Northern Portrait were my top tip for a breakthrough in 2009, with their debut album “Criminal Art Lovers” due out later in the year. I caught them live at the recent Indietracks Festival and, afterwards, I managed to grab few words with lead singer and songwriter, Stefan Larsen.
I first picked up on you guys last year with the superb Fallen Aristocracy and Napolean Sweetheart EPs. I felt you didn't get enough recognition for them, but what do you think?
Actually, I think we got a lot of recognition. I don't look for too many of the reviews but Matinee Recordings collect them and there were many reviews from Spanish and Italian people amongst others and they were all very positive, which was a nice heart warming thing. So I think they were fairly well recognised, especially when thinking we didn't really spend too much effort on promoting them. It was kind of a strategic idea to let them grow on their own really.
The new album Criminal Art Lovers has been 'close to release' for ages now - what's been happening?
Lots of things have been happening! We've been playing our first gigs ever whilst I've been doing the main work on the album and I'm spending as much time as I can on it, as I'm working a daytime job. We decided to spend some time preparing a live set and I have to say it wasn't a real band until we started working on the live material.
So tell me how it all started and why you've now gone from a trio to a five-piece band?
The first song that started it off was “Crazy” and (drummer) Michael and I had a duo called The Mirror Lounge at the time; also I was writing my thesis at university and what you do is to try to find excuses not to write it! So I had a Dictaphone where I recorded ideas for songs, then suddenly I came up with this song “Crazy” so I decided to leave the thesis alone and spend four or five hours on it. I don't know why, because I hadn't really tried to produce music in any way before, but it sounded quite good and I was happy with that, but I thought this is not going to go with The Mirror Lounge, so we decided to make a new band with this and brought in Rune, but we never played with the three of us live ever so we needed some more people.
You only started gigging this year and then you find yourselves in the US?
Yes, we were invited to play a one-off gig in Hamburg then we were invited to go to America and play at the San Francisco Popfest and a couple of other places and then some gigs in England too. The US gigs were very interesting including Sacramento, then driving south to play at Hollywood Boulevard and then at a place called Kenji's Shack which was literally a shack in the middle of a strawberry field where the only life was a fire- completely surreal!
I know you've been asked this loads of times before, but why the hell did you do a cover version of Cliff Richard's Some People?
We did this for a thing called “Rewind” which was a kind of project where they just asked people to do a cover version and it had to be a song from the eighties. We spent a lot of time figuring out what to cover, we thought about making a cover version of one of the early Pulp songs, then “I'm Still Standing” by Elton John as we wanted to do something that they didn't expect, because so many people expected us to cover one of The Smiths songs but that didn't seem appropriate really. “Some People” was a track that was really kind of rubbish, a completely bland song! But it has a quite nice melody and not too horrible lyrics and so we thought 'we can do something with this and turn it into something else'.
The influence of The Smiths is very evident in your sound but who else would you cite as being influences?
Actually, the way I got to know The Smiths was not very long ago. Michael and I were in a band with two other guys and it was called Morris and, believe it or not, we hadn't ever heard of Morrissey, but people were saying these guys are obviously influenced by Morrissey and Britpop. So after reading the name The Smiths in reviews we decided we ought to find out who they are and I didn't really like it actually, as I was really into Frank Sinatra at the time! But of course we're really into it now. Before that I was really into Suede for instance and I felt our guitar sound came more from them. Then there was Pulp, that was really my thing in the nineties and I have always loved the Beatles.
Well thanks for taking the time to speak to me today Stef, really enjoyed the set and get the album finished now (then send me a copy!)
Haa, thanks very much indeed, I will send you demos of some of the new songs but you will certainly get a copy of the album when it's finished. Thanks for your support.