Behind ‘Heads Above,’ ‘Two Feet Off the Ground,’and ‘Dreams,’on the blurriest conjunctions of Indie, pop, electronic, daft-punk, ‘yiddayaddagenre’ genres, within an Inside World even its conceivers would not want to be caught awake in, we find an appropritate formula for an experimental pop phenomena: a drummer/producer, a singing, bass-playing David Bowie fan, a James Blake-loving, singing, Jazz-guitarist, a little bit of charm, heaps of eccentricity, a certain level of intelligence, maybe a little too much introspect, and of course, pure talent.
Tomas Barfod, Tomas Høffding, Jeppe Kjellberg, collectively, WhoMadeWho have been juggled around, literally and metaphorically, worldwide. Since their self-titled album release in 2005, the three piece have produced poignant music videos that dig deep into the abysmal realms of human psyche, and delivered versatile tracks for a reputable roster of electronic music artists to fiddle with. From Tale of Us to Kollektiv Turmstasse, Adriatique to Maceo Plex, a motley crew of experienced remixers have dabbled with WhoMadeWho’s infectious rhythms and heuristic, almost hyperbolic lyrics.
Just a few days before the release of their single, ‘I Don’t Know’, Torture the Artist caught up with WhoMadeWho in Hyderabad, and indulged the Danish trio in some self-reflection as they attempt to bring an upcoming project home through an uncustomary voyage into India.
Torture the Artist: Before we get started, let’s set the mood for this interview. What’s the track of your choice that shall accompany the readers through the following questions and answers?
Jeppe: ‘Timeless’ by James Blake. I just like the mood of this song. It has some pretty quirky chords and fits fine with the mood here at the pool in Hyderabad where we are doing the interview.
Torture the Artist: How do you address the evident dilemma of having two Tomas’ in the band? Keppe, you feel a certain way about this?
Høffding: It’s easy to introduce the names when we meet new people, they only need to learn two names. It’s also great confusion sometimes. Earlier during a shoot, the video instructor got the two Tomas´ mixed up – got the faces swapped in his inner visions, it seemed. Interesting. But anyway, internally we just go by Barfod and Høffe. Me and Barfod sometimes call each other Tomsen.
Torture the Artist: Okay, so Jeppe, Høffe, Barfod, it is. Rart at møde dig. Your hearts belong to Copenhagen, because…
Høffding: …it’s flat and you can bicycle everywhere. We even bicycle to the airport most of the time when we tour. 35 minutes of workout, and you arrive nice and sweaty at the airport <laughs>. It’s also very tiny, so when you go around in your everyday cycles, you meet a lot of friends on the way.
Torture the Artist: A new album of yours was announced for early 2017. The year is more than halfway through and so far we only see a single in the horizon. What’s the reason for the delay and what can you reveal about the album?
Høffding: It took ages to get the right setup for the release. We had a lot of changes in the setup, and we wanted to get it just right. Because the new album is turning out to be really good – well, in our opinion – now we even get to add a few new tracks last minute just before mastering. We actually look forward to incorporating these additions.
Torture the Artist: What‘s everyone‘s task when producing a track? For example, who writes the lyrics, who composes the melody of a track, etc.
Høffding: We have a lot of different approaches, but most of the time it’s like this: Barfod sets up a beat, and then calls for me or Jeppe, and two by two we produce a basic track with some chords. Then we send it around, and me and Jeppe just fire away with a lot of different melodies and mumbling words. We then listen together and go for the melody or hook we all three like the most. Often it changes many times along the way. We often have 3-4 different melodies going on a track, and often when the melody is really good, we change the track underneath to take it do a totally different place. Barfod is the main producer, but Jeppe and I often add stuff to the production. It’s a beautiful, sometimes tough, and always chaotic process. Regarding the words, we sometimes write them ourselves, sometimes we invite rappers and poets to help us. We have even invited outside topliners as well, to stir up the pot. Just like Rihanna.
Torture the Artist: Your latest track ‘I Don’t Know’ is complemented with remixes from Margot, Adana Twins, Fur Coat and Stereocalypse. What’s a criteria an artist has to fulfill so that you choose him/her to remix a track of yours?
Barfod: It depends on a lot different factors, but mainly all remixers are friends or friends of friends. Our approach to music is that we see it as family.. .we have good families all over the world – DJs that we had good parties with, labels we released on or producers we worked with. For this release Margot are good friends with our homeboy Dj Tennis; we previously did features with Fur Coat and Adana Twins; and we are labelmates with Stereocalypse.
Torture the Artist: Which remix of your track do you feel had the most drastic change in terms of changing the character of the song – whether addition of sounds, adjustments on key and tempo?
Barfod: Actually, all four had pretty drastic changes because the original is quite weird. Each remix has quite a deep approach to the production. Margot’s digital version is quite fun and the Stereocalypse remix succeeded in making a very mellow remix that somehow turns out to be quite euphoric when played in the club.
Torture the Artist: Speaking of remixes. Name an artist you would like to remix, and why?
Barfod: I’m sure a WhoMadeWho disco version of Rae Sremmurd would be through the roof. They have such and amazing harmonic universe, and we love the clash of making strange meetings.
I also struggled with my voice chords during some years, so the hookline feels very close to home for me.
