live is to make it a special night for the audience."
Piramida is Efterklang's fourth full studio album. In their dozen years together, the trio have collaborated with orchestras, filmmakers and visual artists, as well as numerous guest musicians. The Belfast gig will feature the outfit's six-piece touring ensemble, but Casper is keen to stress that no one line-up constitutes the 'definitive' Efterklang: "The three of us are the core members," he says. "We've been going on since high school. Besides that, it's always been ever-changing and a lot of the fuel in Efterklang is coming from connecting to different musicians and artists."
Svalbard may have been amongst the most exotic and unusual places Efterklang have visited, but Casper is as thoughtful and perceptive about Northern Ireland as he is about the high Arctic.
"I've also been there many years ago on a high school trip," the frontman reveals. "It's an interesting place. It's a bit like an in-between city, caught between many different holes. It seems to be a third different place, from Ireland and the UK. It always feels special. We'd love to have more time there."
Efterklang play the Elmwood Hall, Belfast, on Thursday, October 24, as part of the Belfast Festival at Queen's. For details, visit www.belfastfestival.com.