Per meets TDR 2015 – Round 2 (Down Under)
SYDNEY – An exclusive one on one with Mr. Per Gessle!
From one cultural icon to another, tonight, Australia’s world famous Sydney Opera House Forecourt played host to Sweden’s biggest music export of the past thirty years – so what better way to help celebrate this historic and momentous occasion, than by sitting down backstage with Per Gessle himself for an exclusive TDR interview.
TDR: Per thanks so much for taking the time to speak to The Daily Roxette tonight.
PG: No problem.
TDR: Here we are at Australia’s most iconic and prestigious venue, this is like New York’s Time Square or London’s Big Ben – explain to me how you’re feeling?
PG: Oh it’s just mind blowing, really. When you think about it, it’s a nice thought but when you see it – the Opera House, the bridge, it’s just unbelievable.
TDR: The initial tickets for the Aussie shows went on sale in May 2014, but this one here went on sale in December – was this show always in the plan?
TDR: So how did this show come about?
PG: I’m not too sure, I think when you do a tour like this you sell ten shows or so and it’s up to the local promoter to do whatever they want in terms of booking shows and venues. And because Live Nation do so many concerts with so many bands, they try to find locations where you’re not playing the same day as the Foo Fighters or Paul Simon or Sting. So this opportunity came up and it’s weird because we’re doing the “real” Sydney show this Friday night (at the Qantas Credit Union Arena) and we’re doing the second one here. But on the other hand, I didn’t know they did these kinds of shows, so I don’t know what kind of people attend these concerts, maybe some people are coming just for this particular gig?
TDR: We’ve heard of fans flying from Sweden or Germany just for this one show and then flying all the way back the next day because it’s such an iconic venue.
PG: Oh really? That’s cool.
TDR: There’s been some exciting changes to the set list since the Russian leg of the tour which is very exciting and I think if you told me to guess which song “Paint” was going to get played with as part of a medley, I would have said “The Big L” or maybe “She’s Got Nothing On”? But if you told me “Watercolours in the Rain”, I’d have said “you’re crazy, it’ll never work” – but here we are and wow, it’s incredible. It’s a real highlight of the evening, talk to me about this, where did the idea come from?
PG: Well actually, we tried to play “Paint” in different arrangements but it didn’t really feel that good. So we scrapped it – but since we all love the song, especially the chorus, I had this idea that we use the lyrics of the chorus as an ending to “Watercolours in the Rain”, it sort of made sense – even though both songs are worlds apart, it’s a nice little conclusion and then going back to “Watercolours”. So I just asked Marie and Dea to find a way to do that and together with Christoffer we worked out a key change and it works pretty well.
TDR: Yeah it works really well and is Marie enjoying singing “Paint”?
PG: Yeah, she had a hard time to learn it though, but since it’s both Dea and Marie singing it, it works…
TDR: …and Dea’s there to guide her as well…
TDR: So over the Summer, or your Winter, I wrote a series of articles for The Daily Roxette called “Ghost Tracks”…
PG: …yeah I know that, that was cool.
TDR: …well I wanted to get fans talking about the music and songs again!
PG: …yeah, yeah I know what you mean…
TDR: …and everyone had different opinions on all sorts of songs but one song that was overwhelmingly popular was “Crush On You”. Everybody really got behind that song – so to have it in the set list is so exciting. How do you feel playing it? Do you like it? I think the response from the audience has been great.
PG: Yeah, I wanted to try to desperately get it into the set but the band wasn’t really into it that much and we started playing it and it sounded terrible actually and it’s never been a big favorite of Marie’s either…
TDR: …too bubblegum for her?
PG: …yeah, all those songs, “Real Sugar”, “How Do You Do!” and “Sleeping in my Car”, are not really her cup of tea. But we tried it and then this thing came up about maybe skipping “Real Sugar” – but that’s the thing when you have a set list… like this…
Per picks up the set list and places it on the table and we look over it together.
