Per talks “Good Karma” with TDR
EXCLUSIVE - Per Gessle opens up about Roxette's impressive latest album!
To help us celebrate the official release of Good Karma, we here at The Daily Roxette had the privilege of catching up with Per Gessle to dissect the brand new Roxette album. We hope you all find this as fascinating as we do – no trite “American exchange student questions” asked here, just good, meaty Good Karma question and answers – enjoy!
TDR: Hello Per, first and foremost, congratulations on the recording of Good Karma and thanks for taking time out to chat to The Daily Roxette.
PG: Danke. Merci. Wunderbar.
TDR: So. The tenth, and perhaps final, Roxette studio album has been delivered to the world. The verdict is in, it’s clear the fans are thrilled; this is a real return for the band. How pleased are you with the final result?
PG: It was a pretty tough album to make. It took a lot of time due to the skyhigh production ambitions we had. Christoffer has been truly majestic doing the engineering as well as the programming and keeping the software going. He has certainly become a world class producer in his own right. Clarence always was, but on this occasion it’s been Chris’s time to shine. I always know what I want but I rarely know how to get it. Chris has been really helpful and innovative. And Clarence’s feedback is always invaluable. And yes, we’re very pleased. The first two songs we recorded were ”It Just Happens” and ”Some Other Summer” and those two set the tone for the whole project. Marie considers Good Karma to best our best album ever but, hey, I dunno. It’s still too close to me, I can’t really judge it. But it certainly is a cool one.
TDR: Good Karma is a very produced album with a lot of electronic sounds on it – so what was the motivation for going in this direction and how soon into the writing process did you decide that this would be the “temperature” for the album?
PG: That was the main idea since we knew that we’re never gonna perform these songs live. And also, we didn’t want to make another ”organic” record a la Travelling. We wanted Good Karma to sound fresh, young, sexy and funny. Like Pelle Alsing looking for an ashtray on a Saturday night.
TDR: Regardless if Good Karma is everyone’s cup of tea or not, the one thing we can all agree on is that this new album sounds like you’ve all gone to great lengths to create something very special, more so than Charm School. It sounds like there’s a lot of effort and energy that’s gone into the recording process – explain to us why we’re all feeling this, or have we got it completely wrong?
PG: No reason except that we tried to make the best album we could. This is the result. It reflects our taste and our capacity for the moment. We didn’t want to make a “classic” or “vintage” album, we wanted to do something we haven’t done before. Maybe it’s a reaction to the fact that we’re only playing the old hits live. We wanted to do something different. Like finishing “Breaking Bad” and start doing “Better Call Saul” instead.
TDR: Does that make Clarence “Heisenberg”? Anyway, moving on, during your solo projects of the mid 2000s, you explained that you ditched the over-produced demos and sat down with an acoustic guitar and pitched the songs to Chris and Clarence. For some reason, I’m struggling picturing you playing “This One” for example on acoustic guitar for the team – so explain to us how Good Karma came about in terms of the writing, the demo and recording process if you can.
PG: You’re right. You’re so intelligent, it’s mind-blowing! Most of these songs on Good Karma have very advanced demos. Only the title track was an acoustic one. “Why Dontcha?” sounds almost identical as my demo, as well as the Addeboy vs Cliff-tracks. “Why Don’t You Bring Me Flowers?” was originally an uptempo song, “April Clouds” was partly the original lyric that became “Wish You The Best” on The World According To Gessle in 1997. I wrote new music to it. “From a Distance” was originally a ballad and was also recorded in a very dreamy version. We might use it one day.
TDR: Please do, we can’t get enough. Now, let’s talk about Addeboy vs Cliff. Tell us what role they played in the whole creative process. At what point did they step in? Did you send them demos? How do they figure into this journey?
PG: I worked with them on some other projects that we shouldn’t get into here, so I knew their capacity. For the Roxette record I just went through their archive of ideas and unfinished tracks and found several things that I found really cool and interesting. So I used bits and pieces of what they had and started writing melodies and lyrics and in some cases adding musical sections. It was all about editing, cutting long loops short and fooling around. We actually never worked together in the studio, we only sent ideas to each other over the Internet. When we were done with a song I took it down to Christoffer’s place and C&C&me finished the production, Marie did her vocals and then Chris started to mix it. Pretty easy, right?
