Interview with WhoMadeWho:
How to grow strong out of compromises

In Interviews by indiespect

WhoMadeWho released their sixth studio record in January. It’s called «Through The Walls» and is marks the first album since «Dreams» in 2014. Last weekend the Danish electronic indie rock trio started touring with their new material. I had the chance to talk to the band members in advance of their concert at the Plaza Klub in Zurich on Sunday.

WhoMadeWho Are:

Jeppe Kjellberg (vocals, guitar)
Tomas Høffding (vocals, bass)
Tomas Barfod (drums)

Indiespect: You played your first show of the tour yesterday at Les Hivernales in Nyon. How was it to play the new songs?

Tomas Barfod: It was really great. We rehearsed very much but you have to test it in front of a crowd. It’s the final test to see how good the crowd reacts and on how we react when we stand in front of a crowd. It’s pretty stressful but also very important.

Tomas Høffding: It’s the biggest change we ever did in the live set. Because we always made new albums and put in two songs of each one. So it developed really slowly. We had a very good thing going. It was so easy to just spice it up a little bit and continue like that. But this time we really wanted to start from the beginning. So, it’s way more vulnerable than it usually is but hopefully during the tour it will grow strong.

Jeppe Kjellberg: I think it felt quite good last night. We just need to do some small adjustments.

Thomas Barfod: Yesterday was the beta test. It’s gonna be good today, I’m sure.

Indiespect: Since your new record is more electronic than the last one, did you have to rearrange your songs more for the live set?

Thomas Barfod: In general, live and album is always a complete different thing. Obviously, we want to do the same but we are just as happy to take an album song and totally recreate it for the live experience. Thats how we generally do it and we also had to do it this time. Some tracks are actually hard to play. Our new song Crystal has a lot of vocal productions and we can’t bring that live.

Indiespect: So it remains more electronic?

Thomas Barfod: We just don’t play it live.

Indiespect: So, that means that some of those songs will never be played live?

Tomas Høffding: We have so many albums. You can have a repertoire of 60 songs and you can play them all and mix it every night. Our approach is more like having a specific amount of songs for a tour. Then we learn to play them so well that we may really fuck them up and jam them. Explore the songs and take them to new directions.

Jeppe Kjellberg: On this tour we have six new songs.

Tomas Barfod: And we also play new versions of old songs.

Indiespect: You also refine your old songs that you don’t get bored of them?

Tomas Barfod: It’s a fine line. Fans are not us. We’re living with our songs, every week almost. Fans maybe didn’t see us for five years. So, they wanna see the song again. Even if we think we have played this for ages, they might see it for the first time.

Tomas Høffding: They fell in love with the track. And I know from myself when there’s an artist who has a song I really love. If it’s obvious that the artist grew tired of it and makes a crap version I always get angry. Like, what the fuck? It’s kind of respectful to your audience that you shouldn’t fuck up the song just because you’re bored. Like Barfod said it’s a fine line and we probably step out of it sometimes (laughs).

Tomas Barfod: It’s also our concept to do that.

Indiespect: When did you decide that you want to have a different live setting than you have on your studio records?

Tomas Høffding: It was always like that. When we play we are a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player. And two man shouting. It’s very strong that way. We tried so many times to record the live energy into the albums but it doesn’t work. It sounds like crap when you listen to it. People are drunk and uplifted, that’s a different energy. For concert like ours the music should be more rowdy and energetic.

Tomas Barfod: I think it also started from our first concerts. We had a few songs but got booked all over Europe. We just had to figure out stuff. We did something energetic and people danced, that’s how we started. It didn’t really matter what we did we just played really well together. We took this concept all over our career since then. If we have an album song that’s kind of mellow we just take it and play it like we want it to be played.

Tomas Høffding: We have a song on the album called Goodbye To All I know. It’s really cool and downbeat. We tried to play it a little bit as the album version. It didn’t work. Then Barfod was like Høffe, we have this new vocal looper. Try to do something like waka-duku-waka-duku. Then we played it like this and it became a totally different track. You’ll see tonight.

Tomas Barfod: It went from being a really pretty song to being such a fun, almost African rock song.

Indiespect: I heard that you don’t like rock music or rock concerts at all.

Tomas Barfod: Thats 100% correct. I basically don’t like live concerts in general.

Tomas Høffding: And he doesn’t like to play drums. And he thinks it sucks to be an indie band.

Tomas Barfod: I think we need that energy. We don’t want to be just another indie band.

Tomas Høffding: Yeah, I embrace it totally. I have a lot of fun.

Tomas Barfod: But yes, that’s super correct. Sometimes I think what would I think about WhoMadeWho if I wasn’t a part of it. I have the feeling that I would like WhoMadeWho and if I was at some festival anyway I would see them and think this is pretty cool. But I wouldn’t buy records of ours… (all laughing) Because my taste is really electronic. But I love making it and I also love the way we can interact on stage. I really love WhoMadeWho as a band but I’m just such a snob.

Tomas Høffding: I don’t think you’re a snob. It’s just the whole construct of the band. Because WhoMadeWho is none of our favourite bands. We wouldn’t buy the albums. We’re like three different corners of the world and we meet. So, obviously WhoMadeWho doesn’t make the music exactly like I want it to be made. I get my third in the band and the others get theirs. So it’s a compromise – in a good way. Like Barfod said, it’s amazing when we play together. It’s so much fun but it’s not our personal taste, totally. I explain it in a really bad way. I came from guitars and just singing songs about sad love.

