Helmed by a constellation of blue-chip tune makers like Todd Terje, the Fett bros, Prins Thomas, Lindstrøm, Skatebård et al, Scandinavian disco-house rose to prominence as one of Norden’s best exported genres, quite notably contrasting with the more austere metal and techno scenes for which these countries were mainly known for.
At the core of this sun-kissed revolution, Norwegian producer Henning Severud aka Telephones has played an increasingly important role over the years. Not so much because of the quantity of output released which remains under the one-a-year par since his beginnings, but well thanks to his peerless blends of fruity tropical house, balearic tropes and disco-indebted grooves.
As his debut long-player for Gerd Janson’s Running Back, ‘Vibe Telemetry‘, came to crown a carefully conducted career, we sat back with Henning to discuss the influence of memories on his work, full-length format shift and overall sound aesthetics.
Interviewed by Baptiste Girou Photography by Florencia Russildi
"I had a very good experience releasing 'The Ocean Called EP' for Gerd Janson, who I find to be a lovely person, both privately and to work with, so it was an easy decision."
‘Vibe Telemetry’ is your debut full-length, which implies different mechanics. Did it change anything in your approach to music-making? How did you adapt to this new format?
Mainly I just did the same as I always do… let the recording and jamming in the studio dictate the way and direction. But I’ve given myself more freedom from the normal 12″ single constraints in terms of track-format, avoiding having to listen through twelve one-minute stripped drum-intros and outro’s all through the record.
Still it’s DJ-friendly enough to play out. As far as the material goes I wanted each track to work separately, but also to be part of a bigger picture. So from many many sketches I’ve selected tracks carefully, also with great help and input from Gerd, to give the record a sense of direction and variety.
As has been pointed out in some reviews, the atmosphere, and… well, vibe I guess, is quite defined and elaborate on this record. I wanted that aspect to tell the listener where a particular track comes from, instead of genre, style or narrative. I guess you could say I’ve payed even more attention to aesthetics and sound this time.
When and how did the idea of making a proper album first merge?
I’d been playing with the idea for some time. Many tracks and sketches have been put aside years ago with a future album in mind. Tracks I love by themselves, but that would make even more sense as a part of a whole. Like in a good DJ-set, in which context and how you put the tracks together, can give them a total different meaning or existence. So the prospect of saying something through 65 minutes instead of 8 was intriguing.
About two or three years ago a few people got in touch with me about doing an album. That’s when I first seriously started considering it. I had a very good experience releasing ‘The Ocean Called EP‘ for Gerd Janson, who I find to be a lovely person, both privately and to work with, so it was an easy decision. I always prioritise working with friends or people I know.
"My main inspiration have been memories, or rather memories of feelings. Of listening to house, disco and techno before knowing exactly what it was..."
What’s been your main source of inspiration? Did you have any place, people, concept… in mind whilst making this album?
My main inspiration have been memories, or rather memories of feelings. Of listening to house, disco and techno before knowing exactly what it was… music I was exposed to back in Norway in the late ’90s, early ’00s. In clubs, on the curb outside clubs, on the radio, mixtapes, cassettes from friends or the music-library in Bergen.
Music, smell and taste are the strongest memory-triggers we have, it can take you way back to a different time, though often you don’t remember particular events, but rather how you felt at that time. I’ve tried to make new music that sounds like the feeling I had when it was all new to me. It could’ve been anything from NY Disco, Detroit Techno, Italo House, Hip Hop or Ambient, it’s always been eclectic in Norway, but it all resonated within me, it gave me a certain vibe.
Another aspect has to do with production and aesthetics. Both at home and DJing I like a lot of older music produced with not the best gear. So I wanted to make a modern record that also sits alongside that aesthetic. Also, when you are working so much with music, in the studio, in clubs and everywhere your brain can get a bit weird.
"We get so caught up in our own shit that we completely forget what a magnificent organism this world can be."
The producer in you starts to pick everything apart. Like oooh that snare drum is really cool, but the bass sucks, or something like that. So for me, the only times I’m certain I’m out listening to something I find really good is when I lose all of that. When I subconsciously bypass the analytical and logical parts of my brain, and listen and feel the music like someone not involved in production, as one big lump of sound, not 32 channels put together. So I always try to make the sounds slightly hard to pin down, mix it with other sounds and try to make it breathe.
On the album I used a lot of field-recordings, paired with synthetic/electronic reproductions of similar sounds. Making nature and organic matter merge with programmed synthetic sounds in an indistinguishable way. I wanted the record to be alive, with details and things you maybe only first notice the 10th time you listen to it.
Also I think being a country-boy in an urban environment for so long has given me a new longing for nature I wasn’t aware of. There is so much music and cool sounds everywhere, from all the creatures and things surrounding you, so I’ve tried to tie that in with the music somehow.
It sweeps a wide spectrum of genres, from classic Chicago and blends to deep, euro house onto piano-strewn rooftop groovers. Everything you can expect from a dance music LP actually. Is it all about the dance?
Well, yes and no. If it was all about the dance I could’ve made braindead functionalistic aerobics tech-house with all the cliché swooshes and buildups, breaks and drops and fluff. Yes, it’s about the physical experience and interaction, but also perhaps learning or picking up something on the way. Like in an inception-kinda way you know… you make someone dance, loose track of time, open up somehow and have a physical experience, but at the same time you plant a little seed.
What was all that I heard? Why did that particular moment feel so profound, good or interesting? The melodies and rhythms was the same as before, but something happened. What was that? Maybe it’s a way of suggesting people to look around and appreciate all the little beautiful details and things surrounding them in life and nature. We get so caught up in our own shit that we completely forget what a magnificent organism this world can be.
"I don't wanna contribute to that rat-race of spewing out records just for the sake of it, or just for getting DJ-gigs. I only put out music when I think it's really good and ready."
Were you listening to other stuff whilst recording the album or did you focus on your tracks and craft exclusively?
I always listen to a lot of music. For inspiration or simply cleaning my ears. And of course, DJing a lot, you have to check out and listen to music all the time. But in the studio I’ve pretty much exclusively worked on the album.
What pieces of gear did you put to use on this album?
Aiai.. I don’t know if I can list all but some of the most used synths and drum-machines was Korg Poly800 and Mono/Poly, Yamaha CS-10 and TX81z, Roland JV-1010, TR606, 707, 808, 909 and Siel Kiwi. I do sequencing, sampling and editing on Ableton.
Having released just four EPs since 2010, it’s fair to say you are a rather discreet, slow-working producer. Is it reflective of your level of productivity in the studio or do you have tons of hidden gems to be released?
I do have a lot. But until I actually think they are gems, I will keep them and keep working on them. It’s not about productivity, but being selective. It’s so easy to release music these days, and I don’t wanna contribute to that rat-race of spewing out records just for the sake of it, or just for getting DJ-gigs. I only put out music when I think it’s really good and ready. That being said, the last couple of years I’ve gotten a much better workflow and got better at focusing and finishing new music more frequently.
Over the years, Scandinavian house (and techno too!) has taken over the world in a rather impressive manner. How do you explain that continual discharge of enthralling dance music from countries that often mostly inspire austerity and seriousness to the average Joe?
What will you be up to in the coming weeks? Any support gigs to accompany the release of the album?
I was touring in Asia when the album dropped, but there’s a few nice ones coming up over here. Corsica Studios in London this friday, then Amsterdam in the early days of December, one in Barcelona and one in Naples. Then I plan to escape the winter in Mexico and other hot festive places.
Vibe Telemetry is out now, order a copy from Juno.TelephonesRunning Back19 October 2016BalearicHouse