Sondre Lerche Sets an Epic Musical Rant to Song on His New Single “Avatars of Love”

The Norwegian songwriter also walks us through the reference points for the 10-minute title track from his forthcoming album.
First Listen

Sondre Lerche Sets an Epic Musical Rant to Song on His New Single “Avatars of Love”

The Norwegian songwriter also walks us through the reference points for the 10-minute title track from his forthcoming album.

Words: Kim March

Photo: Tonje Thilesen

February 14, 2022

Whether or not it’s his intention anymore, Kanye West still seems to be dictating trends within the music industry—ever since he and Drake dropped their duelling feature-film-length albums last year, it feels like a number of unexpected artists have followed suit (most recently Big Thief). Yet in the case of Sondre Lerche’s forthcoming album, it feels more like the epic scale of Avatars of Love derives from both a certain restlessness we’ve all felt during lockdown and an insistence on fitting as many interesting collaborations into one album, including those with CHAI, Mary Lattimore, AURORA, and Dirty Projectors’ Felicia Douglass.

Or perhaps Lerche just wanted to match the grandiosity established by the album’s title track, which kicks off disc two with an epic 10-minute list of the songs and albums that kept him sane during quarantine set to music. “I had scribbled the title ‘Avatars of Love’ in my notebook when I started writing the songs for this album, but the title track itself didn't materialize until the end of the whole process,” Lerche explains. “On an excursion up north to the Lofoten Islands in Norway to start work on a new book I instead ended up spending the whole week writing ‘Avatars.’ I thought I was done with the album, but this song kept coming. 

“It was meant to be a small, compact song,” he continues, “but when I started fooling around with some of the albums, songs, and artists that had been meaningful to my recent state of mind, its scope expanded. What started as a joke in my head about folklore vs. evermore, and the anniversary of Joni Mitchell’s ultimate freedom vs. love travelogue, Blue, ended as this musical rant that changed the way I saw the song. All these songs, albums, and artists that had helped articulate what I was feeling, before I was able to put it into my own songs. It felt like a meditation on all the themes of the album, like the centerpiece all my songs were missing. And it was clear what the album would be called.”

Buckle up for that single below, and you can read on for more words from Lerche detailing each of the songs and albums mentioned in the track (you can also listen to a playlist he put together compiling them all here). Avatars of Love drops April 1, and you can pre-order it here.

“Lost in the Stars” by Kurt Weill, sung by his wife Lotte Lenya, is one of my all-time favorite songs, and it felt like a good place to start if you're pondering life's big questions and romance. 

folklore hit me pretty hard the day it came out, because it felt like each song explicitly described what I was going through. evermore didn’t hit me as hard—it’s a different record, and already, I had changed how I felt over and over. 

The Swift reference made me think of that time it was announced she would play Joni Mitchell in a movie. And it was the 50th anniversary of Blue, which is an album I’ve grown to appreciate more and more for its constant internal battle between the insatiable desire for complete artistic and spiritual freedom, and the need for love and comfort. However, the Joni song “Down to You” is really the key here. It carries more weight and wisdom than most albums, including evermore.

I listened to “Sunset Village” by Beverly Glenn-Copeland for serenity through all of 2020.

“I Contain Multitudes” blew my mind the moment I heard it June 19, 2020. It was my great theme song all through that summer, and beyond. 

“In a Sentimental Mood” exists in so many beautiful renditions, and is a nod to my many sentimental songs, including “Turns Out I’m Sentimental After All,” and that one song where I claim not to be sentimental at all. 

“Waters of March”—or “Águas de Março”—has been one of my absolute favorite songs since I tried learning how to play it when I was 10. Still working on it, it’s a long term project of mine. One of the great wonders of songwriting. I feel any version of that song is a good one. That song can’t be broken. 

“Sherlock Holmes” was a song I heard at a bar in LA right before I left in March 2020, and it came back to me in my mind a few months later, when I got into some very exciting trouble. 

