Lemaitre [Artist]

Lemaitre are going places. Their funk, house and genre-bending sensibilities have put them in the limelight, landed them a label deal with Astralwerks and led to remix opportunities for Mat Zo and Netsky. I was finally able to get a sit-down with the Norwegian duo, Ketil and Ulrik (pictured left and right above), in their new home in Los Angeles.

– Hi guys. Thanks for sitting down to speak with me. Were there any name options for you other than “Lemaitre”?

Ketil: “Pope Of Dope” came up at some point.

Ulrik: We also thought about using “Oceanic 815“, which is a plane from the TV show, “Lost“. We had a list of some other really bad names. Sometimes we wish we’d picked a name that wasn’t so hard to pronounce, but we’re cool with it now since people seem to like it.

– Do people think you’re French because of the name and then get surprised when they meet you?

Ulrik: That does happen; a lot of Norwegians think we’re French (laughs). When we meet people after our shows at home, some of them get surprised and say, “Why are you speaking Norwegian? I always thought you were French!” They don’t expect us to be from the same country as them.

– You spent a lot of time playing gigs in Norway before branching out to other countries this year. How did you decide where to play?

Ulrik: We tour wherever we have requests for it. We wanted to tour in the US for a while but were holding out because we had so many gigs in Europe. We also wanted to be more established as artists because the US is such a hard market to break into. Playing in cool theaters for at least 300 people on a proper tour made more sense than rushing things in the beginning.

Ketil: We didn’t want to have to play for only 20 people in a bar.

Ulrik: We’ve been a bit spoiled by always being able to play for crowds, so it can be disappointing when you get to the venue and only have 50 people in attendance. But one of the main reasons we have a large attendance at shows is that we’ve only gone where people requested us. We’re really excited to tour the US in March. I think we should be able to do well in big cities.

– How did last year’s “Relativity By Nite Tour” go?

Ulrik: It was really nice. We did a number of gigs for about half a year in Europe and Australia. We haven’t played any shows since then since we’re working to finish up our newest EP, but we’ll probably play some gigs in March before going back to Norway. Then we’ll come back to LA in May. We’ll also play at SXSW and hopefully do some major cities in the US around that time.

Ketil: Touring has always been getting better and better. We usually make an EP and adjust the live show accordingly. To see our audiences grow is amazing. People know the songs and it’s so cool to play for fans who sing along and cheer when they hear tracks like “Blue Shift“.

– How deliberate of a choice was it to add lyrics to your music? Most electronic acts aren’t doing that.

Ketil: We started off wanting to make accessible music similar to Daft Punk and Michael Jackson. Nowadays, you hear a lot of drop-focused EDM music, and even if there’s a hook you might not want to sing along with it. Then you have Sleigh Bells type of music where the vocals are hard to decipher. I wouldn’t say our music is the easiest to sing along to, but tracks like “Continuum“ aren’t that hard to join in on.

Ulrik: Most people who try to decipher what I’m singing get it wrong. Lyrics websites hardly ever have the right text on them for our tracks. So our music might not have ended up being the most accessible, but people still take their own meaning out of it and that’s what matters. In “Continuum“, everyone thinks I’m singing “sipping on some bitches tea“. But that’s ok. If people want us to be sipping on bitches tea, that’s ok (laughs).

– That’s hilarious. At what point did you guys feel that your careers had really picked up momentum? Did it come after a particular gig, EP release or remix?

Urik: Probably when “Continuum” got listed on Triple J in Australia. It still gets played every other day or so, and it helped launch us in Australia, which led to us playing at Stereosonic.

We’ve also had help from huge gaming channels that have millions of subscribers. They promoted tracks like “Blue Shift“, which got us 300,000+ Soundcloud plays overnight. Going #1 on Hypem also helped us. Anytime our music was in the Top 3 on Hypem, things grew exponentially for a week afterwards. We’ve also been featured on Soundcloud’s front page for electronic music for a long time, which has given us an absurd amount of Soundcloud followers.

– Touching on that, you guys have over one million followers on Soundcloud. That’s a lot of followers.

Ketil: It’s a bit embarrassing because not a lot of people would believe that it’s organic. We have 60,000 fans on Facebook but then one million on Soundcloud, which is a bit disproportionate.

Ulrik: We thought a fan had bought us a bunch of followers without telling us, but we contacted Soundcloud and it turned out we were one of the artist suggestions for users that make a new Soundcloud profile. We happened to get chosen because of whatever algorithm that Soundcloud has. People were offered 5 artists to follow and we were one of them, but it stopped right after we reached a million followers.

