About 600 miles north of Norway's northernmost town, across the Barents Sea, is Pyramiden, once a Russian coal mining settlement on the island of Svalbard, now an uninhabited ghost town. It's about as far north as you can get and, to put its isolation in context, for every four people who live on the island permanently, there's one polar bear. Yet a trip undertaken by the Danish band Efterklang to the island over nine days in 2010 provided both the sonic and emotional inspiration to create their fourth album, the appropriately titled Piramida.
"We were going on a trip into the unknown," Casper, Efterklang's vocalist, says of the expedition from the band's new home in Berlin. "We weren't really sure what was up there for us," Rasmus Stolberg, who plays bass, continues, "What Casper and I had talked about a lot was about having a specific location as a framework for the album, we saw these pictures of Pyramiden and it looked too good to be true."
"The first couple of days it was very much 'what the fuck are we doing up here'," he continues, "but looking back now, it's strange how long it took us to call the album Piramida because we didn't know quite how big a role this nine-day trip was going to have on the entire album."
After nine days of conducting field recordings in the city's abandoned swimming pools, on the world's northernmost grand piano and amongst the pipes, walkways and silos that litter the abandoned town, they took "thousands of recordings back to Berlin", where Mads Brauer, the group's "electronic wizard" began to create small sketches. "There was so much material to go through," Casper says, "so many hours of sounds, it was more like picking out memories. Remembering when we went to the tanks, or the lakes, and were throwing rocks, and that kind of guided him through the recordings to make songs out of these sounds."
Whilst the immediate reaction may be to talk solely about the trip to Pyramiden, it's the months the album took to actually create in Berlin, a city they'd just moved to, that characterises the record just as much. "The trip definitely defined the sound of the album - it's got a lot more space, and maybe has darker moods too, but the move to Berlin opened our sound up, I think," Rasmus says, before Casper jumps in to talk about the people they have met and worked with on the record: "Nils Frahm, and Earl Harvin from Tindersticks, and Andromeda with Daniel Glatzel, there's so many characters from the scene down here in Berlin."
"I think in the past we lacked that idea of collaboration," Rasmus continues, "and when I look back on this album, I'm very proud of some of the things we've done, the song Dreams Today, for example, which is like a dance between Nils Frahm and us." One track that encapsulates the fragile magnificence of the record is the Ghost, with its sombre horns juxtaposed against upbeat drums and Casper's hushed, almost spoken, refrain of "a ghost, a ghost, a ghost I never was."
Whilst busy working the sounds they'd captured into songs, they got a call from the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, which began the third journey of the record for its premiere at the Sydney Opera House. "Suddenly we had the possibility of putting our epic ideas for the album into this other thing, the orchestra version," says Casper, explaining that they were more or less providing the orchestra solely with the foundations of the music, "we left the musicians with the scenery and let them fill it with actors. You'd think it'd be difficult to let someone else do their thing with the music, that it'd be holy ground, but it never really went that way."
Now the band are sitting in their new homes in Berlin, waiting for the album to reach the end of its story, from a nine-day trip to an island in the Arctic Circle, to the homes and record players of the general public.
"We're curious about how this thing we talked about in the beginning, how the album will be perceived with this story, how that'll be attached to it, and how it will all connect together, we're all sure that the music is the strongest we've made." Rasmus says. "This album has so many different colours, beyond the story somehow."
Piramida is out September 24th on 4AD. efterklang.net