Lasse Passage is currently spending his summer vacation with his 90 year old father in a fisherman’s village in Norway. On a daily basis, they climb aboard a boat and head out to sea, fishing for crabs and mackerel amide the fresh salt air. It’s a routine that runs in sharp contrast to the majority of Passage’s adult life, a life of travel and adventure, of music making in foreign lands. Passage’s latest album Sunwards was built in time with the swing of his usual existence: a trip to Mexico, complete with missed rendezvous with friends, a broken guitar, and a deepening love.
Continuing in the vein of 2015’s Stop Making Sense and Start Making Success Vol 1, 2, 3 & 4, Sunwards continues Passage’s explorer narrative, bringing the listener into the sweet, sensual heat of a tourist’s gaze. In Passage’s world, one can picture soft linen sheets, the smell of tamales wafting up from the street, a lover showering in the next room. “I lead a complex life,” Passage tells AudioFemme. “It’s good years and it’s bad years. It’s been good years the last years now.” He’s referring to the upbeat nature of this album, with songs like his recent single “Heartbeat” talking directly to his current relationship with choreographer Ingrid Berger Myhre: “I didn’t play with open cards before/but the things you trigger is letting me know/it’s something/something that could be good and true/you increase my heartbeat/you increase my heartbeat.”
Passage grew up in Bergen, a coastal city in west Norway. His childhood was full of music, his father a passionate music hobbyist. “He would always sing me to sleep,” Passage remembers. “He would pull up the guitar and sing a song. The same song every night.” The song each night was always in the 18th century Swedish Troubadour style, following the same characters as they travel, fight, and love; the ballads often link stories and include complex references to other songs, weaving a tapestry, a world all their own. At age 12, Passage took up the acoustic guitar, joining his father in a song while the coffee was served at dinner parties.
After one year at a conservatory studying composition, Passage felt the call of a journeyman, as well as the musical inkling to explore beyond the classical. “For me, this was finding back the joy,” he recalls, thinking back on the two year trip he took after he left school. The music he made on that trip felt fresh, more truthful to his soul. “Music can also be this simple. It doesn’t have to be new, complex Stockhausen. For me, the most important thing is to communicate feelings on a plain level. And that gives me great joy.”
“Not a slightest chance that this could work/that slowly I recall your type/I came down here to have some fun with you/but we are miles away/from having a good day,” Passage gently croons on the opening single “Miles.” With his first lines, Passage reveals his musical cards: he is funny, he is thoughtful, he plans to take you on a little ride. He describes his writing process as being initially quite easy. “The music comes really fast for me. It’s easy. It sounds cocky to say,” he admits. “Usually the music comes really fast, but then I struggle a lot with finishing the song because to finish it, it really has to make sense to me why I should finish it and why it should be a song. And that takes a lot of time for me. But coming up with a new idea for a song, that comes fast to me.”
The initial “emotional seed,” as Passage puts it, is the thing he has to search for. Music comes first, then he hums the tune repeatedly until the seed forms, blossoming from a meditation into a fully formed thought. The songs on Sunwards were all written on his Landola J-85, a Finnish guitar he bought when he first began songwriting. The guitar took a tumble off a truck during his Mexico trip and was totally crushed. He went to a guitar luthier in Mexico to fix it; the man was good, but Passage didn’t have the time to let him fix the whole thing, resulting in high action between the fretboard and the strings. As a result, most of the songs he wrote for the album were written in open tunings, which he admits influenced a few things.
Genres are explored openly and honestly throughout the album. “I Need A Holiday” has the cheerful sarcasm of a Ben Folds ditty, followed closely by another ’90s-influenced jam, “Homecoming,” with its gentle guitar strum and casual talk-sing cadence: “Soon I’m gonna see all my friends/I’ll tell them stuff they can not understand/so I’ve gotta keep on the ball/to not lose track of my calling/when I’m coming home.” This soft rock vibe is broken when “God Is In The Nature” hits the needle. Suddenly Passage’s stroll through cobblestone streets takes a turn into the wilderness, a canopy of trees shedding soft beams of light onto the forest floor. Its repetitive chant reveals a new, more spiritual aspect to Passage’s travels and hints at older themes, the kind of wink toward death that marks a maturing musician. A video for the song is currently being created by filmmaker Jenny Berger Myhre (sister to Passage’s girlfriend) at the couple’s summer home.
“The world is opening to me/I no longer have the need/for anything that’s not right here,” Passage sings on “Sunwards,” which has a decidedly beach-infused sound, complete with a horn section. After leaving Mexico, Passage spent many months working with friends in Oslo’s jazz community (Andreas Werliin, Jo Berger Myhre, Kim Myhr, and Eivind Lønning to name a few) to add the full, lush sound infused throughout the album. Songs like “Something Easy” shift focus to a tropical drumbeat, while “300.000 francs” seems to pull us back to a more melancholy winter mood. Recorded during the winter of 2018, Passage sought the help of Grammy-winning producer Noah Georgeson, known for his work with Joanna Newsom, Devendra Banhart, The Strokes and Norah Jones. There is a gentleness to his work, a sweet reflective echo in Passage’s voice and the strum of his guitar that gives the album the immediate feeling of Polaroid pictures: tactile, transient, a quick shot of time.
“Unfortunately, it’s only me,” Passage said when asked if he builds his songs around a character or personal experience. “I need to have a problem or it needs to be a situation that I need to process.” For the moment, life is pretty regulated, with little to no drama to draw from. He is planning a live stream concert for the album, set for September 4th, complete with a full band setup. He is also spending quality time with his father. His days start with the smell of salt air and end with nutty coffee, brewed in preparation for a long night of stories, song, and star gazing. Travel is halted, but with Sunwards at his fingertips, Lasse Passage is able to move backward in time, exploring once again a strange city’s streets, with surf, heat, and sand just a few steps away.