I’ve discovered a lot of awesome music since I started Proglodytes a few years ago. As it turned out, 2 of my favorite discoveries in the last few years, Major Parkinson and Moron Police, share a few of the same members, and have a keyboardist in common: Lars Christian Bjørknes. As I mentioned in my review of Major Parkinson’s incredible album Blackbox, Lars’ work on the album is one of my favorite parts – “[the synth] tones are so dark and rich and lush, I just want to live in them“. Lars has an uncanny ability to find the right parts for the song, and to use keys and synth to both shape the song melodically and elevate it sonically, whether it’s the hypnotic lead on Major Parkinson’s “Night Hitcher” or the Kirby-esque (yes, the video game) breakdown in Moron Police’s “Isn’t it Easy?”, or the dark, haunting synth of “Blackbox”.
I had the opportunity to talk to Lars about his background, how he has developed his style and sound over the years, how Major Parkinson was formed, what it’s like to be in Moron Police, as well as some upcoming projects and solo works in the pipeline. Oh, and also, we find out which Lord of the Rings character is the best fit for his personality.
Tell me how you first got into keys and synth. Who were some of your early influences?
When I was a toddler in the mid-80s, my two older brothers were already teenagers, recording electronic music on a 4-track tape recorder. It was a pretty basic setup, a Juno-106, a TR707 drum machine, a microphone and a digital delay box. They got really creative within those limitations and made some pretty weird stuff. Listening back to those tapes now, the influence is obvious. Maybe all I’ve been doing all these years is to try and replicate the feeling that music gave me in my early childhood.
Anyway, both are very gifted musicians, and one of them also studied to be a concert pianist back then, so I had my heroes settled pretty early on. I inevitably started fiddling with their synths and the piano we had back home. Then followed 6 or so years of formal piano training when I started school. So in a way it was inevitable that I got into this stuff.
You first joined Major Parkinson in 2008. As I mentioned in my review of Blackbox, your synth work has been, for me, a major highlight of the band’s sound. Tell me how you started playing with them, and tell me some about your compositional role in the band.
I knew the guys in the band, and sort of became a natural option when the need for keys appeared back then. I remember me and Jon actually went out and bought the same electric piano a year or two before I joined. In retrospect I think that was a bit of a watershed moment. Jon started composing more with keys instead of guitars, and it was inevitable that Major Parkinson was going to have to step out of the classic double guitar + bass setup they had at the time. I officially joined a month or two before the first album was released in 2008, and on those early concert runs I actually played a lot of guitar and percussion, as there weren’t a whole lot of key parts to play from that album. Of course, that all changed gradually.
These days, I would say that Jon and I are doing most of the compositional work in Major Parkinson, maybe since Twilight Cinema. Generally Jon has an idea, ranging from the very abstract to the very concrete. The two of us meet up and shape it into a functional demo, where I add my flavours, subtract and supplement. Then eventually we mould it into something even better together with Eivind, who is a professional skeptic and also has the most studio know-how. The others usually come in and add their ideas and expertise after this, so it can be a long and winding process before we cross the finish line.
Blackbox was very synth heavy. Do you have a consistent gear rig? How did you create that expansive sound?
Blackbox was pretty synth heavy indeed, and it seems it’s only getting worse, hehe. I suppose the expansive sound comes from my personal preferences and background, I like big, lush, analog, arctic synths, and I seem to naturally drift in that direction. But I’m not really that much of a gearhead, and not a purist at all. I’ll use whatever works, hardware or software synths. And I prefer starting from standard patches and presets, tweaking them in the direction they need to go to fit the song. It’s all about using the ears. I admire the people who work from the bottom up, programming from scratch, putting together modular synths or whatever. Those are all beautiful rabbit holes to get lost in, but eventually you get to a point of diminishing returns, and I prefer to stay focused on the overall picture. But in terms of a consistent gear rig, I have a weak spot for the Roland classics, Juno-106 and Juno-60 in particular, and I’ve used a few different clones of the ARP Odyssey extensively. But I’m also becoming something of a hoarder when it comes to software synths, so most any kind of synth can find its way into a song these days.
Last year, Major Parkinson released a new single called “Jonah”, which you said serves as a bridge between Blackbox and the new album. Could you expand on that quote?
Jonah hints at things to come, both in terms of its thematics and sonic properties, but it also has a few elements within it that hint to parts of Blackbox. I could expand slightly and say that our next two albums are very tightly woven together, more like a double album that will be launched as two separate releases. Within this album universe we have four very clearly defined individual parts, or vinyl sides, and Jonah belongs to the first wave, where we morph from the darkness of Blackbox into something different. We’re actually at a very exciting point now where the material for the entire double album has been written, and we finally see the full structure of the release and the possibilities within. Now comes the process of getting to the aforementioned finish line, which is still a while away. But it’s going to be worth the wait, trust me on that.
How was it working with the Los Alamitos Show Choir? How did that collaboration come about?
The wonders of the Internet. Josh Greene, the wonderfully talented composer for Los Alamitos, found “Solitary Home” randomly on Spotify about 10 years ago, and became a fan. Every year after that he pestered the director and choreographer about using the song in the choir’s yearly program, until they finally buckled in 2018. Out of the blue, we then got an e-mail asking for permission to rearrange and use the song, which we agreed to, not knowing what to expect. The demo he sent us afterwards completely floored us, and we decided to go over to Los Angeles and see the choir. A surreal and magical experience, and a peek into the fabulous world of American high school show choir, something we knew precisely nothing about. We booked Sphere Studios and captured the choir at peak performance, right before the end of the school year. Then we re-recorded Josh’s amazing arrangement after we came home. That whole experience is one of my career highlights, for sure. And Josh has become a good friend of ours, I don’t think we’ve done our last collaboration with him.
