Members: Jeppe Kjellberg (guitar), Tomas Barfod (drums), Tomas Høffding (vocals, bass)
Interviewee: Tomas Høffding
Occupation: Songwriters, performers, producers
Current release: WhoMadeWho's UUUU is out now via Embassy One.
If you enjoyed this interview with WhoMadeWho and would like to find out more, visit theim on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter. They also have an official website.
We also recommend our earlier WhoMadeWho interview, where the band expand on a wider range of topics.
To me, UUUU may be your most song oriented project so far. In an interview last year, when the album was still in the making, you mentioned that it would probably be “more intimate” and “aiming at the heart”. Is there a connection between these two facts, do you feel – that this desire to express more inwards emotions lead you to a certain way of “packaging” these feelings?
That’s funny, because we aimed at making it less song oriented than ever before. Not aiming for pop playlists and radio, not trying to write the perfect “song”, just making flowy music that sits well in your ears, that will make you trip out and go on a journey, and perhaps even dance to it. And then its perceived as the most song oriented project so far: (laughs)
Thats one of the reasons I love making music. How it's intended and how it's perceived can be so far from each other. There are no results, no right, no wrong. The only thing that counts is making music that some people can connect with on one level or the other.
What is the perfect song for you – and why? In which way, would you say, are you trying to recapture its magic in your own music?
The perfect song depends on the setting.
In WhoMadeWho, the perfect song … or I would rather say track … more and more seem to be a vibe and a sound. We tried so many times to write the perfect “song”, and it always ends up not really making it to our albums. Somehow we are just not that band.
Leaving the idea of 10 songs on a album has been so liberating for us, and helped us in making … I think …a really beautiful album. And perhaps even helped us writing better “songs” it seems?
Quite often, many artists and listeners of electronic music start out loving songs in the traditional format when they're young, then gradually drift towards free forms and, ultimately, the “track” format. Do you remember when you started getting more open to non-song based pieces and what attracted you to them?
For me personally coming from a songwriter background before forming WhoMadeWho, this was definately when we started the band. I immediately fell in love with electronic music, and the whole way the scene works. So much more open, experimental and fluent than the pop world I came from.
I still like to write songs, but I take just as much joy in laying down some chords and a bass line and wacth it grow and change together with my band mates
Even though it has been used since time immemorial, and even though every immaginable chord progression and melodic line has been used, the song remains as popular as ever. What can still be explored with it and how can you keep its sounding fresh instead of a mere repetition?
Some guy recently put it nicely when he said: songwriting is some of the last black magic left in this world.
There are just 12 notes, and most songs these days are on a 4/4 beat and 4 chords. If I was thinking too much about how hard it is to find a new way to walk through the overcrowded landscape of chords, notes, sounds and words every day, I wouldn’t get anything done at all.
Every morning in the studio I close my eyes, cross my fingers, pick up the mic, and just go at it. I make a lot of shitty songs, that no one hears. Then every now and then something useful comes up. And I bless my luck.
Since a few pieces on UUUU, such as “Summer” go in this direction, I'd be curious in this context about your perspective on disco.
I love disco. And in some ways I consider us a disco band. Im glad you like “Summer”, it's one of my favourites too. Written and originally produced on guitar and synth as a folk song, but we ended up with kind off a disco rework. Lots of detours and lots of opinions on this one.
One thing I notice is that today, the traditional structure of the format is often broken apart – many songs no longer cycle through the typical verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge scheme.
What are the outer limits of what still works as a song?
There are absolutely no outer limits. As stated in the beginning, we are on a path away from the traditional song. Often I make a whole song and the guys smash it into pieces and only one line survives. More than often making the piece stronger than my original idea.
The way I understand it, you're pretty much crafting your songs together from beginning to end. Can you talk a bit about what you enjoy about this process versus a situation where you'd prepare song sketches on your instrument alone and then refine them as a trio in the studio later?
We are working together real closely, and its in the band's DNA that no creative idea is holy and final. We all have other outlets where we can follow our ideas through, so its mostly a joy throwing your little feeble flower into the roaring fire of WhoMadeWho's creative process. We hear music very differently, and ideas always gets turned around. The life of a track making it to the final album can be really long and bendy.
But I wouldtn change it for anything, they way ideas can evolve and grow between the three of us something I never experienced in any other setting. I am thankful and to this day still surprised about what happens when we join forces
There were vocals on many of your pieces, also on the previous full-length Synchronicity. What makes you decide whether to arrange something as a song or more as an instrumental (or a piece where the vocals will be used in a less traditional way)?
It's so hard to make a vocal track that is touching and relevant. It takes a tremendous amounts of trial and error. So every instrumental track we ever make, always gets 1000 melodies from me and Jeppe. Then sometimes one of them has “it”. And the instrumental becomes a song
Were there certain themes you wanted to explore for the album?
No not a theme, honestly. The theme for the album was more a musical one.
So where do the lyrics come from, if not from a tangible concept?
Words comes from all around. From the depths of the unconscious, from things we expirienced, from thoughts we wanna share with the world. And also sometimes from friends. Sometimes the words comes first, sometimes the melody, there are no real systems to that. Somestimes a track dictate some words, sometimes the other way around.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
Ambitions are: it has to be good. Challenges are: its soooo hard.
What makes good lyrics? Really there are no rules. The right "I love you" can be genious, and the most clever, wordy piece of philosory can be the shittiest lyrics ever.
Again, lt's black magic. All I know is, I know when it's right and when it's not.
Some of your songs drift beautifully, then they return to the song format again … It's a really trippy experience. How do you keep the balance between writing something that's snappy but which also has air to breathe?
Thank you!! We have a lot of focus on what you are describing. We are careful not to put too much melody and words all over the place. Leaving space for imagination. And the trip.
How do you see these pieces working in the live situation?
I hope and believe they are going to work great in a live situation. We are already playing quite a lot of them in our various sets, and it feels good .
Music is communication. And conversation. And a lot of other things. I often imagine singing to a crowd when I make new melodies and words in my studio. It helps me.
In this regard, can you talk about the writing of what is probably my favourite on the album, "Moon after Moon”?
Well that’s one of the pretty straight up ones. I sometimes have big trouble sleeping. I don’t get stressed, just too many ideas and songs in my head and no way to stop them. I was tired the day I wrote it. That’s kind of a "song" song in my view.
It happens all the time that a song starts perfectly then goes amiss in the chorus or somewhere else and doesn't develop its full potential. Are there techniques for not losing the plot and seeing the writing of the song through until it's exactly the way you want it to be?
To me it's all about finding peace with the fact that some songs comes super easily and some songs takes litterarly months to compose. And sometimes the song you worked on for months is shit and must die.
Productively, stubbornness and perceverance is important - and of course open-mindedness and a bit of talent. (laughs)
Roger Eno told me: “The key is not thinking of a song as a problem to be solved but an enjoyable way to spend some time playing. That’s what musicians do: Artists and poets work, musicians play.” What's your take on that?
I mostly really enjoy composing. I never see them as problems, but sometimes as a really hard puzzle or one of those pictures where you stare for a long time before you can see what it is … can't remember what they are called.
The puzzle part of it I enjoy more and more, especially the words. It's a great way to spend travels