PG: …for example, this is what we’re doing tonight, we’re not doing “The Heart Shaped Sea” tonight – but anyway, if you take this song out for instance…
PG: …you have to replace it with something similar – you can’t really put in a “Run To You” or an “Almost Unreal” in that spot or… or… or…
TDR: …a “Milk & Toast & Honey”…
PG: …yeah, you can’t do that because then it becomes too slow. That’s why you have to do a couple of shows before you find out the right feel. And also, it’s different from country to country, in Russia for instance, “Real Sugar” is one of our biggest songs, whereas here in Australia it isn’t. So it doesn’t really make sense to play it here. Or “Almost Unreal”, for example, is very big in England but if you play it in Sweden nobody cares (laughs). So you have to sort of keep your antennas out and it’s a craftsmanship in itself to create a great set list. And if you think about it many times you go to a concert and you think “that was a weird set list” because most musicians think about music – and they don’t think about it from a fan’s point of view. I think that is the big difference between a person like me who is a writer and Clarence for instance who isn’t… because he wants to play four hour sets…
TDR: …of course he does…
PG: …and I say it’s better to play one song less than one song more. You want people to stand on their toes and leave and say “hey this was a little too short – we want one more song” and if you do that, then mission accomplished. And of course, it’s a matter of taste. How do you want to present your band to the audience – it’s so easy for a band like us who have recorded so many songs to make a 30 song set list without playing any hits.
TDR: That’s true!
PG: Yeah and for us, that would be very rewarding…
TDR: …yeah the die-hard fans will like it… but commercially maybe…
PG: …yeah, then you see 10,000 people yawning and then at the next show it drops to 8,000 people, then 7,000 and then it drops down to 300 people… (laughs) – And so when you go to places like Wollongong or Russia, it’s the first time they see you so they don’t really know what to expect and most of them who haven’t seen us before go to the shows because they want to hear “Listen To Your Heart” or “The Look” or “Joyride” and that’s the same with me. When I go to see something, I wanna hear my favorite songs… unless I’m a real die-hard fan, like Tom Petty, I want to hear the album tracks…
TDR: …of course you do…
PG: …but on the other hand, I’m going to Katy Perry next week. And I wanna hear those five songs that I like, the rest is rubbish (laughs) … but I wanna hear those five songs. And if those five songs aren’t played, I’ll check out the production and the lights, so that’s the way it works I think.
TDR: I think one of the biggest surprises in the set list is “Almost Unreal”. We spoke three years ago in Melbourne and you blamed Clarence and then Clarence blamed you and then we discovered it was Marie. So, I cannot believe that song is in the set list, I know she’s not a fan but lyrically there are no stuff ups whatsoever – how did that happen??
PG: Because she has been practicing everyday since Russia to remember that song!
TDR: Oh gosh, really? Aw, she’s amazing!
PG: Yeah, she is. And I was always a bit fussy when it comes to the lyrics because some songs, like, we don’t play “Queen of Rain” because Marie doesn’t get “Queen of Rain” right. Maybe we will again? But she has to rehearse it and rehearse it on her own – and I think when it comes to some songs where the lyrics play an important role, I think you have to be able to deliver the song otherwise it doesn’t make sense. Especially if you play in English speaking countries because they listen to lyrics. In Russia they don’t because they don’t understand. Or in Brazil, most people there speak Portuguese. But when you play here or in the States or in England, you have to sort of know the lyrics – I mean everyone makes mistakes but you must know the lyrics and that’s the reason we play “Almost Unreal” because Marie knows it…
TDR: …but she hasn’t sung it in 20 years?!?
PG: …no, but she knows it, that’s the way she works. If she gets into it, she gets into it…
TDR: …and that’s it?
PG: …yep! (laughs)
TDR: That’s very cool…
PG: …but I think we’re gonna play “Queen of Rain” again, it’s just that Marie needs more practice, she needs to get that second verse.
TDR: Cool. You know, because “Crush On You” and “Paint” are longtime fan-favorites and now we have “Almost Unreal”, on behalf of all the fans, we’re very grateful for having them in there. I know a lot of fans complain and whine – but we whine because we care, we’re passionate, know what I mean?
PG: Yeah and we appreciate that, it’s really cool and we listen to that. Like I said, there’s so many songs, there’s “Run To You” and “Milk & Toast & Honey” and “Vulnerable” and “You Don’t Understand Me” and bla bla bla, there are so many songs and I wish we could play them all but we can’t. And also, some songs, when you start playing them, they’re pretty similar, so you need a balance, we need another Marie song instead of a Per song etc.
TDR: Sure and on the last tour you mentioned that when you got it right, “7Twenty7” and “Opportunity Nox” were your favorite songs to play, what about this tour? From a purely musical point of view, which is the most satisfying?
Per pauses for a moment and thinks.
PG: I love to play “Crush On You” – I think it’s really cool!
Per picks up the set list again and we lean over analyze the running order.
PG: See, here in Australia…
Per points to “Sleeping in my Car” and “The Big L”.
PG: …this here is a good opening…
Per points to “Stars”.
