Dip a toe or two into The Asteroid Galaxy Tour's debut album, and your mind will conjure up images of downtown Memphis in Outer Space, with a singing siren floating past in a levitating rolltop bath.
Maybe we shouldn't crush your illusions, but the less than spectacular reality looks more like a tiny studio flat in the Danish capital Copenhagen, where Lars Iversen and Mette Lindberg have managed to create their musical magic out of thin air and a roomful of recording gear. "I have this niche in my room with my bed in it, and a small little passage beside the bed to pass through," explains Lars before getting a bit anorak about his peculiar ideas of furniture, "There are blankets covering the walls to dampen the sound, because the acoustics of my apartment are really shit. I have some old tape machines as well that I hook up to my ProTools system, some old microphones and these really amazing wartime German pre-amps full of valves that weigh about thirty kilos and give you that really deep sound." And there we were, thinking Scandinavian interiors were all about clear lines and uncluttered spaces.
Granted, the home recording revolution with its zillions of bands touting their wares on Myspace has produced enough dross to choke the planet even if carbon emissions stopped tomorrow. But in the absence of the ticking studio clock, it has also given us colourful gems of unhindered playfulness such as "Fruit", The Asteroid Galaxy's impossibly delectable debut. Thanks not least to the open-mindedness of Danish neighbours: "I had four horn players in my apartment," admits Lars, "I had to knock on my neighbours' doors and warn them that I was going to have a horn session for the next two hours. I had a trombone, a baritone sax, a trumpet and a tenor saxophone in there, and it did sound like a big band, definitely."
That particular afternoon of noise violation produced "Push The Envelope", a psychedelic showstopper that was going to wrong-foot casual consumers as the B side to the already familiar title track of their "Around the Bend EP" (the one from the iPod Touch ad), just like their mellotron-flavoured soul-tinged second single "The Sun Ain't Shining No More".
But as Mette insists, "Fruit" has a lot more surprises up its frilly sleeves: "If you've heard 'Around The Bend' or the two singles you haven't heard anything yet. I can't wait to get everything out because we have so much to give. Sometimes people ask if we're afraid of becoming an iPod band or a one-hit wonder. No, we're not. Because I feel that 'Around The Bend' just one of our songs and we have ten great songs. I can' wait to get it out so people can get the whole thing."
To understand where the rich imagination in the sound of The Asteroid Galaxy Tour comes from, we have to go back to a Danish smalltown in the late 1990s, where a teenage Lars Iversen launched his career as a jazz pianist. "I thought that would be my future, playing jazz piano in cafÃ©s and clubs. After high school I moved to Copenhagen, cause that's what you do in Denmark if you want to make art or music. I lived in a six square-metres-sized room with space only for a piano and a bed. One day someone gave me this CD of David Bowie: Hunky Dory. That was a turning point for me. Before that I'd only listened to black music, like jazz and soul. Now I discovered that there was this thing called rock'n'roll." Touched by the spark of the Thin White Duke, Lars went out to buy himself a bass and got involved in the local band scene. "At the same time, me and my brother built up our own little ProTools demo studio at his apartment and experimented with that, making beats and loops, cutting and sampling. I learnt the basic recording skills that way."
Inevitably, Lars crossed paths with Mette Lindberg, "the coolest singer in Copenhagen". Their first band project came to nothing, but they kept bumping into each other, hanging out in the same social circles of musicians and artists.
A few years later, Lars found himself in need of some distraction from his tedious course work at architectural college. To relieve his boredom at "drawing houses for a year" he started writing new material in his by now rather sophisticated home studio. "Those new song sketches I made went back to my old roots in black American music. I have this love for Sly & The Family Stone and George Clinton and that whole type of music that combines soul with psychedelia and rock'n'roll and pop sensibilities as well. I didn't want to recreate that sound, but I was inspired by it. The horns, the beats and the feel of it."
It seemed a natural choice to call up Mette, who didn't show much interest at first: "Lars wanted me to hear the stuff he had been producing. I was really busy writing a lot of songs that I recorded with other guys, and I had something like five jobs going, working with children, working at a cafÃ© and all that, so I said, 'No, please don't tempt me with anything.' But then Lars slipped a CD under my door. I found it and I just had to play it. It was really good. It was exactly the sound that I had in my head. I thought: He's really special, Lars. So then we met up."
Lars remembers the moment his â strictly musical â courtship finally won over Copenhagen's coolest singer: "She had the same love for that sound that I was trying to make. It wasn't particularly retro, but a kind of futuristic way of making a retro sound. It turned out that she had the same kinds of ideas that she wanted to express through music. We started to bond and throw ideas on the table."
