Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Ripple Conversation With Claus Larsen

Claus Larsen is an artist I have admired for a long time. It all started way back in time, the early 90’s, when my best friend, by chance, played two albums for me, 'Science For The Satanic Citizen' and 'Solitary Confinement'. Both recordings grabbed me immediately and immensely and has stayed with me ever since. Those two LPs were created by none other than Claus’ fantastic band Leæther Strip, one of the forerunners of Electronic Body Music, if you ask me. Therefore, when he released ‘Spæctator’ towards the end of 2016, I thought it was time – finally – to talk to Claus about the past, the present and the future about his amazing band Leæther Strip and what inspires him to keep going after nearly 30 years.

How did Leæther Strip start, Claus? And where did the band name come from?

Since 82 I was playing in different bands, mostly Synth-Pop bands. But I never really felt home in a band. I was always the one in the band who had a clear idea where we should go and how hard we should work. I just had too many ideas, and ended up doing all the hard work myself. Got tired of fighting with my band mates instead of creating good music. Most of the other members were also in it for the wrong reasons. I never gave a shit about fame, it's all about composing songs that moves people in some form, and makes them think or let some steam out, or both. Sadly it always ended up with the other members getting lazy. I wanted to be a recording and performing artist with every fiber in my body. It was not just a dream. I know it would happen if I worked hard enough, and I never met any other musician around here with the same passion, so one day I just had enough with bands. I took all my gear from our rehearsal room to my flat and that day Leæther Strip was formed. There is no deeper meaning with the name other than I wanted to name that had an aggressive feel to it without sounding like some Death Metal act.

Leæther Strip went from a more strict EBM/ electronic-industrial sound to incorporate more of a dance music feel, which you termed symphonic electro. What brought on this change?

Well I think I have always had all elements in my music. Melody is very important for me, but I also like to go nuts and very aggressive. We all have dark and bright sides in us, and I love to explore that when I'm writing songs. I didn't put myself in any box, the listeners did. I am a fan of many different genres, all I need in music is heart and passion and lyrics I can relate to, so I get my inspiration from many scenes. I like to keep a sense of hope in my songs, even though it does sound very dark and aggressive at times. I don't think when I write really, it just comes out of me when I sit down and open my mind. As life changes we all hopefully grown, and once in a while return to something familiar. And now you've steered Leæther Strip back towards the more harder physical stance of the early years, while still incorporating the melodic dance side. Yes the new album is very “Leæther Strip”, but again you still have very melodic songs, and some aggressive songs. For me it's one of my most important albums ever. After my Mother died I had so much I needed to get out of my system. Old very bad memories I had suppressed popped up again, and I needed to deal with them the hard way, and most of these songs were my therapy for that.

You took a break between 2001 and 2005, what happened?

I had enough with the music industry. People who I saw as family turned out to be vultures and I just had enough. But not creating music is very bad for me, it led to a deep depression, which I am still battling with every day. But composing songs is my only and best medicine. So I am never taking a break from that again.

Leæther Strip has built up a huge, impressive discography of albums, singles, EPs and appearances on compilations and remixes. How and where do you find the energy, creativity and inspiration to keep all this going?

Passion. I love what I do, and I wouldn't be here if I didn’t have this outlet. After a few hours in the studio, I am a very happy man. Buying that Moog Prodigy synth when I was 14 was a life saver. After 29 Years as Leæther Strip, I am still living my dream. I've seen the world and met the most amazing people because I bought that Synth back then. Besides Kurt, composing and performing my songs is what I live for.

Apart from the passion you pour into Leæther Strip you are active in Klutæ. Why did you start this band?

Klutæ (Klute) back then was started by chance really. I needed some inspiration and I started to play around with guitar samples and metal drum sounds, just for fun really. Zoth Ommog, my label back then, heard it and wanted it released right away.

And Klutæ ran side by side with Leæther Strip for quite some time but then laid dormant for 10 years. What happened?

