With the release of their debut album «Isle of Now» imminent (March 16th), Montée is still a semi well kept musical secret. Featuring names that ring familiar in the ears of lovers of modern Norwegian music, Montée is an enigmatic band; an unfamiliar and somewhat odd creature of pop.
We had a talk with co-founder and guitarist Erlend Mokkelbost about the concept of Montée and the upcoming record. Mokkelbost, known from bands like JR Ewing and KILLL, and a hitherto advocate of antagonistic music, is reflective and articulate on the matter of Montée.
-We want to be progressive and stay well clear of any sense of a standardized pop format, at the same time we want our music to be essentially danceable. The whole project is characterized by our desire to depart from the accepted tenets, recipes and success-criterions of radio pop. In Norway pop music has become a dogmatic entity; it seems like everybody has a clear sense of what they want to achieve –within a very limited horizon– from an early stage in the music-making process. And this means that a few producers, with signature touches, are used over and over. It is just very conform and a sad way of making pop music dull, which it shouldn’t be.
What does the progressive aspect of Montée amount to concretely?
-Well, first of all we avoided the establishment in the making of the record, i.e. in terms of studio, producer and collaborators. We set up shop in a worn-down rehearsal space and actually taught ourselves to use pro-tools from scratch so that we didn’t have to include other people. No one outside the group so much as touched the record before mixing, and the mixer we used is just as much outside the pop mainstream as we are. He is Lindstrøm’s mixer, used to fifteen-minute long disco tunes, not exactly what you hear on the radio. Our music is experimental and exploring. We didn’t know what the end result would be like, and that was the point. Our goal was simply to make dance floor music with a lot of surprises; music where anything can happen, and where anything is allowed to happen.
On your MySpace site the band is described as an unlikely collaboration between yourself and Anders Tjore. Why unlikely?
Because we come from completely different places musically and we haven’t really cared about the same things before now. I have been involved with a lot of action-packed and antagonistic music while Anders has been working with an extremely perfectionist pop outfit called The Turns for a long time. I guess we both wanted a change, and break up our own patterns. Still, it is less of big a change for me than people might think, because I have been listening to pop all my life and a lot of the references we share in Montée belong to my personal, life-long favourites.
So the two of you write all the songs together? How do your different backgrounds and approaches to music manifest in this process?
Yes, we write all the music, but regarding the record it was a democratic process where the rest of the band had an equal say. Maya Vik (of Furia and Savoy), who is Montée’s bass player and third regular member, has played an instrumental part in giving different tunes the thumbs up or thumbs down underway. She has been a kind of producer in that respect. I think the way me and Anders write music together becomes interesting exactly because of our different approaches: he is almost exclusively concerned with tonalities; the harmonic and melodic aspects, while I’m pretty obsessed with the rhythmical part and the beat structures. I always want to push the music further in that field.
When we first met we just saw eye to eye on a lot of things; we shared tastes and references and had a shared conceptual perspective too, a common vision perhaps. When we sat down and started writing songs it just fell into place immediately.
Listening to your songs there seems to be a kind of seductiveness there, something not intended for the radio and the teens. Is it fair to say that you refer to emotions that are perhaps more mature in character?
Yes, there is certainly a kind of grown-up emotional tendency in some of the things we do. At the same time we have focused a lot on a completely contemporary production. Montée is a band with a fairly clear concept: All teenage themes are banned, as well as all the heartbreak stuff. Instead the album has a leitmotif that revolves around the notion of escape. From an existential perspective I guess you could say that the concept of escape is more grown-up than pop music’s standard teenage romanticism. We wanted to make something dreamlike and unreal, but anchored in catchy and dancy pop. We have deliberately included stuff on the record that we felt transported us to different places; away from the predictable everyday of Oslo, and of mainstream pop.
Looking at the names involved with Montée the band could be characterised as something of an elite unit. But the project has been shrouded in secrecy. Is there a specific strategy behind this?
-I don’t think of us as an elite band at all. It is just a simple fact that the music we make requires musicians that really know what they are doing. It is not easy to play this music live, so we enlisted good people. The secrecy is no strategy in itself. But the bigger picture is that most of us have a lot of experience in music, from various bands and projects, and we wanted Montée to be something different. We really wanted to avoid making use of the same solutions and the same people over again. The secrecy was just a matter of us keeping to ourselves and keeping other people out. And it is also an important aspect that we really want to bring this out of Norway as soon as possible, so it was never a matter of having to do everything right in Norway and please the Norwegian market and the media.
So what kind of person is the typical Montée devotee going to be? Your band being quite a strange animal in the garden of pop?
So far we have received feedback from completely different camps and categories of people. One group is certainly the young and hungry, the ones that are looking for something. And then there is the group that belong to our own generation; people who recognize references and like to hear new interpretations of something they feel is part of themselves. As to the feedback to specific songs, I think everyone hears different things, which is good. Diverse interpretations and experiences is a sign that we manage to surprise.
Sidestepping conformity, and taking pop out travelling seems to be Montée’s big issue. Response so far indicates that they are on to something. However, it is the following weeks and months that it will reveal whether the patient and reclusive efforts of these visionaries will find a real audience. Signed on the new Strømland label, which Mokkelbost describes as the perfect intersection of the weird and the danceable, Montée are undoubtedly in the right position to pursue their alternative pop adventure in non-conform ways of their own choosing. Internationally things are happening as we speak, says Mokkelbost.
-I’ve toured around the world all my adult life, and there might be a market out there for Montée. Either way, we’re eager to find out.