Roxette – Back to the Future
PORT ELIZABETH - 5 PM. Friday, 5 February 2016. Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I only seriously started thinking about this article in the queue while waiting for the gates to open. I recalled the first time I saw Roxette playing my home town, Port Elizabeth, 21 years ago during the “Crash! Boom! Bang!” tour.
As a 15 year old it was my first rock concert and it was especially magical, as even at that age Roxette was my favorite band, since I bought the Look Sharp! album 5 years prior to the show. I dreamed of what it would be like to sit down and chat to them. Asking them questions about their lives, the albums and singles.
I recalled that magic moment when the lights went out and the theme from “Mission: Impossible” played over the loudspeakers. The stadium was filled with 21,000 concertgoers and their screams and whistles were electrifying. The monster, guitar driven, intro of “Sleeping in My Car” was deafening and the crowd went wild.
I suddenly had a slight panic attack. How many people will attend the show this time around? It’s been 21 years since their last visit to the city and I know that they were one of the first international acts to visit South Africa after the end of Apartheid due to the international cultural boycott. Therefore, will those numbers be considerably less? How many fans do they still have in the city? Will the concertgoers give them the same welcome as they did two decades ago?
Only time would tell. I had to concentrate on the interview first. This was my second time interviewing Per Gessle and with only 15 minutes allocated to me the questions had to be important ones.
7:30 PM. I received a call from one of the stage crew that he will pick me up in 5 minutes. A golf cart was our taxi and I was driven to the holding area for the band within the massive stadium. Greeted by tour manager, Bo Johansson, I was told to wait in the reception area and that’s when the nerves really kicked in. Knowing you are only minutes away from being led down the corridor to the dressing room of Per Gessle, to have a face to face chat about the band that played such an important part in your life, is indescribable.
8 PM. A door opened across from me and I was led into another room where manager Marie Dimberg waited for me. She escorted me down a maze of corridors. We passed doors labeled “Crew”, “Band” and “Marie Fredriksson”, but I knew we would only stop at the one with “Per Gessle” on it. Marie knocked on the door and called for Per. He wasn’t there. I waited while she walked back into the “maze”. My heart was pounding in my chest, louder and louder, and then skipped a beat as I saw Marie Dimberg coming around the corner with Per alongside her.
We greeted each other and upon entering my gracious host, the gentleman he always is, offered me something to drink.
We got down to business immediately as the clock was running and I wanted to make the most of my time with “The Man”. Marie Dimberg also joined us on the couch.
The Daily Roxette: Let’s dive into the questions if you don’t mind. This is part 4 of the XXX World Tour. Are you enjoying being back on the road and returning to South Africa once again?
Per Gessle: We’re doing great! It’s always great playing here. It’s nice to get rid of the Swedish winter. We always try to go to the warm countries when it’s winter. We love to play here and be able to sell so many tickets is great.
TDR: And it’s the 3rd South African tour in the last 5 years! You have a very big fan base here…
PG: Exactly. That’s what’s so fantastic about this band: we can go all over the place and still sell tickets – not football stadiums mind you, but arenas of 10,000 like tonight. We’re privileged to have that.
TDR: And we are very privileged to have you here! Considering the fact that you most loyal and passionate fan base are from South America, will they see their favorite band return to their shores?
PG: The plan is that I don’t think so, to tell the truth. It won’t happen this spring anyway. We couldn’t make it happen and we’re doing all those shows during the summer in Europe, so of course there is a possibility as we didn’t say these will be the last shows of the tour, but we’ll see what happens you know. It’s really up to Marie and how she feels and how her health is. The band would go on, but we might take a break for 6 months or 8 months or a year, but do some other shows that might pop up. I think since Marie made her comeback we’ve done about 280 shows including the Night of the Proms. We’ve been pretty really busy since then!
TDR: Yes, it’s truly been a “Neverending Tour”! Ha ha ha!
PG: Yes, it is like that and it’s going to be like that until the day comes that Marie says she doesn’t want to do it any more, because like I said: it really is up to her. So… I’m there and of course we would love to play South America. It’s always a blessing to go where the fans are. Playing Luna Park, Rio, Sao Paulo, Peru and Chile…. so hopefully!
TDR: So at least you’re giving them hope.
PG: Yea, there’s hope.
TDR: Tour aside; you know why we’re really here! (Everyone laughs) According to your Facebook post the other day the album is “D.O.N.E”. So can I ask you some questions regarding it?
PG: Yes, please do.
TDR: With regards to a first single, have you decided on one and can you share some info with us about it?
PG: I can’t really because we haven’t decided. What I can tell you is that there are four options. I’m really pleased to say that the album is really cool. It’s a very good album and Marie thinks it’s the best album we’ve ever done. I think Look Sharp! was a pretty good album for me, because it was so special at the time, so I don’t know why she thinks this one is better.
TDR: That’s not a bad thing! Ha ha!
PG: I guess it’s because it’s a very strong album with great songs and great production. We brought in some new people as well on certain songs. And I wrote a couple of songs with MP as well.
TDR: Let’s face it; the real magic happens when you’re working at T&A!