PG: …as soon we start to play “Stars”… people don’t really react to it normally…
TDR: Well, Have A Nice Day didn’t really get the push it needed here…
Per points to “Spending My Time” and “Crash! Boom! Bang!”.
PG: …”Spending” works, “Crash”, that’s a beautiful little piece.
Per points to “Crush On You” and “She’s Got Nothing On”.
PG: …and then people start to get a little lost here, because they don’t really know these songs… and then…
Per points to “Watercolours in the Rain”.
PG: …”Watercolours” and that’s so special – but it’s not til we start “Fading”, then it becomes like the Autobahn of hits, you can’t really go wrong from here…
TDR: …ha ha ha, the Autobahn, I’m sorry, that’s very funny…
PG: …ha yeah, so… but I like to play these two here…
Per refers to “Crush On You” and “She’s Got Nothing On”.
TDR: …yeah, ’cause it’s kind of like a Gyllene Tider thing, with pounding drums and energy…
PG: …yeah but also, I like to play everything! (laughs)
TDR: Even “It Must Have Been Love” after all these years?
PG: Yeah, well that goes without saying, of course…
TDR: ..of course!
Per holds up the set list again and the room goes quiet as this time he takes a longer moment to pause and to contemplate. Looking like a good chance, I interject with my own two cents on where we could make some tweaks.
TDR: See, my thinking is, because the crowd sits here… (referring to Stars on the page) – I thought, maybe you could stick “Fading Like a Flower” there instead.
Per nods and studies the list.
PG: Hm, hm.
TDR: ‘Cause I mean, it’s a ballad but it’s not a ballad – it’s like a rock ballad.
You can see the cogs in Per’s brain ticking over.
PG: Hmm, yeah, yeah it could work? Hmm, I’ll think about that… maybe!
TDR: I just think because it’s not your typical ballad, like a “Crash! Boom! Bang!”, you know? It’s got a little bit more balls to it and it could be nice at number 3?
Per keeps nodding and thinking to himself.
TDR: But umm… look, I don’t want to tell you how to do your job!
We both start laughing.
PG: Yeah, but you know? I’m open to anything! Yeah and I suppose we could put “Stars” if we want here? (Per refers to the position on the list following “Watercolours in the Rain”)
TDR: Yeah, you could.
PG: Hmm, we’ll see. Not tonight.
PG: Yeah, well, we wanted it to be contemporary without it being ridiculous…
TDR: …too over the top, you mean?
PG: Yeah, we still want the songs to be the main factor and not the design or the production. And that’s why we don’t normally use screens unless it’s when we have at least 8,000 people, then we try to get them but we don’t have screens in the actual production. But that’s basically because the production should enhance the whole thing but it shouldn’t take over the concert…
TDR: …yeah, well it’s not a Lady Gaga show!
PG: Yeah, well even Room Service was a bit like that. There were so many films going on, you were watching the screens and these giant flowers and you never really cared that much about what’s going on – so it’s a thin line to walk. We have four or five songs where we have projections, like in “How Do You Do!” and “Joyride” and that’s fine, that’s enough.
TDR: OK, so, a slight change of gears. Look, I don’t know how much you’re going to tell me, but there’s a new Roxette project happening this year, is it an EP or an album?
PG: It’s an album.
TDR: It started out as an EP and…
Per begins shaking his head in disagreement.
TDR: …oh? No?
PG: No, that was just… bullshit.
We both start laughing again.
TDR: Oh dear, that’s funny, that’s very funny.
PG: (Laughs) No, it was always an album!
TDR: OK, OK, so when can we expect a release?
PG: I think you will get it at the end of October – or something like that. But there will be a single released before the European Tour.
TDR: OK, so the tour kicks off in Italy in May so that’s…
TDR: Awesome! OK, next question. When you guys went in to the studio to record Charm School, the goal of that record was for it to sound “Classic Roxette”. When you recorded Travelling, the goal was an “updated Tourism” – so a laid back, acoustic vibe. This time around, what’s the plan? What’s the goal for this project? What sound can we expect?
PG: Umm, this is like… umm… I don’t know… hmm, good question!
TDR: Thank you!
PG: Hmm… we haven’t finished everything yet but it’s umm… it’s classic Roxette in the sense that it’s very produced. I mean, it’s like guitars but it’s not guitars… I mean, it’s not like it is live… Pelle isn’t there for instance, it’s computers.
TDR: Like Party Crasher?
PG: Yeah… sort of but… I think it’s a little bit more… hmm… Party Crasher is slicker than this project. This is sort of weird at places – but it’s cool! Two songs are already done and they’re in totally different worlds those two songs. The plan is to make the album not too long, like 10 songs or 11 songs maybe.
