Face to face with Clarence Öfwerman. Pt. 1: “I had an accident with a train, a train hitting me”
Saturday afternoon. The day after we met Pelle Alsing. We’re sitting on the same bench as yesterday. From far, we see a hat floating through the park. Under the hat walks a slim guy who seems to look for something. It’s Clarence Öfwerman, producer and keyboarder of quite every album Per Gessle has released since the mid-80s. We stand up, he sees us and approaches us with a smile. Clarence is very relaxed, the way you’d feel when you’re on holiday and have no duties. What we don’t know at this moment is that his wife had birthday just the day before. Even more kind of him to come and meet us on such a short notice! We order something to drink, look for a table a little away from the noise and begin…
K: We found out that you come from a very musical family. Your father is Rune Öfwerman, he was a famous orchestra leader.
C: Yes, he is still playing, he turns 80 this year.
K: I had the chance to listen to some songs he had recorded in the old days and I must say it was very nice music, very easy to listen to, the kind of music you like to listen with your family.
C: He started out as a jazz musician and then he got more and more involved in easy listening music to make a living from this, I guess. He was a record producer as well for a few top 40 artists in Sweden. He also worked a lot in Germany, with big bands and stuff like that. He was married with a singer called Sylvia Vrethammar who now lives in Cologne, she had some kind of career in the ’90s there.
K: Sounds like you grew up in a family that was very open to music?
C: Yeah, they were.
K: And from the very beginning you learnt what it’s like to be a musician?
C: Yeah, I think so.
K: And you found it interesting?
C: Yes, I liked what I saw in my father’s way of living, but when it came to choosing directions at school back in the 7-8th grade, he said to me, “Don’t ever become a musician!”.
K: Why is that?
C: Because it’s very insecure, he had lots of friends who didn’t make it. It’s a tough business.
K: What was his idea for you?
C: His idea was that I should study economics, because that’s what he once wanted to do and he failed and started playing jazz instead.
K: To make a living?
C: Nah, he did it during school, sort of. So he fucked up school because he was playing late in the night. Well, I figured out that I should go to a music school anyway when I was at high school. In Sweden back then, you only had five cities with a school with a music profile, but I didn’t get in there. So my second choice was economics, I went there for half a year or so but then I had an accident with a train, a train hitting me…
J: Which year was that?
C: Ah, this was 1973… November… the 16th.
K: You still remember the date…
C: Yeah. But I was lucky because I fell in the right direction, not under the train.
K: You tried to cross the rails?
C: Yeah, I was going to cross the rails and a train came, a rushing train that wasn’t supposed to stop at the station. I went off my train and I passed… I didn’t see the rushing train coming from the other direction. It hit my knee and I fell… Well, I was hospitalized for a couple of months which was good because I didn’t have to go to the economics school.
K: You had hated it there already?
C: Yeah, I felt lost, I didn’t know what to do there, I was totally uninterested, I didn’t have any friends in the class. So the next year, I gave it another trial and I did get into that music school, with my friends who were one year younger than me.
K: Did you already play an instrument at this time?
C: I played, of course without any education, guitar from the start.
K: Did you teach that yourself or did you have a teacher?
C: I think I had some lessons at school like once a week 40 minutes at some boring old teacher, just learnt the typical chords there. But that was not so fun. In the 9th grade, I decided to take piano lessons. I had done this before because my father put me in different piano schools, but I always quit because I felt it was boring. So in the 9th grade, I was 15, I decided myself to call my old piano teacher and said, “Now I’m ready, I want to take some lessons”. I learnt some classical stuff. I thought that before I go to a music school it would be good to know something, to be able to play something. But it wasn’t like that. You didn’t have to be able to play anything!
K: There were no acceptance tests?
C: No, you didn’t have to play or sing anything. The only thing that was important was your grades at the school. It was only about how good you were at school, not the music. That was strange. There were a lot of musical people who couldn’t get to that school because they had bad grades.
K: This system is bad.
C: It’s not like that anymore today. Those were the mid-’70s, it has changed to the better. Now you have to sing and play something and you have to explain why you need to go to a music school.
K: Ok, so you went there, brought some friends of yours with you…
C: Yes, three of them…
K: Pretty much sounds like you were going to found a school band there?
C: Yeah, we had a band already before. And that’s also why I switched to the keyboards because I met a guy who was better playing the guitar than me. Where I grew up, there were two different bands. Later, both bands joined, suddenly we had two guitarists and he was better, so I switched to the keyboards.
K: And this was the life you always wanted to lead, it was a good decision?
C: Yes! It was okay for me like that.
K: What did your dad think about it?
