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LissPhoto by Simon Birk

Meet the Danish four-piece making bright, unorthodox R&B

With their pristine pop melodies, lithe grooves and subversive lyrics, Liss are one of the most exciting new bands around

Liss have only been together for 18 months, but they’re already being treated as heroes at home. This time last year the Danish four-piece were playing to an empty room in their hometown of Aarhus for SPOT Festival, the city’s equivalent to SXSW; today, they’re being watched by hundreds inside Aarhus’ modern Voxhall building. Every unorthodox lyric that comes from frontman Søren Holm is sung back by an audience who can’t hit the same notes, while bassist Villads Tyrrestrup pouts and struts, demanding attention. Guitarist Vilhelm Strange creates complex guitar lines with his head down, unassuming, and drummer Tobias Laust trashes like he’s in the punk and hardcore bands that Aarhus is best known for. Holm is magnetic, though: a dazzling frontman, he’s a star in the making.

Liss formed when Tyrrestrup and Laust, both childhood friends, met at music school and started playing in bands together. Strange had been working separately with Holm, and eventually these two separate strands aligned. The band might still be in their infancy, but they’ve already been hailed as future-pop flagbearers, creating inventive, electronically-led R&B. It isn’t the easiest of reputations to live up to, but an album deal on XL Recordings (home to Adele, The xx and beyond) suggests they have the foundations to go much further than their head-turning debut EP First.

Still, Liss don’t look accustomed to this kind of reception. Holm is lost for words when the audience won’t stop clapping after “Try”. He even motions a “Cut it out!” gesture to them, desperately trying not to beam. But there’s a reason for all this fuss. Bands releasing intricate, experimental pop made on computers never sound this good live – certainly not when they’ve only existed for a half-breath. And they might be taken aback by all the hype, but huddled together backstage, uniform in their clean-shaven heads and stick-thin frames, there’s a definite confidence. “We want to be unique,” claims Tyrrestrup, who implies they’re already making inroads. It’s baby steps, but the band have a dynamic you can’t teach.

Watch the Liss’ new video for “Miles Apart” and get to know the Danish quartet below.

You write and record in a remote house, hours outside of Aarhus. What’s that like?

Villads Tyrrestrup: It’s our location house. It’s called ‘Holiday Cottage’.

Tobias Laust: It’s just a really small house, basically.

Villads Tyrrestrup: This week we’ve been working in a rehearsal space, just with computers and new equipment. But this house – it was a good place to start.

Søren Holm: You cannot do anything else in this place. You’re just making music. There’s really bad internet. No Facebook.

You’ve worked with XL’s in-house producer Rodaidh McDonald, but are you beginning to take on more production duties?

Vilhelm Strange: All the songs, we started ourselves. Just demos. We did a lot of production stuff, and then we went to the summer house.

Søren Holm: We’d produce it ourselves and then we’d take it to the next step, with Rodaidh and (live collaborator) Vera helping us.

Vilhelm Strange: Rodaidh’s really good in a proper studio. He makes us sound great with live instrumentation. He’s good at seeing what’s right for the song and what’s necessary.

“I played in a punk band when I was 12. It was called Psykisk Hårdt” — Vilhelm Strange, Liss

Have you all studied production in the past?

Søren Holm: Yeah, we use both Logic and Ableton.

Villads Tyrrestrup: At the moment we’re working on our second EP and it’s still us doing our thing.

Søren Holm: I think we’re gonna finish it by ourselves, this time.

Vilhelm Strange: The last year we’ve just been learning loads of stuff from Rodaidh and the other guys. My dad bought Logic five years ago.

He bought it? Most people download it illegally – he’s very responsible.

Vilhelm Strange: Yeah! He actually bought it. We always start with the chords, but we do that in the rehearsal space. We make all the songs like a proper band. And that’s why we can also play it live. But then we take it to the studio and produce it with electronics, blending everything together. It mostly starts with chords and a melody.

Søren Holm: And then it’s just jamming.

Before Liss, were any of you involved in Aarhus’ punk scene?

Vilhelm Strange: I played in a punk band when I was 12. It was called Psykisk Hårdt. I played in a few punk bands, but that’s a long time ago. It’s completely different, doing Liss. That was very small stages and not really that serious. This is much bigger.

As a frontman, Søren, you’re giving everything. Did you have to come out of your shell to get to that stage?

Søren Holm: Yeah, I did. I think you need to be fearless.

Vilhelm Strange: I remember at the very beginning, you played the synth on stage. We had the first show, with Jungle, really near here. Vilhelm said that you should sing by yourself.

Søren Holm: At first I didn’t move. I was just by the mic stand going ‘Aaaaaah!’ And then someone said I should try and move. I’m getting there.

Vilhelm Strange: It’s better because the crowd’s having fun.

“At first I didn’t move (on-stage). I was just by the mic stand going ‘Aaaaaah!’ And then someone said I should try and move. I’m getting there” — Søren Holm, Liss 

The First EP is your first official release on XL. When did the deal click into place?

Tobias Laust: Our manager was here almost from the beginning. He came to Denmark in March last year. We started the band in September before that.

Villads Tyrrestrup: We did a demo for ‘Try’ and then we sent it over. And he came over to our rehearsal space. I think it took quite a long time for XL to sign us.

Vilhelm Strange: He came to, like, ten shows to see us. ‘Not again! Why’s he here again?!’

You’re expected to make an album now, but are you taking your time?

Villads Tyrrestrup: We’re trying to make it quite fast, but of course we need to take our time. We just wanna work as hard as possible.

Søren Holm: And if the songs are good enough, they’re done.

Punk bands like Yung and labels like Shordwood Records are giving Aarhus an exciting reputation. But you sit outside of that sound. Have you always felt isolated, in that sense?

Villads Tyrrestrup: A lot of our friends play in the punk scene over here. That’s quite big at the moment. But we’re not a part of it. Our music is so different and I don’t think there’s any bands who play the same music as we do.

Vilhelm Strange: When we make a song, I don’t think we say it has to sound different.

Søren Holm: It’s really natural. It’s about what’s good for the song.

“I try to write from another perspective. But then I realise these songs might be about myself, too. I have to mean it when I sing it” — Søren Holm, Liss

The lyrics are so personal, especially in “Sorry”. Are they based on true stories, Søren?

Søren Holm: It’s personal, but sometimes it’s about other people. When I write, I try to write from another perspective. But then I realise these songs might be about myself, too. I have to mean it when I sing it.

How’s the second EP shaping up? Do you have loads to choose from?

Søren Holm: It’s a secret.

Villads Tyrrestrup: We spent eight days in a studio in Barcelona. Over there we got to play weird instruments like steel drums and Spanish guitars. So I think it’s gonna be interesting.

Søren Holm: The ‘Siesta’ EP! The first EP’s called First, the second EP is called Sangria.

XL Recordings release First on May 20