By Chris WhibbsComplicated instrumentation that swells like a stormy Baltic Sea? Adherence to their home tongue that transforms lyrics into a musical instrument? A universally praised live show? Don’t buzz in yet, trivia fans — this is not Sigur Rós.
Under Byen hail from Denmark, quite far from Iceland, and employ many musicians in their ranks, including a female singer (not just a singer who sounds female). Importantly, due to their large size, Under Byen tend to look to key members to initiate their intricate epics. Main composer Thorbjørn Krogshede helps break down the process. "Mostly it starts with a little poem from singer Henriette [Sennenvaldt], which the lyrics come from, and then I actually compose most of the songs. We are quite structural from the beginning and then we just do as little as possible, like not doing too many overdubs, to make it less complicated. But it always gets quite complicated.”
The lack of studio trickery comes from a dedication to their live show. Unlike bands that shut themselves in a studio to find inspiration, Krogshede extols the opposite method on their third album — the first to reach North American shores — Samme Stof Som Stof. "We try to develop the songs on record from our live experience, or we try to make a live experience on the record. Of course, it’s not so easy, but we have tried this time to get the sound and energy the same.”
In concert, Under Byen are indeed formidable. One can appreciate their brittle string and piano soundscapes through massive headphones, but the juxtapositions with their post-rock elements work best through uncovered ears. Though at first hesitant, Krogshede admits, "Yeah, we are… a rock band. Especially after touring so much, we have become harder and more rock-ish. It’s more fun to really kick ass on stage.”