Interview: Black Summer Kat, Efterklang.

Danish introverts Efterklang's latest, Piramida, may have been recorded deep within the gelid reaches of the Arctic Circle atop a glacial archipelago, although there's an astounding warmth within. It is a startling warmth – akin, I should imagine, to the spectral caress of a dearly departed piercing the seams of worlds and realms with a chilling digit – and one that brings with it hope. You sense that were it recorded some time around now or, God forbid, yet further into winter then it would surely have come out an entirely unrecognisable oeuvre. Suitable, then, that having been recorded over nine unending midsummer days and nonexistent nights (such is the northerly latitude of Spitsbergen) it be a record suffused with the optimism every dawn brings. It emits irradiance as may a scorching filament filtered through a dense opacity – inviting, yet still intangible. There's great vivacity to Piramida, yet seated deep within resides death. It is thus purgatorial, if exclusively in the sense that it stands between life, and whatever it may be to proceed it. And this is of little surprise...

"Nobody has ever been born on Spitsbergen – its people have to return to the mainland to give birth. And another thing that I found really striking is that nobody's buried in Spitsbergen either, because the earth, and the coldness of the earth pushes the corpse up to the surface. That really tells you all you need to know about the archipelago – it's not really made for humans!" Lead vocalist Casper Clausen at this point giggles with a recurrent excitement, as though clutching his first snowball down the other end of the phone in his now native Berlin. This intriguing revelation comes as something of an astonishing contrast to the discernibly human reaction many have had to the record. It's a thoroughly poignant work I'm here dribbling further wax lyrical all over; it sets the ears alight from first play; and nigh on every reviewer has wholeheartedly acknowledged this. Few records prompt such prosaic reactions, but Piramida is poetry in softly smouldering motion; poetry restructured and hung from a stave like frosted leaves clinging to spindly woods, only to then be reprocessed by the substantially less capable, such as ourselves. And indeed the stave continues to play a fundamental part in the slow, yet surefooted progress of this great Danish collective.

"When we came back from our trip and started looking into what we'd come out with, we got this offer from the Sydney Opera House – so on the other side of this planet – and they asked us if we wanted to do a concert there in May of this year. And so we were right at the beginning of the whole process; we'd barely written any of the songs aside from small sketches, and were thinking that maybe we should just focus on the work! But as it was the Sydney Opera House, we couldn't exactly just turn that opportunity down. So we said: 'How about we come back in, like, seven months time with this music that we're making at the moment, and we'll tailor it to the orchestra down there?' Then, suddenly, the thing turned into a sort of symphony project, as well as an album. We had already decided that we wanted to keep it as sparse as possible so that we could focus more on the sounds, and the field recordings, and the process of turning those field recordings into aspects an orchestra could play. Then, on the other hand, the symphonic project allowed us to approach the music a little more loosely – to play with the strings, and explore a sound that would be bigger and more open overall. Where the sounds from Spitsbergen would step back a bit, and the music would have to come out; to have a different face, and reveal itself in a different way. So in that sense, the whole live show started out as something which was, initially, quite bizarre to us. It started out with us playing with a symphony."

It has been something of a counterintuitive process, therefore, for Clausen & co. Where many bands feel they can flesh things out live from time to time with the abetment of an orchestra, or a smattering of extraneous brass – often a somewhat superfluous, and with it indulgent notion – Piramida began with these grand designs. It is from these aspirations that the record itself is and was formed. The conclusion, given such topsy-turvy work ethic, is astonishingly logical. It seems commensurately reasoned, too, that it be recited in a venue as "open to crossover projects" as our beloved Barbican Centre. "Knowing the guys there", Clausen gushes, "I think this just fits right in in all sorts of ways. Bringing an orchestra and a band together just seems to work there and, to be honest, it's just an amazing setting. It's beautiful. Well, I mean it's hard to call it beautiful – it's such a brutal building. But it's amazing for contemporary arts, and they always have amazing things going on. I'm signed up to their newsletter, and there are always amazing things coming around so to play there again was quite obvious."

It's endearing to hear Casper articulate such lowly fandom in his bristly, dulcet soothe and having played the very same hunk of Silk Street brick back in '09, it evidently made a weighty impression. The venue is the largest performing arts centre throughout the entirety of Europe and although inanimate, animates Clausen as it has infinite others annually. He is instantly amicable irregardless, and yet with it admirable in his spectacular creativity. Erudite, and still overtly appreciative of his contemporaries, the The Piramida Concert is also to feature the estimable John Grant – a man first met at SXSW a few years back. "We were playing the same showcase there, heard his music for the first time, and just kept in touch. He's just a brilliant guy making great music and when we were putting together this tour with the Northern Sinfonia, we were trying to look for appropriate opening acts and thought he'd be perfect. In a weird sort of way, he kind of strives for the same feelings but he arranges them in a completely different way. He writes in a way that's so different to the way we would, and so that's always been fascinating for us. I think in many ways, it was the thought of the combining of our style with his; combining two people to have come from entirely different backgrounds. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it'll work out."

