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Sondre Lerche: Sunny sounds from Norway

Sondre Lerche performs at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Sondre Lerche performs at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

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(CNN) -- Years before he was old enough to get into nightclubs, Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche was playing acoustic gigs at the club where his older sister worked.

Since he was spotted there as a teenager by producer H.P. Gundersen, the now 20-year-old Bergen, Norway, native has signed a record deal, graduated from high school and released his debut album to glowing reviews.

"Faces Down," released internationally in September 2002, made Rolling Stone's 10 best debuts list and was among its picks for the 50 best albums of 2002.

The album's witty, melodic acoustic pop has earned Lerche new fans in a recent string of U.S. tour dates.

TMR caught up with Lerche at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, to talk about the album's creation.

TMR: You just turned 20. So you were 16 years old when you recorded these songs?

LERCHE: I was 16 when I wrote these songs. I wrote most of the songs on the record within a very short time. Elvis Costello, Burt Bacharach, some Brazilian music, and Cole Porter helped me define what I was trying to write.

TMR: English is not your first language. How do you make it work so well in your album?

LERCHE: The English dictionary, the Oxford dictionary. But I've tried to use those as little as I can. I just use whatever I know about the language. I've come to terms with the fact that I don't speak the English language the way that people from America or England do. I speak it like a Norwegian. And I think that can be fun sometimes.

I can think of ways of pronouncing things or putting things that may be wrong even, but still they would be slightly creative or bring a certain character to the songs that I write. And I think that it is important to use that as long as you are communicating with people.

I was also not keen on singing in Norwegian because that felt really embarrassing. I tried to write a few songs in Norwegian and they didn't turn out too well. If I could translate the songs and lyrics to you, you would probably understand. All the music that I listened to when I grew up was in English. Growing up with MTV and Baywatch, all these American TV series, it really felt quite natural to sing in English.

TMR: What was going on in your life at 16 to inspire an album like this?

LERCHE: I'm very curious about music. At that time I was just borrowing records and buying records and reading about music and trying to figure out that there is the music that you like and the music that you really love. And I was trying to figure out what music I really loved and what music I really felt connected with.

Lerche: "Many of the songs on this album are school songs. When you are 16 your whole world is school."

And in doing so, I was lucky to progress through my own life. Obviously I was in school. And many of the songs on this record are school songs. When you are 16 your whole world is school. You go in and out of it every day and the people you meet there, whether you like them or not, they are the people you have to deal with.

And when I look back, and especially when I read through the lyrics, I see that a lot of the songs are about different situations about being stuck in school as a young boy. And you really want to go all kinds of other places but your situation, the fact that you are not out there working in an office or you are not master of your own days. That fact has you stuck in your own school. And you can't get out of it until you finish it in a proper manner that makes your grandmother happy. I did that. And now I'm slightly freer, traveling around.

TMR: Can you tell me about the song "No One's Gonna Come"?

LERCHE: It's a special song. It is probably my favorite on the record. It's a song that I wrote in July of '99 ... and it's definitely inspired by American songwriter, Burt Bacharach. I didn't know when I wrote it that it would be one of my favorites because you don't always have a realistic or correct impression of what you do. Especially not right after you have done it. So it wasn't until right after I played it for my producer and I sent him the tape ... he called me back and he said, "What is this?" And I really didn't think much of the song then. So obviously I was surprised to hear that he liked it so much.

Immediately, the first time after I played it after the phone conversation, the song also came together in my head. I was very happy to discover that. This song that had been lying around for a couple of months without me taking notice of it was really something that I was very proud of. And the recording we did of it was very successful. It is kind of a sad song. It's a song about realizing that this isn't really going to work. So you might as well give it a rest and have a good night's sleep, if you can.

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