Pin It
SMERZ (Article Cover)

Dazed Mix: Smerz

The Norwegian duo deliver Japanese rock, traditional Czech songs, and more on their stage-themed mix

Classically trained musicians, rappers, singer-songwriters, band/flat mates: Smerz are many things, but above all, they are best friends. Bashful yet affirmative, the Norway-born, Copenhagen-based duo of Catharina Stoltenberg and Henriette Motzfeldt are hyper-aware of themselves and regularly finish each other‘s sentences. They started out attending music school together before forming Smerz, a musical duo that fuses classical, electronic and R&B sounds to distill a special blend of crepuscular Scandinavian pop that will send your synapses whirling.

Following a string of excellent EPs over the past couple of years, the pair have had a busy start to 2021, their debut album Believer came out on XL Recordings in February. As a record, it unfurls like an enchanting play, accompanied by a string of theatrical music videos inspired by themes of relationship, collective empowerment and teenage euphoria. As a whole it‘s their most comprehensive body of work to date – the duo expanding on a stunning range of vocal and instrumental styles to craft their own sonic universe. Once we heard it, we knew we had to revive the Dazed Mix from a short period of slumber.

The mix is a window into their current world – which much like Believer – has a stage quality to it. Starting with a famous Czech singer that every Norweigan home should recognise, it features two tracks from Japanese rock outfit Les Rallizes Dénudés, a noisy number from Cindy Lee and strong female leads in Lolina, Julee Cruise and Jonnine Standish of HTRK. The duo describe it as “singer-songwriter songs, whatever singer-songwriter means”.

Hey guys, nice to meet you. I was expecting you to be together! Where are you both at the moment?

Henriette Motzfeldt: I‘m in Jutland, Denmark at this folk high school, where I and Catha used to attend. Now I‘m back teaching music at a project week with a ‘song-tronic’ theme – mixing different songwriting with electronics.

Catharina Stoltenberg: I‘m currently back in Oslo, in my room/home office.

How is life in Copenhagen following things reopening after lockdown?

CS: Henri just got back to Denmark, we‘ve mainly been in Oslo for the past year so maybe Norway is easiest for us to talk about. It‘s been the same here for the past six months, quiet and reduced. You‘re able to live your small life with a small group of friends in the same area.

HM: It gets a bit repressed.

CS: There are not many choices to be made which creates a kind of freedom.

HM: I love that.

CS: It‘s been slow here because it‘s taking so long to get vaccines to Norway. It‘s only food shops that are open. I feel like Norway has been doing great otherwise.

Will you be returning to Copenhagen soon?

HM: I‘m going there tomorrow. I‘m not sure how it‘s going to work out yet.

How has the pandemic affected you generally and how do you think it has been handled in Norway so far?

CS: It‘s extremely hard to predict so you either make decisions too early or too late. The Norweigan system has proved very well as politicians can work together between left and right which felt very come-together in a nice kind of way. Today the opposition is complaining that it‘s hard to criticise because everything is “expert-driven”, you lose the debate because it‘s experts deciding everything but there are some good aspects to that too.

You moved into a place together recently. Has having a shared home benefited your work?

CS: Yes! Being able to share everyday life is valuable, being able to make music at good moments and being in sync...

HM: Both friendship-wise and inspiration wise.

Your LP Believer came out (via XL Recordings) in February. What have you been up to since it came out?

CS: We‘ve been making new music, preparing some recorded shows and hopefully preparing a live show soon.

I saw you perform at Tate Lates in London a few years back. Around the time you were signed with XL. How have your live shows progressed since then? I spotted you have an upcoming (sold-out) show in Copenhagen next month. 

CS: We haven‘t decided on how the live show is going to be yet. This show will be a decider in that respect. I think it will be different to the Tate show, what do you think Henri?

HM: We both tried to go more live, in the way we play the music and use our appearance on stage more as a part of the visual set.

The album plays out a bit like a play and the set design from the “I don‘t talk about that much / Hva Hvis” music video resembles Lars Von Trier‘s theatrical film Dogville. Can you tell me a bit about the idea behind this, and your working friendship with Benjamin Barron (director) and Bror August (stylist) who worked on visualising the album?

CS: I feel like we all sat down after the album was finished and figured out what it was. We heard some theatrical drama in there and that reflected this feeling where you tell a story, but not a whole story through the types of music that feature in the album and the different emotions. That reminded us about theatre and set design where you can just have the frame of a house – a picture of a “bigger world” and we wanted to play around with that aesthetic for the movies. Dogville had a similar approach.

HM: You use stereotypes to make a picture clear. To have a village you need a classic house shape etc.

Henrieta, you sang opera style for “The Favourite”, which was a really big moment on the record. How often do you practice singing and which way would you describe your particular style?

HM: I don‘t practice it actively. It was more something I grew up with singing in choirs, so it‘s always been there. Making “The Favourite” we were inspired by some female classical singers. It felt natural to sing it in that kind of way. In terms of range, it‘s probably an alto or a deep soprano. The recording was an exploration of that style instead of rehearsing it.

So you recorded it in one take?

HM: Yeah, it was an impulsive idea that we had at the time and the recording was the result of it.

Do you each have a favourite track on there?

HM: I was actually thinking about this earlier today. I was driving to the school with another teacher who is here this week. We were listening to ”Linger“ by The Cranberries and I was sitting there thinking that this is my favourite song.

CS: You meant on the album though, right?