PG: Ha ha! Yea! Sometimes! But I guess the fact that we haven’t decided on the single is actually good news. We have really strong contenders for the single. It will be released on Warner worldwide and we also want them to be involved with selecting the single, because we would like to get their input especially from the big markets like Germany, England and Australia. We believe that’s the way to go.
TDR: Do you have a release date penciled in at least?
PG: In the spring. And I’m sure the album will be out before the tour starts or at least during that time. (Per turns to Marie Dimberg) Do we have any set plans? It is during the spring, it must be during the spring? Spring is good.
Marie Dimberg: Late spring.
TDR: Yea, spring is always good. Just before summer. Make it a happy single!
PG: Yea! Ha ha! There are a few happy ones!
TDR: Something like “June Afternoon”, even though it came out in winter?!
PG: Yea, that’s a tradition. I had a single in 1985 and it was called “Blå december” (“Blue December) and it came out in January! Ha ha ha…
TDR: And the album? Does it have a title yet?
PG: Well, we have it… but I won’t tell you. I’m sorry. Ha ha!
TDR: So the title is fixed?
PG: The title is fixed! Actually before I talked to you I had to talk to the designer about the sleeve. We’re getting there slowly, but surely.
TDR: So the sleeve design is in post-production?
PG: Not in production, but we’re talking and it’s sort of in design mode.
TDR: In concept mode then. Can you share the concept with us?
PG: The concept is that it is good. Ha ha!
MD: It’s too early!
PG: Ha ha! It’s not that I’m trying to be secretive about it. It’s just like…. like the day before we came here was the last day of mixing the album. So everything is still really fresh. This week there was a big Warner conference in Hamburg where they presented the album for Warner and today is Friday. So people at the record company are still listening. So I don’t want to say something and then next Wednesday something might change.
MD: And all the fans will then ask “Why?!”
TDR: Yes, they will! Ha ha! We know you prefer shorter albums and songs these days, how many tracks can we expect on the new album?
PG: It looks like it’s going to be 10 tracks. We recorded a couple more tracks, but it’s also not set in stone yet. We’re playing around a bit with the running order to get just the right vibe. We did the same thing with “Room Service”, we recorded something like 10 more songs and they came out on the Rox Box and as bonus tracks. So it doesn’t matter anyway, because the leftovers will eventually be released as bonus tracks or somewhere else.
TDR: Sharing is caring!
PG: Absolutely! When you make an album you should use the album format to present a certain vibe, idea, a concept instead of just pushing 55 minutes of music into it. It’s like back in the old days when the CD happened and suddenly you could go from 45 minutes to 70 minutes. Sometimes bands made albums too long. I think it’s better to do the opposite and rather make a fantastic album instead.
TDR: Like an album filled with singles, almost like a greatest hits.
PG: Yea, absolutely! Why not? So hopefully we can release it on vinyl as well. 10 songs are good. Five on each side.
TDR: That’s good news! So the album sleeve has to be fantastic!
PG: Yup, definitely!
TDR: The last time you spoke to The Daily Roxette, you mentioned that this new album is the strongest one since Crash! Boom! Bang!. Do you still feel the same way about it?
PG: I’ve been working really hard on this album, and especially with Christoffer (Lundquist). We’ve been spending so much time on this album so it’s very hard for me to distance myself from it to see what I’ve been doing. It’s much easier for Marie. We do the mixes and then she listens to it a lot, but I hear a lot of things in there that she doesn’t. Ha ha! It’s really hard for me to say, but I feel that it’s a very strong album. It sounds really fresh and it’s classic Roxette, but at the same time it sounds very “now”. It’s definitely better than Charm School and Travelling which had ups and downs, you know. Crash! Boom! Bang! was a great album. Too long. If you take away 3 or 4 tracks it’s a fantastic album. So I don’t really know, because it’s really hard to say.
TDR: Can we expect to hear a couple of “big ballads”?
PG: We have big ballads!
TDR: Like the “olden day” ballads? For example I regard “Speak to Me” as a big ballad, because of its big, soaring chorus.
PG: Well, we have even more classic Roxette stuff than “Speak to Me” on this album!
TDR: Lets talk about Clarence quickly. At times he can seem very critical and opinionated about what he likes and dislikes. So, tell us, is the man in the hat and glasses happy with the new album?
PG: Well, you should ask him actually! Ha ha! I think so. I think Clarence is very very happy with the situation and the album. On the other hand, since we’re working in Christoffer’s studio spending day and days and nights there, it becomes more and more Christoffer’s. He’s in charge of things, more so than he used to be. But generally speaking Clarence is very happy with the album. Well, I think so.
TDR: You’ve acquired some “new young blood” for this project. By working with these young EDM producers and artists all in the hope of pushing Roxette forward, what are some of the biggest things you’ve learned throughout the process?
