Communions: "Things are slowly disintegrating. It’s hard not be at least a little dystopian."
Communions are grappling with an existential crisis. Given their boyish good looks and penchant for grandiose pop hooks, however, you might not realise it at first glance.
Their glossy indie pop harks back to the era where gloomy British indie and Britpop bands were ever-present in the mainstream charts, but bubbling beneath the surface is the same grit, cynicism, and paranoia present during the band's beginnings as part of the Copenhagen's Mayhem scene which also spawned the likes of Iceage. Navigating a world they perceive to be crumbling around them and ignoring falsehoods of freedom, their new album Pure Fabrication indicates a major milestone in the band's evolution.
Streamlining to a duo after bassist and drummer Jacob van Deurs Formann and Frederik Lind Köppen departed, Martin and Mads Rehof relocated back to Denmark having lived in the US, leaving the creative simpatico of the brothers to tackle and intensely reflect on Communion's new, dislocated identity. The result? Their most accomplished work to date.
We spoke to frontman Martin Rehof about Pure Fabrication and its conception:
What do you think Pure Fabrication symbolises in your personal evolution and the band’s identity?
This record sort of feels like a culmination for us. Both a culmination in terms of what we’ve been working towards ever since Blue, but also in the sense that it’s the last record that will have been made by us with Frederik and Jacob, the members who left the band after having recorded their parts for Pure Fabrication.
In terms of the band’s identity, I think the record is a testament to what Communions as a project has been about so far, up until now. Which I think has been about making powerful rock music with some kind of timeless feel to it. Not necessarily about rewriting all the rules of the game through experimentation, so much as channeling something genuine, and soulful. I also think the project has been about reaching towards a multifaceted aesthetic, where different energies and temperaments are married. There are moments bursting with energy and slower, more introspective moments, combining the melodic, light, and ethereal with a more gritty clangor.
If one wants to talk about evolution, I think that Pure Fabrication marks a point of maturation in terms of songwriting and performance. I, for instance, feel that I’ve learned a lot and evolved as a lyricist through the making of this record, and I also feel that I’ve become more aware of the dynamics I’m able to channel as a singer. None of us are trained session musicians, so our evolution up until now also just feels like a natural process of growth in which we’ve been learning our craft, and challenging it along the way.
You’ve evolved from a raw, tenacious punk band that was part of Copenhagen’s Mayhem scene, into a band that evokes the indie music of the 80s who put real emphasis on huge vocal hooks. What lured you away from punk music and toward pop songwriting?
As a listener of music, I think I’ve always been strongly receptive of strong melodies, so as a songwriter it felt natural to try and channel that. As much as punk music has played a role in my life, especially in my early teens, the very melodic and introverted sensibilities which I found in songwriters like Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen also had a very strong hold on me. A lot of the British alternative pop bands that we bonded over when we were starting out — stuff like The Smiths, The Cure, The Stone Roses, for instance — were bands that I always felt combined those two worlds, the energy of punk, and the big melodies of 60’s pop music, in a way that clicked with me. With that point of departure, I think the goal became to write songs that were, for us, as melodically memorable as possible; songs that you'd want to return to, and listen to over and over again.
Evolving so much in that direction was maybe also a way to stand out within the eye of the storm of the ‘Mayhem scene’, which we found ourselves a part of when starting out. Then, everyone was either making abrasive noise music or harsh punk of different sorts. There was probably a want to distance ourselves a bit from that in order to forge our own identity.
Do you think being in the scene at the time limited you? Bands like yourselves, and Iceage notably, have completely moved away from the visceral punk music associated with the Mayhem scene.
There was always a wish on our side to try to reach an audience outside of our immediate surroundings. But I don’t think we felt anything at that time was necessarily limiting us from doing that. Having a melodic edge within that environment probably helped us stand out, and made us interesting, also to outside viewers. It’s sort of funny that the radical thing about Communions when starting out was the fact that we had the somewhat conservative goal of writing pop songs.
