Fate, Marie, the Oscars and War… Per speaks out.
PORT ELISABETH – Per Gessle was interviewed last Tuesday by Radio Algoa, located in South Africa. Here’s a transcript of the phone interview.
Interviewer (I): We were talking before we got started about the time differences, so I guess there’s not such a great time difference. You must be kinda looking forward to lunch I suppose?
Per Gessle (PG): Yea well (Laughs) It’s noon in Europe, so yea, it’s one hour behind you guys.
I: How many interviews do you have scheduled?
PG: Oh well, I’m doing about seven or eight. I’m dividing it into different countries. I started doing interviews last week. Doing a couple of hours every day. But it’s fine, it’s nice to talk to people. And the new record is coming out, you know.
I: Well, perhaps a good idea is to start at the beginning. Go back in time to 16 years ago when Roxette was formed. Can you tell us the story of that?
PG: Yeah well, Marie and I … we met on the west coast of Sweden in a small town, playing in separate bands. My band actually became quite big in Sweden very early on in the 80s. We actually shared a rehearsal studio. Marie and her band. And me and mine. But we shared the dream of going international down the road. Back in ’85, I believe, we started to record an album together. This was the first Roxette record, Pearls of Passion. Came out in ’86. The next album was of course Look Sharp! With that album we had a big international breakthrough.
I: Isn’t there an interesting story of how The Look kinda moved from Europe through to the States?
PG: Yea well, we were touring in Sweden with the Look Sharp! album in the winter of ’88 and we heard rumors through friends that they started playing some songs of ours in the States. We thought it was Dressed for Success, but it turned out to be The Look instead. It was a radio station in Minneapolis who picked it up from one of the listeners. So they had like a show on the radio where people can play their favorite records. Some guy had been in Sweden picked up the Look Sharp! album, so he gave them his copy and the program director just fell in love with The Look. So he started to play The Look on the station and the phone started to ring ‘cuz the people wanted to hear it over and over again. So it was an instant success story. We weren’t really aware of it … it was fantastic.
I: Does it make you believe in fate? That it was meant to be?
PG: Yeah, absolutely! Who knows what would’ve happened without that thing happening? So … I dunno, it’s fantastic. It’s very rare and I don’t know if it would’ve happened today – it could’ve happened in the ’80s – but I don’t think it could happen today.
I: Today you would have to compete in Pop Idols or Pop Stars maybe …
PG: Yea, right. It’s much more formative these days.
I: Do you ever look back and think to yourself “I can’t believe what has happened in 16 years” ?
PG: The more years go by you start to think about you’re very lucky to survive and very lucky to still have a core of fans all over the world. It’s been a very long time. This industry, especially nowadays … it eats careers and it eats artists. You are very lucky if you have two albums. So we’re very lucky and I think it’s helped us a bit that we’re not from England of from America. We’ve always been based here in Stockholm and worked with our own friends and our own people and our own musicians. We write our own material and produce ourselves. It’s very self containing and it leaves us in a slightly different position, ‘cuz we’re not really part of the international music scene in that sense.
I: There was a huge amount of hard work on your part, up until ‘95/’96 before you took the first official break. And a big part of that was touring. Do you still have a favorite tour or concert that stands out in your mind as being “Wow!” ?
PG: We always look for opportunities to play countries and places where most people don’t bother to play. We… we played Paraguay, Venezuela, Beijing – that was a blast of course – South Africa … those shows still clicks in. Yea, we had four great shows in South Africa in ’95. Still all of them were fantastic and Johannesburg was fantastic and Cape Town was great. So looking back: the live performances and the tours have been very crucial to keeping Roxette alive. And that was also one of those things that made us a bit different most “top 40” acts who don’t work live that well.
I: There was going to be a South African leg of your tour in 2002, which was cancelled as a consequence to the September 11 attacks. September the 11th seems to have become another infamous date for Roxette. Apparently that was the date of the discovery of Marie’s brain tumor…
PG: Yea well, we were actually scheduled to do a European tour. I was actually on my way to a press conference in Brussels when the phone rang and I got this message that Marie was ill. So of course it was a big blow for first and foremost herself and her family, but also for all of us. It was devastating. But now it’s six months later, and it’s been scary times, but Marie’s health has improved a lot and she’s almost back to normal. But she will take it easy for the rest of this year. It will take a while for her to come back. Uh… you know, we had lunch the other day and she is almost normal. Things like this changes a person, it changes all of us. She’s got two small kids and it’s a tough one.
