Lemaitre's Ulrik Denizou Lund On Going From Electronic To Indie With 'St. Valentine' EP

Lemaitre is an Electronic band that has been gaining quite a large international following since they got started in Norway in 2010, founded by Ketil Jansen and Ulrik Denizou Lund. For six of the years since then they worked with a label, but they recently branched out to create their own label, Sublunar. Following that move, it became a no-brainer that they ought to release any personal projects they might have under the same umbrella. Ulrik Denizou Lund had been kicking around some more indie-style song ideas for some time, but after their label got started, he started creating directly for the project that would be called St. Valentine. 

Two tracks from the St. Valentine EP out August 14th, give audiences a good idea of where the EP is headed in terms of sounds and themes. They are more lyrically-driven than Lemaitre creations, but have a similar tendency to contrast upbeat, often ecstatic sounds, with weightier themes as a way of exploring human experience. "The End Is Bright" reframes the idea of death as something that could be taken in a more positive or peaceful way, and "South of the Border" reassures us that escape is possible and new ways of doing things may help us break from our limiting routines.

Ulrik Denizou Lund spoke to Tower's PULSE! from a summer evening in Norway, where the sun still hadn't set at midnight, about his journey into indie for St. Valentine, and what working with their own label means for both Lemaitre and St. Valentine.

Hannah Means-Shannon: You’ve been very busy even though much of the world is in quarantine. Are you usually in Norway, or are you usually in LA?

Ulrik Denuzou Lund: We usually spend our time 50-50 between LA and Oslo. We spend the summer half of the year in Norway because of touring around Europe, and we usually go back from September until June to LA. This year was different. We’ve spent 2020 in Norway. We’re lucky that we have a place to stay in both places, so we’ve been able to continue making music. But of course, we had a lot of touring plans that fell through.

HMS: The touring planned was for Lemaitre?

UDL: Yes, though eventually I might tour for St. Valentine, too. I’ll see how it goes. It would definitely fun to tour both projects.

HMS: I was going to ask if you had live plans for St. Valentine.

UDL: Yes, I’m going to do a small show at a cool theatre in Norway for a release concert, but it’s a cap at 200 people. That’s a decent amount of people, but it’ll be a long time until we can do bigger shows.

HMS: It seems like the music you create for both projects is geared toward dance and live events, so that must be the fun part for you.

UDL: Yes, we’re also writing the music for listening, but it works very well at a club or a live show.

HMS: How long have you been working on these songs for St. Valentine?

UDL: Early last year, we had a discussion about what we were going to do with the music that were cool songs but didn’t fit Lemaitre. We had the idea that I could start a side project, a solo project, and from then on, I started making music especially for this project.

But a lot of the songs we write, we don’t know where they will end up. Sometimes the songs start off as Lemaitre songs and I end up taking them in a different direction. We often write songs together, but we also write with other people as well, and that results in different outputs. St. Valentine is going to be more the indie side of what I like to do, and we’ll keep Lemaitre more Disco and Electronic Music-oriented.

HMS: Is that the main difference you see between the two projects, the electronic element being stronger for Lemaitre?

UDL: Yes, and St. Valentine is also more vocally-driven as well. We like making more instrumental music as well, but this project is going to definitely be more personal, in a way, as well. Because I write all the music myself instead of with a partner.

HMS: How far back does your interest go in using technology and electronic elements to create music?

UDL: Basically, it’s how I came into music. First, I played in a few bands,  but I wanted to get into recording. I found it really fun to work on computers, and I started creating Hip-Hop beats and Producing. That’s how I started working with Ketil [Jansen] and Lemaitre. I’ve also always wanted to play more indie music, and that’s where my influences come into this project.

The Strokes were a major part of my childhood, and bands like Phoenix.

HMS: Is this the most lyric writing you’ve ever done, for these St. Valentine songs?

UDL: Yes, though I’ve written lyrics for Lemaitre, it’s just me on these songs. These are definitely songs with more vocals, and generally I’ve done more vocal-based songs in the last few years.

HMS: Did you think of voice as being more of a musical instrument when you were composing on this album?

UDL: Yes, definitely. Even though I put a lot of effort into the lyrics, I feel like the most important thing is the feeling you get from the whole composition, including vocals. One of my favorite bands is Sigur Ros, and I can’t understand a single word. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s more about the feeling from the whole composition and the melodies.

HMS: I love them too! I know what you mean. Did you hear that Jonsi has a new solo album coming out? It’s been a few years since the last one.

UDL: No, I didn’t know. I love that, too. They are a huge inspiration sound-wise. I want to create something similar one day.

HMS: I think you’re definitely heading that way. I think the work that you do on both projects is unique, and it’s hard to compare to others, but I can see some similarities.

If Lemaitre has this science-aspect, with the titles of the albums and the name of the band being more science-associated, St. Valentine feels more emotional by comparison, both in the name and the sound.