“At the River” by Groove Armada was a favorite of mine in the late-’90s. I wanted to point to the song it samples, “Old Cape Cod,” but it felt too clever and nerdy, so I landed on a song I’ve been performing a lot at Largo in LA, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Suddenly the shoe fit!

Watertown is my favorite Frank Sinatra album, and one I returned a lot to in the winter of 2020 for consolation, or just to embrace the big, dramatic, adult emotions. 

I wrote “Slip Into Character” inspired by Britney’s heartbreaking battle for emancipation in 2019. Now that things were starting to finally look up for her, I found myself fantasizing what it would be like if she actually sang that song. A real vindication, defying all odds, in charge of her fate. I’m so happy how things have turned out for her recently. 

I also recorded an EP of Britney covers in 2019—one of them was “Every Time,” a song of great significance to me. 

I return to Joni, always. “Sex Kills” is not my favorite song, but it felt like the right song for the way the pop cultural landscape and legislation treated Britney for a long while. 

“May Later” by Blake Mills was one of my favorite songs of 2020, a song urging me for patience and calm, which I needed, despite having just released an album of my own called Patience

I liked the idea of the two Blakes, and “I’ll Come Too” by James Blake was a song of deep significance to me since the day it came out. It had been a hopeful song that suddenly now made me feel heavy and sad. I changed his name slightly to make it seem like an old standard.

James Blake is also one of many, many artists who’ve covered Joni’s “A Case of You” in recent times, and kinda like Cohen’s “Hallelujah” few readings can touch the original’s light, unforced touch. 

“The Kiss” by Judee Sill is another one of my favorite songs of all time. It moves me so deeply in spirit, melody, and harmony. It’s a song for any occasion and emotion, much like Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet,” which I cried to many times and also ran several marathons to. 

“You’re My Thrill” captures the timeless state of being utterly drunk on infatuation, rendered completely defenseless, desperate. It seldom ends well when the need and projection is so strong—there’s no way the human being at the other end meets that desire and expectation. Billie Holiday’s reading of the song is, to me, the ultimate portrayal of this.

I remember the morning I woke up to Fiona Apple’s newest album in April 2020. She’s been one of my absolute favorite contemporary songwriters, and every new song is a revelation. The line “How can I ask anyone to love me / When all I do is beg to be left alone?” from the song “Left Alone” from her 2012 album Idler Wheel… would reappear in my mind regularly in 2020 and ’21. 

King Krule’s “Alone, Omen 3” hit me very hard when it came out in January of 2020. 

I love both Chet Baker and Peggy Lee’s readings of “If You Could See Me Now”—it paints the kind of vivid, all-seeing image of the singer’s state of mind that I treasure on this album. Describing the image that one is projecting and then revealing what actually is going on. It’s so good. 

I got to thinking of songs with really short, generic titles, one syllable, so they’re really easy to get confused. Snoop’s “Signs” was a favorite when it came out in 2004. I was so into all the Neptunes productions of that era, and the lyrics appealed to my state of romantic speculation and paranoia at the time. Drake’s “Signs” was new to me, but his general paranoid and fragile public character seemed to fit with my mood. 

I really want to end the rant on something outrageous, something that’s asking too much. It’s easy to pass songs around, maybe an album, but to insist someone play every single damn Disintegration Loop is really demanding a lot from a lover or a listener, as much as I love and have listened to this masterpiece of ambient music. I still listen to them all the time. My favorites are “1.1,” “4,” and “5.” But really, you actually should play every single one of them. It’s the sweetest abyss. 

I opened the rant with a musical couple, Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, people who became avatars together and apart through their art, as any performer and writer does. I was listening to the You Must Remember This podcast series about filmmaker Polly Platt while writing this song and it made a huge impression on me, especially her relationship in both love and art to her ex-husband director Peter Bogdanovich, who just passed away last month. Their union was inspired, and their break-up shaped both their lives and legacies. So I included them in the final chorus as stand in-avatars of love.