Torture the Artist: Your tracks are known for their emotional drive. Some of your songs touch on the most intricate and unspeakable dilemmas of human psyche – loneliness, anxiety, boredom, jealousy, catharsis – which song do you feel hits closest to home?
Høffding: To me it has to be the less known track called ‘I Lost My Voice‘. The lyrics are written by my American stepbrother, whose dad is in the United States and mom in Denmark. This song is about travelling, and the weird bittersweet weightlessness of it. I also struggled with my voice chords during some years, so the hookline feels very close to home for me. But mainly, the loneliness of travelling, and the fact that somehow I did the song with my brother, make it special for me.
Jeppe: At the moment we are in India to film a short movie, which will include new songs from our next album, ‘Through the Walls’. One of those songs called ‘I Don’t Know’, is about being stuck in a situation you can’t get out of. Lyrics are inspired by a situation where I was on my way to play in Guadalajara, but was denied entry to the US by Homeland Security because of a basic passport issue. I got redirected to Mexico City where I was stuck for hours not knowing whether or not I would be sent back to Denmark, and abandoning the whole WhoMadeWho crew and fans in Mexico. It was a very stressful situation, where I didn’t have any impact on the future. All decisions where up to fate and the absurd randomness that sometimes can occur in life. Eventually it all went well. But that’s the emotion that hits me the hardest at the moment.
Torture the Artist: Favorite WhoMadeWho song lyric?
Høffeing: ‘Every Minute Alone‘ is iconic to me.
Torture the Artist: WhoMadeWho videos are provocative, what is behind this commitment and where do you want to ultimately take this?
Høffding: Ultimately we just took it to India. Let’s just see where that takes us. Pretty far out, it seems. I think we have the videos we have because we always choose really cool people whose work we admire, and then we basically give them 100% artistic freedom. This seems to bring out the best in them.
Sometimes I want to be inside Katy Perry’s ‘Last Friday Night’, other times in Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’.
Torture the Artist: What’s a music video you would want to live in?
Høffding: Beats me. But I would not want to live in any of our own videos, that’s for sure!
Torture the Artist: As you tour quite a lot, name five items that you always have in your suitcase/ luggage while touring.
Barfod: Laptop, obviously, headphones, electronic stuff like iPhone, battery pack, and a good magazine.
Høffding: Laptop, headphones, earplugs, sunglasses, running shoes.
I switch between Parrot and Samsung Level for long flights.
Torture the Artist: Spending so much time together, what’s the noise-canceling headphones of your choice?
Barfod: I switch between Parrot and Samsung Level for long flights, but mainly I use TMA -1 studio from Aiaiai, they are only isolated not noise-canceling. But I can use them both for travel, production and DJing. Bonus info: I was a consultant for the development of the TMA headphone, so I’ve actually been helping tweak the design and sound since the first prototype.
Høffding: I got some supercheap in-ear headphones from a friend four years ago because he didn’t use them anymore, or maybe he just felt sorry for me because I forgot mine during a flight, but they are somehow amazing. They take out all noise, have great bass, and they haven’t broken so far which is amazing. But what is even more amazing is that I didn’t lose them. I lose all my stuff all the time, but these guys lingered. But now I probably jinxed it, and they’ll be gone by tomorrow…
Torture the Artist: Name three tracks or artists that are in your playlist while you are on tour.
We have played for no one but Nokia’s fat wallet in the Copenhagen Central Station.
Torture the Artist: What has been the most bizarre gig/ concert you have played, and why?
Høffding: Where to begin! Well, we once played 50 meters below the street in Milan, for an audience we could not see. We have also played on a ski slope in the alps, 2000 meters above high. We have played for no one but Nokia’s fat wallet in the Copenhagen Central Station. We have played in a Russian luxury apartment in pink body suits as part of a sales campaign for the apartment (Barfod later got into a fight with the Russian security guys…see the video ‘This Train‘ to get the idea). We have played 50 meters up in a crane in the beautiful sunset at Melt! Festival. With no kickdrum! Our sound engineer beat on a microphone with his index finger as replacement for the drum. We have played a guerilla gig on the streets of Copenhagen during Distortion Festival when it was still up and coming. The police came, but instead of stopping the concert, they blocked the street so the people could party, which was kind of very cool. We are blessed when it comes to bizarre gigs. I hope they keep coming. Although I have to say, nothing beats the feeling of a sold-out headliner tour – all these people buying tickets, looking forward, singing along and going crazy, that’s really something!! All the bizarre stuff would feel hollow if it wasn’t for that kind of moment.
Torture the Artist: As you’ve played your part in the music business for quite a while, do you feel more like an actual player on some kind of court, like a spectator, or a constant referee?
Barfod: Totally like a player! I think that it is super important to stay current, always look up new paths and ideas, and react on possible luck or obstacles.
Høffding: What Barfod said!
Torture the Artist: Name an (electronic) music artist whom you would like to read an interview about on our page.
Barfod: Our friend, Dj Tennis. He had a long and fun career both as a booker, producer and DJ, and I’m sure that he can tell some fun stories if you give him the right questions.
Jeppe: James Blake would be interesting.
WhoMadeWho, two thirds Tomsen, one-third Jeppe, releases ‘I Don’t Know’ today, with remixes from Adana Twins, Fur Coat, Stereocalypse, and Margot. Get your digital copy at Beatport.