C: My dad didn’t really care about it. He did think it was good that I went to the music school. I just remember the day we should choose, he said, “It’s no good idea to become a musician”. But then later on, during the Roxette years, he was the biggest fan and didn’t have anything against it. He even went to Rio in Brazil, he had been there a lot, so he took us to beaches and clubs. So, yes, he is happy about that now. And I guess he understood why I didn’t study economics.
K: Surely! What was your first step into the music business, the first chance to make money?
C: We had a band called “Andromeda”, that was instrumental, no vocals. That band existed already in school years. And after that, we started a new band, this time with vocals, called Overture. We stayed together for five years, I think, from ’75 to ’80 or ’81. We toured a lot…
K: … and you released an album.
C: Yeah, that was like the last thing we did. That one was more like “Gyllene Tider”. But before, it was more like early “Yes”, “Genesis”, “Gentle Giant”… progressive rock. The first song we wrote was like 19 minutes long, it was supposed to be on one side of an LP [laughs], but nobody wanted to release it. Well, now it’s maybe going to be released next year by some crazy guy who thinks that Overture is one of the best things that ever happened!
K: Tell me when that happens and you will read it on TDR!
C: Yes! We tried to make a living on it but nobody could, so all of us five guys had side jobs.
K: What did you do?
C: I worked as a courier for a tax consultant, sorted people’s tax declarations…
K: More or less the stuff you’d have to do when you would finish economics school…
C: Haha, exactly! It was not very fun but it was okay. Another job I had at a wig company. I sat there with all the ladies making wigs, then they put them into boxes, or I did it, and then I brought them to the post office. It was three hours per day, something like that. Also, I worked with elderly people, you know, cleaning and drinking coffee with them…
K: … as their companion…
C: Yes, that was the best of these jobs! We listened to classical music, I brought cassettes, talked about different composers…
K: This was also the time you met Pelle Alsing for the first time, he told us yesterday…
C: Yeah, Pelle’s elder brother was in “Overture”. Pelle was the one who found our ad in a music shop and brought it to his brother and said, “This is something for you”, and he brought his bass player friend so we had to kick our bass player out because we needed Hans Alsing as a drummer. It was tough back then!
K: Then came “Passagerarna”…
C: Yeah but that was much later… nah, it’s not. It’s five years later but it feels much, much later. I was going to say 15 years but it’s only four or five years.
K: Time flies!
C: When “Overture” started to fade away slowly, we changed the style to sound a bit like “Gyllene Tider”.
K: The early or the late GT?
C: The early GT. I think, their first album was the best. We got a five star review for our album in a weekly magazine for kids. They wrote I was going to take Per Gessle’s place as a composer of pop songs. But that didn’t happen: We work together now!
K: Yeah! What happened then?
C: Before “Overture” was over, I and Pelle started to work as freelance musicians at record studios for different people and we went on tours. The biggest one was the “Raj [pronounced Ray] Montana Band” with Dan Hylander and Py Bäckman. Both Pelle and I were in that band for five years, recorded 10-12 albums, TV shows. That was quite the biggest band.
K: Certainly it was also a door opener for you because you got to know a lot of people in the music business?
C: Yeah, I guess so. It was all through Pelle, he was in the band before me, and David Carlson who was also in “Overture” and also in “Andromeda,” my first band. So David and Pelle were in “Raj Montana” and they needed a keyboard player there, so they told Dan about me. So Dan Hylander went to a gig we had with “Overture” and watched me and said he is interested in me, so I went on tour with them.
K: You surely had more to say in “Overture” than in “Raj Montana”…
C: Yes, of course. Yeah, Raj Montana was not a band like that, we were just hired there to play their music.
K: But then somewhen you formed a band named “Passagerarna”, the passengers, together with Pelle, Tommy, Mats Persson (from Stockholm, not MP!) and Micke Jahn. What was the idea behind it?
C: All of us, except Mats, worked on several albums with swedish singer/actor Johan Lindell. The music was kind of experimental and inspired by artists like David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel etc. One of the albums was called “Passageraren” (The Passenger), and the head of Slick Records, Tåtte Tenmann, suggested we should do an album on our own, with another singer and doing our own material. So I found Mats in Malmö, and we started to work together. We released two albums as “Passagerarna”, singing in Swedish. “100 man” and “Följer en stjärna”. And one in English, “Glorious days” as “The Passengers”. Soon available on Spotify.
K: I also heard there is a Passagerarna song that was co-written by Per?
C: Yes, I asked Per if he had any lyrics lying around, and he gave me “Never say goodbye”,
which I wrote music to, it´s on the album “Glorious days”.
Tomorrow on TDR: Face to face with Clarence Öfwerman. Pt. 2: “I never talked to Per about it”
Clarence’ father Rune is a respected musician in Sweden:
Clarence’ former band “Passagerarna”:
Technical errors may occur.