Klutæ was not supposed to be more than that first EP “Explicit”, but it sold out so quickly that they label asked for an album. So I used and still use Klutæ as a playground to experiment and just have some plain old fun. It's all done very spontaneous and in the moment.

You also play in two other bands, Am Tierpark and Sequential Access. Tell me about them, if you don't mind.

Sequential Access is an Old-School project I created together with Marco Defcode from Decoded Feedback. We had a lot of fun making that album, but if there will be more, I can't say yet. On the other hand, Am Tierpark is not a side project, this is a “real” band. John Mirland, writes all the music, and me who sings and write the lyrics and melodies. I started out doing Synth-pop in my teens, and I always dreamt of doing it again. I then met John, and we shared the same kinda dream of making this type of synth-pop with a deeper meaning that just “tra lala doo bi doo”. We are both fans of the early Italo and Synthpop bands, so we tried to make a few cover versions to see if it would work. And John and I are just a perfect match, I finally found a guy with the same passion and the will to works hard as myself. We just released a 12” vinyl/digital titled “Cherry Blossom”, and we are now working on our second album.

In the last couple of years Leæther Strip has toured quite a lot as well as appearing at festivals. Is it hard to pick out a play list? I mean you have so much good stuff to choose from but only have so much time on stage each night.

Yeah, since 2008 we've been on a never ending tour, and it's still going. I am so happy that I returned to the stage and that I can share this with my husband Kurt. Sadly he can't do as many gigs as he used to, so I take the overseas ones alone. Making setlists for an “old” band like mine is very hard especially for festivals, where the set lengths are shorter. But I always try to fit as many “classics” in as I can. Playing live is just as important for me as writing the songs. I've learned that the best for Leæther Strip is to play 80% of songs people know and then pop in some rare or new songs.

You do a lot of remixes and covers of other bands songs, how did you get into doing this? Is it hard to get approval from bands to make remixes as far as copyright goes?

The remixes I get hired to do by the labels or the bands. For covers, I always ask the bands. Most of the bigger bands don't bother to answer for some reason, but over here in EU you can cover any song if you don't change in the composition, meaning you can't change words or melodies. For that you need permission from the band or their publisher. And if you release it you pay a % to the rights holder.

Your new album Spæctator is out on Rustblade but a lot of your work has been released by yourself. Do you prefer to do it DIY or have a label involved?

Yes Rustblade got the new album to release. I loved doing it on my own, but with all the shows and song writing, it was just too much for a one man band to handle. Also the financial stuff like making vinyl and special boxes, I can't afford. So I went with a label again.

Spæctator to me is a mix of early Leæther Strip - especially the beats and the vocals - while all the other synth parts are melodic, suggestive and dreamy(in lack of better words). To me these contrasts, if you like, works excellently together. Was this a conscious decision or is this how the songs simply turned out?

I never think about what I am going to do when I write the songs, it just builds slowly. Half the time I have no idea where a song is going, but as soon as I get a lyric topic idea I kinda know what mood a song will have. I usually start with a simple drum loop and then improvise some basslines until I got something I like, and then build from there. I have always tried to make albums that I wanna put on and listen to the whole album from start to end, and not get bored. If I'm bored with a band's album after I am half through it, it usually doesn't get to be played again. I need to be sucked in, and that’s always been my goal. I hope peoples focus will return to albums again and not always focus on the singles. Putting contrasts into the music and between the songs is always good if you ask me. Albums live forever if they capture the listener. I'd like to think that my fans go back and find an older album of mine and put it on and and it takes them back to some memories or events.

I totally agree! Different albums or songs bring back different memories and that's how it should be.

Do you listen to other bands while writing and recording? A lot artists and bands say they keep from that so they can focus 100% on their own music.

