The chances are that a year spent in lockdown has resulted in us all developing an almost telepathic connection with another person, be it a partner, housemate or family member. Norwegian odd-pop duo Smerz didn’t need a global pandemic to reach such a symbiotic state. Catharina Stoltenberg and Henriette Motzfeldt grew up together in Oslo before heading to Copenhagen as teenagers to study. Balancing their academic life with one spent immersing themselves in the Danish capital’s thriving music scene led Smerz to develop a bond so tight they often write their bewitching songs from each other’s perspective. Think of them as the Derren Brown of the Scandi experimental pop scene.
“The friendship is very important to the music because it’s an ongoing conversation,” Stoltenberg explains. “You get to know yourself through the other person.” The results of this process can be found on debut Believer. The album sits between the club and the morning after, shifting delicately between speaker-rattling songs such as the title track and Flashing, which sounds like Darude’s Sandstorm slowed down and made into a tear-smudged break-up song.
Unusually for the pair, they are in separate locations for our Zoom chat: Stoltenberg is in Oslo while Motzfeldt is in Copenhagen, fresh from an idyllic trip to the Danish countryside. Speaking about Believer, Motzfeldt explains that the album is centred on songs about the end of long-term relationships and the pain of “struggling to connect with a person who means a lot to you”. Album highlight Max is sung by Motzfeldt but was written by Stoltenberg about her bandmate’s experience. “It took a year for the meaning of that song to hit me,” Motzfeldt explains. “The way we make music feels like a secret diary that we both have access to. It means you don’t always have to spell things out to one another.”
Alongside finishing their degrees in 2020 (Motzfeldt studied music composition, Stoltenberg maths and statistics) they also recently moved in together, presumably keen to incorporate a cleaning rota into their intense musical dynamic. Since 2016 Smerz have also hosted a wildly eclectic and entertaining monthly NTS Radio show. A browse of the playlists accentuates the duo’s open arms approach to music, with songs by Dido and All Saints alongside long stretches of the kind of techno that also informs their music. Motzfeldt jokes about causing confusion among listeners when, during one episode, she dropped a pop classic from another Danish-Norwegian group: Aqua’s Barbie Girl. “People did not know what was going on,” she says laughing. What couldn’t be understood from the outside made perfect sense to Smerz, just like it always has done.
Believer is out now