Interview: Town Portal

Town Portal - Photo by Charlotte Ankerstjerne

Town Portal - Photo by Charlotte Ankerstjerne

Town Portal began as a project intending to simplify and streamline the process of making music.

The Copenhagen-based trio formed in 2009, with Christian Henrik Ankerstjerne and Jeppe Lillegaard Nielsson on guitar, and Malik Breuer Bistrup on drums. However, it soon shifted, as band memberships are wont to do, with Morten Ogstrup Nielsen joining on bass in 2010, and Nielsson eventually leaving in September of 2011.

The targeted sound for the group was an instrumental post-rock feel, with an intent to downsize on the elaborate setups of many other bands. This direction called for a small lineup, no vocalist, and as few added effects as possible.

Additionally, the members of Town Portal wanted to move away from the idea of being a studio band, instead writing toward capturing a live energy. In short, if it can’t be played by the members live, it shouldn’t appear on the album.

“Previous bands had had recording as the main focus, whereas with Town Portal, the initial idea was to create a live band,” Nielsen explained.

And the band’s first recording, Vacuum Horror, is its first attempt in that direction. The six song album, which came out in the latter half of last year, was recorded by Ankerstjerne in the band’s practice space.

“The whole thing was quite low key, and though we in some ways definitely are perfectionists, I think we’re also quite realistic regarding our limitations,” Nielsen said. “Because we did most of it ourselves, and therefore basically had all the time in the world, there was a calmness embracing the whole recording process, and I think that it really had a positive impact on the final result.”

After it was mastered, the band put “Vacuum Horror” up on bandcamp, offering it on a name-your-price basis. The three decided on this tactic in order to drum up publicity, making the music available to anyone who was interested.

“In the light of how the EP was written, recorded and released, the reception has been surprising to say the least,” Nielsen said. “Before we knew it, we had quite a lot of national and international blog attention, and suddenly really good reviews started popping up in bigger Danish music magazines. It’s only been out for about four months and the [attention] it’s been getting so far has been overwhelming.”

In the time since, the band has continued to write more songs, a process which has shifted from the beginning stages; whereas the music used to originate from the guitar and then expand outward, now the members have found its becoming a much more collaborative process from the get-go.

“Usually a set of unrelated guitar riffs from [Ankerstjerne] is the foundation, from which we all build the rest, trying out different combinations of riffs, adding bass lines and beats and adjusting along the way,” Nielsen said. “It’s a recursive process really, and doesn’t have much logic or linearity to it. Thus it’s quite impossible to map. [But] a relatively new thing is that more riffs are starting out with bass or even drums, which makes the songwriting even more of a common effort than before.”

Although the band doesn’t cling to genre conventions, Town Portal has been grouped under the umbrella of post-rock and math-rock bands, part of a burgeoning scene in Copenhagen. Because the guys are friends with most of the other bands included in the categorization, it doesn’t bother them so much. However, they do insist on being taken at more than face value.

“While we immensely enjoy being part of this scene, we also find it liberating to not define ourselves artistically from a genre-term or the framework of an established scene,” Nielsen specified. “The math-rock term is fine for the purpose of creating an array of associations to other bands that have a similar approach to making music, and for that purpose we’ve been using it ourselves, but really the term is a joke. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it even started out as a joke. At least, we don’t see ourselves as writing music from mathematical principles. On the contrary, we’re trying to break down some rigid mathematical norms that seem to characterize a majority of contemporary rock music.”

Town Portal is currently at the tail end of a European tour with one of these fellow Danish bands, Obstacles. With the exception of a house show in 2010, Town Portal has never played in Berlin.

“To be honest, we’re looking forward to doing a real club show,” Nielsen said. “The main difference being that at a club show, the music is the main attraction and what people show up for, and at the party the main attraction is the party.”

And although the band has toured in the past, it hasn’t been as long or as crucial as this time around.

“I think we all have the feeling right now that we need to go on this tour, from a personal point of view. We’ve been working really hard the last year, and this tour will be the place where we can put the results of that work to the test. We’re so excited to share what we’ve been keeping to ourselves for what feels like a really long time now,” Nielsen said. “Also touring with Obstacles is something we’re looking forward to. They’re probably the best live-band in Copenhagen, and seeing them play 18 nights in a row will not only be a pleasant listening experience, but also really inspirational. Last but not least, [we’re looking forward to] meeting all the people that, motivated by their love of music, put their precious time and energy into making the shows happen.”

Once the tour ends, Town Portal has plans to begin recording the next album and playing a few shows during the mixing process, before hitting the road later this year to support the forthcoming record.

Yet in spite of big plans, the members all agree that being in a band is not easy, particularly on the financial front.

“Expenses to recording, mixing, maintaining equipment, buying strings/sticks, et cetera, can at times seem a bit insurmountable from a student’s point of view,” Nielsen said, explaining how the economical situation can take its toll on everyone.

Still, the three aren’t discouraged, because as the old saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And even so, the guys in Town Portal don’t do it for the money or the game, but for something else, that is much more intangible.

“The feeling you get when you’re in the midst of putting a song together, and you reach that moment where your intuition tells you that you’re on to something good, but still you can only guess what the final result is gonna be like,” Nielsen said, “now that’s rewarding!”

Town Portal plays tonight at Schokoladen in Berlin. The show begins at 20.00.

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