Face to face with Clarence Öfwerman. Pt. 4: “That’s why I started wearing hats”
Clarence Öfwerman: “I like this gang.”
K: Do you think that computers made it more difficult to make music?
C: Yeah, in a way, yes.
K: Before it was like you had your live session in the studio, you record one take…
C: …or you have 95 takes…
K: Yes, and number 95 finally is the right one. Would it be an option to go back to the era of tapes to keep it simple?
C: Yeah, we do that sometimes. We record on tape at Christoffer’s studio because he has an old multi-track tape recorder.
K: While using tape you could always say, “It’s a bit out of tune but I can live with it”.
K: On the computer, you can change things all the time and never find an end…
C: Yeah, can be like that. For younger people it is, I guess. But the big problem with computers and modern technique is that you have to make a decision. You have lots of possibilities all the time. You go on and on and in the end you have like 70, 80 tracks that you don’t know anymore because you forgot everything. It’s like a jungle to sort it out. But in the old days like “Look Sharp!”, we had only 16 tracks. So when we did the guitar tracks for The Look, we recorded those on four stereo tracks. Now we had to mix and make a decision: “Is it this, now it will sound like this forever?” Then you mix it down and have two tracks now only. And then four new guitars playing the other part… mix them down: two tracks. Then we still have those parts between the guitars. All the vocals, the backing vocals, they were on 8, 12 channels. Mixed them down too to get three tracks… But then you’re set with this, you cannot change it. Which is good. Because then you live with it during the next overdub, you get used to it and you like it because it’s there. That’s good with all the Beatles stuff. They had a four-track recorder, and they were maybe wrong sometimes, but they accepted it. No matter if the cymbals were too loud…
K: That’s why people like live concerts, because songs sound different then. Sometimes, things are out of tune because you don’t use any playback track.
J: If you go and see Madonna just one time, you know all her shows, it’s all the same.
C: Yes, totally useless to have backing tracks. I mean, we used them in the old days, too.
K: But you are going more back to the roots, both live and in the studio.
K: There was a time when I felt that Roxette was overproduced, like when “Have A Nice Day” or “Room Service” came out.
C: “CrashBoomBang!” a little bit, too.
K: Yes, it started there. I once listened to “RS” and thought to myself, “What a wonderful acoustic album that would have been if they had left away the drum tracks!”
K: Yes, the songs are great, the music is okay, just the drums were too nervous for me.
C: Well, “Room Service”…. Nobody was really in love with this album. Not me, not Per, not Marie. Everybody was like “We have to do another album”. It was not like “Wow!”.
K: It was done quickly.
C: It was not very inspirational. Milk And Toast And Honey is very good, I think. The Centre Of The Heart is okay. Real Sugar, I don’t like it. It Will Take A Long Time: No, I say “No”! It Takes You No Time To Get Here, that’s perfect!
J: Every album tries to catch younger audiences, it’s not the Roxette that we know from “LS!” or “Joyride”, it’s gotten totally different. I miss those old times.
C: But it comes with the songs a bit. Per doesn’t write songs like that anymore, now he writes songs in a totally different way when compared to The Look or LTYH or Dangerous.
J: This is interesting because for his solo albums he writes totally different music…
C: You think so? Maybe for “SOAP” a little bit. But “Party Crasher”… It’s almost like Roxette, it could have been with Marie in it as well.
J: He tried to keep both his own fans and the Roxette fans at the same time.
C: But nobody was interested! It came in the wrong time, maybe. People didn’t buy it at all.
J: I liked this album, I found it interesting!
K: Hm. Let’s go back to the production process. When you’re down in Skåne, you are three days in the studio and then you take a break…
C: Yes, it’s been like this since we’ve worked at Christoffer’s place because it’s kinda out in the bush, very far from everything. So Per and I get a little bit creepy after three days and we need to go back home. We stay in “the old man’s house” (Gubbens hus) which is a house that Christoffer bought for people who work in the studio and they need somewhere to sleep.