Ketil: If you told Soundcloud that you like electronic music, we were one of the artists who you would automatically follow. You had to manually opt out if you didn’t want that to happen.

Ulrik: So it’s not a representable number of our die-hard fans, but it does mean that over 1 million people get notified when we upload music, which is great exposure. 

– This happened after the release of “Relativity 3″, correct?

Ulrik: Yeah. We thought it was all organic at first because the increase in Soundcloud followers happened a week after the EP came out. But it was only due to our music gaining momentum that we got featured in the first place, so even though we were lucky, it wasn’t just some random occurrence.

– Do you think the large Soundcloud following may have led to the Forbes write-up?

Ketil: It might have. We got the Forbes write-up because we had so many followers, but the writer was more interested in what we did from a business stand-point. A lot of people are interested in online marketing, so I guess people want to know how we’ve handled the business aspect of our careers.

– In that article, you guys seemed to state that you hadn’t put much thought into marketing. You give away your music for free and success came about as a result of that.

Ketil: Yeah, that’s normal for people our age. You don’t pay for music – you pay for the shows. So we didn’t feel that we needed the money as much as we needed people to hear the music. Interestingly, people bought it anyway because we released it on iTunes as well. People buy stuff to support you, not because they feel obligated.

– Do you feel like you’re going to continue with that business model?

Ulrik: We want to give away as much music as possible. You can’t always do that, but we’ll always be up for free streaming on Soundcloud and YouTube. That’s important for us. We also want our music to be accessible on all platforms.

– I heard that you were signed to Sony in 2013 for Norway and Sweden, and OneLove Records for Australia. What does your current label situation look like?

Ulrik: We’re not signed to Sony anymore. On a global level, we’ve mainly been independent artists apart from working with OneLove in Australia. Now we’re signed with Astralwerks, which puts us under the Universal umbrella. It’s a big step-up for our careers. We’ve been talking to labels for the past two years and finally settled on Astralwerks, which is a great place to be at. They already have artists like Porter Robinson, deadmau5 and Mat Zo, whose music we all love. We’re actually working on a track with Porter now. It’s been fun doing things independently, but to have a label that helps spread our music is a good thing.

– Is your label, Substellar Records, a part of this Astralwerks deal?

Ketil: No, it’s an artist deal.

Ulrik: Our own music can still be released on Substellar. Having our own label has been cool, and at some point in the future, we want to release other people’s music and work on the label side of the industry as well.

– Let’s talk a bit about music. Out of all your “Relativity” EPs, do you have any favorites?

Ketil: Probably “Relativity 2” for now. “Time To Realize” is a track we’re really happy with. That EP also had “Keep Close” on there.

Ulrik: “Spitting Colors” and “Keep Close” are some of my favorites tracks, but I’d say that “The Friendly Sounds” EP is my favorite.

– “The Friendly Sounds” feels like an EP that gets overlooked because it’s not a part of the “Relativity” series. Have you noticed that?

Ketil: Yeah, but it’s our early work. I think it’s great, but I wish we could have made it with the knowledge we have now. I’m very happy with the musicality on that EP, but the production isn’t A-grade. We’re a lot better producers now.

– How did “1:18” end up being used in the Apple commercial for iPhone 5c? Were you approached by them for that?

Ketil: It was thanks to our sync agency, Hidden Track Music. They’re based in LA and were one of the first companies we started working with. I don’t know how they did it. I think one of Apple’s video editing guys liked it and they asked Hidden Track about it, but that’s all we know. It was obviously a huge deal for us. We had to sign non-disclosure agreements and didn’t even know what the track would be used for. But it ended up being really cool, and Apple even gave us iPhone screens with our “Lemaitre” and the track name on it.

– I also noticed that you haven’t done many collaboration tracks in the past? Why is that?

Ketil: It’s mainly because we haven’t had the chance to. We’re not against it, but it’s hard when there aren’t many established acts that are willing to work with you unless you’re a big name. Even if people like your music, it takes a lot to collaborate.

Ulrik: We were lucky when Camo & Krooked reached out. They’re already established artists but they reached a year ago when we were still small, and “Dreamcatcher” came out in September. We’ve been trying to work with certain people, but the opportunities haven’t been that many. Porter reached out about the “Easy” remix, which was one of my favorite house tracks from last year, so it was cool to be able to do that.

