Interview: Obstacles

Obstacles - Photo courtesy of Obstacles

Obstacles - Photo courtesy of Obstacles

Something is rocking in the state of Denmark, and to guess it’s a music scene rife with post-rock bands wouldn’t be far off.

One shining example is Obstacles, an integral part of Copenhagen’s math-rock(ish) scene for a few years. Consisting of Thomas Feltheim on guitar, Jeppe Street Jarlstrøm on bass, and Morten Clausen on drums, Obstacles has been challenging conventional notions of what it means to play post rock.

The instrumental band wasn’t always a threesome; for some time, Obstacles existed as a quartet, But last year, former keyboard player Niels-Peder Hjøllund had a son, which meant he ended up spending more time at home and less with the band. As a result, the remaining three members already have experience of playing the occasional show as a trio under their respective belts.

Hjøllund eventually parted ways with the group, and although the band was accustomed to playing without him, they still had some tweaking to do to the music.

“There [are] a lot of songs that we had to kind of restructure here and there to like, kind of fill out the space that was missing,” Feltheim said.

But ultimately, the overall structure of the band and its musical path remained intact.

“We did some alterations in the setup,” Clausen said, sharing the minor adjustments that needed to be made after Hjøllund’s departure. “Some of the more ambient things that we used to do with the keys, [Jarlstrøm] is now doing with the vocals…but apart from that it’s pretty much the same.”

Obstacles is now on the road with fellow Copenhagen band, Town Portal. The tour kicked off on Jan. 18 and took the two bands through a handful of European countries, before bringing them to Berlin tonight.

“This is our first tour as a trio, like officially a trio, so that’s also kind of new to us,” Jarlstrøm said.

In the time since the band’s inception, approximately four years ago, Obstacles has released an EP, two seven-inches, and a full-length, all which came prior to the November 2011 release of “Oscillate.”

The newest release, which consists of four songs circling the 25-minute mark, was an experiment of sorts for the band; after planning on a seven-inch and realizing there was more material at hand, the group (still then a foursome) decided to try something new.

Whereas past releases have required a lot of time and planning on behalf of the members, this recording had an entirely different approach, and thus emits a different feeling. Instead of taking a long time in the studio, the band collaborated with a friend, who recorded the songs, and the entire recording process took less than two weeks.

“We wanted to do it more like in the spirit of just having the music as a playground, because it’s not really a record; it’s just something that we felt like doing in between releases,” Clausen said. “So it’s mostly therapy actually.”

In short, the objective was to write more material as naturally as possible, but not try to make it into anything it wasn’t.

“I think all of us are really, like, control freaks, so normally we spend a lot of time like…structuring the songs until we think they’re like perfect. But on this recording we really tried, we wanted to like force ourselves to…write in a more spontaneous way,” Feltheim said.

Additionally, the group – which prides itself on its live performances – opted for an approach that steered clear of overproduction or the idea of editing out mistakes.

“We kind of wanted to see if we could break out of the whole way of, you know, thinking about music, that everything has to be, you know, cleaned out,” Clausen said.

After the band returns from tour, the obvious next step will be another full-length. However, although the three have been writing, the music hasn’t yet taken the form of entire songs. Instead, the plan of attack is to write pieces at a time, which are then recorded and listened to individually – a process which helps each member individually figure out what he specifically feels the direction of a song is.

“[We are creating] small ideas and then building on top and jamming and trying to sort out what works,” Feltheim explained.

This approach is just part of the band’s strategy of taking what they’ve already established and ushering it to a new level.

“In a lot of ways it kind of also evolves from what we did last and what we wanna do and what we listen to at the moment while we are writing the material,” Clausen said of the songwriting process. “And I think it’s always gonna be like that, trying to do something new and trying to not just write the same release, the same record, two times.”

In the meantime, the three are enjoying the journey. Whether it’s making music with good friends or taking it on the road to share with others, the members of Obstacles insist it’s something they couldn’t ever get tired of.

Obstacles plays tonight at Schokoladen in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.

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