It was during a week in Istanbul last year that the more melancholic moments of Liima’s debut record were born. Among the darkness and cold, shut in a windowless nightclub, came a horrifying reality of the life of a musician…damp socks.
While it might seem like a trivial aspect of this exciting new Danish and Finnish collaboration, featuring Efterklang’s Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stolberg, and percussionist Tatu Rönkkö, it truly shaped the very tone and emotion of much of the record.
The shock of an icy and seemingly unenjoyable Istanbul compared to the sunshine of Madeira, two locations of week-long residencies, lead to very different moods influencing songwriting.
The importance of these meteorological matters may not be a challenge to the usual songwriter, but Liima is more than just a band – it’s a concept. The album is merely a bi-product of a musical and geographical journey, which also saw residencies in Berlin and Finland.
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We focus on playing and writing and recording...
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In each location, the band bed down for up to a week to improvise and write, recording everything they play. They open the doors to the public and let friends and strangers watch and react. At the end of the week, they play a gig featuring the songs they’ve created. Once the week is over, they reflect and refine before moving on to their next location. A total of 16 songs, only some of which made it on to debut album ‘ii’, were written in just four weeks.
“All the residencies were different,” Rasmus says in the basement of a swanky London hotel, another room with no windows. “We focus on playing and writing and recording. It’s introverted. In Istanbul, we had expected it to be a nice climate, but when we got there it was freezing. We were working in this room and I had damp socks for the whole week! We didn’t think we had come up with anything good, but then it just turned into something.”
“There’s definitely a darker sound on the songs we wrote there – more techno influenced. It reflects that it was dark and cold and maybe we were a little miserable. You can hear it in the songs.”
It’s this bold and brooding sound, and the patterns and rhythms of the beats, which run like veins on the record. Rasmus says one of the hardest parts of the process was choosing the songs to release; getting rid of more of the ‘feely’ numbers that wouldn’t have had the same impact.
Compare those Istanbul tracks with the ones written in Madeira, like the Bowie-esque ‘Amerika’ - you can almost feel the sun on your face. The lighter moments punch through like rays in a storm cloud, creating a spectacular and varied soundscape. It’s amazing what difference a bit of daylight can do!
“In Madeira it was sunny and we could see outside,” says Tatu. “It was a completely different setting and the songs sound happier. With a song like 'Amerika', I can remember the moment. It sounds different every time I hear it, because it has grown, but I can still remember where we were and what it felt like when it started.”
Rasmus adds: “I can pinpoint where we were and when on every single song. I can remember what each song is about and what the inspiration for it was.”
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With the open door policy, outside influence wasn’t just left to the weather. The residencies were jams, which grew or died with the audience reaction, making the listener as much part of the process as the band itself.
“The songs only come alive when we play them to people,” Tatu says. “That’s when we refine them. We’re watching people dancing and reacting.”
“It’s like you’re playing in a rehearsal space, but a stranger could just walk in and watch. The meeting between us and them creates something special.”
Liima is by no means the antithesis of Efterklang. Casper’s romantic crooner voice still winds its way over ambitious melodies and lush landscapes and Rasmus’s bass and guitar brings stability and groove, but there’s a new edge and a new direction that incorporates beats, samples and synth.
The percussion sets it aside from anything the Danes have done before. Tatu had been gigging as an improv percussionist in Finland and touring the kitchens of private homes, playing utensils, pots and oven doors in front of intimate audiences, before becoming Efterklang’s touring drummer.
But when Efterklang decided to take a break after their Piramida tour in 2013, they wanted to embark on a true collaboration. And what better way to create an altogether new sound than for Tatu to scrap the acoustic drums and try beats and samples for the first time? The result is a brilliant blend of the familiar and the unknown.
“There are no expectations in this band. I played acoustic drums in Efterklang, but this time I thought I should challenge myself, so I decided to try samples. I’d never done it before,” Tatu says calmly, like it’s no big deal. “To me it doesn’t matter if it’s drums or electric or samples – it’s all percussion.”
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It makes it very easy to leave your ego at the door...
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The whole idea of Liima is a challenge. It’s the willingness to take a risk, the almost performance art aspect and the desire to make new music a step away from what they’d created before that forms its soul. Even the band’s name translates as glue – they’re held together with a mutual understanding that this is an experiment. That and the fact they’re all incredibly nice. Liima is not only a concept, but a sort of a musical democracy built on equality. Some of our home grown musicians could probably learn a bit from their approach.
Every song starts from nothing, explains Rasmus. It’s an improvisation, where any member of the band could take it into a new direction.
“You improvise. You record. You listen. You make it together. It makes it very easy to leave your ego at the door,” he says. “If there’s only one person writing, it probably won’t work out. If one person doesn’t feel it, then it’s not happening. It means you can sit back and see what it develops into.”
“It might be something you don’t even see yourself. You might have visions of where it’s going, but something else will just change it. And it happens so quickly that you don’t get emotionally attached to it. It’s quite liberating and it’s a license to try new things.”
Even with the album recorded and set for release next month, Liima has just completed a London residency and has another at a Copenhagen festival next week. “We’ve written six new songs in London and the album’s not even out yet,” says Rasmus, “but there’s no rush. It’s about the process, not what you do with them.”
So even if you hear the album or have seen Liima before, you’re almost guaranteed to get a new experience next time. You might even be part of it.
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Words: Gemma Hampson
Photography: Marc Sethi
Liima are on tour right now - full dates. Debut album 'ii' will be released on March 18th through 4AD.