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todd terje interview--4.3.2014

Ten years on from his debut single, it’s finally Album Time for Todd Terje.

The Norwegian producer has seen his star soar in recent years, with singles ‘Ragysh’ and ‘Inspector Norse’ achieving unlikely crossover status. Next week, he releases his debut album – a glitzy blend of piano jazz, synth-pop and, naturally, disco, with a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’, voiced by Bryan Ferry, at its centrepiece.

FACT’s Bjørn Schaeffner quizzed Todd on becoming a parent, Monkey Island and DJing in just his socks.

What have you been up to recently? 

Working hard with diapers! My son was born a while ago, which has kept me pretty busy. You could say, with the production of my album finishing, that it felt like a simultaneous pregnacy coming to an end!

How do you find being both a DJ and a parent?

Good. Thankfully, I got more disciplined a while ago. Which seemed necessary, as I was getting slightly worn out with my DJ schedule getting tighter and tighter.

No more afterparties?

Well, I guess I stopped going to afterparties about… a zillion years ago, hehe. The late hours in clubs make it difficult to do anything useful the day after anyway, but for some I suppose it would be possible to go straight from an afterparty directly to the studio to make something brilliant. Not for me though. I remember when I was younger and a bit more “fascinated” by all the new sounds I heard in clubs, I could actually sit right down as soon as I came in the door after a long night out, and start making a tune.

How did your son’s birth impact on your studio work?

People say that you become more distracted once the baby is here – yet I experienced just the opposite. So, it’s kind of ironic: though my arms have been up in poop, I’ve become more focussed. I work more efficiently these days.

What are you working on?

I started preparing my live set. My first live set ever, that is, I never did one before. So, I had to get into all that and setup everything. I bought myself a new computer, a keyboard and some more outboard synths like the Dave Smith Mopho x4, the Tetra and a MFB Dominion X, plus a few effect pedals such as the Eventide Space. It has to be hands-on, it has to feel natural, because in this regard I’m like a traditional musician. I would really hate to be one of those guys staring with a blank face into a laptop screen making my mouse click.

“It’s a stupid title. I could also have gone for It’s Money Time or It’s Bestseller Time.”

Your debut album is called It’s Album Time. No one will argue with that. The time seems ripe.

It’s a stupid title, a joke, of course. I could also have gone for It’s Money Time or It’s Bestseller Time. I’ve always had a thing for jokes like these.

Was it planned from the beginning that ‘Inspector Norse’ and other previously released tracks would be on the album ?

No, my initial intention was to do something altogether new. But then it seemed reasonable to include ‘Inspector Norse’, also from a sales point of view. And the two ‘Swing Star’ tracks fit themselves in quite comfortably. In the end, it felt just good that way.

How did the idea of doing a Bryan Ferry cover version of Robert Palmer’s ‘Mary and Johnny’ come about?

Isaac, Bryan’s son, invited me to the studio. We’ve collaborated on some stuff before. It went down really fast, it was done in no less than half a hour. The instrumental was pretty much the same vibe as the original Robert Palmer in 155bpm, done with simple drum machines and a monotonous Jupiter 8 riff. They actually planned to do that cover anyway. But I daresay a Robert Palmer cover is not so bad. I might have changed my mind if it was a Britney Spears cover!

‘Delorean Dynamite’ feels Moroder-ish.

Agreed, but it wasn’t necessarily my take on him. That track was inspired by this library music guy Tony Carey. What I like about library music is that it’s so visual. And I always wanted to do something like that. So, here’s my acoustic image of a car racing through Miami with flashing street lights passing by.

What about ‘Leisure Suit Preben’ who materializes in two tracks? Is he some sort of Norwegian Leisure Suit Larry?

Leisure Suit Preben is this figure my label illustrator Bendik Kaltenborn designed. Actually, having Bendik on the team for Olsen Records is great. He makes excellent artwork that sticks out quite well in the ocean of boring whitelabel vinyls out there. Bendik asked me to make two tracks for a book project of his. Both tracks were also released on a 7″ single coming with the book. The Leisure Suit Preben character is this rather pompous guy, a true hedonist. And, yes, it’s a twist on the adventure game.

Which you probably played when you grew up as a kid in rural Mjøndalen?

There’s really not much to do in Mjøndalen! You have to play Leisure Suit Larry. Or Outrun, Monkey Island or Kings Quest. Being bored also made me dive into the world of Pascal programming and Scream Tracker, where I made my first music.

