Per tells TDR that he and Marie are “thrilled” with what’s to come in 2011
EDITOR’S NOTE: As the holiday season winds down, The Daily Roxette’s News Editor Thomas Evensson was recently afforded the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Per Gessle. As you’ll see, with a new single and album out in the very near future – not to mention a World Tour – they had no shortage of things to talk about! —LEO
STOCKHOLM – With a few logs burning in the fireplace, Per offers a glass of glögg (mulled wine) as we sit down in a couple of comfortable chairs by the fireplace. On the table, there’s a plate of pepparkakor (traditional Swedish Christmas ginger cookies).
The Daily Roxette: So Per… a new album, a brand spanking fresh single, an upcoming world tour. The fans say ‘woohoo’, what say you?
Per Gessle: I say ‘Yee-Haa!’. We’re very pleased with the new album. We decided early on to try to make a classic Roxette record and I think we succeeded. Also, since Marie is very motivated and up for any challenge these days, a full scale Roxette tour feels just right.
We certainly long for these upcoming shows!! You know me, I love playing music with these people. And to have the benefit of the Rox crowds all over the planet you can’t help but to shout ‘Yee-Haa!’
TDR: Roxette has been on a long, long road from its first attempts of a comeback starting with “One Wish” back in 2006 to this most recent decision to once again step back into the limelight. We saw the TV-shows Per, we saw Night Of The Proms, we saw last summer’s concerts, but we also noticed the breaks. How did you and Marie finally find this path back?
PG: You have to remember that when Marie fell ill she only had about a five percent chance of surviving. Only one-out-of-twenty survive what she’s gone through! When you think about that it’s almost a miracle that we’re sitting here discussing a new Rox album and a new Rox tour. You have to keep that in mind. I certainly do. So every step of the way since 2002 has been dictated by what Marie wanted and what she was able to do. Slowly but surely she has built up enough self-confidence and motivation to start thinking in larger terms: concerts, media, blah blah blah… I can see how she improves with every thing she does. After a couple of days in the studio she started to deliver magic like in the past. It’s the same on stage. I’m sure you noticed that if you saw, for instance, Night of the Proms show #2 compared to show #35!!! It feels so good! [One can see Per is very happy about this as his face radiates when speaking about Marie.]
TDR: Yes, it is incredible to see the progress in her performance and she obviously enjoys the love she receives from the fans. Yet most of the promo stuff is being done by you. In the old times, the focus was more on Marie, now you’re the face in front of the cameras. Do you think your solo career has given you more self-esteem? What will the consequences for the public image of Roxette be next year?
PG: Well, I don’t agree. I’ve always been the one doing by far the most promo jobs. Basically because Marie always hated it. I didn’t have a problem with it in the past and I still don’t. But it’s pretty natural for the media to focus on Marie since she’s the lead singer and therefore the main character in the band. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future but I’m pretty sure Marie won’t do that many interviews since she’s really tired of talking about her illness. And that’s what most media people want to discuss. Not my brilliant chord progressions. [He winks.]
TDR: That’s hard to understand, those D-E-A progressions… out of this world! And now that the new single “She’s Got Nothing On (But the Radio)” is out any day, which of your own footsteps are you tracing (if any)? Did you have a certain sound in your mind when you planned this album?
[Per takes a sip of his glögg and thinks.]
PG: Yea, like I said we wanted the songs to get the classic Roxette treatment. However, we didn’t use Jonas [Isacsson] or Pelle [Alsing] on the record. We started out with Jens [Jansson] on drums, which felt great. But after the summer break we decided to focus on programming when it came to the backing tracks. We tried to get Anders [Herrlin] onboard to guide us through the manuals but he was so busy with his movies – he’s doing plenty of soundtracks – so he couldn’t come by. Next time, maybe?
TDR: Yes by all means, bring in ‘The Herrlin’ next time around!
PG: Also, most of the guitar parts are played by Chris [Lundquist]. He can play things I hear in my head but can’t play myself. Story of my life…
TDR: But you have a party in your head, Chris probably doesn’t? Talking about Chris, can we expect another head-banging guitar solo by the born-again hippie this time?
PG: Lots of them, I hope. Chris is one of the world’s best players. He’s got that unique talent combining an out-of-this-world musicality with an equally out-of-this-world emotional antenna. That’s very, very rare. Most musicians of Chris’ caliber are just technical virtuosos… brilliant but boring. Chris has that gut feeling, that very generous pop heart that is extremely rewarding to hear beating. When he’s groovin’ together with Clarence [Öfwerman], we’re talking Super League.
