The language of Pop with Legs 11

Depending on which way you look at it, Legs 11 can be an infamous strip club; a promiscuous cover band; or the mnemonic caricature on a bingo card for the number 11. Ironic, funny and oft notorious, Legs 11 encourages several associations, and in Norway it’s a band, a band who have happily adopted at least two of those associations. “Bingo!” says Sigmund Floyd when I guess the parlour-game origins of the name towards the end of our an interview in their Gamlebyen studio. “We had a different name for one gig but changed it quickly back”, says Torstein Dyrnes. Comprised of multi-instrumentalists (or “zero-instrumentalists” if you prefer the band’s turn-of-phrase) Torstein Dyrnes, Sigmund Floyd, Nils Tveten, and Audun Severin Eftevåg, Legs 11 indulges a wide-arching approach to their music with results that feign traditional musical distinctions. Their music harks back to a time when Techno, House and Pop were one in the same and across six EPs and an album their music can range from the strained guitars of a post-punk anguish to the silky repetitive House beats of today in an idiosyncratic pop format lifted straight from the eighties.

“We just wanted to play catchy synth pop” says Sigmund who had found a kindred spirit in Torstein Dyrnes when the latter was still associated with the Electronica Pop act Tøyen. Torstein would introduce Sigmund to Nils, who floated around various musical project, and during one karaoke session, they simply “cliqued”, and formed the initial line-up of Legs 11 in 2002. “We were part of the same scene”, explains Torstein sitting in their Gamlebyen studio and “people that grew up in the same scene with mutual interests invariably end up doing something together.” Eventually Audun Severin Eftevåg would complete the line-up as the fourth member and Legs 11 would take its final form with each musician bringing his own musical impulses in a project that could only ever exist as Legs 11. “I don’t think any of us could make this music separately”, says Torstein.

Legs 11 officially came together during an era of a punk attitude seeping into electronic music, where the division between vastly different musical genres started to corrode and disappear mostly appropriately and succintly explained in James Murphy’s lyrics from Losing My Edge: “I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables; I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars.” Bands and DJs became indistinguishable with House and Techno merging with Indie Pop / Rock and Legs 11 stepped into this time with their own take on what bands like LCD Soundsystem were doing in New York under the influence of their eighties roots.

Inspired by the sound of New York and transporting the sound of synth-pop to the contemporary, Legs 11 would arrive at a sonic identity driven by melodic hooks, skipping beats and robot pop-infused vocals thriving in the repetitive forms of electronic dance music. “We love to sing” says Sigmund with a sincere smile and it’s the vocals that tie everything together for the band.  Every member contributes his voice on Legs 11 and for the rest of it they tend to “switch it up” according to Sigmund. Each member plays some keyboards and sings on the songs with Torstein taking care of bass, Sigmund guitar, Nils melodica, and Audun saxophone on to top of that, but it all starts with the programming and that’s where Nils is the catalyst. “He’ll program the drums and he’ll bring the ideas” says Sigmund before the rest of the band add their contributions. They consider themselves a “studio band” but even so the songs will usually take shape around a live session. Playing live in the studio “as a tool to develop the song”, it’s during this process that the song will actually take shape and its there that Legs 11 get that “organic feel” to their records.

A studio band with a live disposition, Legs 11 have been performing and recording EPs intermittently since 2002, but it was only in 2017 that they would release their debut album and call in a new productive creative era for Legs 11. “We’ve taken our time” says Sigmund, who adds that they hadn’t been this active since 2007, when Masselys’ Jon Birger ”Jomba” Wormdahl revisited Legs 11’s earlier material for 3 EPs that came out in 2010 in one of the busiet recorded periods for the band. The difference between then and now however is that they “never thought the material was actually good enough”. But something changed around five years ago for Legs 11 and today “it’s more fun than ever” for Nils and his bandmates. They are “more efficient” in the studio today as a band and “much more in control, production-wise” which made for a more unimpeded workflow with the results showing on their 2015 EP, Pessimist. “The first thing we were really happy with, was the Pessimist EP” says Sigmund and the reason according to Torstein is that they “moved into House” during that EP, which felt much “freer” as a band.

It all culminated in the release of Another Wave, a 6-track mini-album with the extended dance floor cut, The Rhythm breaking new ground for the band, as a fully-fledged synth-House track. Evasive 303 Acid stabs emerge out of densely layered synths, clinging to the 4/4 beat while repetitive vocals instruct like an eighties aerobics video. On The Rhythm the band flit somewhere between Brondski Beat, Primal Scream and DJ Haus, re-evaluating the House format in the pop context and taking their skipping Electro roots to a more repetitive House format. It’s a song that’s been almost ten years in the making as Nils became “skilled enough to make House or Techno” over the years, and combining their appreciation for Synth Pop and their experience in contemporary Electronic Dance Music as DJs, they’ve hit on a unique formula in the studio on that track and the rest of the album. Slinky bass lines and provocative synth lines find a symbiotic relationship with the vocals in tightly produced tracks with a wholly organic feel on Another Wave.

As lyrics ponder everything from music and relationships on the dance floor to changing seasons, there’s a new-romantic approach to Legs 11’s lyricism which the band fuse with a very Norwegian sense of  “humour or weirdness” that starts out with “some irony, but ends up sincere” Nils explains. They naturally slip into English as their chosen lyrical form, which Torstein feels is “the language of pop music” and the music they grew up with, which feels far more “natural” to Legs 11 than Norwegian and its contrasting rhythmical structures. The lyrics are always the last part of the puzzle for a Legs 11 track and the most difficult part of the song process for the band. “We really have to squeeze them out” says Sigmund with pained expression and what starts out as phonetic gibberish usually takes shape as a familiar trope or random line they can latch on to and turn into a song.

A trip to a mountain cabin studio often consolidates the writing process for the band, where they ingratiate themselves in the music and tie up the loose ends for the songs to the completed versions. A mixture of old songs, revisited and new songs usually make up a Legs 11 record and for 2018 they already have twenty such songs prepped for a new album. But first there’s the vinyl release for “Another Wave” on Beatservice Records and a host of live gigs, starting with their show at Den Gyldne Sprekk. The band are currently enjoying the journey up the crest of a wave in that regard. “I don’t think we’ve been booked for as many gigs as we have today without working for it” suggests Nils. In the past it was always more “difficult to reach out” for the band, who were closely associated with the small scene around Mir and Grünnerløkka, which today has expanded way beyond its borders. Today as electronic music venues like Jæger and Villa seem to be returning to a time of the Hacienda with bands and DJs sharing the dance floor, there appears a fluid exchange between these two worlds. “I really enjoy playing clubs with DJs”, says Torstein. “We always wanted to be part of that kind of scene and now it’s easier than before.”

As a programmed studio band with a live dimension, Legs 11 and their music are able to occupy both contexts in the present and it’s still the stage where the group really come alive. With an arsenal of instruments, drum machines and synths and their penchant for live vocals they are really able to bring a “little more edge” to the music on stage than they are able to do in the studio, which sets them apart from both their electronic and traditional peers. Legs 11 have followed a natural evolution to this point, where today they are very much in sync with their time and place. They admit they are more comfortable as a band today and the music that we’ve heard over the last few years have held the fruits of their new equanimity. With news of a new album and more shows in 2018 it is clear too that they are only at the cusp of a new wave that looks certain to be frenzied creative period for the group, going forward.