– Didn’t you guys also do a remix for Netsky?

Ketil: Yeah, we did. He reached out as well. We actually opened for him once at his arena show, which was cool. Netsky had already sold out the show, so he had no reason to bring on another big-name artist to boost ticket sales. That was the biggest crowd that we’d played for until then, but they weren’t really Lemaitre fans. It was a bit weird because there were so many drum-and-bass heads in the crowd, but Netsky put us on anyway because he liked our music. So we had 8000 people looking at us and thinking “What kind of music is this?“. The biggest cheer we got was when Ulrik said “Are you guys ready for Netsky?“, and the crowd was like “Whooo, yeah!” (laughs).

Ulrik: For the tracks we’re working on now, we’re trying to get a rapper on one of them. We’ve also recorded a female vocalist for a track that’s almost done. So it’s becoming easier to work with people as we get bigger.

– Would you like to work with Flume at some point?

Ketil: Yeah. We actually got asked to remix him once.

Ulrik: That was around the end of 2012 before he really blew up. We thought his music was cool, but we really didn’t have time to do the remix. I don’t remember which track it was. But then he blew up last year, and we were like “wow…“. It would be cool to work with him.

– I’ve heard that you’re fans of Uppermost. How did he end up remixing “Appreciate” for “Relativity 2″?

Ulrik: He reached out to us and asked if we wanted to do something. We were really stoked because he was one of the first artists to reach out to us, and we’d been big fans of his music for a long time.

– What does your current studio setup look like in terms of hardware and software?

Ketil: Our laptops are 90% of the studio, though we have a few guitars that are mostly Fender Stratocasters and a Gretsch. We use a pair of Distressors for compression, and we have the RME UFX as an interface, along with ADAM speakers and Ableton Live for producing. We mostly use Native Instruments stuff for sounds.

– You did a Music Tech interview last year where you mentioned that making a good snare sound was one of your big challenges. Have you gotten better at that?

Ketil: Yeah, we have. We sample a lot of our snares from other tracks, and most of them are based on the 707 drum machine. The Distressors are really nice on snares. On days where we’re unproductive with music, we just make drum sounds. For snares, you layer them, compress, and render. Then you do it over and over until you have a nice snare. Kick drums are also really hard to get right. A lot of our kick drums are based on a sample from a funk track that DJ Premier used for one of his beats. It’s an acoustic drum with a low sine wave. You can also sample kicks from a certain famous French duo that will remain unnamed and use the transient from those. Vengeance also has some good kicks that can be used for transients.

Madeon actually commented on our snare sounds once. It was after Stereosonic, and we sent him our new EP. He liked our snares, which is awesome to hear since he’s known for having great productions himself.

– Madeon once mentioned that he put a cowbell in one of his kicks, which I thought was quite creative.

Ketil: You often hear producers jokingly say something about how they make music but the technique actually works. With Noisia, I’ve heard that they hit together wooden clogs and use them as the basis for some of their snare sounds. They also have a video on Youtube where they attach a paperclip to one of their speaker cones and mic it up. Then they play a sine wave, which hits the paperclip, and the resulting sound is massive. We met them in Australia, and they told us that it was meant to be a joke, but it’s also representative of how they do sound design sometimes.

– What are some of the most creative things you’ve done to make a sound?

Ketil: On “Blue Shift“, the kid choir is actually Ulrik. We recorded him slowly, and had him stand in a lot of different places in the room get the right type of ambience for a choir. Then we pitched his voice up by different amounts, so that it sounded like a bunch of different voices.

Ulrik: I also sang it differently each time.

Ketil: On “Nishio“, there’s a weird sound that you might think is a sampled vocal, but it’s actually a reversed version of a song called “Unclouded Judgement“, which was one of the first ones we did. It turned out really nice.

– Wrapping up, can I ask if the “Relativity” EP series is over?

Ketil: That’s over. We’re making a new EP now. The music isn’t that different from “Relativity”, but we’re working with different tempos this time. We have one around 70 bpm and another at 153 bpm. There’s also one at 89 bpm and another at 123 bpm. We’re even making a track that’s at 176 bpm, which is drum and bass tempo. But they all sound like Lemaitre music. We’re not abandoning that.

– Thanks for talking to me guys. Are there any plans for a Lemaitre album?

Ketil: Yeah, we hope to do that after this EP. Perhaps a single will come first, but an album is definitely in the back of our minds.