TDR: Correct me if I’m wrong, but is it fair to say that you guys are taking a little bit more time with this new record compared with perhaps the Charm School recordings? Because the need to write for Charm School came very suddenly of the back of the Night of the Proms Tour when Marie confirmed she wanted to move forward – so would you say this time around, it’s more considered and that you’re taking your time more so with this album than Charm School?
PG: Yeah, yeah but also I’ve been writing songs… I’m aware that Marie has a hard time remembering lyrics, so I’ve been writing songs that are easier for her to remember and for her to get into which means there aren’t that many “big” songs or “story telling” songs so to speak. There’s lots of duets, I’m doing this, she’s doing that – so it’s more customized to Roxette’s situation today. Charm School was a little bit of everything because we didn’t really know how she worked, but now we do so we have to adjust to that situation. But anyway, the new album, I like it, I mean, it’s not like we’ve re-invented the wheel or anything but it feels very very cool this album!
TDR: Do you have a title for the new album?
PG: We don’t have a title actually. The working title has been “Ten”, like an “X” because it ties with the whole “XXX” and it’s the tenth album and we might just have ten songs but I don’t know – and since the Ed Sheeran album is called “X” so that might be an issue…
TDR: …yeah and you had trouble last time with Tourism 2 and T2 and all that.
Bo enters and gives me the one minute signal. I quickly scramble and scan over my papers, so many questions to ask – but time was against me.
TDR: The Per Gessle Archives Box Set was great! And “Monster Hangover” needs to get a re-visit, that’s your next hit, I’m telling you and when it does we can split the royalties…
We both have a laugh.
PG: Which one is that? Is that the “Monster Hangover” that we did with Gyllene Tider?
TDR: Yeah, no no, I like this version the Archives much better – anyway, so is there any chance of maybe another volume?
PG: Yeah, there is! I’m actually working on it… because I found another box of tapes.
TDR: Is “I Remember You” on there by any chance?
PG: Umm… “I Remember You”… is…
Per has a think.
PG: …no, it’s not but this “Boom Boom” thing is which is “I Remember You”, I found two versions of that.
TDR: That’ll be fascinating to hear!
PG: And “1 is Such a Lonely Number” is there and it’s fantastic, the demo is really cool! There are some others – there are so many songs, sometimes I find the cassette or the DAT tape and you can’t play it because it’s so old, so I have to go back to Mats “MP” and he has to help out and try to find the old tapes, it’s a totally different system. And that’s such a shame, most of the old Roxette stuff is gone forever – “Listen To Your Heart” for instance, most of those tracks weren’t recorded, they were recorded on a different machine… so there isn’t like a multi-track recording of “Listen To Your Heart” anymore.
TDR: And what about the songs that are co-written with Marie like “Hotblooded” or “Dance Away” because Marie wrote the music to “Hotblooded” did she not?
PG: Yeah, we wrote it together.
PG: Yeah, but I intentionally didn’t want to use anything that Marie was singing because I didn’t want it to be like a “Roxette” thing – I wanted it to be more of solo thing, more from a writer’s point of view. So obviously there are lots and lots of Roxette demos as well that haven’t been released – bits and pieces of Marie playing the piano and stuff like that…
TDR: …I think the fans would go crazy to hear that! And just finally, Anders Roos is here on the tour with his big camera. I think there’s been some confusion amongst the fans about the tour programme and the tour book. Can you just talk a bit more about this tour book and what it is that we can expect?
PG: Anders is doing a tour documentary, photo book type of thing. We haven’t really decided if it’s gonna be released individually based on the country or all together. Like, if the Australian version should get released now at the end of the Australian Tour or we should combine it all at the end with all the tours? But he’s taking loads of pictures – I’m not really sure if he’s going to write comments or not – but I think it’s going to be a cool book, at least for us so we have something to look at when we get old.
TDR: Yeah, a nice memento. Well Per, I know you have to go now, but thank you so much and let’s not forget, two albums here in the Australian Top 40 ARIA Charts and you’re at the Sydney Opera House, so congratulations!
PG: Thank you!
And with that and a few photos, we exited the dressing room and headed back to the real world having enjoyed 20 mins and 13 seconds of a small slice of a rock star life!
A huge thank you to Bo Johansson, Marie Dimberg, Thomas Evensson for helping put this interview together and thanks to Antonio Epifania (for taking some awkward photos of me) and of course to the very cool Per Gessle – who, for the record folks, is so damn cool and easy to chat to, makes my job so much easier!