Did you also listen to DJ Strangefruit’s radio show back then, who was a kind of Norwegian Electric Mojo?

Yeah, he had this way of making underground stuff very accessible. He showed us a lot back in the day. Turns out, the same radio station actually refused to play ‘Inspector Norse’ years later, because they said it sounded like beach bar music. Those were the words the musical director used. Which started quite a debate in Norway. And now they’re playing ‘Delorean Dynamite’ big time. As if they’re on a guilt trip!

Norway’s biggest open-air festival Øya booked you this summer as a headliner. For the first time. Were you surprised?

The fact that they booked me means that their office is gambling that the album will be doing well. Well, I’m assuming so as well.

Doesn’t it sometimes feel weird to be the frontrunner now?

It is kind of weird, yes. I’ve been comfortable with my underground thingy for the past years. There you feel like you’re more or less in control off the hype surrounding you. So, for a while I was afraid to lose my crowd, as I was getting more and more recognition. But over time, it’s has come to feel natural.

Between 2007 and 2010 you did a lot of edits and remixes. How do you go about selecting the sources for your edits?

Well, it has to be good for a start. I think my best edits are of tracks that already are quite playable. I´m not a big fan of the heavily processed remixing, I prefer to use the original drums, for instance, as they very often sounded more dynamic and punchy than todays drums.

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That edit period: was it a conscious means of sharpening your skills as a producer?

I learned a lot about arrangement in those years. The truth is that I wasn’t super inspired at the time. I wish I was more poetic during that period, but it just wasn’t so. Working on original stuff was a bit difficult.

And the spell broke with ‘Ragysh’, which was released on Running Back?

‘Ragysh’ was done in a very short time. I didn’t want to release it, but as soon as Gerd Janson heard it, he was very eager to do so. Gerd is my yes-man! So, I went back to the studio to finish it. And he was right. It really doesn’t have to be rocket science, when something works well on the floor.

Greg Wilson has described ‘Inspector Norse’ as a track with a simple complexity. That must be something you strive for as a producer?

Yeah, though I don’t always succeed. Usually, when it sounds simple, it’s likely you have yourself a hit. Look at ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. Or the Beach Boys stuff. I very often clutter a track with too many ideas, which is a sign that the original idea perhaps wasn’t good enough.

You share your studio with Prins Thomas and Lindstrøm. What rituals do you share?

A lot of coffee! If we’re stuck with a track and need a fresh start, we usually knock on each other’s doors to talk about food to think about something else. Always helps!

Prins Thomas says he admires you for your production skills, that you’re a man with a definite plan in the studio, whereas he’s more of a floater. He also jokes about how the two of you have this on-going discussion, where he goes ‘You lack that nerve!’ and you go ‘Your music is underproduced!”‘. 

Hehe. He definitely works in a different way than me. He’s great at arranging long tracks, and he does it extremely fast. He’s got a lot of experience as a DJ and usually knows what’s needed for a track to work on the dancefloor. I tend to get right into the sound polishing side of it immediately, which isn’t always the best place to start. So, comparing the two of us, my music probably sounds “better” for normal ears, but he’s got the ideas.

On your website there is a recipe for Disco dough. It’s your daily bread?

It’s very tasty! And you can store it in the fridge for days. It’s a lazy man’s bread.

It gives you super-powers?


It’s been going uphill with my career for the past seven years, and I’m not scared anymore. It feels like a natural progression.”

How do you cook up a successful night as a DJ then?

Sometimes when you don´t have anything particular to say as a DJ, you just express “boringness”. If you look at some of my idols like Gerd Janson or Prins Thomas, they just manage to express themselves so well behind the decks. Gerd knows exactly what’s needed, he always seems to pick the vibe of the place and knows which record will make a step in the right direction. That’s a DJ’s true quality. But Gerd will of course complain, oh, my selection was shit! Also, I like Deetron a lot, though his style is completely different, he has this super-energetic signature, always whipping up things.

Do you agree that a great DJ needs to fuck up once in a while? Musically speaking?

It’s definitely more interesting to hear a DJ fuck up, because he’ll have to clean up afterwards. Throwing a curveball every now and then can make an otherwise dull set more exciting.

I’ve seen you mixing wearing only your socks. That’s for well-being? 

It just became my good habit. I like to take in as much vibration I can. You feel the music better that way. You need to take in as much as you can. DJing naked would be probably the best, ha!

Never got your feet trampled on?

Not yet. There are also the polite people who take off their shoes themselves. But sometimes people break glasses in the DJ booth. Well, that I don’t like.

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