INTERVIEW – Emil Friis Talks “Sand In Your Eyes”

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Emil Friis live. Photo by Anders Hviid.

As someone with the task of reviewing countless albums a year, the whole process becomes overwhelming at times. The truth is that I’m always on the hunt for new and fascinating music, but it’s not too often that a record will stop me dead in my tracks.

Emil Friis’ debut Sand in Your Eyes is one such album; it’s powerful and hypnotizing. From the title track to the closer, this record grabs you and never lets go. Sand immediately made me feel the same way I felt when I first heard Rick Rubin’s work on Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”

Had Friis somehow managed to release a debut that was on the same level as The Man in Black? Yes.

Before you start yelling “blasphemy,” I suggest that you take a listen to the stream below.

I caught up with the Danish singer-songwriter/film composer and discuss his musical vision for the album, artistic influences and the visuals in the two accompanying music videos.

TuffGnarl: Sand In Your Eyes is a powerful and deeply profound album. How did the record come together?

Emil Friis: I was asked to write a song for a French gangster film back in 2010 and I ended up writing “Sand in Your Eyes.” The song didn’t make the final cut, but that’s where it all started. After I’d finished the song, I came up with this idea of making an album where all the songs would sound like they were from a film soundtrack. Most of it was recorded in my friend Jesper Folke Olsen’s garage over a three-year period. A few other songs were recorded elsewhere, like “The Other Side,” which was recorded during a session I did last year, scoring a documentary series for Danish television.

How personal is this album for you?

For me it’s a very personal album. A lot of the songs were written around the time when my wife and I had our two little boys.

You’re known as a film and television composer in your homeland of Denmark. How different was it to write an album of music for yourself rather than for someone else?

It’s really not that different. When you’re writing for yourself, whether it’s to prove a point or because you simply can’t help it, or because someone has asked you to write for a film, you really have to give a part of yourself to that song or piece of music. That’s the only way it will work. And the only way an audience or a listener can relate to it. Music for film and television is essentially about expressing and supporting a mood or a certain feeling. That’s what traditional songwriting should be about too.

Niels Buchholzer has directed both music videos from Sand In Your Eyes. How did you team-up with Niels?

Niels is an old friend of mine so it was easy to team up with him. He had heard some of the first songs that we had finished for the album and wanted to help make some strong visuals to go along with it. He’s one of the most talented cinematographers here in Copenhagen and I think that really shows. We didn’t have a big production team on those two videos. It was basically just Niels and I who did them, Niels doing all the filming and me acting as his assistant. We had a great time making them.

Well, they’re both stunning. It seems like you’re collaborating with some really amazingly talented people. Is that a fair assessment?

I think so. Obviously Niels’ work on this project speaks for it self, as does my wife’s work designing the cover. The players playing on the album are among the best here in Denmark in my opinion. They are kind of outside the established scene, which I really like. It gives it a little more edge, you know? Their contribution was important to me in trying to accomplish what I had set out to do. They come from different musical backgrounds – prog rock, indie rock, folk – that kind of thing. But combined, that all adds to the sonic diversity that I was also trying to create.

I want to see this album get a proper release in the U.S. I feel very strongly about that. How to go about it is another thing. I haven’t quite figured that one out yet.

Who are your three biggest influences in music?

That’s easy: Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan. There’s no number three.

What are your top five albums of all time?

Now that’s a little harder. But, just off the top of my head, I would say Love And Theft or maybe Time Out Of Mind by Bob Dylan. Those are two very different sounding albums, but, for me, some of his finest work. Cat Power’s The Greatest is a powerful album and I really like the fact that it was recorded in Memphis. It always makes me think of Memphis when I listen to it. One of my favorite albums in the last couple of years is Lykke Li’s Wounded Rhymes. I absolutely love the way that album sounds and the way it was produced. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds’ Push The Sky Away is also a great sounding album.

How are your shows doing in Denmark?

I don’t get out and play as much as I would like to. I’m pretty busy scoring. Mainly documentaries at the moment, which leaves little time for playing shows. I did play a great show with Valerie June a while back though.

What’s the best thing about living in Copenhagen? The worst?

Copenhagen is a very safe and liberal place to live and I guess that’s what most people like about it. People leave their sleeping babies in the stroller outside cafés while they have coffee. Everybody rides a bicycle to work. It’s that kind of place.  And that’s what I like about it. It’s very hard to fall through the cracks here. It is, after all, part of a social democratic welfare state. But the down side to that is that it robs people of some of their initiative, and that’s not a good thing for anybody.

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Chuck Livid

Chuck Livid hails from Miami, Florida. He did a zine in the '90s called Muddy Chaos and is best known for his work with independent music label Livid Records. Chuck lives in Boca Raton, Fl with his wife illustrator Helena Garcia and their son Nico. He founded TuffGnarl.com and hosts TuffGnarl.com's official music podcast - Another Music Podcast which is available on iTunes & Google Play

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