[Per switches topics and begins to talk about the – in TDR’s opinion – rocky, sleeve design… how both he and Marie loves Pär Wickholm’s work.]
PG: He’s got a certain attitude which is attractive. I love, for instance, his ‘Party Crasher’ sleeve so we told him to do something special, a collage, starting out with approximately 200 pics he received from Marie and I. He did a great job as expected. He’s a charmer.
TDR: Yes, the Gessle over Europe sleeve is a masterpiece! Speaking of albums, who came up with the title Charm School? Any subliminal meaning?
PG: Well, one of the main songs was called “Charm School.” It was a killer track, possibly strong enough to be the core of the album. But like in most love stories things sometimes go wrong. The production went crazy and ugly. We re-recorded it but lost interest after a couple of days, so it had to go through a very painful and slow death. However, I’m sure it will pop up somewhere else.” [Per gives a mischievous smile.] “Some songs seem to have nine lives, you know…
TDR: We do know! There must be dozens of songs that fans have heard of that just disappeared. What is the old saying? ‘Good demos never die; they just go to the drawer and mature?’ Maybe you’ll release it as a B-side? We’re happy about everything that turns a CD-single into maxi singles! Have other singles been chosen already?
PG: No, not yet. We’re still trying to convince an upcoming partner in the U.S. that we exist so we’re waiting for more feedback.
TDR: How were you inspired, if that’s the right word, for writing material for this album?
PG: Basically I wrote for Marie. Starting at square one, I think we tried every song with her as the lead singer. But some songs she didn’t feel comfortable with, so I sang those instead. Or we scrapped them. It’s pretty easy going. For me, the whole idea with Roxette is to use Marie’s voice as much as possible otherwise it will only become another Per Gessle project. [Per is excited now.] And I love the fact that she’s ‘taking over’ the songs, making them her own. For instance, there’s a ballad, “No One Makes It On Her Own,” which suddenly gets a whole new meaning and touches you on a totally different level than it did when it was sung by me (on the demo). She’s got that rare power. A great gift.
TDR: Amazing! Did you try to get influenced by contemporary music in order to achieve maximum chart success?
PG: No, not at all. We never discuss chart success or “we have to have a single” anymore. We’re way past that. We’re very aware that contemporary radio such as Radio One in the UK or P3 in Sweden won’t touch our new material since we’re old enough to be the programmers’ parents.
The main reason for doing a new album after all these years is because we can!!! I still love to write songs, Marie loves to sing them. So I guess in a way Charm School is made to please ourselves. But, of course, we know we have a huge fan base all over the world, our music has touched zillions of people in the past, and still does, so the new stuff is made with love for them as well. We know that a lot of folks are looking forward to this record and have waited for a Rox return for many years. It’s a blessing to have those ties with people and we’ll never forget that.
[Per is as always underestimating himself. This reporter thinks “Radio” sounds pretty young and ready for the charts of this planet.]
TDR: Was there no pressure from the record company to follow a certain route?
PG: You’re joking! We never play our music for the record company until the project’s closed. We used to do that in the early days… we had to because we spent so much of their money in the studio. I’ve been writing songs professionally for more than 30 years, if they don’t trust me and my ambitions they signed the wrong guy. And I’ve never really disappointed them, have I?
TDR: Well there was this hrrrm Heartland album… just kidding!
[Charm School is the band’s first real studio album in 10 years. Per spoke about the production process:]
PG: Well, first of all we worked in Christoffer’s studio down south. That means that the working process was quite similar to what I’ve been doing the last couple of years. [i.e., he means drinking lots of wine, recording silly movies and occasionally recording songs…]
Marie didn’t want to hang out too much down there so most of her vocals are recorded in Stockholm. Fine with us. We love to work in the Atlantis studio, too. Production-wise we took the liberty of trying to re-create some of the well-known Roxette sounds. Clarence has his tricks. I’ve got mine. Some of the songs were written for Roxette many, many years ago and it all made sense to use some of them this time. I tend to write slightly different these days and we both wanted this to sound maximum Roxette!
TDR: Maximum Roxette, now there’s the next album name, remember where you saw it first!! What was it like working together after all these years?
PG: It went surprisingly easy. The trick was to get Marie 100 percent involved. Clarence, Chris and I have our thing together since many years so it was crucial that she felt she was part of the team. It really helped that we started trying things out during the Night of the Proms tour. We made simple demos of many of the songs to find out where Marie could and would fit in. So when the real recordings started the ball was already rolling. Brilliant.
TDR: Now, at least “In My Own Way” and “Only When I Dream” are older songs. How come you decided to use these songs?