Was it cool to revisit “Solitary Home” in a much newer context? Are there any other Major Parkinson songs from the early years that you’d love to bring back for a second life?
We’ve always had this special feeling about “Solitary Home” – that it had something bigger hidden inside. But if you listen to that album now, you can sort of hear that we were in the process of morphing from a traditional rock setup into something else. I think we simply lacked some of the organizational and technical skills to do anything extravagant with the song back then, and in addition we may have been a bit too attached to the rock setup. So it was just this amazing, serendipitous thing that Josh suddenly popped up from the sidelines with his super grandiose reimagination, we always wanted to do more with “Solitary Home”. It would be nice to do something similar with “Ecophobia”, which is kind of an intro to “Solitary Home” anyway. There’s a real anthem hidden in there somewhere.
You’re also in Moron Police, who released the wonderful (and now award-winning) A Boat On the Sea (2019)! The album is a slight departure from previous works, as it seems to lean more into pop and jazz and less into metal. What do you feel like prompted the stylistic shift in Moron Police’s music?
I think the stylistic change came quite naturally. And it’s down to a number of things working together. For one, there is a new line-up from the previous album. In addition to me, you had Christian taking over bass duties, so the band moved from a 3-piece to a 4-piece, which in itself opens a few new doors. But when I joined the band in 2015 or so, Sondre had already more or less written A Boat on the Sea in its entirety. So the stylistic change is not entirely down to a change in personnel. I probably made a contribution, though. After all, Sondre and I spent about three years layering, de-layering, subtracting and adding things to the songs before we finally went and mixed the album.
But there’s also a lot of natural progression going on. People get older, tastes change, and it would probably have been a very different album from Defenders even without a new line-up. People usually get more comfortable in their own skin as they age, and the adolescent tendency to always hide the serious stuff inside a bunch of silliness diminishes with time. Certainly seems to be the case with Moron Police. That being said, we’re in no imminent danger of running out of silliness.
Also, congratulations on the nomination/win, re: the Independent Music Awards! If you had to give your bandmates their own (potentially ridiculous) awards, what would they be?
Sondre: For talking convincingly at length about unfamiliar topics.
Thore: For easily induced and incredibly infectious laughter.
Christian: For always hitting the right notes even with his eyes shut most of the time.
Do you have any solo works that are in the pipeline? Any new, exciting projects to share?
Well, I’m finally putting together my first solo album right now. It’s actually a positive by-product of this very tedious pandemic. When everything went into lockdown in March, including band activities, it provided me with the breathing space to sit down and take a real look at my strange library of songs and half-baked demos. I’ve always been writing stuff, some of it turned into Major Parkinson songs, some of it will turn into future Moron Police songs, and some of it has been used in other projects. But most of it is just sitting there, and I’ve never actually properly released anything under my own name. So that’s about to change. You could loosely call it some kind of progressive electronica, but you gotta have some analog substance within the synthetic. So I’m adding some sublime instrumentalists into the mix, and I’ve already tracked drums with Sondre Veland from Major Parkinson, and bass with Christian from Moron Police. More to come. It’ll be a pretty strange album, and I don’t expect it to do much in terms of sales or streams. But it’s important for me to get it out there, just to see which doors it could possibly open, if any.
These are bleak times. Anything you’re hopeful for in 2021 that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
The world does seem pretty unhinged at the moment, so it would be nice if things got just a little bit less insane, although I’m not too hopeful about that. But there’s a saying that you should tend to the part of the garden you can touch, and I can’t really do much about the neverending parade of disasters I see unfolding out there. But if I keep on trying to effect some positive change in my tiny corner of this crazy anthill, maybe that could potentially ripple outwards. So just those simple things, being able to stay productive and positive, being nice to friends and family. That they stay healthy, and that I leave things just a little better than how I found them. It’s the most I could ever hope for, in 2021 or anytime.
Of all the Lord of the Rings characters (from the whole franchise), who do you relate the most with?
I had a pretty narcissistic Frodo complex when I read that thing as a young adult about to move from home. That I was carrying some kind of gift (and burden) into the big, dangerous world beyond my Shire. That notion feels a little pompous now. But there’s a decent allegory for life in there, I guess. We all have our metaphorical rings to carry and try to get rid of.
What is the weirdest, most beautiful song you can think of?
I’ve been obsessed with an album called Hawaii: Part II by Miracle Musical for a few months. Very weird and beautiful, but it’s a kind of fake musical, and it works best as a whole. So I don’t really wanna highlight one song. Listen to the three first tracks in succession and see if it tickles your fancy. Then go on and listen to the whole thing.
Do you have an underrated musical or artistic hero?
Underrated is a difficult word, I find. Whatever name I give here, they will have been rated by someone. Having said that, a name that pops into my head is Jellyfish, a nearly-forgotten 90s band that I return to now and again. And a more contemporary name is Louis Cole, although underrated may not be a precise word, as he’s sort of indie famous (but it feels like he should be more well-known). I stopped having heroes a while back, though. They always disappoint you in the end.
Check out Major Parkinson’s website here, and buy their stuff!
Check out Moron Police’s bandcamp here, and also, BUY THEIR STUFF!