Lyrically, it feels like there’s a nihilistic streak throughout Pure Fabrication when you talk about questioning “the entire notion of desire and freedom”. Is this a hopeless or hopeful realisation?
Probably a bit of both. First of all, I think it’s about questioning where a conception of those things come from. Also, I think there is, for instance, at least for me, a lot of angst associated with the idea of complete freedom. I don’t know if the record is pointing out that these concepts are hopeless, so much as hinting at the point that they might be a bit flawed. But secondly, I don’t think the album as a whole is trying to give off a certain message.
Each song is sort of just attacking these things from different angles, shedding different light on them as themes. Some songs, like ‘Cupid’ for example, praise freedom, while others give off a more nihilistic vibe. In that sense, I think the songs are constantly fluctuating in between innocence and experience, attempting to show that there’s naturally two sides to everything.
You said the album portrays “a communal lapse into cultural decline”. What do you mean by this, and what brought you to this worldview?
I think I said that about the song ‘Learn To Pray’ specifically, trying to sum it up in short. That song is sort of about a social world, a culture of people at large, falling from grace, into a lower state of being. So, I think what I meant by the quote you referring to was just that the song is trying to express some kind of feeling of disintegration. That kind of worldview is archetypal, while maybe also being pertinent to the time we’re living in now. There seem to be a lot of things going on that leaves one with the impression that things are slowly disintegrating. It’s hard not be at least a little dystopian with the problem of climate change pressing itself on, for instance.
How much does the album’s narrative protagonist reflect the two of you?
That’s sort of hard to say. I think certain songs have a slightly more biographical tint than others, but it’s really hard to pinpoint where the fictional begins and ends. Some songs might be inspired by personal things, while the lyrics they incorporate seem to express something universal. A song like ‘Bird Of Passage’ for instance is, amongst other things, inspired a feeling of rootlessness brought on by our moving back and forth over the Atlantic ocean, to the States and back to Denmark again. But you wouldn’t necessarily get that biographical bit from reading the lyrics, since it’s just trying to convey the feeling of any existential crisis, which is something universal most people can identify with.
Significantly, Communions is much more streamlined with just the two of you now. How much involvement was there with Frederik and Jacob with your new album, and did their departure alter the band’s direction?
Basically, the entirety of Pure Fabrication was produced with them. Frederik is the one playing drums on every song, and Jacob laid down guitar parts on most of the songs, except for a few of them. Their departure didn’t really do anything to alter the direction the record was going in. The fact that they left the band after laying down their initial parts though, meant that they weren’t that active in the processes of dubbing and mixing, which left more choices up to Mads and I. It’s hard to say how much of it would have sounded differently if they had been involved in the mixing process. I don’t think the overall sound or aesthetic would have altered much, as these would still have been crafted in partnership with by our producer, Mads Brinch.
You’ve said that Pure Fabrication “incorporates all of our best sides from each previous release”. Have you just cherry-picked what’s worked from your previous records and merged them together, or were there any other artists that have influenced the album?
I think that’s mostly just the way I’ve come to understand the album in retrospect. In some ways it felt like we tried to channel some of the things that worked. But it’s also limited how much of making a record takes place on a super conscious level in that way. Many of the decisions we made were more impulses, I would say.
Throughout your career, which artists have been most influential to you both?
Apart from the acts mentioned earlier, like Dylan and Cohen, The Smiths, The Cure, The Stone Roses, I would say stuff like David Bowie, Nirvana, Portishead, Radiohead, The Strokes, just to name a few.
What’s next for the two of you once the album drops, and what are you most looking forward to in the next few months?
Once the album drops, we’ll be looking forward to playing some shows here in Denmark over the summer and in the fall. We are very much looking forward to that. Obviously, our plan was to play more extensively, but that hasn’t been possible because of the pandemic. Other than that, we’ll probably start writing more music.
Pure Fabrication is out now via Tambourhinoceros.