For Martin Rehof (vocals and guitar), Communions embodies everything music should be in its name alone. Along with his brother, Mads Rehof (bass) and friends, Jacob van Deurs Formann (guitar) and Frederik Lind Köppen (drums), the band found their romantic and blithe sound in Copenhagen’s underground space, Mayhem. After spending most of their youth in Seattle, the Rehof brothers return to Denmark struck a chord, and something about the lyricism and delivery of bands like The Cure and The Smiths resonated with Martin with his teenage years.
Communions’ music has felt several incarnations since their Cobblestones EP in 2014 – take single Summer’s Oath, for example – culminating in the forthcoming release of their debut album, Blue, on Fat Possum Records this coming February. Although a colour synonymous with melancholy, the album ironically shows off Communions’ catchy, complex compositions at their most uplifting. Blue may cleverly capture the band’s beginnings and the music’s origins, but with a scope so sonically scenic, there’s no telling where Communions will go next.
Clementine Zawadzki: What’s it like being in a band with your brother, Mads?
Martin Rehof: There aren’t many downsides to it, even though people might think there is. It’s a great bond to have between us and it also makes the band stronger. There’s not that sibling rivalry. I think it correlates with the fact we grew up in the States for around ten years, and we only had each other to get through moving back to Copenhagen. We were both very shocked culturally. We were always close, but it made us closer.
Clementine: Is music something you’ve always shared?
Martin: When I started Communions with the other two guys, I just thought it’d be cool to have my brother. He’d never really even played bass, I just told him he should. He was never really the big musician, it was always me. Back when we lived in the States I’d already played guitar from the age of 10 and was in some bands from when I was twelve or thirteen.
Clementine: What were some of the things you struggled with when you moved back to Europe?
Martin: I don’t even think it was the differences between the two countries that was angering me at the time, it was probably just the feeling of losing your home and set of friends and all those things you experience when you’re fifteen years old. It was more a feeling of being moved against my will. I think the fact that Mads and I had come from the US had the effect that we already felt like outsiders, and so we weren’t afraid to stand out, or distinguish ourselves. Starting the band changed my perspective and I felt more adjusted at that point.
“That Mads and I had come from the US had the effect that we already felt like outsiders, and so we weren’t afraid to stand out.”
Clementine: What is your earliest musical memory or something that left an impression on you?
Martin: I have vague memories of these very early, cold, dark mornings in Copenhagen, from around the time that I was three or four years old, where my father would always play music, while we ate breakfast, before taking me to school. I remember him always playing Roy Orbison songs, and since then, Roy has become a huge influence on the way I write music, and I would probably consider him my favourite singer. At the time, he also frequently played an Annie Lennox album, called Medusa, and an album by Savage Rose, called Black Angel. Both albums are very reminiscent of each other in sound, which makes sense, considering they were both released in 1995. What left an immediate impression on me were these beautifully haunting female-vocals. Both Annie Lennox and Annisette have an incredibly unique singing-style. But actually, it was only later in life that I discovered who these artists were. Once I did, I remember having this sort of ‘Proustian’ experience, of reliving my childhood for a few minutes.
“I remember dark mornings in Copenhagen when my father would often play Roy Orbison songs, and since then, Roy has become a huge influence on the way I write music.”
Clementine: Is your relationship with music a cathartic one?
Martin: Maybe. I really began to write my own songs after we moved to Denmark. I think it kind of became a way to channel some of the anger, but I don’t really see it as a way to get through those emotions. It’s more about forgetting those things. I don’t consider our music very angry. I think it has more of a dream-like, ethereal quality to it, which I associate with the escapism of writing.
Clementine: Your music is often described as romantic. What does that mean to you?
Martin: It’s not something we’ve talked about in the band, but I agree. I think it ties in with that naïve state of mind that the music evokes and the melodic part of it. I guess you could say it’s clichéd, but those clichés are interesting to work with.
Clementine: What exactly is Mayhem and how has the space contributed to the sound of Communions?
MR: Mayhem consists of warehouses located in Copenhagen which were turned into a rehearsal space and a venue once some people began hosting events there. When we began rehearsing at Mayhem, a lot of the music being made there, by other groups, was very bleak sounding. Apart from noise and power electronics acts, various other groups like Ice Age and Lower were already using the space, and it was kind of hard not to be stimulated by what was going on around us. But instead of acting as influences on our music, I think, at the time, those groups sort of inspired us to create our own voice within this very close-knit ‘scene’ we had become a part of. That is, in the beginning, we wanted to make something that sounded different and unique. And when we began releasing music, journalists liked to describe the sort of ‘sunny’, ‘optimistic’ sound as being in contrast to our surroundings.
Clementine: What can you tell me about your debut album Blue?
Martin: We worked Malthe Fischer, who plays in the band Lust for Youth, and Mads Nørgaard. I’d say that we were very much in control of the album process, or at least I was in terms of the production with those guys. It was a cool opportunity to try and actually be a co-producer on your own album. You know, we’re definitely not the type of band who goes into the studio with just some rough drafts and then completely changes things. It’s much more of a calculated thing. All of the songs were for the most part composed and finished when we began recording, but there were certainly elements that were added onto them to give that extra 10 percent, but nothing drastic changed.
Clementine: Is your writing process just as methodical?
Martin: I write all the lyrics, but usually it’s the melody that comes first and then the lyrics constitute themselves pretty quickly because certain words just fit perfectly with a certain rhythm. A lot of people do it the other way, but it never felt natural for me. I find myself writing in a very narrative way. I like to mix different associations together or states of mind that I fall in and out of. In that sense, I think I’m very inspired by films because I like to write in scenic impressions and use those juxtaposed images rather than write in a linear way. It just feels more suitable, or at least that’s a style I’ve developed that works with our music. I’m not the type of person that sits down and plans when they’re going to make a song. I’ll get ideas every now and then, which I write down and come back to.
Clementine: Do you have a favourite song?
Martin: I find it really hard to talk about the lyrics in general. They mean so many different things to me depending on when I listen to it or when I revisit them because they’re written in such a chaotic way. We have a hard time writing songs that don’t have a melody or that aren’t catchy. There are the more pop composed songs, like Got To Be Free, and then there’s Take It All, which have this more straightforward, to the bone, kind of approach, almost Blues inspired. Then there’s Passed You By and Alarm Clocks, which I feel show a different side to us.
“The state of reinvention is like a constant rollercoaster sometimes, I already want to make a new album.”
Clementine: What’s the most challenging aspect of being a musician?
Martin: I guess one of the things is that you don’t really make much money, on a very practical level, it’s not like you’re paying your bills at this point, but that’s not why you do it. On an artistic level, it’s keeping active and developing yourself and finding new ways to motivate yourself and stay inspired. I feel like some days you’re really enthused about what you’re doing and other days not so much. I tend to drift in and out of love with what I’ve made with the band. You go through very unstable emotions, but that’s also why you’re able to make something. The state of reinvention is like a constant rollercoaster sometimes. I already want to make a new album.
Clementine: And the best thing?
Martin: Apart from the album, probably playing Roskilde Festival here in Denmark, especially in 2015 because we got to play on a pretty big stage, and at that point we’d never played to that many people before, so it was really special. It’s a festival everybody here knows about and if you play that then you’re like a real band. Every time we play in the UK it seems like the people there understand what we’re doing and there’s just a good vibe.