Liss: “This story we’ve had together had a tragic ending… but it’s still our story”
On the day Liss released their debut album earlier this month (June 10), the band played a special gig for family and friends in their hometown of Copenhagen. During the show, musician friends of the Danish band joined them on stage to sing the parts of Søren Holm, the band’s frontman who lost his life to suicide last year aged 25.
“It just felt weird not to do something,” bassist Villads Tyrrestrup tells NME five days after the album’s release and gig, sat in a Copenhagen bedroom alongside his bandmates. “We thought it might be inappropriate to celebrate this album like you would with a normal album, but if Søren was still here we would have a party, and we still did that in his spirit.”
Drummer Tobias Laust adds: “We’ve been talking so much about Søren’s tragic death, but we also have had so many good memories, and it feels like a story coming to an end. We wanted to celebrate our story together and this last thing we did.”
On the debut album, the poignantly titled ‘I Guess Nothing Will Be The Same’, Liss honour and celebrate their frontman’s legacy. Across 11 tracks written through the four-piece’s near-decade as a band and mixed and mastered in the wake of Holm’s death, they confirm why they were held up as one of the most promising alt-pop bands around.
A few months after Holm’s passing, the three remaining members of Liss – Tyrrestrup, Laust and guitarist Vilhelm Strange – sat down together to listen to the album, which only needed a final polish before being ready to release. “It was so hard in the beginning,” Strange remembers, “but the day after [we released the album] I was so relieved. I was less heavy.”
“It felt like he almost spoke to us,” Strange reflects of hearing the album back for the first time, before Laust picks up: “When you’re in shock after such a tragic event, you’re looking for answers in a way. Even though we knew that there weren’t any answers in the music, we couldn’t stop ourselves from trying to find [them]. It felt like our mission to get that album out when we first listened to it together. Everything is fucked up but we have this one thing still to do together, and that’s to get this album out.”
After meeting at school in Aarhus, Denmark, Liss formed in 2015. Picking up immediate buzz off the back of first singles ‘Try’ and ‘Always’, their blend of smooth R&B and indie-pop melodies saw them sign to XL Recordings for debut EP ‘First’ the following year. In Holm, they had a magnetic frontman whose syrupy voice sang both of infatuation and dissatisfaction and fronted the band with an irresistibly cool air. “I know I’m good,” he told NME when we travelled to meet the band in Copenhagen in 2015, tongue only slightly in cheek. In the piece, we labelled Liss “a band on the brink of finding out how great they really are,” and across the following half-decade, they released subsequent EPs ‘Second’ (2019) and ‘Third’ (2020) which expanded their sound but maintained that indescribable magic.
“It had been a dream for all of us to be able to make music, so it was crazy to all of a sudden be in that world and getting offers,” says Laus. “At that age, when you get to live your dream it’s difficult to set your own boundaries. You want to say yes to everything but at some point you have to say no, and I think we learned that the hard way.”
Once the pandemic hit in 2020, the band finally had time to complete the debut album they had been itching to make since they formed, and decamped to a potato farm owned by Holm’s father on the Jutland peninsula in western Denmark. With three months booked in, the band set about renovating the house while working on the album at the same time.
“The main theme of the album was for us to trust each other,” Strange says of the process, before Tyrrestrup recalls their mission statement: “If something sounds good, it’s probably good.”
“Early on,” the bassist picks up, “we would say, ‘This sounds good, but maybe it could be even better!’ so spent months extra trying to work on it, which isn’t really a healthy process in the long term.”
With the album, Laust says, Liss were “embracing that we could be many different things at once. From the beginning, we said, ‘Are we supposed to be a pop band? What kind of band are we?’, whereas we found out that we could be whatever we wanted to be. There are a lot of different types of songs on this album, but it’s still us, it’s ok.”
This trust the band fostered between them across their six years as a band also gave the three remaining members the belief that Holm would approve of the debut album being released into the public. “But also, we had such a great time making the album together with Søren,” Tyrrestrup says, “that it feels like remembering the good times. Making this album was such an important time for us and a time we will never forget, so that made it quite obvious that we had to release it, all the passion and love we have shared in this process.”
As a final statement, ‘I Guess Nothing Will Be The Same’ brilliantly shows where Liss were going as a band. On ‘Nobody Really Cares’, Holm croons over acoustic guitar while ‘Sure’ is an ecstatic R&B gem. Highlight and recent single ‘Boys In Movies’ then sees them collaborate with Nilüfer Yanya, of whom Holm was a big fan and reached out to on Instagram in lockdown to ask her to contribute to the song. “He was just really good at reaching out to people when he liked their music,” Strange remembers fondly. “He was always really positive, and really good at finding new music. Even though he didn’t always get a reply, he had no shame,” the guitarist adds to bursts of laughter from all three members.
“We had such a great time making the album with Søren, that it feels like remembering the good times.” – Villads Tyrrestrup
Though released in a tragic situation, it was vital to Liss that ‘I Guess Nothing Will Be The Same’ represented all parts of Holm’s personality. Though the songs can be emotionally fraught, they’re often also deeply funny, most notably on opening track ‘Country Fuckboy’. “It wouldn’t have made any sense to only have released the sad songs,” Tyrrestrup says. “It’s very important to show all the sides of him.”
“It’s nice to know that in maybe ten years, someone will stumble upon it and not know the story,” Strange adds. “They’d look at it and think, ‘Hey, that’s a nice album.’”
Laust continues: “People listen to the music now in the light of his death, and of course we understand that, because when we first listened to it after he died, we also listened in that way. But for us, at this time, it’s not an album about suicide. It works without having that story connected to it.”
In telling the story of Holm and the debut album the four friends made together, Liss want to raise awareness of suicide in young people and, in the simplest terms, encourage people to reach out when they are struggling. In their statement announcing that the album would be released, they were deliberately frank in revealing that Holm lost his life to suicide.
“We’ve spoken so much about this,” Strange says, “and being so open about it is very important. It’s something that, in many cases, can be prevented if people were more open in talking about suicidal thoughts. It’s important to talk about how you feel, and if we can help somebody out there by telling our story and how it feels to lose a very close friend to suicide, then maybe it can prevent that person from doing it.”
Laust says that when Holm passed, the three members of the band “didn’t have a language” to discuss how they were feeling. “We had to talk about this if we were going to release the album,” he says, “and the more we talk about it, the more we realise the importance of it. Personally, it also helps me to get to know my own grief better and understand how you feel yourself when you say it out loud.”
Since Søren’s death, Strange says he finds himself asking other people in a direct way how they are feeling: “‘Have you ever had suicidal thoughts? Do you ever think about suicide?’ Stuff like that is much easier to ask people now,” he says, “and people don’t react [like they used to]. They want to answer. It’s important to break that wall.”
“We can’t release the album without having that story in focus,” Tyrrestrup reflects. “That will be the story of the music no matter what.”
“It’s like a symbol for us,” Laust says of the album. “A symbol of a beautiful friendship and all these years spent together. This story we’ve had together, it had a tragic ending, but it’s still our story, and it’s still beautiful.”
Liss’ debut album ‘I Guess Nothing Will Be The Same’ is out now via Escho/In Real Life
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