I: I think the thing that struck SA fans the most is how little information has been available about her condition at all recently. We were given the reports that she’d been diagnosed, then that the tumor had been removed successfully. But very little news since then … so the fact that she’s doing well is very good news for us.
PG: Yea, well there was a problem with one of the tabloids here in Sweden [Expressen /TEV]. They started to print rumors and ugly stuff that wasn’t true. So Marie actually sued them and taking them to court now for that matter. It was really hard for her. She’s got family and relatives, and suddenly they got totally misleading information through the tabloids just for the cause of selling papers. And that was worldwide as well, so you got misleading stuff down to you guys as well. It’s sad in a way, ‘cuz when it’s illness you’re dealing with, I think one should be more respectful.
I: I see that she said that if she gets any money from them she’s gonna donate it to the Swedish Cancer Fund …
PG: Yeah, absolutely! It’s not the money at all, she just wants them to behave, you know… basically. They’ve been doing so many things to other persons in the past as well. So Marie just thought this is a chance to make a point. You know what I mean? Everyone is on her side. Even if she doesn’t win in court, because of the legal system, she’s made her point. ‘Cos it’s not about the money at all.
I: I believe she had her first appearance since the operation and that was at the end of February when you and her received a medal from the King and Queen of Sweden.
PG: Yea, that was fantastic. It’s quite rare that people from Pop and Rock are awarded. It usually goes to classical music and that kinda stuff. So it’s an honor for us of course. She was there and we had a great dinner afterwards and she was in a wonderful mood.
I: What keeps you going through a crisis like the one you just experienced?
PG: Well, I think it’s many things and personally we have a very strong bond between Marie and myself. So obviously you want to support each other and keep things going. And get back to normal as soon as possible. But also of course we love what we do. We love the music that we make and we have no other plans but to continue with our work. So there has never been any option to quit and do anything else. We love to work together. Nowadays after all these years we don’t have any pressure on ourselves to deliver certain things or we have to do this and we have to do that. So it’s very easy going. I think that’s a wonderful situation to be in, so we’re gonna keep the ball rolling.
I: I think that that information, that the intention is there to continue working, is going to make many fans very happy.
PG: I think so too. We get all this information and mail on our websites. People are very worried about the state of the band. You know, like I said, we’ll continue. There won’t be much happening this year from this record. But there will be more albums and hopefully there’ll be more tours as well. It’s really up to Marie and how she feels, but life goes on. We’ll continue our work.
I: With all the interviews you’ve been having over the last while, have you had any chance to check out the Oscar results yet?
PG: Oh, you know what? Actually, I taped the whole Oscar ceremony. It was in the middle of the night, so I haven’t seen anything. But don’t tell me please! (Laughs) But I think there were spectacular nominations and there were so many great actors: Michael Caine is one of my favorites. And there are quite a couple of good pictures of course. So it should be very exciting to watch.
I: Then of course, also in in the last while: there’s war again in the world. How do you feel about that?
PG: Well, I read somewhere that every war is always a big failure. It’s terrible that we can’t solve these things in a diplomatic way. It’s scary, ‘cos you see all these pictures on TV. It’s just horrendous. The only thing we can hope for now, is that it will be a short one and it will be over very soon.
I: Are there any newcomers in the music industry that you admire, that you listen to and makes you think: “Wow! They’ve done well!” ?
PG: There is one artist that is very successful with her debut album: Norah Jones. It’s a great album, one of the best I’ve heard for a very long time. Her style is very much what I listen to at home. I always like these sort of classical singer/songwriter type of artist. Norah Jones is someone I can recommend.
I: Do you have any advice for someone who wants to go into the music biz?
PG: For anyone who really wants to do it: you have to be prepared for what it is. It can be a very rough ride. But on the other hand, if you’re strong enough and prepared, then you should do it. Because it’s very rewarding and a lot you can look forward to. The music industry tends to be formatted nowadays. It’s very much the Pop Idols thing now. You have to be stubborn and focused if you’re gonna make it. Sometimes you don’t make it. But that’s what it’s all about.
I: Per, thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to us in Radio Algoa country. There are many people who join me in wishing Marie a complete recovery, but we wish you well with The Ballad Hits and The Pop Hits. And we’re looking forward to many more tours and many more albums from Roxette.
PG: Thank you very very much!
I: Keep well.
PG: Bye bye now!
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March 28th, 2003
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