Indians interview: The beauty in forgetting what you've learned

Soren Lokke Juul, the Danish multi-instrumentalist who records under the name Indians, tops off his indie hit “Magic Kids” with a radiant synthesizer solo, a sunbeam that breaks through the gloom of a break-up lament.

It’s a beautiful moment, one that could be easily attributed to Juul’s music-school chops. But the composer says exactly the opposite: “I had to ‘unlearn’ my training.”

“I went to preschool for music conservatory, where my teachers told us how to play the ‘right’ things, instead of allowing us to find out for ourselves what was right for each of us,” he says. “I like using my imagination. I learned a lot in the school, I developed great technical skills and it was a wonderful opportunity to play music every day with my friends. It made a huge difference in my musical ability. But I’ve spent the last 10 years trying to forget what I learned, the theory and stuff. I was at a point of thinking too much, instead of feeling.”

In the late ‘90s, Juul began playing with a series of indie bands in Copenhagen where he was able to develop a more personal sound.

“All the bands I’ve been playing in, I’ve been trying to do the least that I could on the keyboards instead of playing lots of notes,” he says. “I thought of myself as a live producer who creates sounds. I liked the idea of creating soundscapes on synthesizers and twisting knots of sound.”

In his first project, he was enlisted to reproduce on stage densely sampled textures the band leader had created in the studio. “I had to play five or six keyboards on top of each other, and, fortunately, I had the technical skills to play crazy (stuff) in one hand, different crazy (stuff) in the other hand, and sing backing vocals at the same time,” he says. “My last project was more like a folk band -- three boys doing harmonies. We started out in this whole Fleet Foxes folk wave that hit the world. But after four years, I quit the band. I started feeling a bit bored on stage being in the background. I wanted to feel the excitement of doing music again, to be nervous going on stage. I hadn’t felt that way for a long time.”

Juul began working on his own music in his home studio with his synthesizers and laptop. He came up with the evocative, programmed riff for “Magic Kids” while visiting a friend in Paris, returned home and began adding layers. “I wish I could tell you how I wrote it, but it’s almost as if I was in some kind of emotional trance, like I wasn’t there when it happened,” he says with a laugh. “I think Bob Dylan once said something like, ‘Sometimes the songs are in the room with you, they’re in there waiting for you.’ I don’t know how I did the synthesized part in the middle, it’s pretty complicated -- a weird little melody. The song is about loss, how desperate you can feel to lose something and want it back, and realize that it’s not possible. The synthesizer part is that one last bit of hope you keep hanging on to.”

He posted the track on his Facebook page in late 2011, and “it went on a journey on its own,” Juul says. The song became a viral hit and led to a show in Copenhagen, which Juul considered a make-or-break moment.

“I didn’t have enough songs, so I got busy writing so we could play half-an-hour,” he says. “I remember before going on stage, I thought I need to decide tonight if this is going to be a live project or studio thing: ‘If I don’t like singing live, I won’t do it.’ There were 200 people in this church, and when we walked on stage, people went silent, and it was really intense. We didn’t play a note, and already I knew I was going to like this.”

“Magic Kids” prompted a phone call from the revered U.K. label 4AD. “They called me and said, ‘Do you have anymore like that?’ ”

Writing an entire album was a daunting prospect for Juul, but it got the juices flowing again. In the course of recording his 4AD debut, “Somewhere Else,” he taught himself to play guitar. “I found it on the street while riding my bike. Someone was throwing it out. I cleaned it, bought new strings, and it sounded great; the sound of steel strings and wood in the headphones as I was recording was warm and human, a contrast to the machines. On the keyboards I know what to do, but on the guitar, I don’t know at all. I like that sense of surprise.”

The sense of anticipation and anxiety that had been missing from his musical experiences returned.

“I am nervous every time I go to the studio to work on new songs,” he says. “There is always pressure. ‘Can I do it again? Do I have another song in me? Do I have a whole record in me?’ Suddenly I was put in a situation where I didn’t have to do anything else but make a record. I worked 9 to 4 every day, and then some more at night after dinner, every day for half a year. I didn’t have time to wait for inspiration. If you don’t feel inspired, you have to search for it. It’s inside you. You just have to find it.”

Indians: 10 p.m. Saturday at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Av., $10;

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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