Name: Asger Techau
Occupation: Producer, songwriter, vocalist
Current Release: Asger Techau's Levels is out via Four Leaf Clover.
If you enjoyed this interview with Asger Techau and would like to find out more about him and his music, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, and Facebook.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
Often for me, it begins with a single word, or, if I’m lucky, even a whole sentence. Either it just pops up in my head, or I read or watch something that sparks my creative curiosity. I pick a guitar and start playing around with it, until I have a skeleton of a song.
Then the refining starts, altering chords to make the notes support the feeling as strongly as possible, trying various word combinations to be sure that the lyrics are just as transparent as I want them to be.
But lots of times, I’ll be strumming my acoustic guitar, and suddenly stumble over a mood, a string of chords or notes that set my mind in motion. And I immediately begin the search of a melody to fit the mood.
And then … lyrics.
What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Whenever I start composing, I almost never know where I’m going.
I like to keep my mind and heart open for as long as possible in the writing process. I find that I end up with the most true and honest result that way. Whatever happens, happens, and I go out of my way not to overthink what I’m doing, to keep it simple.
In my early writing days, things could get a bit too clever, musically and with regards to the lyrics. There is no need for that. I just try to express what I feel is important to me.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
I have no tools or rules in my writing … I just go.
I don’t need to put myself in that special place, to be able to work. It happens naturally. Sometimes I just wake up going, I feel like writing today, or days can go by where it doesn’t cross my mind to write. I’m trying to get into the process of writing something every day, but it is hard when you have a family, and other work projects going on.
Once every year, I get to borrow a friend’s apartment in New York for a week, so I go, focusing only on new material. That is usually a very rewarding process, and I lay a lot of groundwork for new songs during that one week. I’m going again on October 5th … can’t wait. (laughs)
The song “What Do You Want” from Levels was written in that apartment, and the song takes me back there, whenever I listen to it.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
It is so damn hard to write them. You never stop questioning yourself, you never stop thinking, this is trash, too naive, too lame, too complicated. Basically … they are never really finished, it is an ongoing project, that keeps on fucking with your head. That’s just the way it is … for me at least. I still alter words in lyrics I wrote 10 years ago. Stupid I know, but I can’t help it.
Sometimes words and lines have to be uncovered, and you have to dig deep find the right combination of words. Sometimes, you just know what you need to do. The song, “7-20”, was that kind of lyric.
It talks about a girlfriend I used to have. She was my first serious relationship, we moved in together, talked about having kids … real stuff. We had a good run, but after 7 years, we ended as very good friends instead of lovers. 20 years passed, and we stayed friends, and held true to the connection we once had.
Then, she gets sick, really sick … fatally, and out of nowhere, she gone. Al of a sudden, I am left with a lot of words I never got the chance to say to her, face to face, and I knew I had to put them into music, to honour her being, and our time together, letting her know how our relation made me the husband I am today.
The song also helped me to process the loss of a great friend.
Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
I would not say that I’m in a spiritual state while writing, but I seem to be a lot more in touch with my emotions, body and mind.
I take a journey through my feelings and memories until I find a something I need to work through, could be a wonderful situation that want to share, or a bad experience I need to come to terms with.
It feels more like therapy to me, resolving old angst, working on low self-esteem issues.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
I always try to make a very simple demo of the finished song, to be sure that I captured the mood correctly. Almost all my songs can be stripped back to their purest state, and work as is. It is extremely important to me, if it doesn’t work acoustically, the narrative and emotion is not strong enough.
When going into the studio, and production begins, I go back to having and open heart and mind, letting playfulness take over. Not having a clear direction of where the song should go, gives me the element of surprise in the production process.
The song “Flawless”, on my latest album Levels, is a perfect example of this. In the studio, with my dear friend and co producer Caspar Hesselager, I think we made about five different versions of this, trying to figure out which direction to take. Playing around with weird sounds would constantly change the vibe of the song and force us to take a new path.
We had used synthbass on the entire track, but at one point we decided to we need to have a real bass guitar on it, and by chance, Anders Stig Møller, a friend of Caspar’s, and an outstanding bass player, came by to drop some stuff of, and Caspar goes: "Hey you know what … you should take a shot at this track." Ok, he said, so we borrowed a bass from a next door studio, and off to the races we went. And in no time at all, Anders layed down a totally outrageous bass part for the verses, and by doing so, completely changed the course of the song … once more.
I just LOVE when something like this happens. You have got to stay open to changes as long as possible. That’s where the true production gold lies in my opinion.
But sometimes you just know what you want. The closer on Levels, “Reasons Never Change”, was written in a period of my life where I was obsessed with the work of Elliott Smith, and I wanted the song to honour the sound of his (Elliott’s) early recordings, which were done mostly on 4 track cassette.
So we recorded the song the same way, on 4 track cassette, with all the wonderful wobble and hiss that comes with it. I double tracked the vocals and panned them out to the sides and tried to get that ES sound as much we could. I am very happy with the result.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
I am completely immersed in the production and mixing phase; this is where you paint the full finished picture, with sounds, dynamics and space. When we reach the point where I can listen through the entire track, and feel at peace, we are done! That’s where I try to convince myself that the song is completed and it’s time to move on.
I think of it as a snapshot in time, how it is supposed sound in that period of my life. There will be plenty of opportunities to rearrange it later, going into live shows.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
The process of writing, recording, producing and mixing / mastering consumes every inch of your mind. When you are in the midst of it, you think about it all the time. So, when it is finally released, truly out of your hands, I usually take a deep sigh of relief, because this means that there might be some room in your head for something else … maybe even new music.
In fact, I had been so preoccupied with working on Levels, that, on its release, on the very day, I wrote the first song for my next album! The space Levels had taken up in my mind was free, and immediately I wanted to fill it with new music.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you personally feel as though writing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Creativity is a gift, something to cherish, to hold dear. But you also need to work to keep it in your life, make time for it, make it a priority! If you don’t, if you think of it as child’s play, you might lose it, and it won’t be a factor in your life … SADNESS!
It is the greatest way to stay in contact with yourself, to expand your mind, push the limits for what you think you are capable of. To me, the ability to express myself through music is a vital part of my exitance, a must for my sanity. But it could also just be a way to get to know yourself a bit better. What makes you happy, what makes you sad … basic emotions.
Sitting at a piano, playing around with major and minor chords, will show you this. Imagine what else you could discover about yourself, if you just play around a little more.