PG: For me it’s not to push Roxette forward, it’s more about not repeating ourselves too much. When you’ve been writing songs all your life like I have, it’s so easy to do that. I have a certain taste and I just need input from other people to sort of challenge my taste, to sit and discuss ideas for example “if you like this, why don’t you try it this way instead?” and I’ll say “Wow, that’s interesting”, Even though the end result is different you still get the same effect of it. So the reason why we’ve been working with Addeboy vs Cliff is to get new input. New blood. It’s not like we’re trying to change Roxette. We just want a different perspective on things. That was also one of the reasons why Christopher came into the projects a long time ago, because we needed someone with a fresh perspective. He was also 10 years younger than us and he showed us a 10 year younger version of pop music. And now we’re working with Addeboy vs Cliff and those guys who are even 10 years younger than that! That doesn’t mean this is an EDM record.
TDR: Okay, that explains a lot. I think the fans are expecting a dance record. Songs that sounds like “Stars” from Have A Nice Day or “Make My Head Go Pop” from Room Service. Especially after the Sebastien Drums release of ‘Some Other Summer”. I can’t see Roxette going that route for a whole album…
PG: No we’re not. In the studio we are the opposite of what we are on stage. We’re a very guitar driven band on stage. In the studio not so. There are lots of guitars on this new album, but lots of those guitars are computer generated. It’s not necessarily guitars, but distortions of synthesizers, which sound like guitars. It’s a very well produced album. It’s very… I don’t know how to explain it you… there’s no song that sounds like “Sleeping In My Car”, because that’s an organic band playing. So there is no song like that. There are some songs in that style, but they are made in a different way.
TDR: I cannot wait to hear this! Ha ha! How does Marie feel about the album? Is she still passionate about the idea of a “new Roxette” and its sound?
PG: She is! Like I said, she thinks it’s the best album ever. I’ve been trying to make songs that are either sung entirely by Marie or songs sung by both of us. I don’t think there is any song that I sing on my own. Marie sings on all the songs, but I don’t sing on all of them. I wrote the songs, I made the demos and I sent them to her as always. And she’ll say “I hate this one” and “I like this one” Ha ha!
TDR: Your worst critic!
PG: Yea, that’s how she should be! If she has to sing it, she has to like it first. She is not with us in the studio while we’re recording. We do that and then we go to her place and do her vocals. So all her vocals are recorded in Stockholm. So it’s different than it used to be, but that’s the way it goes.
TDR: So it’s a good thing she puts her foot down right from the start, so that you don’t record something that she won’t like.
PG: True! Absolutely! You can always tell when we make a production that she’s not entirely happy with. You can tell immediately when she starts to sing with it that it’s not really her cup of tea. So then we scrap it and go with something else. You have to be passionate about things all the time. It’s the same with me. If it goes wrong in the studio with the production or the direction of the production we scrap the song and we start all over again. It might end up on another album then, because we screwed up.
Marie Dimberg waves her hand and lets us know time is up. I quickly squeeze in another question. This one is about the “Roxette Diaries” and if we’ll see a worldwide release of it.
MD: Yes, that’s what they’re aiming for. Maybe not simultaneously, but definitely worldwide.
PG: It is a fun little thing. I’m glad we did that one.
TDR: From what I can see in the trailer it will be amazing.
PG Yea. It was made for ourselves. And then we showed it to a few people and they thought it was lovely. It is for the hardcore fans. People who aren’t into Roxette as much won’t like it.
MD: It’s a document of a time and era as well.
PG: Yes, it is. It’s fun when you see the clothes and you see the cars and hotels.
MD: And in those days nobody had iPhones to film. You had a big camera.
PG: There is certain footage from so many shows that I forgot about. There’s footage from when we were in the States somewhere and we’re playing a big outdoor arena and Marie is doing “It Must Have Been Love’ a cappella for these people. I’ve never seen that, because I was probably backstage ‘cos I wasn’t needed. So that was news to me as I’ve never seen that before. It was 180 hours of footage.
TDR: Poor Jonas (Åkerlund)!
PG: Yea! Ha ha!
TDR: Speaking about Jonas, I personally love his work. You guys have come a long way together. Are you planning on working together again… maybe on the new single?
PG:Yea, hopefully. We love to work together. We haven’t decided or what’s going to happen. Nothing is set in stone, and of course we would love to work with Jonas in future, so we’ll have to see. It will be on one thing or another.
And with that we ended the chat with a quick photo. I was whisked away while Per got ready for the show, which would start in just over 30 minutes. Bumped into Mr Öfwerman on my way out as he was typing away on his phone while enjoying a glass of red wine.
As I made my way back to the front of the stage, pushing past the thousands of concertgoers, who I learned earlier was roughly 10,000 people, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad that we couldn’t get the juicy answers we were looking for. I understand that when something is so fresh, like bread straight out of the oven, you have to let it cool off before you can start slicing it apart and enjoy it. The European Spring is around the corner, so we’ll definitely hear more news regarding the album in the upcoming weeks.
9:10PM. A drum and bass driven intro saw Marie and Per walking onto the stage with their incredible band. The night was still young and just like that incredible evening in 1995, the Port Elizabeth crowd sent electrifying chills down my spine with their cheers and whistles.
With that same monster, guitar driven, intro for “Sleeping In My Car” I realized my love for Roxette has truly come full circle.