By Ricardo F. Lo
MANILA – Due in Manila to promote his new album and to open for Tears for Fears on Aug. 10 and 11 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum is Per Sorensen, the Norwegian singer and songwriter who is best known as the vocalist of the New Wave-synthpop band Fra Lippo Lippi.
(Tears For Fears will have another show at the Waterfront Hotel 7 Casino in Cebu on Aug. 12.) Sorensen was widely credited for the shift in music of Fra Lippo Lippi from goth rock/post-punk to a piano-laden combination of New Wave and light jazz.
Although Fra Lippo Lippi stopped recording in the early ‘90s, it performed in Manila in 2000 where it had scored numerous hits and established a tremendous following after its debut concert in 1988. Aside from Fra Lippo Lippi, Sorensen has also worked with Trine Rein.
His first solo album, Vage, was released in Norway on Sept. 28, 2011, and was completely in Norwegian. His latest album Master of Illusion includes the singles Later, Beauty and Madness, Fire and Rain, and Loneliness.
Sorensen’s last visit to the Philippines was in February last year during a five-date, five-city tour that covered Ormoc City, Tacloban City, Baguio City, Cebu City and Manila.
In an e-mail interview, Sorensen provides some insights on his musical career and his forthcoming performance. Per, as its vocalist, you were credited for the significant shift in music and style of Fra Lippo Lippi from goth-rock/post-punk to a piano-laden mix of New Wave and light jazz, as shown in the group’s second album, Small Mercies.
What provided you the inspiration to create the songs and albums that propelled Fra Lippo Lippi to the top of the music world in the 1980s? “I was asked to do the vocals for Fra Lippo Lippi’s second album Small Mercies in the autumn of 1983, I believe it was. Everything had been recorded except for the vocals. I did my best and got the job.
So, I didn’t write any of the songs for Small Mercies. That came later when we decided to record another album, which was to be called Songs.
“I came from the songwriting tradition of The Beatles, Carole King, Burt Bacharach, Stevie Wonder and Elton John, to name a few of my favorites. All my compositions prior to FLL were inspired by my music heroes. Also, Marvin Gaye, Earth, Wind & Fire and groups like Steely Dan gave a young man a lot to think about when it came to writing music. I dug Weather Report, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Chick Corea when I was 15-16 years old. A real melting pot!
“I had to use my musical skills to make my style blend into FLL style. I have always loved good, melodic pop music, and tried to take FLL a step further up the road, I guess. Where do the songs come from? I have no idea. That’s the beauty of it.”
The song Everytime I See You was one of the top hits of Fra Lippo Lippi that captivated millions worldwide with its enchanting melody and beautiful lyrics. Could you tell us the story behind this song? “After having signed with Virgin Records in London on the basis of the already recorded album Songs, they wanted us to re-record the album and throw in another single. We didn’t have any, so Rune thought it was a good idea to use the track A Small Mercy of the album Small Mercies once more. It was his song, and it clearly lacked a chorus. I wrote the chorus in the studio (Polar, Stockholm) and that was it, really. We had Everytime I See You!”
For the past 25 years, Fra Lippo Lippi has enjoyed a huge following among Filipino music lovers, as indicated by the success of its several tours here in the past, starting in 1988 when its debut concert series sold out six times over two weekends. To what do you attribute the popularity of the band among local fans?
“There was a particular radio station in Manila whose name I can’t recall. They plugged our songs on a heavy rotation and other stations followed. I think many Filipinos love our melancholy style. I don’t know what else to say, really.”
Aside from its sold-out shows, the Philippines has also figured prominently in several career milestones of Fra Lippo Lippi, which released some of its albums and compilations here in 1990, 1995 and 1997. With your upcoming concert here as a solo performer, what can Filipino fans expect from Per Sorensen?
“This time I have a new album out, which is called Master Of Imperfection. Beauty And Madness, Later and Will I Recognize plus my version of James Taylor’s Fire And Rain are all on the album. So are six new songs I am really proud of.
“I will open for Tears For Fears, so there will be a limited version of a Per Sorensen-gig. But, I will do three songs from my new album, in addition to some FLL highlights.”
Now that you have gone solo, how do you assess the impact on your career of your association with Fra Lippo Lippi as its vocalist? How long do you intend to go on singing, recording and performing? “I was lucky to be asked to join the band, and glad for the kickstart it gave my career. I know I’m good, both as a singer, performer, piano player and composer, and so do a million other musicians. I was there when it all happened for FLL. Luckily.
“I hope to do this as long as I have my health. I love it so much, it means everything to me and gives me so much joy. I want to continue ‘till I’m 140. Then I’ll die on stage.” Could you rank the countries where your music has been widely accepted next to or as much as the Philippines? Why do you think your music has penetrated these markets and not say the US or other major music markets?
“We have done well in Norway, Sweden, France, Japan, The Netherlands, Italy, and Argentina. In that running order, I believe. Others will know more about these things than me, though.
“We almost had America after Light And Shade, when Virgin USA dropped us after having signed a big British act. It felt absolutely horrible.”
What is a typical day like for you in Norway? Do you hangout with another popular Norwegian group A-HA? What are they like? “I get up at 6:30 to make breakfast for my two sons and my wife and let Lucy (our dog) out. A nice cup of coffee, the newspaper, breakfast and off to run in the woods with Lucy every other day. I teach music to kids, both in school and in my home. I teach music to a band where the members are mentally disabled, which I love doing. I also give classes in songwriting.
“I enjoy a side project called Snowbound; a quartet doing Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Lee Ritenour and others in our own style. Great fun!
“And then, I write music. Not all the time, but in between other activities. Also, I enjoy reading novels and biographies. And crosswords…
“I haven’t met A-HA since 1986. I have worked a little with Paul’s wife, Lauren. She’s great.” Aside from coming here to perform since 1988, what other reasons make you want to keep coming back to Manila for?
“This is my job, and this time it’s promo for the new album. Plus, I like meeting old friends and making new ones. I appreciate to travel, to visit other countries, other cultures. It’s such a privilege to perform in front of thousands of people, and at the same time communicate with the musicians as well as with the audience. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it?”