PG: Because they’re great! I made new acoustic demos of the songs, revised the lyrics a bit and presented them to Marie and C&C like they were brand new. They all loved them! And they couldn’t remember them from the past!!! The reason they weren’t recorded earlier is that my old demos were terrible. Everybody hated those versions! I’ve learned my lesson, that’s one of the reasons I only do acoustic demos these days.
I also mentioned before that I feel I’m writing in a slightly different manner these days so I find it interesting to go back to my 200 years of songwriting and check what’s in the vault. [Per did say something similar in a previous interview, and it would be strange if he did write songs the same way still. Imagine writing a new “När Vi Två Blir En” every year…]
TDR: Yes, I have heard the old demo of “Only When I Dream” and well… it sounds a bit like ABBA and a bit dated, that’s for sure. It will be interesting to hear the new version.
PG: By the way, there is more ‘old’ stuff on the new album. The “Sitting on Top Of the World” chorus I wrote in the early ’80s. “Happy on the Outside” was written a week too late for the Son of a Plumber project. I always loved that song and Marie’s singing it like… wow… there is a God…
[After some more thinking Per comes up with more songs.]
“I’m Glad You Called” was supposed to be one of the main tracks on Party Crasher but the production went totally wrong. I played it for Marie in a hotel room somewhere in Europe last year and she freaked out totally. She loved those lyrics. And it sounded like it was made for her! Maybe it was… in the back of my mind. That’s probably my favorite track on the new album.
TDR: Hmm, I always liked that song though. Now, Mats MP Persson recorded the demos together with you, as always, in the latest incarnation of the T&A studio. He used to have a big influence on Roxette’s sound. How big is his influence nowadays?
PG: Oh, MP’s great but his input is almost zero these days ’cuz I only make acoustic demos. Maybe I use just one guitar or a single piano. He’s basically the engineer.
I leave all the arrangements and the production-bonanza alone. When I work with C&C I’ve noticed that it’s easier for them to have open minds regarding the songs if I don’t give out anything at all except chords/melody lines/lyrics.
[Per is still in the acoustic demo mode he’s been in for the last five years apparently.]
TDR: As far as The Daily Roxette understands, Marie did not contribute any songs to this album. Has she perhaps retired from writing songs herself?
PG: Good question. I don’t know. I hope not, she’s a great writer. But she wanted me to write this album so I did. She wanted to focus on her singing.
TDR: Well, that’s good too! Having read your fab book “Att Vara Per Gessle,” we have to ask you if your personal drive to push the Roxette project forward is still as strong as it was back in the heydays. Or do you get more relaxed with age? You do seem to.
PG: Yes, definitely. I don’t have to prove anything for myself anymore which is a blessing (knowing me…). I try to enjoy myself, do the things I like to do, work with people I love. In short, I try to lead a lifestyle that makes it easy to get up in the morning. And I’m old enough to appreciate that it can actually be done. You can never take that for granted.
TDR: Tell me about it… C&C, or as we prefer to call them sometimes, Chris and Claire, seem to have quite a lot of fun with you. What is it that makes you three old ladies still going strong together? It cannot only be the tons of wine consumed in an abandoned cottage down in Skåne…
PG: Yea we enjoy each other’s company for sure. I don’t know, Chris and Clarence are two of my best friends and they bring out good things in me like good friends often do. I like to think I do the same with them. We never compete with each other or have big egos, we just try to fulfill our dreams and share this love affair with pop music and everything that goes with it. I’m very fortunate to have companions like that. It’s rare.
TDR: Also you mentioned some time ago Chris’ cats can be heard on the album. Where??
PG: The cats?!? Can’t remember, they’re everywhere. All the time.
TDR: The old T&A door had been scribbled upon all over by fans. Is it calmer at Chris’s place?
PG: Oh, not even the mailman finds the place! As you might remember, I took Anton Corbijn out there for the photo shoot for Son of a Plumber. He freaked out totally. He had never seen anything like it! It’s certainly in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think it’s on the map. I’m surprised there’s even water.
TDR: Or Internet… Have the new songs been written with the forthcoming tour in mind? Do you know yet if you’ll be playing any of the new material?
PG: Well, basically we’re gonna do a Greatest Hits set list. But, of course, we’ll try to sneak in a couple of new ones as well. Can’t resist that!
I would love to have a running order that can be altered a bit so all forty… fifty… sixty… shows don’t sound the same. And it can be done since we’re not using click tracks or programmed stuff at all. We’re 100 percent live!!!
TDR: Speaking of “we,” who will come with you on the tour?
