In the prelude to their album release next week, we linked up with Theis Vesterløkke and Niels Fejrskov Juhl of ‘Gents’, at one of their (and our) favorite watering holes – Loophole. Now based back in their native capital of Denmark, the synth-pop duo reminisce on the early days of Gents — an idea conceived and nurtured in Berlin during a post high-school haze. We chat about our city’s influence on their music and the importance of knowing when to leave the party, and discuss how taking back control both on and offline has inspired their upcoming album ‘Human Connection’.
Hi Theis, hi Niels… So tell us a little bit about how you met?
Niels: We knew each other a little bit from back home in Denmark… we didn’t grow up in the same city, but we did know of each other.
Theis: Yeah but it was really here in Berlin that we got to know each other.
Niels: Moving to Berlin was the thing that brought us together, we used to sit down here in Loophole drinking beer…
Theis: Smoking ciggies and you would never surrender, Niels
Niels: Yeah, I’d never go “OK guys, I’m going home now. I’m tired…” – I would just fall asleep on this very couch. So we used to call it ‘Naphole’ and Boddinstrasse would be ‘Nappinstrasse’.
Did you start making music together in Berlin for the first time too?
Neils: Yes. We both had this really naive idea of moving to Berlin, then instantly and magically starting to make music and producing amazing pop songs.
Theis: It was kind of a romantic idea after we had finished high school and moved away from our parents. We just wanted to do what we really wanted to do which is to make music.
How long did you work on your first release?
Niels: So, what happened was that we moved to Berlin and obviously we did what most people moving to Berlin do – we ended up just partying all the time. But then on the other hand we didn’t know many people besides ourselves, so we ended up making a lot of music too.
Theis: Yeah, we hung out with each other A LOT.
Niels: We would just hang out doing whatever – fucking around with no direction. It wasn’t a case of going “OK, so, are we gonna make this type of music and be like this type of band or that”. We were more like “Check this synthesiser out!” Really, we just did random stuff. And then Theis moved back to Denmark and I stayed, and then we met half a year/a year later, when I also moved back to Denmark.
Theis: I also had my own band – my solo project. My plan had been to focus on that in Berlin, but then we found out that we have a sound going on between us.
Niels: And my plan was – I never told you this – to sort of infiltrate this whole plan you had of taking over the world, and then suggest that you should do that with me (laughs).
Theis: And be like, you need me…
Niels: Yeah, and now we are here and building a career, and getting old together.
What made you move back to Denmark?
Theis: For me, it was needing to take some control back of my life again. I really was partying too much. I couldn’t really control being in a city like Berlin and not having a schedule. I got into this sound design school in Denmark and so I went back.
Niels: I stayed half a year longer but eventually I would also tell myself “Ok, I enjoy being here. I love it. ” Still to this day it’s my favorite city in the world. But there was absolutely no direction in my life at the time. I could have stayed and continued to have a great time, but I also needed to do something radical then. So I moved back to Denmark and took a different music course.
Do you think that living in Berlin influenced the sounds that you make?
Niels: Oh, yeah, definitely… but more in an accidental way, not as a conscious choice being made.
Theis: Yeah, the whole foundation of Gents was made here in this part of Berlin.
Niels: In a really concrete way, where I would go on Craigslist or Kleinanzeigen and check out weird instruments.
Theis: Yeah, we bought the Korg which is on every Gents track on all of our releases here in Berlin.
Which KORG do you have?
Niels: The KORG Poly 800. We are really into its presets. I think the previous owner tweaked it and made his own presets, so most of the presets are empty. There’s only 13 sounds on it or something.
Theis: So we owe this guy big (laughs).
Living in the era of social media with Instagram and Facebook, how aware are you of needing to put regular content out as a band?
Theis: We are getting more and more aware of it. It’s a super nice way to be in contact with fans all over the world. Our listeners are very widespread, so it’s a very unique opportunity to have this avenue to chat with people from India to Germany. So we find it very useful and also necessary to be on these platforms.
Niels: You can easily get carried away with this whole social media/online way of living, and feel as if it’s all about being online and stuff like that. But it’s definitely a thing that you can’t avoid or get around. I think that’s where we are at right now. We need to take control because it exists… It’s a thing. It’s nice to be communicating with people that are really into your music. And it’s just a new way of expression. As a band in terms of artwork and videos and stuff, we need to be in control to some extent of that, and it’s the same with social media…
Theis: The upcoming album, which is called ‘Human Connection’, is very much about how social media and lots of other stuff really ruins people, because they are shaming themselves too much. And they kind of isolate themselves from real human beings.
Niels: People have never been more lonely than they are right now. And that is what we are trying to do with this album – we want people to know that the only solution to this problem is to connect with other people. You can’t deal with this yourself. The way to acknowledge this and to start working on it, is to realise that everyone else is feeling shitty and doubting themselves all the time – feeling insufficient. And if we go out and start telling our story about feeling insecure and insufficient, we hope that people will find some comfort in those stories and feel that they’re not alone in this. CUE song “you’re not alone…”
What were some of the biggest challenges that you faced whilst recording your new album, and how did you overcome them?
Theis: We’ve been through some very personal issues since the last release. We kind of slipped away from each other last summer. First of all, we have had more success, so we were playing and traveling a lot, and we handled it in different ways. My way was very self-destructive, and Niels found his girlfriend and started living a more chill lifestyle.
Niels: We definitely chose two different paths. But both of those paths came from the same place in the sense that we both wanted to find some meaning in this world of increasing success as a band, and also realizing that we were getting older. Theis and I were becoming grown-ups and it’s in a way, by chance, that we are doing this together. That we were these naïve young kids just fooling around, and all of a sudden we had to make a living out of it, and felt like “Shit, yeah. Life is happening! We are getting older together.” So innocence was gone and there was no status quo… And Theis went this way and I went that way, and suddenly we felt that we had become very different people. We were left with a feeling of “how do we connect again?”.
Theis: You kind of forced me to snap back into life. I remember we were sitting at a café in Paris after a very rough weekend, and you were saying to me that you couldn’t do this, and that you were going to end this shit, and that things had to change. And we kind of chose each other.
Theis: Things are different now.
Niels: Things are very different now. Definitely the whole foundation of the new album is derived from that experience. In many ways it’s a much more personal album than before. And to explain, it’s not like other releases of ours were less personal per se, but ‘Human Connection’ is more mature. We talked about what kind of people we are and what kind of people we want to be. And we tried to distill that and put it on a vinyl.
What are your most loved tracks right now?
Niels: The new album from Chinah, which is a Danish band. They put out a really cool album. Especially the track ‘Give Me Life’, which is sort of like Kelis’ “Milkshake” mixed with Apocalypse Now.
Theis: I also have been listening to the talented Erika De Cassier, who has just released and album called ‘Essentials’. She is the most adorable street artist.
What’s the worst thing you ever had to clean up?
Theis: Oh, I don’t want to talk about that…
Niels: Imagine every possible liquid from your or someone else’s body… It could be whatever – I’ve cleaned it (laughs).
Most underrated band…
Niels: The shitty, easy answer would most definitely be Gents (laughs). If I were a more sympathetic person I would say, another band…
How do you take your coffee?
Niels: Strong and black.
Theis: I would add milk to mine, the 1.5 percent fat kind that can have different names in different countries.
Niels: I like honest coffee.
Theis: And that makes my coffee dishonest (laughs).