"From the beginning on, we knew this was the best thing we had ever done," Mette agrees, "This is what we wanted to do and we were going to give it all we've got. It was like 'we have to get this out'. We wanted to play around the world, this was not just for fun. Well, it is fun but, you know, we gave it everything, we worked really hard. Trying to make it."
The first break came straight away, when a Copenhagen booking agent heard the demos on their Myspace page and offered them a gig supporting none other than Amy Winehouse. "It was crazy," remembers Lars, "That was our first gig, and also the reason to get a band together, because before that it had just been the two of us. In some way it still is, but we have this amazing band with us that are best friends from Copenhagen. They help us recreate the songs live, so we don't have to use any computers onstage and can play everything for real. That first gig was on just a week after the bookers called us. We only had two rehearsals with the band. We said: 'Okay, it's now or never, guys!' And then we played in front of two or three-thousand people, and the crowd were really paying attention. There was a real vibe in the room."
By that time, the ball was already rolling, as the music of The Asteroids Galaxy Tour had found its way to London and reached the open ears of managing legend David Enthoven (Roxy Music, T. Rex, Robbie Williams etc.). Having heard their bedroom recordings, he flew straight over to Copenhagen to witness their second gig. "Before we went on he said, 'You say you're six people onstage. That's going to be expensive. Why isn't it just the two of you?' And we said, 'No, no, we don't to play over a backing track, we want to have a real band.' After the gig he had this big smile on his face and said, 'Okay, now I understand! This is how we're gonna do it.' And a few weeks later we had a deal."
Listening to "Fruit", it's easy to see what an old hand like Enthoven would have got so excited about. Straight from the off, opener "Lady Jesus" combines the true story of a dubious Danish religious leader, who bought up and shut down one of the city's well-known havens of subversive youth culture, with a decidedly non-Scandinavian horn section and Mette Lindberg's irresistible high-pitched vocals on a bed of sonic alchemy fresh from Lars Iversen's bedroom lab. Following on from the afore-mentioned "The Sun Ain't Shining No More" and "Push The Envelope" (anything but a misnomer), "Satellite" allows for a bit of trippy respite complete with mesmeric organs and the promise to "blow your rain away". "Crazy" displays the dubby side of The Asteroid Galaxy Tour, while "The Golden Age" offers a rare glimpse into Lars' jazz piano playing past, albeit merged with a strictly non-orthodox hip hop beat. Then there's "Around the Bend" which er... you might have heard before, featuring that cowbell ("We really like the cowbell", says Mette â no shit), the blissful summery Hammond grooves of "Sunshine Coolin'", the drum machine-powered Stax style ballad "Hero", and finally, the toe-tapping glory of "Bad Fever" which sees The Asteroids Galaxy Tour departing for the deepest depths of outer space (yet not a million miles away from the galaxy inhabited by the likes of Gorillaz).
"When I'm out shopping or at a cafÃ© drinking beer with a friend, whenever I get an idea or a hookline or a beat I go the toilet and sing it into my telephone," confides Lars, "I would feel really stupid if anyone saw me. But when I'm in my own little space I can build up a sketch for a song that way, starting with the beat, then a bassline, a melody and some lyrics maybe. And then I go home and record it straight away."
The Asteroids Galaxy Tour have no intention of straying from their roots in Copenhagen's urban bohemia. "We live in Copenhagen, and we love it. It's good to have a home, and that's where you have friends and family and your safe place." (Mette)
But right now their minds are set on leaving that crammed studio pad behind and taking "Fruit" on the road together with their gang of trusted companions. "That's definitely one of the reasons to get this band. It's less lonely, it's more of a party. Both in the way we perform it onstage, but also in the tour bus when we travel around. It's like a family, and when we swap instruments onstage it makes it so much more fun. You just give your bass to someone else, and it's like, 'Hey, I get to play the piano on this!' It's fun to do that, because you keep a fresh approach to the instrument." (Lars)
"When you play live you get a lot of energy from the audience if you feel that they dig the music, they're bouncing along and they're just happy to see you. That's what keeps it rolling, if you didn't have the audience, if you didn't have people grabbing your energy or giving you something back it would be death. Then you could just die I think. It's what keeps you up, that's why you play." (Mette)
The Asteroid Galaxy Tour is on its way to a town near you.
Their debut album "Fruit" is out in September 2009 on Small Giants Records.
More from The Asteroids Galaxy Tour at Myxer