It's an intriguing pairing and a yet more fascinating parallel – one I've been struggling to trace for these past few days. It's maybe too weird for me, for I can't see it but then I got to thinking of how each individual ear hears a different thing in each individual song ever written. I often opt to focus on the musical aspects, whereas others lodge themselves deeply in the varying poetics of song. Yet to revert to the way in which this particular record was heard by critics, opinion could barely have been more united. It may have been executed to perfection, yet expectancies were negligible. "I think it's hard to expect anything once you've put out a record, but I think we've been lucky with previous records in that critics have been bigging them up, and liking what we're doing. In a way, with this record, it could've gone either way. And what I've been seeing is that some people really appreciate it and others think it's maybe too conceptual. That's been the same for every record we've put out, but this time it's a little different because, sure enough, the majority of the reviews have been so positive. Also, I think there's a more distinct balance between our concepts in a way this time, so it's easier to suit it down. I would say. I think so..."

And as the ear casts its attentions over the blizzard-laced expanses of Piramida, the solitary concept to pierce the heady maelstrom is of the place itself. The concept is a surreal reality; a place positioned on the fringes of the known world, and yet the album encourages intimacy; affinity; transcendency, almost. And Clausen confirms this preconceived idea of the Svalbard archipelago being the record's solitary muse: "Everything sort of came along the way. When we saw this place in pictures and read about it, it was just such a mesmeric experience, and it was strange to think that it was even on this planet. It was an amazing landscape, with this tiny settlement. And so that ghost town started as a fascination – as I think something always has to when you set about starting something. Then when we got there, we didn't really know exactly what sort of music we'd get out of it. We didn't bring any with us – the idea was to go there with a blank sheet and see what'd happen. To go there together, just the three of us, and start it off. So the themes and music kind of evolved over the proceeding year – from August of last year. It was a case of slowly building the sounds; travelling with them, and then we got back and turned them into small sketches."

Only at this point did further thematic concerns begin to emerge, as Clausen continues: "The sketches then turned into songs; the lyrics were also at the beginning a little more unclear, and cloudy, and then in the end as they began to really clear up, I could see themes begin to really appear out from them. The relationship of two people, and then again this broken love that related back to the ghost town where these songs were born. But these things just evolved along the way – we had nothing planned at the beginning. I think that you could say that the Piramida trip turned into a more personal experience. Then, when we returned, the human brain began to do that weird thing whereby it mixes everything up. And in some sort of way, it all becomes one trip as it were. It was both a trip up north into the Arctic Sea, but also maybe a more personal one that we went through."

A typical case of an initially physical voyage becoming something altogether more allegorical as it progresses then, it may have only been in translating what recordings they had into fully-fledged symphonies that even the band themselves had any idea of what they were dealing with ("That's when your brain starts coming up with ideas, and things start happening", he confides) but having researched the island so thoroughly, did it have a greater or lesser effect than anticipated? "I think both a greater, and at the same time a lesser. We stayed there for nine days, and we began to acclimatise in some sort of way over that period. It overawed me at the beginning, but then it all became a little bit more easy going in a way. But the pictures I have in my memory of that place are extraordinary." Again, one senses affinity. Not this time for people, but for place. So are plans afoot of a return?

Casper exhales an icy sigh, almost as though still nursing an enduring cold. "I love the idea of going to a remote area. Like Spitsbergen is a nature park, and there's this idea of being in nature where you, as a man, have to come to terms with not being able to rule it. That's something that you quite often forget when you're living in a city, or just even in going to the countryside. You see farms, but man has created the structures that house nature in that case. When you go away to a place like Piramida, this little settlement was really, well, it felt like an anthill out in the great wide nature. And I think that nature is, in a way, really quite frightening. When you go to Spitsbergen and Piramida, you don't feel as though it's a place you'd really want to inhabit. I didn't exactly want to spend a lot of time there – it's this really cold, and frightening area with this huge ice glacier, and enormous mountains, and it's really rough. We were there in August, when it was supposedly in its warmest period. I can't imagine how it looks right now, or in a couple of months time."

