"Taco Zone is my favorite taco in Los Angeles," says Norwegian alt-pop icon Susanne Sundfør, and definitively at that. Although her Nordic roots may position her more of as an expert on pickled fish than carne asada, Sundfør has developed such an affinity for the City of Angels that she's taken on the Angeleno rite of passage that is championing your favorite Mexican restaurant.
"I felt a lot of nostalgia coming into Los Angeles this time around," says Susanne, waiting between false-starts of a soundcheck at Club Bahia, a spacious, forty year-old latin dancehall planted on Sunset Blvd between Echo Park and Chinatown. After the release of her universally-lauded fifth studio album, Ten Love Songs, in February, she's returned to a scene of its inspiration for a handful of intimate performances.
"Los Angeles really shaped the album a lot, the people I met here, the music I listened to here, the environment," she says. "I would rent Airbnb apartments and just bring basic equipment and just record songs. I would usually stay in Echo Park. Even driving was very inspiring. I made 'Fade Away' as a song that I would want to listen to in the car driving around here."
She admits that before she was able to immerse herself in the city, Sundfør had to dispel a few stereotypes about the city, something many Angelenos are used to hearing. "Before I came, I had heard that people were shallow," she laughs. "But what's really cool about LA is that the music scene is very interesting. New York is kind of stagnating and people are coming to LA to meet new people, start new bands."
Somewhat unexpectedly, Sundfør linked up with two of Ten Love Songs' collaborators in LA. The first, Anthony Gonzalez of dream-pop superstars M83, is an old friend and longtime conspirator. The other, Jonathan Bates of the influential-but-underachieving, now-defunct band Mellowdrone, she met for the first time shortly before working together. The two rounded out an impressive cabal that includes Röyksopp and someone who is, perhaps, a more obscure name for North American listeners, Lars Horntveth, leader of Norwegian jazz-prog legends Jaga Jazzist.
"They're crazy," she says. "They're have a new album [Starfire, released on Ninja Tune, June 1] and it's fucking crazy."
Horntveth and Sundfør began working together on her second LP, 2010's The Brothel, and the duo formed a relationship that has helped push Sundfør from songwriter to performer, producer, and beyond. "I've always been super impressed by his musicality," she says. "Working with him made me gradually more interested and confident that I could do that stuff on my own."
At the beginning of their partnership, Sundfør says she was more of a passenger in the studio. "Lars produced The Brothel; I wrote the songs and made some of the arrangements," she explains. "I wasn't part of producing it, but I participated in arranging it. That's when I started getting interested in actually producing something as well. When we did [2012 LP] Silicone Veil, we produced it together. I learned a lot about production and just how to think about music, from Lars, particularly in the studio."
For Ten Love Songs, Sundfør took the helm writing, arranging, engineering, and producing while pursuing a lush tone that ranges from strong disco thematics to warped electronic freakouts. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and vindicates her progression from a promising, if green, songwriter to full-on musical auteur.
"I just wanted to make a pop album," she laughs, before dashing her coy statement with a follow-up. "But not like radio pop. When I listen to the radio, I feel like there's no talent there. It's like cake on top of cake. I like salty caramel instead of just caramel. Different flavors together just makes life more interesting."