TDR: Nifty. So, why Addeboy vs Cliff? What was it about them that made you think they’d be perfect for Roxette?
PG: They have a great pallet of sounds. Very warm but still powerful. Sometimes they sound almost gothic, like classic Nine Inch Nails, sometimes they sound like us in the old days. Very ’80s. Their chord progressions are pretty simple but yet surprising. It fits my style of writing melodies very well. I could never have written those songs on my own.
TDR: 11 tracks, this is the shortest Roxette album but tell us, how many songs were written for this project?
PG: Oh, I think about twenty. Maybe more. We have a few leftovers but we didn’t record that much. We wanted the record to be short. We don’t live in the world of albums anymore so every song has to be fab!! No fillers.
TDR: Let’s get to the basic questions that most fans want to know, which is your favorite song on the album to listen to? And, secondly, which one are you most proud of?
PG: I like “Why Dontcha?” because those three chord ditties are so hard to get right. I never write songs like that anymore cos I’ve done so many. “Dressed For Success”, “Real Sugar”, “Opportunity Nox”, “Small Talk”, “How Do You Do!”, “The Look”, “Joyride” etc etc. You must deliver some kind of magic that hits you instantly otherwise you get bored. I love “Why Dontcha?” also because the idea of using an old beat box a la J.J. Cale sounded so wonderfully unfashionable.
TDR: And what about Marie? What’s her favorite track?
PG: She loves them all!
TDR: We often associate Marie with the more warmer or organic sounds of Roxette, songs such as “Watercolours in the Rain” springs to mind – so knowing that about Marie, how does she feel about Good Karma and it’s electro energy?
PG: You’re right. Again! I was actually surprised that she got into it the way she did. When I played some of my demos for her I never expected her to like them since I was experimenting a lot. I was actually waiting for her to reject them. But she loved them. Brilliant! Happiness! She’s the best!
TDR: She sure is. Now, we always seem to ask you this, but Clarence has a reputation for being hard to please… unless it’s Toto’s “Rosanna” of course. So how does he feel about all this modern music? And what’s his favorite Good Karma track?
PG: Clarence really loves this album and that certainly is a good sign. Yes, he’s very hard to please and it’s a pain in the ass sometimes but most of the time it’s actually pretty good. He’s saying what he feels and I appreciate that. No faking allowed, thankyouverymuch! At the end of the day, it’s Marie’s and my own decision how we should sound but we certainly listen to our partners-in-crime. At least sometimes.
TDR: There was a bit of confusion last week when “Some Other Summer” suddenly popped up on people’s digital playlists and a lot of people assumed it would be the second single. Can you put this to bed for us, is “Some Other Summer” the second single of the album or not?
PG: Yes it is. There will be an EP with several very cool remixes coming out very SOON.
TDR: Will we see a music video to accompany it?
PG: For now, there are only plans for a lyric video. Time will tell. We might do a proper clip before too long.
TDR: Speaking of videos, the clip for “It Just Happens” is an absolute cracker! Now, we say the following with the greatest respect of course, but it’s probably fair to say that all our expectations were “conservative” regarding the quality of the video, so when “It Just Happens” dropped, it blew a lot of fans away. Are you happy with the final product?
PG: I am. And Marie too. It was a very good script and Tobias did a great job grabbing the essence and the meaning of the lyrics.
TDR: Now, Per, we know you’re a busy man, but a lot of our readers would love to get to know your deeper thoughts on this amazing album, would you indulge us as we dissect this record deeper, track by track? First up, it’s the groovy and guitary “Why Dontcha?” Cool title; where did that come from?
PG: It was just something I started to play in front of the TV watching “Antman” or something. Nothing complicated but it had that sexy feel to it so I made a very quick demo with a beatbox straight into my iPhone. I wrote most of the the words immediately. However, I missed the movie. Such a shame.
TDR: And that’s such a good movie too! “Why Dontcha” is easy to dismiss as something we’ve heard a dozen times before but when you pay attention to this little gem’s nuances, there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye… err… ear.
PG: I know. That’s very Roxette-ish isn’t it? We won’t leave your ears and brains alone for very long.
TDR: We go from a summer breeze to an intense storm with the next one. The lead single, “It Just Happens”. You mentioned this was one of the first tracks written for the album, what can you tell us about this power ballad?