If I wasn’t a part of it, I have the feeling that I would like WhoMadeWho and if I was at some festival anyway I would see them and think this is pretty cool. But I wouldn’t buy records of ours.Tomas Barfod, WhoMadeWho

Indiespect: Jeppe came from Jazz I think…

Jeppe Kjellberg: Yeah, Jazz-ish.

Indiespect: I think that’s also one thing that is so special about WhoMadeWho. You can feel the different influences. Your fans also seem to be more open to new stuff than fans from other bands.

Tomas Barfod: We’re extremely happy for the interaction with our fans. On social media or at our concerts. It’s like a special kind of person almost. And they change from country to country. In Germany, Denmark and France it’s some sort of fans and in South America it’s a totally different type.

Indiespect: They also like different songs?

Tomas Barfod: Also albums. When we became popular in different territories they interact differently to different songs.

Tomas Høffding: We also play as DJs sometimes. We have this whole electronic thing. We can both play for a rock and an electronic crowd. In the U.S. we’re very much a club band. It’s just a kick drum and a lot of stuff on top. That’s a totally different way of playing than when we are in Europe. That’s also super inspirational for us.

Indiespect: I only can talk for myself. I mainly listen to rock music and less electronic stuff. How did you get to love electronic music in the first place?

Jeppe Kjellberg: I think the idea of the band is also a question of chemistry. When we met up the first time in the studio we felt this really special vibe we never experienced in any band. It’s not something we actively chose but it was just there from the first second. We have this energy together which is very powerful. When you get a gift like that in your life you need to embrace and develop it.

Tomas Høffding: Very well and beautifully said.

Indiespect: You also did a radio show named ‚WhoMadeWho Worldwide‘. I have to say I tried to listen to it. But it was just not my type of music. I can hardly tell what the fascination about electronic music is. Sometime it only has the same beats all through the song.

Tomas Høffding: For me it was very clear. Because, before I met these guys I kind of thought that electronic music was shit. Like you said, it’s just a fucking kick drum, what’s up. And then we immediately started touring all these places. When you’re in this sexy, dark room late night with people dancing. And the music is super loud but it doesn’t hurt your ears. There’s so much love and sex in the air. When you experience it that way it turns your opinion around. That’s one thing. I instantly started loving it. Before this band, when I listened to electronic music I kind of got cold inside. I thought this was really a cold type of music. Now when I listen to house music I instantly feel really warm, nice and energetic. It gives so many memories. Also I think when you play rock you have the chords, you have the verse and the guitar player has to play this riff. Honestly, electronic music is so open because it’s just a kick drum. You may put everything on top. It’s way more open, dynamic and improvised. That’s the two things that really turned me on.

Before I met these guys I kind of thought that electronic music was shit.Tomas Høffding, WhoMadeWho

Tomas Barfod: Also a lot of stuff happened since we started. When we started we were basically the first live band in a club venue. There was maybe LCD Soundsystem, The Rapture and Chk Chk Chk also. That were the ones that used some club elements. Else was just indie rock and not as good as now electronic music. Electronic music has evolved extremely well over the last ten years. The world is so different now from when we started. You also can’t really talk about electronic versus indie. If you look at Pitchfork half of it is electronic produced. If you look at a good festival, it’s indie bands but it’s only a laptop making the music. What I like with us live is that we have the genuine live band with us and I think that’s really important. That’s something unique. The spot between electronic and indie.

Tomas Høffding: We were just talking about it in the bus. We made this new album that was really electronic. And I built this new synthesizer and put a lot parts of the music inside of it. Yesterday was a bit too much machine. So, our core thing is actually the kick drum, a bass line and Jeppe doing spaced-out guitar stuff.

Tomas Barfod: That also describes a good electronic track. A bass-driven rhythm group and arty stuff on the top.

Indiespect: As you mentioned, your new album is way more electronic than your last one. At first I didn’t like it that much, because I’m more into the rock stuff. But I could feel that it’s completely what you wanted to do. That’s why I started to like it even if it doesn’t fit my taste completely…

Tomas Barfod: I think that’s a very important point. The worst thing is a band that does something they do half. We also tried that on some songs and even some concerts. When you do something that’s not completely what you want to. We just did it because we thought the fans, the label or the others in the band wanted it. This time we all agreed like basically 99% on the songs that made it to the album. I think, like you said, no matter what you think about the genre you can’t stop respecting that. A good band or a good artist is a guide to you not the other way around.

Jeppe Kjellberg: We found out during the years that this is the only way it works for us. When we try to satisfy other people’s needs it just fails.

Indiespect: Did you have people that tried to push you in some directions?

Jeppe Kjellberg: You always have a record label saying can you do more singles? We’ve been trying to do that but on this one we let go of that.

Tomas Barfod: Even though we always had control, you also can get incautious when you’ve been doing the same band for years and you have a system helping you like a management. You get incautious about your choices. On this album we’ve been very cautious about every decision. Also artwork or social media posts. We think a little more about it. And I think that’s so important.

When we try to satisfy other people’s needs it just fails.Jeppe Kjellberg, WhoMadeWho

Indiespect: How did your new artwork come up?

Tomas Barfod: It’s a collaboration between the guy who did our first cover, who’s name is Mirko Borsche. He’s a huge art director from Germany. One of the best actually. Very famous and renowned. He was working with this Syrian artist, called…

Jeppe Kjellberg: Ayhan Jabr. He was pitching all kinds of different artists but then he found this guy. He made collages and we really loved them. I think he’s from Syria. Sometimes I can’t get in touch with him. I remember he said oh, I’m sorry my city just got bombed… It’s just a crazy story.

Tomas Barfod: But it’s kind of nice that he can sit in a horrible place and do art.

Jeppe Kjellberg: Do amazing art and get it out to the world.