Sondre Lerche Sees Different Parameters of Devotion on ‘Avatars of Love’

By 2020, Sondre Lerche returned home to Norway after living in Los Angeles for several years with the intention of writing a book and touring to support his ninth album Patience. Going back to Oslo seemed like the best alternative in a world of uncertainty, and his decision paid off. Traveling around the countryside solo in a rental car, Lerche played more intimate shows throughout Norway during the summer months with rare moments of socialization due to the nature of the pandemic.

“Here I was with all this freedom and all this time because all my tours were canceled, but I really didn’t want to go into hibernation,” Lerche tells American Songwriter. “I wanted to feel that I was moving. Probably, to preserve myself in a way, because I felt like if I just lie down and accept defeat, I don’t know what will happen. After all these shows, I had to be alone, because I couldn’t hang out with anyone, so I felt really energized.”

The strangest of times, it was one fueled on adrenaline that led Lerche to write a collection of new songs centered around notions of binding and autonomous love, and life ever after on the double album, Avatars of Love.

“I had gone through a lot of changes in my life earlier that year sort of parallel to the pandemic,” shares Lerche. “For the first time in my adult life, I felt alone in life and facing the world alone, in a way that I always romanticized a bit.”

On Avatars of LoveLerche explores the longing for companionship and freed spirits prefaced in “Guarantee That I’d Be Loved” in pining She seemed like a safer bet / Akin to a marionette / How far would I be willing to go / Just to escape my own head and a mistier trip through shame and deceptions and desperations on “Dead of Night,” the first of two 10-plus minute interludes, with an urgency of love in some of the wrong spaces on “We Will Ever Comprehend.” The pop-driven “Cut,” offers some levity before the more revelatory acoustic ballad “Turns Out I’m Sentimental After All,” a song Lerche began writing before returning to Norway in 2020. The title track offers another 10-minute opus, before closing down with the swelling “The Other Side of Ecstasy” and “Alone in the Night,” featuring Aurora—the first friend Lerche reconnected in Norway—duetting on one of the older Avatars tracks, written in 2016.

throughout Avatars are reflections of the more performative elements of relationships. “It’s marveling at how adaptable we are and how we take on different roles in different situations and certainly in romantic relationships,” says Lerche, who admits that he was nervous about the initial reception of the album once back in Norway after more than a decade living abroad, first in New York and most recently in Los Angeles.

“This record is so big and demands a lot of time and a couple of spins to really get your head around it,” Lerche adds. “It’s also very naked in a way. Lyrically, it feels less protected.”

The album also references the recurring themes of his own life and art and Joni Mitchell’s earlier albums in the ’60s and 1970s and the records of love. “I think we all want love, but we also want freedom,” says Lerche. “In my music and in my art, I feel so many of the songs I’ve written on this record and the last one, an ongoing topic is the negotiation of artistic freedom and freedom of spirit in a way on one hand, and then , on the other hand, the sort of the need for for intimacy and protection and loyalty.”

It’s something that’s been on Lerche’s mind for years, and now he was on the other end of it. “It became real, and it was exciting, but it was also frightening,” says Lerche. “All these things always are. When you get what you want, do you know what to do with it?”

He adds, “It’s always strange to me when people insist that they are only one thing. No, we’re all in this dance. We’re all reading the room and in some situations, you are better at reading than others, and then in some you completely miss it. When I think of Avatars of Lovethat’s the tension I’m interested in.”

Also featuring Dirty Projectors’ Felicia Douglass, Mary Lattimore, Rodrigo Alarcon, CHAI, and Ana Müller, Avatars of Love evolved into a multi-sensory experience, complemented by sound and vision. Artist Nikolau Torgersen’s sketch-like visuals carry the storyline and music of the album and were recently transferred into a multi-media exhibit at the Kulturhuset i Bergen in Norway. The exhibit also featured an auction of the art with proceeds benefiting Ukraine and families in Norway struggling with addiction.

Avatars of Love marked a sort of lyrical liberation for Lerche, who found himself writing more formulaic in the past two decades since his debut, Faces Down.

“I felt a whole new sort of lyrical freedom,” says Lerche. “The lyrics just exploded out of me and really determined the path of the songs much more than before, so that was a big change.”

Lerche, who has already written several children’s books, is still intent on finishing the novel he began pre-Avatars. “I’ve learned a lot as a songwriter, from [other] writing,” he says. “I think it’s made me a better writer, but there’s just something that happens when songs come a calling. When I feel that there’s a song coming on, I will always first and foremost be a songwriter.”

Photo: TonjeThilesen / Missing Piece Group

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