PG: I played my demo for C&C&M and they all loved it. I never considered it to be a single but the others got a “Wish I Could Fly”-feel out of it. And Chris has never produced a classic Roxette mid-tempo ballad before so he had to have a go he said. And off we went. The chord progression in the verses are very unlike me style-wise. Haven’t got a clue how that happened. It just happened.
TDR: Then we get to the title track of “Good Karma”. When did you realize that this was going to be name of the album? At one point you guys were contemplating “X” or something representing the number 10. So, who made the call to settle on Good Karma?
PG: It’s a good title. I had it lying around in my archive in my computer under “interesting titles, exciting subjects, books on witchcraft I have to read and orange cars I have to drive”. It’s a pretty big section. For the last seven years or so, since Marie made her comeback, there has been a wonderful positive vibe around Roxette. For every show Marie has become more and more confident and the ”Good Karma”-way of thinking sort of fits in quite well, don’t you think? And that positive energy has come from you guys. All the fans have made these last seven years possible. I truly believe that cos I know it’s true.
TDR: Awesome way to look at it! So what can you tell us about the song, “Good Karma”? It sounds like a “once in a generation track” and clearly this one is getting major love from the Roxers around the world.
PG: It was a very weird piece of music that I found in the AvsC-archives. Strange harmonies here and there in the verse. I cut it short and tried to figure out how to write melody lines to it so I pretty much made it more ”normal” and “Roxette-ish”. Chris loved it from day one so he wanted us to produce it without any input from AvsC. There you go. Chris just had to play those power chords in the intro. And Clarence just had to play that “Fading Like A Flower”- inspired piano intro. I was just laughing. Hilarious to watch. I have it on film somewhere. And Marie freaked out hearing what we had done. She just loved it.
TDR: OK, you have to share that video ASAP! Moving on, “This One”. Wow, this booming track grabs your attention! How did this song come to be?
PG: I wanted it to sound like an old Giorgio Moroder-production. We did several takes on it. The version that made the album was pretty much created in the mix. It wasn’t recorded like that. I re-did my vocals a couple of times since I felt they were too ”chemical”, almost dead. It’s hard to sound organic in the environment of digital sequencers playing a shuffle-beat. But it turned out nice after a couple of months. I love the chorus. It’s very catchy. Even our gardener loves it. And he’s a fussy one.
TDR: “You Make it Sound So Simple” sort of reminds us of “Stuck Here With Me” but 2016, fair to say? This rumored title has been floating around the Internet for a long time. Very different for Roxette – what can you share with us about this song?
PG: Same story as all the AvsC tracks. I loved the groove and the chord progression so I just made it into a ”proper” song. It’s very different to anything Roxette has ever done before. The way we use our voices with me in the verses and Marie in the chorus is really cool. Not a new idea but it still makes a great sound. No other band in the world sounds like that.
TDR: “You Make it Sound So Simple” is a very produced, a very unorthodox Roxette song, did you have a hard time convincing Marie or Chris or Clarence to get this one across the line? Or were they on board with the vision from the beginning?
PG: No, they loved it immediately. Like I said earlier on, the whole idea with this album was to try something new.
TDR: Next up, is “From a Distance”. Addeboy vs Cliff taking over the reigns on the production? Talk us through this beauty.
PG: It was a very catchy but a low key song on my demo. Beautiful melody lines, I sang falsetto in the chorus. The first version we recorded with Rox was a very dreamy ballad but we felt like we had too many ballads around so we gave Marie’s lead vocals to AvsC and asked if they could do an uptempo version instead. And this is what we got in return. Fab! I added some funky guitars and some backing vocals at the Tits&Ass studio and off it went into Chris’s mixing bucket.
TDR: Sublime song. OK, back to the sunshine with the next one, “Some Other Summer”. The fans are eating this one up – Roxette hops on a plane with the Pet Shop Boys and flies to Ibiza. How’s that for a summary?
PG: “S.O.S.” was also an experiment. Clarence told me that I should try to write a song in a more ”modern” fashion, using only four chords used in a loop. The same ones both in the verse and the chorus just like most pop songs of today are made. I’ve never done anything like that before, I always use different chords in the verses compared to what I use in the chorus. That’s the classic way of writing if you’re raised on ’60s and ’70s pop and rock. And I am. So I went to work. I tried to find four chords that weren’t worn out by anyone owning a laptop and I wrote “S.O.S.”. The big challenge was to create a catchy chorus and to make the melody and production grow at the right spots even though you use the same chords all the time. So what you got in the end is the same four chords throughout the song with a modulation after the second chorus. Which means it’s still the same four chords but in a different key. Brilliant, don’t you think?
