My latest interview features Fredrik Saroea, one half of the Norwegian Electronic Rock duo Datarock, known for their distinctive red tracksuits and songs like “Fa Fa Fa” and “Computer Camp Love”. In 2020 came the 15th anniversary of their debut album, “Datarock Datarock” and celebration plans that was until the world shut down. So, Saroea turned to just creating music for the sake of creation, and from this bred his latest project, “Rona Diaries”. Fredrik Saroea with BIT20 Ensemble will be releasing Rona Diaries: The Chamber Versions Live at Grieg Hall, Bergen, the live chamber music version of his solo LP, on June 10, 2022. You can read my interview with Fredrik about this side project and more ahead.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Can you give my readers your musical origin story?
FREDRIK SAROEA: Oh no – that’s a long story. I started singing in a choir as a kid and then moved on to the cello. Although I thought the instrument was amazingly beautiful I never really got into it. Luckily my big brother started playing guitar, and naturally, I followed in his footsteps.
So for a few years, life was all about thrash metal and bands like Sepultura, Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax, Kreator, Nuclear Assault, etc. But I was already a music nerd with my own local radio show named after a Digital Underground single called ‘Doowutchyalike’ – and as soon as I heard Manchester magic like The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Charlatans, Ride, etc., I was way into the new British scene.
That said I was always very much into older stuff like DEVO, YMO, Talking Heads, and all sorts of experimental, new wave, no wave, etc. – and growing up in the eighties and nineties we obviously heard The Smiths, The Cure, The Fall, Nick Cave and so on everywhere we went. Mixed with all sorts of MTV and radio pop – and of course new electronic music and the emerging soon-to-be-massively mainstream hip hop. I was never too much immersed in grunge though…
Not sure why, but I guess I was more into the contemporary stuff coming out of the UK. Anyway – in music high school I guess we all breached out into the wild and had to learn how to play everything from Pat Metheny via classical guitar to folk and Satriani. And in the end, I guess I just got tired of music in school, rehearsals with the guys, music everywhere on top of shows – so I quit and studied art history and the university instead.
However – I was still really into music and was equally blown away by stuff like post-rock, noisecore, art music, new hardcore, and the emerging underground club scene where band culture and electronic music met – kind of like what happened in Manchester in the eighties. So soon enough I was part of the scene with DATAROCK – and we ended up playing a thousand shows in 36 countries around the world.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Was music something you wanted to do?
FREDRIK SAROEA: I don’t know. I think I grew up thinking I’d be an artist of some kind – but music came so naturally, and it was just something everyone around me did like others played sports or hiked or whatever. So I think I always thought I’d be making movies as an adult – cause that seemed like an adult kinda thing to do. I mean NOBODY around us made a living from music – and we didn’t think the weird stuff we were into would ever be able to sustain a living of any kind. But hey – it kinda did for quite a few years.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What was the first artist that you listened to that you became
BAND/ARTIST: The Stone Roses. I mean – I obsess over quite a few artists, but nothing was ever like what happened when I discovered the Roses. I got a hold of everything they ever released – which was hard in Norway back then – and to this day I totally love what all the members do on all instruments. They were probably just what I was looking for back then – the best part of it was that nobody else around me even knew who they were. We were really into everything from Black Sabbath and The Beatles to Diamanda Galas, Swans, Scott Walker, and Naked City – but Stone Roses were kinda my own secret domain. And a gateway to the wonders of the contemporary British merging of club music/dance music and guitar rock. And to a certain degree – I guess I’m partly stuck in that wonderful dimension.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How did the Rona Diaries come together? And why did you go
orchestral? What was it like working with the BIT 20 ensemble?
FREDRIK SAROEA: DATAROCK was supposed to celebrate the 15th anniversary of our debut album with tons of shows – and a first-ever, limited edition vinyl print for Record Store Day – when COVID shut everything down in March 2020. So I thought – why not do exactly what I want to write & record now that nothing clever makes sense anyways. So I set up a studio in our rehearsal space and just recorded whatever I wanted, playing everything myself.