PG: We’re gonna have different special guests since many shows are festivals. But all of the support acts have been approved by us.
TDR: It would be nice to have some changes here and there obviously. You know, it’s amazing knowing that Marie has come back after such a serious illness not only to record a new album, but also to go on a huge world tour. Many of the shows are apparently already sold out. Does this mean that 2011 will belong to Roxette? Can we expect a real great spectacle like in the heydays?
PG: Yea, I pinch my arm at least once a day! We’re really, REALLY looking forward to this tour. The interest seems to be massive; many shows are already sold out or on the verge of selling out and there is more to come. We’re sooo thrilled!
TDR: You are not yet touring the UK, Australia, North America and parts of Europe. Will that change? Are there negotiations underway with these parts of the world? Fans are anxious to find out of course.
PG: All the time. There will be more shows for sure. Where and when I don’t know at this point. We’d love to play everywhere but sometimes it’s impossible to do it due to circumstances beyond our control. Could be the dates, the deals, the promoters, etc. We’ll do our utmost to cover the planet, trust me.
TDR: What is the message of the Charm School album besides the musical aspect? What are the songs? What musical and lyrical atmosphere prevails?
PG: As always, I just write songs, I don’t think too much. I like the idea that people interpret the songs the way they want and make them their own. Some songs are pretty serious and had to be written to get something out of my system, others are made to make you happy and feel good. That’s my sole mission.
TDR: You mentioned “Glad You Called,” which other songs are your favorites?
PG: Well, it’s a very solid album for me. No hiccups this time… I love “I’m Glad You Called” because I knew it was a superb song and we f#cked it up real bad on Party Crasher. Revenge has come!
I love “No One Makes It On Her Own” because Marie makes it into something that could be sung in a church. It was written on a good day. I love “Dream On” because it’s very hard for me to write songs like that. I love “Way Out” because it makes me smile. And the single? I’m a fan!
TDR: Yes, speaking of which, “Radio” is said to be the last song written for the album, it’s getting to be a habit I guess, tell me how it came about?
PG: No, it wasn’t. I wrote it in my dressing room on the Night of the Proms tour somewhere. But it was one of the last recordings we did. We did “Radio,” “Speak To Me” and “Big Black Cadillac” at the same time. With this one I knew it basically had to be sung by me because of the lyrics, so the trick was to get Marie in there. I wrote a new middle-8 for her and I actually re-wrote the whole verse in the studio now that you mention it… thank you very much.
TDR: Haha, my pleasure. On many an occasion, we have heard of hard times with EMI, weak support and so on. But you’re still with them. How come?
PG: Well, that’s pretty easy. We have a contract! The music industry has changed so much since we started out. And it’s not reached the end of that very narrow road yet. Most record companies struggle with the current situation, including EMI. However, they are in control of our back catalogue and luckily seem very motivated this time around. Let’s keep our fingers crossed…
TDR: What was the response from the individual EMI offices worldwide when it got to them that you will release another full album and go on tour? Some local managers still seem rather reluctant.
PG: Like I said earlier, the music industry is in turmoil at the moment. The only thing we can do is try to make sure we get proper marketing and local direction. That’s why the record companies exist in the first place. EMI has failed us before and might do it again. Hope not. Time will tell.
TDR: I see parallels in your career with those of bands like a-ha who made a break as well, and them came back to huge success. Did that help you in this youth-oriented business?
PG: There are lots of bands and artists that have made comebacks and failed. a-ha did pretty well in some markets, others didn’t work that well for them. Every artist has to fight their own war.
TDR: So in New York City last month, you hung around with Keef and Ron from the Rolling Stones. Did the Stones ever influence you in a good way during your career? (Say yes!)
PG: Yea, great guys. They look so… hmmmm… cool… or something.
I was always a big Stones fan. They did some super albums between ’68 and ’73… and changed the “live” scene in rock forever. And the party scene. And how to wear a scarf. And everything else that matters. Love.
TDR: Their long career matters a lot. Hope they told you how to stay fresh!
PG: Yep, I got a couple of names of good doctors. [He snickers.]
TDR: Haha! Can you tell us something about the new video clip? Who is the director? A brief indication of what we can expect?
PG: Well, it’s directed by a Swedish guy named Mats Udd. He’s done very fascinating clips with, for instance, Familjen. He came up with an interesting concept for this song, which I won’t get into here, but there’s lots of nudity and blood and murder. It feels good. It’s always interesting to work with new talent.
[With that we say goodbye, leave Per with his fire and glögg, bundle up and head back out into one of the coldest winters in Swedish memory. Until next time, thank you Per.]
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January 3rd, 2011
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