TDR: Brilliant indeed! OK, track #8 and it’s time for a breather. “Why Don’t You Bring Me Flowers?” Marie’s delivery has everyone talking here – where did you get the idea for this ballad? What can you tell us about this track?
PG: This was written as an uptempo track! Marie suggested we should try to make it into a ”small” piano ballad instead since she loved the melody and the lyrics. So we did. And after all the hi-tech production in most other songs it was definitely a good suggestion. Marie’s singing on this one give me goosebumps. Bullseye!
TDR: “You Can’t Do This to Me Anymore” – MP’s back in the saddle here. By traditional Roxette standards, it’s fair to say that this is very different… so how did MP end up back in the picture and of all songs, on this one? What can you share?
PG: This was a chord loop with a very interesting piano part that MP played for me. I went on holiday and spent the better part of a week trying to find out how to make a song out of it. I wrote some lyrics and it occurred to me that I could have a rap-verse á la “Crush On You” to make the chorus stand out a bit. It’s a good trick. “YCDTTMA” is a nice one but looking back I think we could have made an even stronger production on it. But hey, that’s me. I get cranky sometimes.
TDR: We know… How cool is that old-fashioned drum roll intro on the next song? “20 BPM”. Wow, this is intense and that cowbell just makes you want to strut. What journey did this song go through to make the album?
PG: AvsC again. This sounded too good to let go. My job was to edit it down, write the melody lines and the lyrics and adding some guitars in the intro. Chris made a truly amazing job mixing this one. It sounds like nothing else.
TDR: Sounds like Chris has really worked his butt off on this album. Thank you very much Chris, we all appreciate your hard work! And now, as always, we end on a ballad to wrap up the Good Karma experience; “April Clouds”. Now, die-hard fans will recognize this song as “Wish You The Best” from the “should’ve-been-a-Roxette-album” record known as The World According to Gessle. That was 1997 – so how the heck did it end up here?
PG: Long story. Let’s just say that Marie always wanted to sing “Wish You The Best” so I used some of the original lyrics and wrote new music in the same style. And we recorded it pretending to be an old jazz band with Chris playing a snare drum and Clarence making the piano cry a bit. His piano playing is really beautiful. As always. He’s so good at creating emotions with simple parts. I think Chris played the acoustic guitars as well. Or was it me? Can’t remember. Probably Chris, he’s the man.
TDR: Fascinating insight, thanks for sharing all these cool little tidbits. Before we move away from Good Karma, let’s talk album artwork. We here at The Daily Roxette love a good sleeve – this one’s bright, it’s yellow and it feels very positive and fresh. Are you happy with this one and how did the butterflies come into play?
PG: Well, I talked to our designer of choice Pär Wickholm and we discussed how to create a “symbol” that can be used for this project, on several sleeves on several singles without becoming boring. He came up with the butterfly-idea which both Marie and I loved instantly. It fits the “Good Karma” title very well, the evolution-way of thinking. And the way Pär has presented it with different colors and backgrounds and symbols is pretty cool if you ask me. It stands out.
TDR: Looks great! Leaving Good Karma for a moment, it was announced earlier this year that Roxette’s touring days are over. So what does this mean for Per Gessle and the road? Gyllene Tider always seems to pop up for the summer, but for “the man from Roxette”, is there a desire for you to hit the road in some guise? Or did you tick that box back in the Party Crasher days?
PG: Well, I love my work and that includes touring. Time will tell.
TDR: For the time being, it seems like Roxette has fulfilled a 30-year circle. You’ve always got Gyllene Tider on the side, you’ve written movie soundtracks, recorded English and Swedish solo projects, you’ve got a new label – so in terms of the immediate future, what’s the next musical step for Per Gessle?
PG: Putting a decent playlist together for Gabriel’s upcoming studentexamen (graduation from high school).
TDR: We know we’ve taken up a lot of your time, but we at The Daily Roxette love a good and thorough analysis to satisfy our inner nerds, so once again, thanks for chatting to us and of course, a sincere congratulations on a return to form with Good Karma.
PG: I thank you. And thanks everyone for your endless love and support throughout the years. I’m sure Marie is waving and smiling from her balcony as I write this!