Sondre Lerche Is A Man Of Exquisite Taste

Sondre Lerche has lived a charm life as a musician, finding success at 19 in his native Norway, and then becoming an indie darling a year later in the US following the stateside release of his debut, Faces Down, in 2002. He turns 30 today — Happy Birthday! — and has even more to celebrate, with the release of a new live album, Bootlegs, vinyl reissues of all of his previous full-lengths, and a US tour that kicks off tonight in NYC and continues throughout the month (for dates check out his website).

Since Lerche is a fave around the Food Republic offices, we phoned him at home in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife, to talk music and food. We also uncovered a little-known fact: Before his early ascent to pop stardom, Lerche earned his kroner selling shrimp and salmon sandwiches outside his dad's clothing store. He tells us about it, as well as his take on two hot food locales — Copenhagen and Brooklyn — that are near and dear to him.

First, let's talk about your new album, Bootlegs. What made you want to release a live album?

I've been trying to capture what I do in concert for as long as I've played. It's such a special thing to be up on stage and communicating with the audience. You want to capture that by recording it. I had never succeeded and it had been terrible – I hated the recordings that we've made through the years and had sort of given up on it. Then, without my knowing it, my sound engineer recorded a show that we did in my hometown of Bergen. For some reason, it just had a rawness and chaotic energy that all the other recordings had lacked, and I thought that this is what I wanted to share.

Did it take a long time to put it all together? Did you sift through a lot of material to boil it down to what sounded best?

Yeah. It was a spontaneous thing and very raw – there's a lot going on and I wanted it to be a short album and classic, like they did in the '70s, where a live record or greatest hits album would be just 10 songs. I cut it down to 10 songs, but it wasn't all that much work. Because I have my own record label, I can do all these kinds of things very easily.

Technology has changed a lot. You're also going to be releasing your albums on vinyl, right?

That's correct, yeah.

Why is that?

It just seemed like the right thing to do [laughs]. When my records came out on a major label back in the day, vinyl wasn't really a priority for natural reasons, but now that I am more in charge and have my own label, I thought that those records could sound really good on vinyl and thought that it would be a nice thing to offer to dedicated listeners and fans. It sounded like a very cool thing to do and sort of sum up the first 10 years of my career as a recording artist, to give those albums a new push.

To turn this into a bit of a music and food conversation, I'm sure there are times when you hear your songs in a restaurant. How do you feel when that happens?

Usually it is a bit of a shock. It is so strange to be confronted with something like that in a different setting like a restaurant or club. It is hard for me not to listen to it, but I usually don't listen to my own records once they are done – when you're done, you move on and start playing the songs in concert, and the songs change along with the way you see and experience the songs. When you are confronted with an old recording when you are having dinner at a restaurant, it is definitely a distraction. I start listening and hardly recognize myself sometimes [laughs]. It is pretty cool, though, and makes you realize that your music is out there and alive and shows up in people's lives, either because they choose it or by chance. So, it is a cool experience.

You started out very young and it is hard to find early biographical material about you. Were you always able to make a living as a musician or did you, say, have to work in a restaurant to make some extra cash?

I worked a lot of different jobs when I went to school and when I played in bands and worked in the studio. I was lucky enough that the moment I finished school, my first record came out. Since then, I have only done music for a living. I did grow up working in my father's clothing store when I was a kid, and I even had my own little business every summer. His store was near a tourist spot in Bergen, and I would set up a little shop outside his, where I would sell sandwiches and baguettes with Norwegian salmon and shrimp, which I would buy from a local fish store. I would sit there everyday as a 12– or 13-year-old and run my own little business.

But you never wanted to become a chef? It's a pretty hot profession in Denmark these days.

No [laughs]. I sometimes had to cook food for myself when I was younger because my mother would work late and my parents were divorced. I got used to cooking up something somewhat functional for myself. I never really took interest in food in a more pleasurable or decadent way until I met my wife. She is an extraordinary chef and it is her hobby – that made me more aware of food as an interest and a passion.

So you're telling me that you are married to a model who likes to cook really good food for you?

Yeah [laughs]. She is a film director also and directs my music videos.

So you have a pretty good little situation going on!

Absolutely, absolutely.

You go back and forth between Brooklyn and Norway. Both of those places have become very well known as food destinations. Do you go out and try these different places?

Yeah, especially living in Williamsburg, where there is a new restaurant opening every week and there is a lot of really good stuff – you definitely get spoiled. Between the food that is cooked in my home and the food that is out there, it's a pretty exciting place to be if you enjoy food. When I go home to Norway, there is a lot of good food, but you don't go to restaurants the same way you go out here, because it's a lot more expensive. In Norway we cook more at home and when I'm there, I want the traditional and simple food that I grew up with – all kinds of fish dishes, lamb, all dishes with traditional Norwegian ingredients.

How much are you going back and forth between the two cities?

I live in Williamsburg...Last year I went back to Norway quite often because I had a lot of touring there and the record has done pretty well and I've been involved in some creative projects there, so I've been back a little more than usual. Usually, it's a couple of times per year to do some work with some collaborators there and also to see my family.

Since you go back and forth so much, I'm curious to hear which place you think has better food: Brooklyn or your home country?

[laughs]. That's a dangerous question! Obviously, the volume and options are much grander in Williamsburg, and another great thing here is a lot of different kinds of beautiful food is relatively affordable – you don't have to go to a fancy fish restaurant to get really good food. You can go to pretty chilled out and accessible restaurants and not spend that much money. In Norway, I enjoy home cooking more because restaurants there are really good but also high-end and expensive, and you have to dress up – it's a big commitment usually; you can't just drop by. Of course, Norwegian food has a special flavor in my heart, so it's hard to pick between the two! When I'm in Norway, I miss the accessibility of food in Williamsburg, and when I'm in Williamsburg, I miss a lot of traditional Norwegian dishes that you can't really get in New York.