Lars Jakob Rudjord is a Norwegian pianist and composer with two albums under his belt, Clockwork (2013) and Indiepiano (2018). He lives on the Lista peninsular on the Southwest coast of Norway. In conversation with Lars we talk about his musical background, his influence from his surroundings and much more.
Hi Lars Jakob, we hope you’re well. Would you mind introducing yourself please? Where and when did your music begin for you?
Hi and yes, thank you! I am a pianist and composer based in a small town in the south of Norway. I have a diverse background spanning from playing classical piano and in rock bands when I grew up, moving on to studying jazz piano at the Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo. At the same time I have always been writing my own music, an after a while I found my home in the neoclassical/modern classical musical world. I released two albums, Clockwork in 2013 and Indiepiano in 2016, and I am a touring musician traveling a lot in Norway and Europe with both my own projects and other artists.
I think that music began for me back home when I was around 14 or 15, and discovered that I was able to play quite technically challenging classical piano pieces as long as I sat down and practiced a lot. My goal for a few years was actually to become a classical concert pianist. Now I am happy that I switched over to creating my own music instead, and I try to focus on writing songs that feel good for me to play, and that are good for people to listen to.
Your latest single Pharos is beautiful. Is there a story behind this track? Anything in particular that influenced you?
Thank you so much! A few miles from my home in Farsund, there is a beautiful area with an old lighthouse, the Lista Lighthouse. I like to come here because the nature and surroundings are really spectacular, with a stunning, wide view to the North Sea. It’s really windy there and the air smells like salt and ocean. It’s a great place to go to clear your mind or seek inspiration. Right next to the lighthouse there is a beautiful, small art gallery with a nice upright piano. I got to borrow the keys, and sat there for a couple of days to practice, and ended up recording this track as a kind of ode to the lighthouse and the area around. The title Pharos refers to the lighthouse.
What do you find about your work that has meaning?
Personally, I think there is a lot of meaning in the act of just creating something unheard, something new and beautiful that in some way wants to come out through my fingers and through my mind. The cliché alarm might already have gone off now, but I find it both satisfying and important to create music. However, I think that the most meaningful for me is when someone tells me that my songs have been important to them. Once, I got a text message from someone after a concert, and she wrote that one of my songs got her tears to trickle. That really meant a lot to me. If my work can mean something to people or help them connect with their feelings in some way, I think there is also a deeper meaning to this than just creating something beautiful that is nice to listen to.
You live on the Lista peninsula on the South West coast of Norway – it looks very beautiful there. Do you find that your surroundings influence you?
Yes I think they do. I think the surroundings will always influence you in some way, either you’re in New York, Berlin, Beijing or at Lista. I get inspiration for my music from a lot of things, and I don’t think that my surroundings here necessarily makes my music sound like Lista. But I get a serenity here that is important for me, and I think that this is in some way reflected in my music as well.
When composing, do you tend to start with samples or do you stick with live instruments? What’s your compositional process?
I don’t really have a pre-set method that I always use. Very often I get ideas from sitting at my old grand piano and trying out things. What I love about this is that playing a real piano is so much more personal and physical than playing around with samples on a midi keyboard. You feel the vibrations from the instrument and you get a sonic world right in your face that you can’t get from studio monitors or HiFi systems, no matter how much you spend on them. My piano is often a little out of tune, and I like that, as it reminds me that music is supposed to sound alive.
Then again, I often start with samples too. Sometimes you just end up playing similar chords, melodies and voicing as you often do when playing the piano, and starting out the composing process with a different set of sounds has been very inspiring to me lately. The thing I love about working with samples is the ability to just get down and record ideas really quick. If I compose on the acoustic piano I have to write stuff down or record them with my phone to make sure I don’t forget the ideas, and it can often take a while before I return to them again. When I start off with samples, I often try to record a lot of instruments and layers and ideas, and then revisit everything after a while and start removing things again. Or adding more things! I normally have to sit down at the piano after a while too, to check how everything feels when played on a real instrument.
Which artist’s work inspires you the most and why?
This is a really difficult one! There are so many great musicians and composers doing wonderful stuff these days, and I think it is extremely hard to pick one. Over the last years I’ve been listening a lot to people like Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Goldmund, and I think they have influenced me to some extent. Among my newer discoveries are my Norwegian colleagues Otto Totland and Bengt E. Hanssen, with their beautiful solo piano albums. Lately I’ve also been listening a lot to Poppy Ackroyd, whom I think is excellent. But I think that if I were to pick one, I would say that Olafur Arnalds has been my greatest inspiration. I actually stumbled upon his work by coincidence, this was many years ago when I had just released my first album, where I played together with my favorite cellist Katrine Schiøtt. I was searching around on Youtube to find other, modern music with piano and cello that could be in the same alley as mine, and there he was. And I’ve been a fan ever since!
What are you up to at the moment? Should we expect any new music soon?
This winter I have eased up a little on traveling, and spent a lot of time in my studio working on new music. Yes, there will be some more songs coming throughout the year, and there’s something really special coming out early fall that I can’t tell you more about now, but stay tuned! I am also in the process of creating a new album, to be released in 2019.
Finally, what advice would you give to composers struggling to find their sound when starting out composing?
I would say go out and listen to a lot of music. And then just write a lot of music without thinking too much. I think finding your own sound comes with practice and experience, and with believing in yourself. I have written a lot of music that ended up in my trashcan because I thought it sounded too much like someone else. It’s the same thing with learning an instrument, you won’t get any good at it if you don’t spend hours practicing. You have to practice writing too, and the way to do this is to write a lot of music and let your ears and heart (and also your brain sometimes) tell you when you start finding your own thing.