Even the concept of returning to recite the finished product in full – "a nice, romantic thought" – is for the moment farfetched. "For us, it has been a trip that started up there and has continued elsewhere, as things only kept on evolving after we left. I'd love to go back at some point, but it's not something I've really had time to think about." Though in lugging the record around the world, they've already been afforded opportunities to recreate it in venues renowned throughout said sphere. Whether that be the Barbican, or the Sydney Opera House, or The Metropolitan Museum of Art their itinerary thus far has been pretty darn illustrious. These warm indoor halls make for a quite beguiling contrast to the wintry wildernesses of Spitsbergen. And, understandably, they wouldn't want it any other way: "I mean we've also just came back from playing Copenhagen where we played the old radio house, the Konservatoriets Koncertsal, which is a beautiful hall, and I've found myself to be quite happy with these epic arenas."

This comfort with such a comfortable situation (and those to have sat back in a Barbican chair will undoubtedly know all too well of thoroughly comfortable situations) is, even from an external perspective, well, comforting. And it's not without its sense of achievement and accomplishment: "We really do appreciate these opportunities, because we now feel we know what Efterklang is, and we're aware of the types of people we're reaching out to. That's all been just brilliant." Yet as with any quintessentially restive creative, laurels obviously aren't quite as alluring as those Barbican recliners aforementioned: "In my mind though, I may be looking a little bit ahead. What do we do once we've been on all the fanciest stages around? Maybe we go in a completely different direction – I don't know. I think, for us, we've always been able to lever ourselves into both classic rock venue shows, and then also these more fine culture, or fine art settings like the museums and symphony halls. And we're quite happy in this nether region, because it allows us to do both things. We learn amazing things from each – we take this amazing energy from the rock venues, and put it in the concert house, and take some of that amazing focus that the concert hall has and try to bring it into these rock venues. I like occupying the in-between and I could start mentioning a lot of places I'd like to play, but I mean in the end I'm quite happy. And I'm completely incapable of second guessing what the next offer may be. I would never have thought we'd ever have played the Sydney Opera House, nor the Met museum. It's brilliant that both those things have come about, though."

And so on to England. The show now imminent, there's a sense of completism to it all. As Casper assures, any show isn't "just about the music, but also about the room, and the people you go with. Certain things you can control, but others have to be left to uncertainty." With the venue, support, and newly penned material all controllable variables, one can't help but sense an inevitable triumph to come. With such meticulous compilation must surely come vast success; the sort of success the trio have gradually been building towards. Yet their trajectory has curved dramatically upwards – and quite exponentially so – since the last time they took to the leaden heart of the Barbican. "Lots of things have been happening, and we've learnt so much from working with the same arranger [Karsten Fundal] both then and now. It feels like the collaboration is now ten times stronger, as we each have a much better understanding of what the other's made of. That allows us to do things in a different way. Plus this project as a whole has evolved at the same rate as the music, so everything has been happening at the same time. We were thinking, when we were making the music, that this is supposed to be played live – that thought was always in the back of our heads. That makes a big difference, and I think that's something we've come to learn over the past three; four; five years. After the release of Parades, and having played a lot of concerts, Efterklang went from being a laptop band spending most of its time building stuff on computers in studios and recording in layers to a band to take that and recreate it in the live setting; a setting which is intrinsically more loose. So I think we've loosened up a little bit, and we just really enjoy playing live now. Which is a big difference to how it was three years ago. We still enjoyed playing live, but it was a different kind of live. And I think we were trying to hold the horses a little bit more."

With the horses now allowed to gallivant, anticipation is already rife. Clausen's words alone whet the appetite yet further, and with his every response the show seems ever more consummate. Almost impossibly more so, even. It couldn't even be bettered, in his esteemed opinion, by further collaboration. Clausen doesn't dream ideals; he lives and breathes 'em: "There are so many people that would be amazing to collaborate with in many ways but, to be honest, I think sometimes uncertainty and randomness work best. For instance, we've started working with this classical arranger, and he has no clue about pop/ indie/ alternative music. Nothing at all. He's coming from a strict, contemporary classical background and yet the way in which we talk about music with this guy is so amazing. It's like meeting a brother that you've never known that you only meet twenty-five or thirty years into life. And I think maybe in some way it would be nice to embark on a project alongside Radiohead, or Einstuerzende Neubauten, or Björk, or Bowie but in a way I've come to like people just popping up along the way. And mostly, we tend to work with people who've not yet taken off; who aren't really all that established as such. With them, you develop just a little collaboration and that's allowed to then grow into something more freely, so I'm like an old man in a way РI'm quite happy with the way it's going at the moment. I'd rather go in a different direction and work on something more visual. It's a difficult question to answer in a clever way."

If you've any lingering scepticisms as to Efterklang's integrity, or artistic capabilities, or essentiality to the now then please – I implore you – embalm yourself in the spirit of Piramida, and emerge from dismal indoor hibernation to voyage to the venue nearest to you. For although in no way necessary, Efterklang just answered most eloquently any conceivable criticisms.

Piramida is out now on 4AD, whilst Efterklang play the Barbican Centre October 29th.