The great Dane chief of Indians
Søren Løkke Juul has a pretty good idea what he’d like to be doing if he weren’t making music under the banner of Indians.
“I’m a really melancholic person, and I’m interested in people—I care about them and how humans relate with each other,” says the Copenhagen-based musician, on the line from a tour stop in Oslo, Norway. “I think if I wasn’t doing this, I would be doing something in university where you study people or other societies. Or helping poor people in Africa. People are my big interest, because we all need each other.”
That desire to connect with his fellow humans is what makes him thrilled about being able to tour as Indians, which has just released its excellent debut album, Somewhere Else.
“I feel like people are so busy nowadays that they don’t have time to have an interest in others,” the soft-spoken and likable Dane offers. “We are starting to lose that. I am so glad that I am having the opportunity to travel around the world and play concerts. When we play a concert, it’s about giving something to the audience. It’s not about ourselves—not at all.”
What Juul has given the world with Somewhere Else is a work of stunning beauty; if early reviews are any indication, the record is headed straight for this year’s top-10 lists. The songs are built around dream-hazed synths and echo-bathed percussion, with acoustic guitar and cinematic violins occasionally sweetening an already perfect mix. Get ready to swoon at the dramatic chamber folk of “Cakelakers” and the incandescent electro-pop of “Magic Kids”. It’s wonderful stuff, whether you’re talking the frozen-crystal piano and November-grey strings that haunt “Melt” or the way the cold-comfort keyboards in “Bird” bring to mind Copenhagen at 3 a.m. on a winter night.
How gorgeous is Somewhere Else? As Juul notes, with utter humility, more than one critic has used the word masterpiece, which caught him by surprise.
“I didn’t have any idea that anyone would call it a masterpiece,” he says. “That’s a really big word. I’m really happy to have the record out, because I’ve been working on it for a year. So it’s really nice that it is getting nice reviews. People are talking to me about it in interviews, and I really appreciate that, because I didn’t imagine at all that someone would care about it. The response has been surprising because, in my record collection, I only have three records that I would call a masterpiece.”
For the curious, those records are Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, Beck’s Sea Change, and Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips. Even if his list of perfect albums is a short one, Juul notes that his love of music hardly stops with that trio. He grew up in a house where the stereo—as opposed to the television—was always on, this a reflection of his father having done time in rock bands, and his mother being a piano player.
“When I think about it, there was always music in the house,” he says. “I could sit in the living room playing the piano, and my mother would never be like, ‘Can you please be quiet?’ even after I’d been playing for three hours. When I’d finish, my dad would put on a record and we’d have Beatles all over the house. It was really noisy, but in a good way.”
Following in the footsteps of his father, Juul spent 10 years playing in what he calls “go-nowhere” bands around Denmark, none making an impact beyond the country’s borders. With Indians he decided to shoot for something different than what’s been selling in independent brick-and-mortar record shops.
“I always wanted to make my own music, but it was a question of finding the right time for it,” Juul says. “In a way, I think I was preparing for this for the past 10 years. I was working with really, really good musicians, watching how they worked. I realized, though, that I wanted to do something other than being in the background.”
Ironically enough, considering his affection for others, Juul decided to hole up alone for the creation of Somewhere Else. He sequestered himself in an apartment in Copenhagen and in the Danish countryside, working solo on songs where the only thing he paid attention to was his instincts.
“I didn’t want the songs to sound like something that I had heard before,” he says simply. “Like, I’ve heard a lot of records that sound like Beach House. They came up with a really new sound, and it’s easy for others to come up with that feeling and soundscape. But why would you, really? It’s already been done. Sometimes, as a musician, you think, ‘I want to have success, so I should make something that people are having success with right now, because that’s what is working.’ I didn’t think that way at all.”
Reinventing himself with Indians wasn’t hard. It had everything to do with life lessons from the past.
“Since I was a kid, I have lost things in my life that were very important to me,” he says softly. “Something very painful happened, and that was a big turning point in my life. In a way, I had to use the pain in my body in a way that was creative and positive. It’s like you can turn really, really bad things, bad energy, into a good energy if you choose to.
“After that thing happened, I realized that at any time I could die—get hit by a bus in the next five minutes—and so I decided that I wasn’t going to waste time on things that I don’t like,” Juul continues. “It was like ‘I want to play music.’ And the feeling was ‘If I have to work a shitty job in a factory, that’s what I have to do.’ I’ve been doing that since I was 16. It’s been really, really tough, but there is always hope, no matter how hurt you are.”
Open and gracious as an interview subject, Juul has enough faith in humanity that he’s willing to share that life-changing turning point with the Straight, asking only that the details not be revealed in print. That he’s managed to stay positive after such a devastating loss is testimony to his belief that all of us on the planet have to look toward the light. Preferably together.