For the live part, I didn’t want to make a bunch of friends tries to emulate all the stuff I’d done myself on the recordings, so I thought it would be much more interesting to arrange the material for a completely different group of instruments and that’s how I came up with the pretty unusual string quartet of violin, viola, cello, and harp. That’s instrumentation I randomly came up with years ago when I did a cover of Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” on Thomas “Happy Tom” Seltzer’s TV show on national TV back in the day:
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Can you describe your creative process? How has your creative
process evolved over your career?
FREDRIK SAROEA: Hehe – I really don’t think so. It’s always been about intuitively mucking about with my guitar, and then randomly coming up with a riff or chord progressions that stick and then trigger melodies, beats, bass riffs, and keyboard arrangements. Lyrics are always the last piece of the puzzle – that needs to be carved out of the sonic mass, kinda like how certain stone sculptors say the piece was already there within the granite. And then, in the end, it’s all the fun of building a product for the material – and production can pull it in any direction.
Of course – the main change from being a kid is that a lot of the DATAROCK material is written in collaboration, and also how the interaction with certain co-producers adds so much variation and flavor, sometimes even from a place within myself that wouldn’t have come out without the collaboration. Like how the arrangements were created in collaboration with the masterful orchestral arranger Bjørn Morten Christophersen.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Where do you normally draw the biggest inspiration from?
FREDRIK SAROEA: Probably the stuff so deeply engraved in me that I don’t even know that I’m close to ripping them off. Like Blonde Redhead, Sam Prekop and The Sea and Cake, Mark Kozelek and Sun Kil Moon, Morrissey and The Smiths – or for instance Scott Walker or David Bowie. Stuff that is so much part of me that I don’t know it’s someone else’s signature.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What fictional character do you think would most identify with
this record? And your overall sound?
FREDRIK SAROEA: Hehe – Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. He’s so depressed, yet ready to try enjoy life a little – and hey: he even drowns himself in the painting “Sunday à la Grande Jatte” by Georges Seurat as he “stops and looks around once in a while” while The Smiths’ “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” plays in an instrumental version by The Dream Academy:
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: What do music and the craft of songwriting mean to you?
FREDRIK SAROEA: It’s the one part of the world where I sometimes feel that I’ve successfully contributed to creating a somewhat imaginative and signature strong, well balanced, slightly unique harmony – based on whatever level I’ve acquired at mastering tradition and skill – that someone, even if only one person, can hopefully agree that is good in all its many, many choices and decisions. Like a kid making perfect sand cast from a bucket of sand – or an architect laying out the scheme for an entire city; an act of creating a mathematically wholesome, aesthetically pleasing, and emotionally charged, autonomous, communicative object for the past, present, and future.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: How do you think social media has changed the industry?
FREDRIK SAROEA: In so many ways – good and bad. This industry always had its winners and losers I guess, but I think it’s a shame that so many wonderful artists now drown in the ocean of material released every day; a world so saturated with music that only the most adept, skillfully attention-seeking, media-savvy survive. Looks too always mattered – I know – but the way, I guess primarily visual social media works so much better for certain personalities; personality traits that don’t necessarily dictate your level of communication skills as a musician.
But hey – live and let die as they say. Though I realize that’s why I don’t survive too well in this directed and polished show-and-tell-everything world.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Recommend a playlist or a podcast that you can’t get enough of
FREDRIK SAROEA: I’m sorry for being so predictable, but the only podcast I hear basically every day now is The Daily by The New York Times; a must.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Where do you think the future of electronic music is going? And
how do you its roots will be honored?
FREDRIK SAROEA: I hear jungle is the emerging “new” sound – but I fear 99.9% of the soon-to-be-exposed won’t ever get to know the roots.
THE RECLUSIVE BLOGGER: Lastly, what’s next on the horizon for you FREDRIK? Is there
anything I forgot?
FREDRIK SAROEA: We’re actually wrapping up a new DATAROCK album with The Chemical Brothers’ Steve Dub & Mark Rankin (Adele, Harry Styles, Queens of the Stone Age, Iggy Pop, Weezer, etc) so next is DATAROCK 🙂