UDL: Yes, it’s definitely more emotional. I wouldn’t say that the band name has much to do with the music. It’s just a name because I was born on St. Valentine’s day, and my parents almost called me ‘Valentin’ since I’m half French. I needed a name for the band that was international and easy to recognize compared to Lemaitre is a hassle to pronounce. It’s definitely more emotional, though I wouldn’t say “Emo”. Whereas Lemaitre is happier, St. Valentine is more melancholic, though there is some of that in Lemaitre, which can have happy beats and melancholic lyrics.

HMS: What occurs to me when you say that is the new single and video from Lemaitre, “Wondering If I’ll Ever Come Down”. That song sounds so uplifting, but I saw that it was dedicated to a friend who passed away.

UDL: Yes, it was part of the last EP, which was dedicated to a close friend of ours. There are a few references on that EP. Actually, there are a few references on the St. Valentine EP, hidden in there.

HMS: What about “The End is Bright” from St. Valentine? Is that connected too?

UDL: Yes, it contains a sample from a song with Johannes that never came out from a few years ago. The speaking in the bridge is him, talking about death and how it shouldn’t be such a sad thing.

HMS: Wow, he said that before? That’s interesting and kind of inspirational.

UDL: That’s what the song is kind of written around.

HMS: I want to come back to that song, but I’ll ask a related question: The latest EP for Lemaitre was released on your own label, right, Substellar? Is St. Valentine being released through Substellar, too?

UDL: Yes. We were in a label deal for the last six years, but now we’re finally independent which is kind of a blessing. We feel like we can do without a label and now the lead time doesn’t have to be so long on everything and we are more free to do what we want to. We never had any creative input then that we had to follow, but we are now free to release a project under a different name and the whole process is easier now.

HMS: I imagine that working on an EP or an LP for a major label must include a year or two of planning, especially for vinyl, which takes a long time to press.

UDL: It definitely takes longer and getting everything ready to release does, too. It’s so much easier when there are not many people involved.

HMS: Does it make you more likely, now, to release singles and shorter formats, since you can be more geared toward the digital?

UDL: Yes, I think so. Because now, we release stuff pretty regularly as soon as we have finished songs, and that’s more freeing than sitting on the music for a year. It’s definitely more fulfilling to be able to finish a song and say, “Let’s release it in a few weeks.”

HMS: When you’re working on your own, either in terms of your label, or in terms of working alone on your St. Valentine songs, is it harder to decide when a song or collection is done?

UDL: Definitely. If you are at least two people, you know a song is finished when both parties are happy, whereas if you’re sitting alone, you can have tunnel vision about whether it’s ready or not. That’s something that works better with other people, getting outside perspectives. But I’m lucky I have a lot of people who I work with that I can throw ideas back and forth with.

If there’s a part of a song where I don’t know what to do, friends can jam out with me and maybe we’ll find something better. We work really closely with other people, and in LA we live in a building with three other studios, so we always work together.

HMS: That’s great! Multi-studio buildings are the best. To talk about the songs on the new release, a song like “The End is Bright” deals with a difficult subject. Were you at all worried to release a song that is about a hard subject and takes an interesting approach?

UDL: I went back and forth on it, but it’s what I felt in the moment, and though I often go back and rewrite stuff, I felt like the original idea is what I wanted to say. I think it’s easier to write about that stuff and put it in a song than speak about it. I’ve already gotten messages from people saying that the song helps them out, so as long as people can take good things from it, it makes it easier to write about subjects like that.

HMS: As soon as I asked you that question, I laughed to myself, because I realized that most Metal bands that I’ve spoken with recently have had songs talking about death, or even entire albums. It’s not that unusual to talk about death in music, but I guess what’s unusual is the sensitive way in which you have handled it and the sounds that you’ve used. It does feel like it’s something that’s supposed to help people. Was that your goal?

UDL: It wasn’t intentionally the goal in creating it, but as long as I can take something from it, I hope other people can, too.

HMS: Another song in the collection is “South of the Border”. Was this inspired by travel for you?

UDL: It was written on a trip with two collaborators, Bearson and Jerry Folk, that we took to Mexico. We wrote that song there. It’s not just about traveling, but it’s also about escaping from something, or finding something. You don’t have to escape a place, but a thing, and you can find something new.

HMS: For me, it’s about a certain mood, about a certain way of thinking. I find it surprising that it mentions that things might go wrong and might not work out the way that you want them to, but it still says, in essence, that everything is going to be alright somehow. There are other options.

UDL: Yes, that’s basically the essence of the song: You can get away. The title came from the Murakami book called South of the Border, West of the Sun, which is itself named after a song about Mexico.

HMS: Oh right, okay! There are layers of cultural reference. What’s the benefit of being able to “check out”, to take a way away from the pressures of normal life for a time?