I did mean on the album but that‘s lovely to hear, I‘m a big fan too – being Irish and all!

CS: It‘s a boring answer, but being musicians during the making of the album we work on tracks individually. I feel like at one point every track on there has been my favourite.

How about if you had to introduce an older family member, like an aunt to the album. Which track would you play? 

CS: I‘ve been in that situation quite a few times and I‘ve been so afraid in a way. You can end up in very different places. It‘s wrong to feel the audience and assign what you choose but I guess sometimes I play “The Favorite”, sometimes “Flashing”, sometimes “Glassbord”.

Henrietta, how about you?

HM: I agree with Cata on all of the songs being my favourite and for introducing the album, I would also go for “Flashing” and “Glassbord”.

Where would you say your audience is? Are you guys big in Norway?

CS: I‘m not too sure! I feel like we‘re not big anywhere, we‘re small everywhere.

HM: A few people here and there, which feels like such a nice thing.

CS: We had our main base in Copenhagen before but now Norway, let‘s see once we can tour again.

You started a Smerz newsletter last year which I thought was a great idea as your fans seem super enthusiastic online. Do you get a lot of fan mail?

HM: Not for the newsletter, but I‘ve been thinking it's not very evident that it‘s easy to answer to! The only answers we‘ve gotten have been from our manager and my father (laughs).

CS: We should do more newsletters, I‘ve been thinking about it.

HM: We‘re on Twitter now too which is a good channel for communication. 

I love your NTS radio show. It's clear a lot of work goes into the ideation and curation process. What is your approach towards recording it each month? I can see your next one comes out tomorrow.

HM: We‘ve been making headlines for each show, accordingly based on what we've been listening to or inspired by in the past month.

CS: It‘s like diary filling (runs to answer and hang up the phone). Like when we went on the “Weekend Getaway” we were listening to that kind of music in the car. Asking friends to do guest mixes too is always fun.

Can you talk me through your Dazed Mix, where it was recorded and any ideas behind it?

HM: It was partly inspired by us working with acoustic drums through Ableton. Stretching these with the computer and making things sound acoustic again.

CS: So based on acoustic drums, played through the computer and taking it back to sounding acoustic again. Somehow we ended up with this mix.

HM: All of the music has a stage quality to it. I picture it on a stage when I hear it.

CS: The opening track (by Karel Gott) everyone one in Norway knows it. It comes up on the credits of a very traditional Christmas movie from the Czech Republic that they play in Norway every year. It‘s in Czech but dubbed in Norweigan with one male guy dubbing every actor.

HM: They are all singer-songwriter songs. If you take away the sounds and just play it out. Whatever singer-songwriter means.

I also noticed you have both Lolina and 1995 epilepsy in there. I gather you are Hype Williams (Inga Copeland + Dean Blunt) fans?

CS: Yes big fans. Do you know who (1995 epilepsy) is? Being a music journalist and all.

“All of the music has a stage quality to it. I picture it on a stage when I hear it” – Henriette Motzfeldt

Sadly I don‘t, but I'll let you know if I find out. Do you have similar or different music listening habits? Especially now that you live together.

CS: I would say we do. We have some common stuff and then we have different stuff. I have three friends on the side of my Spotify and Henri is always at the top. It’s so revealing knowing what they're doing or not doing. Henri, I think it would happen more often than you listen to stuff that I don‘t know than the other way around, don‘t you think?

HM: (Laughs) Yeah sometimes! I think with our habits we both get hooked on songs but you get even more hooked than I do. You have one song that you listen to every time you put on music.

CS: I listen to a lot of pop songs that she wouldn‘t like initially but come around to half a year later. Often when I listen to music it‘s because I want to be happy. My everyday listening routines are that way – they don‘t cover all my emotions. I don‘t need to accentuate feeling sad for instance.

HM: I like feeling a bit mystical. It doesn‘t have to be happy.

What new artists are you inspired by right now?

HM: First of all our friends who make music: Erika de Casier, ML Buch, Clarissa Connelly. 

CS: Isabella Lovestory, Store P and I really love the Japanese rock band (Les Rallizes Dénudés) we included in the mix.

HM: Also an artist named Yakui, she makes hardcore.

What else have you got planned this year that you can reveal asides from teaching and returning to the city?

CS: Maybe we‘ll release some more music and do some more shows.

HM: Hopefully!

There's an untitled track towards the end of the mix – is that one of your own?

HM: No, we just don‘t know what it is!

What are you up to for the rest of the day?

HM: I‘m going to have dinner and relax.

CS: I‘m going to meet with my running club.


  1. Karel Gott, “Kdepak, Ty Ptáčku, Hnízdo Máš?”
  2. Les Rallizes Dénudés, “White Waking”
  3. The Baronics, “Moonlight Sonata”
  4. Cindy Lee, “I Want You to Suffer”
  5. Les Rallizes Dénudés, “Night Of The Assassins”
  6. Julee Cruise, “I Float Alone”
  7. 1995 epilepsy, “get 2 kno”
  8. Antoine Tamestit, ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien & Susanna Mälkki, “Olga Neuwirth: Remnants of Songs ... An Amphigory for viola and orchestra (2009): II. Sadko”
  9. Lolina, “Style and Punishment”
  10. HTRK, “Department Store”
  11. ??, “??”
  12. Geins't Naït, “GN Untitled 7”

Smerz‘s new single “Remember” is out digitally today, as well as a limited edition book of sheet music from Believer, which you can check out here