Treefight for Sunlight: Best of What's Next

Music Features Treefight for Sunlight
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Hometown: Støvring, Northern Jutland, Denmark
Members: Christian Rohde Lindinger (bass/vocals), Morten Winther Nielsen (guitars, vocals), Mathias Sørensen (drums), Niels Kirk (keyboards)
Album: A Collection of Vibrations for Your Skull
For Fans Of: MGMT, Animal Collective, The Beach Boys

When I ask Christian Lindinger, bassist-vocalist for Danish psych-pop quartet Treefight for Sunlight, why his band chooses to write their lyrics in English, I expect some kind of generic, pre-scripted response—something along the lines of “Well, we love a lot of American bands.” Instead, I got this: “Danish just sort of narrows down your potential listeners to six million, which is the entire population of Denmark. It won’t work—we want to do this for real.”

Fair enough. If Treefight for Sunlight have aspirations of “doing this for real,” they’ve certainly prepared the right kind of debut album. A Collection of Vibrations for Your Skull is a striking, kaleidoscopic journey through pop music’s outer limits, drawing inspiration from the usual psych and pop suspects (legends like Brian Wilson, new kids on the block like MGMT and Animal Collective), yet it’s presented with such confidence and sheer creativity that not a second sounds second-rate.

Inspiration—that elusive beast—brought the band’s four young members (ages range from 22 to 24) together early on in life. Really early: Lindinger, Nielsen, and Sørensen all went to grade school together, separately learning how to play their respective instruments. It was Nielsen, the slightly mysterious older schoolmate (Important Social Fact: He was in sixth grade, while the other two were in fifth), who initiated the collaboration.

“Morten had been playing guitar for a couple of years,” Lindinger says via e-mail from the vast expanses of Iceland, where the band recently played a set at the Iceland Airwaves Festival. “We’d seen him sing ‘Tutti Frutti’ with his big brother on a morning assembly and some other Elvis songs out and about to other school arrangements. Mathias and I were talking a lot about playing together, but we were only two, and I still sucked at playing. So we were talking a lot about Morten and how we’d love to play with him. Morten’s older brother and Mathias’ older brothers were in a band together, and we thought they were the shit. They played really soul-y, funky, bluesy theatrical rock with a shitload of political agendas. One day when Mathias and I were walking home from school, Morten drove by on his bicycle, and he stopped and walked along and asked us if we wanted to play with him. That was it. We got home, and we were ecstatic. So we got together and played the instruments of their older brothers.”

While the American music press may seem fixated on the band’s obsession with The Beach Boys (“Brian Wilson does have a special place in our hearts,” Lindinger admits), the quartet, like so many million others, take their biggest cues from The Fab Four: “I doubt you will find a band that is more dedicated to loving The Beatles. ‘Let it Be’ was the first song we ever played, and I don’t think we even really knew what it meant at the time. Then we played for several years in all kinds of genres, and about three-and-a-half years ago, we wanted someone to play piano in the band. So we asked all our friends if they knew anyone and ended up calling Niels, who had just awoken from a nap (something we later found would happen chronically throughout his entire existence), and we invited him to come play. Love at first sight.”

A Collection of Vibrations is the culmination of that puppy-love musical chemistry that’s been brewing all these years. Opener “A Dream Before Sleep” tells you everything you need to know: layers of “ooh-ahh” harmonies, chirping sound-effects, keyboards sighing through regal chord progressions. “Morning suns growing on cherry trees,” they sing—and that’s exactly what this sounds like. But for all its easy psychedelic charms, the album was sort of a bitch to assemble—lead single “Facing the Sun,” for example, was written and re-written a handful of times before the band settled on the final take, and the current version doesn’t contain a single melody line from the original. But the process was equally tough for social reasons:

“We started out at home in Northern Jutland when we still lived with our parents,” Lindinger says. “Mathias and I had just graduated; Morten and Niels had graduated a year before, and Niels was still living in Århus, so he came by train most days. We were working on arrangements and searching out our creativity because we had a lot to learn. Playing music to each other to get on the same track and all that—it took us a while. Then we moved to Copenhagen and worked a couple months isolated in Morten’s and my old apartment on Nørrebro. We then got hooked up with an old concert hall in Støvring, where we come from.”

We had no money,” he continues, “and what money we had, we were spending on our producer and engineer, Aske Zidore (also a member of the Denmark-based band Oh No Ono). Luckily, we were allowed to use the hall, free of charge, for 22 days, and there was a grand piano and a room like no other. That reverb was magical, I swear to whoever.”

Still working day jobs at the time of recording, the band scraped the album together as best they could, even resorting to lay down tracks at the nursing home where they all worked. When Nielsen left for a vacation, things got even more stressful, the band stretching themselves to record and write arrangements without their main songwriter. But that tension, that creative struggle, sounds miles away from Collection of Vibrations’ slick, spectacular, earworms—all of which glow with childlike wonder, the sort of sound that could have been crafted by a merry band of spaced-out adolescent pop prodigies.

But their early success has come as something of a surprise for Lindinger, who prefers to keep his feet grounded and ego in-check. “I mean, we knew it was a good album, but the chances of the right people getting it, listening to it, and liking it were pretty minimal. We expect this to become our day-job sometime after the next album, I think. Right now, we’re pretending that it is our day-job, just without the money. And we don’t balance anything like that—we just think about leading normal life and not about being a ‘Best of What’s Next’-type band.”