UDL: I think it’s about feeling another way of being. You can get stuck in your own bad cycles, doing the same things the same way every day, but you can realize something if you try to get out of that. You can go to Mexico, you can get out of a bad relationship, quit your job or whatever. You can change your habits and experience another type of existence. Maybe you can do something for the better.

HMS: In that way, sometimes disruptions to our normal life can be positive. We don’t necessarily choose to lose our routines easily because they are comfortable. But sometimes when we are forced out of them, it brings us back to life.

UDL: Yes.

HMS: What sort of tools do you use to make music? What’s your process like?

UDL: Usually it starts with playing around on the piano or drum loops on the computer, and jamming around the drum loop. Sometimes it’s finding an old sample that we created and playing around with that. Maybe you come back to something, and think, “Oh, that’s a cool sound”, and you start writing around that. Or jamming around on the guitar, trying to find something.

Pretty quickly, I start Producing, and playing around with a loop or sound structure. I try to find some kind of cool sound to start off with, something that gives it something special. It depends, but sometimes it’s just a melody that you’ve played around with, or a cool sample.

HMS: I find that in both projects, Lemaitre and St. Valentine, there’s often something quite different than what I’ve heard before anywhere else. Is that distinctiveness important to you?

UDL: We definitely try to sound different than anything else. Even though we may try to copy some sounds, like if we hear a cool guitar sound and want to make something that sounds like that. But in the end, I think it’s really important to try to sound different in some way.

A standard Rock production is cool if it’s really well done, but we can’t create classic, clean productions. So we do what we can, which is computer-based, warping, and stretching to make things sound different that way. We can’t create a perfect Pop recording, but we can make something that sounds different.

HMS: [Laughs] That’s a very unexpected answer because most people would assume that what you do is much, much more difficult than a standard Pop recording in a studio.

UDL: There’s a difference. We’ve never been able to work in a full studio with proper musicians. We have to rerecord stuff and do one thing at a time. We’ve never recorded a full song in one take, or the way you would do things before computers. We’ve always been fascinated by Electronic Music and Producers, so that’s what we know. Recreating good acoustic drum sounds is really hard for us without spending a lot of time on it, but we know how to do what we want if we want drum machines.

HMS: Have you heard of Brainfeeder? Some of their musicians are very Electronic-focused and I think you have some things in common with their goals. It’s a label run by Flying Lotus, who is a musician also.

UDL: Yes, I’ve heard of them, though I’m not that familiar. I love Flying Lotus. We’ve taken inspiration from their compilations.

HMS: What are your goals for St. Valentine for this release, and do you have some ideas of where you want it to go if you do future releases?

UDL: My goal for this release is that I hope it will find some streaming attention, and some attention from our fans that we had from before, but also reach out to some new fans. I’m already working on new stuff for St. Valentine, and we have some ideas for Lemaitre, too. I’m doing both at the same time, and I haven’t decided what the next things will sound like, but I have a few cool demos. I’ll take it as it comes.

HMS: Is it a relief for you to know, now, that if you come up with a song that does not fit with Lemaitre that you have somewhere else that it can go?

UDL: It’s very freeing to be able to do more upbeat, more Electronic, more House music, and also do more indie, low-fi stuff that I want to do with St. Valentine. The plan is to have a bigger palette to choose from.

Most people we work with, including Ketel, write and Produce for other artists as well, in all types of genres. It’s great to be able to write for yourself in different styles.

HMS: And dividing them up may be helpful for fans to be able to find things that they like.

UDL: With our own label, we have the option to more in the future, too. This is an expansion to the Lemaitre universe. I’m really excited for the whole EP to come out. It’s 6 tracks that work really well together as one piece. I’m very happy with the other 4 songs too.

HMS: Are there common elements among the songs that make them work together, or are they more separate entities? Related to that, is there an order you prefer people to listen to them in?

UDL: There’s definitely an order that I chose. There are a few songs that lead into each other, even. I feel like it’s a standalone project as an EP and I think it’s a cool thing. I hope it’s something that people will want to listen to from start to end.

HMS: I think fans like it when there's a relationship between songs.

UDL: I feel like there is a kind of narrative, going from the start to the end of the EP, even though it’s not very concrete as a narrative. I think you can get something from that.

HMS: Does the narrative relate to finding things that are meaningful in life? I heard you were talking about that in terms of the EP?

UDL: Yes, partly. It’s kind of like finding the meaning of life, but also a relationship that goes from good to bad, to…bad, maybe. [Laughs]

HMS: So it’s a cheerful album? [Laughs]

UDL: It’s both. It has its ups and downs.

HMS: It sounds cheerful. The music really does.

Our Tower Records motto is “No Music, No Life” and “Know Music, Know Life”. Which of those do you feel most applies to you?

UDL: I would say that “Know Music, Know Life” applies. I have always had a strong relationship to music. I can go without it, but learning music, experiencing music, and digging for new music is my favorite thing to do. Discussing music with my friends is what I do all the time if I’m not making music.

Leave a comment