I listen to others’ music and all sorts of genres all the time, though most of the time it's while driving in our car. Because while I'm home, I spend most of my time working on my own songs or working for others, mixing, mastering or remixing. To be honest, and it might not be the most popular thing to say, but I think that many recording artists aren’t too keen on talking about what other artists they listen to, especially if it is bands from their own genre or scene. I don't get it, but I guess it's an ego thing, or they think people will think they are not as original as they want them to think. I have been addicted to music since I was 4-5 years old. I come from a home where the radio was playing from dawn to bedtime. My Dad was a jazz musician before I was born and he would play old swing and jazz records for me all the time. As a self taught musician I learn by listening, I also think that is why I love doing covers of songs I love as a hobby and in between composing my own songs. I even dream music, and many of my songs are the result of these dreams.

Spæctator took a few years to complete but you worked on Am Tierpark's debut and several EPs at the same time. Did this work process and long time frame helping making Spæctator the great album it is?
Thanks. Yes I'm sure it did. I am also remixing/mixing and mastering for other bands so I get new input constantly from so many talented people. And sure it rubs off on my own songs. It's always been like magic to me when a new song is taking form, I still feel the same rush when I can put what I have in my head into my songs. I dream music still and many of my song ideas comes from dreams or nightmares.

Where did you get the inspiration for Spæctator? To me, it seems you have an even mix between happy and sad themes?

To put it very short. My beloved Mother was my last link to a family who never cared about me or my husband, also during my childhood. I have all my life felt like a spectator to my own family. I fought all my life to be loved and accepted by them without any luck, and the day my Mother died, I felt such a release. Yes it sounds harsh, but I finally didn't have to fight for their love anymore, it was like a mountain had been on my head all my life and it just vanished that day. So there is sadness sure, but also a lot of hope. Being an outsider to people who should love you no matter what is worse than torture, and yet I still kept trying to make them love me.

What are your touring plans with Spæctator?

Well since my return to the stage in 2008, We/I have been touring non-stop all over the world. I have not taken as many gigs in for this first part of 2017, mainly because 2016 was the busiest gig year in the history of Leæther Strip and I promised Kurt to take a few months with only a few gigs. But after summer it's getting busy again. I love playing live and meeting the people who supports my work so I can’t get enough of it. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of Leæther Strip, so my plan is a world tour. But I take all the jobs I can get.

Through the years you have always had this fantastic fat, thick electronic sound, especially in the beats and the rhythms. The title track of Spæctator as well as Evil Speaks are perfect examples of this. How do you come up with that and maintain it?

Thanks. I started out as a synth bass player and I also programmed the drums back in my former bands, so bass and drums are very important for the full production of my songs. It's maybe the parts of a song I work on the most. If the bassline or drums doesn’t work in the song, the rest usually doesn't stand the test of time. It's like a house built without it's foundation. EBM is bass driven, you wanna move to it.

How is Kurt doing? You've been waiting an extremely long time for his kidney transplant.

Kurt is stable at the moment. He needs a new kidney, and he's close to dialysis. I was going to give him one of mine and after a year of examination a date was set two years ago, but 2 weeks before the transplant, Kurt sadly got a stroke from a blood clot, and since then the doctors don't want to perform the transplant until Kurt will need dialysis. It's very frustrating for us both, but we also need to live our lives, and we do not want to waste our time together. We take one day at a time. Yes it’s hard, but Kurt and I are stronger than bombs together.  

That’s a horrible situation to be in, but I’m glad you and Kurt are fighting it. Standing up against a struggle is the best resolve. For whatever it’s worth, Claus, I know you will come out on top of this.

Our conversation is drawing to a close, so it’s time to bid adieu to Claus. It’s been an immense pleasure to talk to this legend about what has been, what is now and what is on the horizon. I wish all bands and artists would have the same commitment, level of energy and integrity like Claus. Then music of all genres would flourish and be inventive, and challenge us supporters at the same time, to really listen and not just blindly consume the fashion of the day. Thank you for the past 30 years Claus and here’s to 30 more!


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