K: It’s in the same village?
C: It’s 15 minutes walking distance or two minutes by car. But it’s a very simple, basic house.
K: For young upcoming musicians!
C: Exactly. Not for Gessle. He stayed there for many, many nights, but I don’t know if he wants to stay there anymore. I can stand it for a couple of nights but not more than three, four, maybe five. We always work quite long days. We come down at 12 o’clock in the morning, we fly down by plane, and then we work to 2 o’clock every morning. There is no sense to take a hotel.
K: When you leave the studio for some time, do you switch off every thought about the music you’re working with or do you put it on your headphones to think about it further?
C: When we work in Skåne, I switch it off when I go out, when I come home. It’s different when I’m writing my own stuff. When I’m writing a score for a film or so, it’s in my head all the time, then I cannot turn it off. It’s easier when you are three people sharing responsibilities, then you can turn it off. Per is the one who keeps the music spinning in his head all the time. He never relaxes when the songs are in the production. And not when they are out of production already either. He always is going like this… [spins the finger around the head]
K: You mentioned you still have your own projects going on. What are doing there, I think you don’t have so much time at the moment?
C: No, I don’t have any projects going on at the moment. But I wrote some music for TV series and film scores. I only do that once in a while when somebody calls me.
K: They still do?
C: Yeah, they do sometimes. Hopefully next year, there will be a big movie…
K: With the soundtrack written by you?
C: Yeah. Maybe. It’s not decided yet. It’s still very secret but I will tell you when it starts. I hope for that because I don’t know what to do next year otherwise.
K: Is there the risk that you lose contact to the other people in the business when you only work with Gessle all the time?
C: Maybe. But in this case it doesn’t matter because I like this gang. I don’t feel there is anyone else in the music industry that I long to work with at the moment, so I’m very happy to be in this family. I’m very happy that Roxette is back and Marie is back. We never thought that would happen five years ago.
J: Yeah, it’s a miracle.
C: Yes, it really is. So all we do is like a bonus, we’re doing this all around the world. Again. Playing in New York, just like 20 years ago. Fantastic!
K: Sometimes we watch you when you are on stage behind your red Nord keyboards… by the way, why actually this one?
C: Everybody has that one nowadays. 95 % in the world. I wouldn’t know what else to use. I’ve had it for around ten years now. I know the people who made it, here in Stockholm, Södermalm. They’re good and they’re improving all the time.
J: I heard that every brand has its own sound and people make their choice according to these…
C: It used to be like that in the old days. But now they all sound the same. But my Nords are versatile. They incorporate a good organ and a great piano, you can have everything in them. And they are easy to program and easy to work with. I’m happy with it. I could change, I don’t have to use it, the brand is not important for me.
K: Okay, so we watch you on stage and there is a very complex melody to be played by you and you just move one finger like there is nothing to do really. I mean… how do you do that??
C: [laughing] Really? I don’t know. I play like that? Maybe the other hand is playing on the lower keyboard?
K: Could be. You stand there, watch the people… do you really glance into the audience and look for faces you know? Do you even have time for this?
C: Yeah, I love doing that! I have enough time for this, I learnt to play without watching my fingers!
J: Yes, there you go and wave to someone…
C: Yeah, I’m quite relaxed these days.
K: The whole band is!
C: Yes, this is the best Roxette band ever. It’s very good with the “new” guys. Magnus and Christoffer bring in some energy to the old guys.
K: Do you sometimes wish to be more in front?
C: No, I like to stay out of focus. But I like to come in front and play the acoustic guitar. That’s great!
J: In Church Of Your Heart…
C: Yeah. Before, we did that in Watercolours In The Rain as well, so I had two spots. But sometimes now we take away Church, then it’s a pity.
Clarence’s phone rings, we pause the talk. After a minute, he returns…
C: Hello, hello, so where were we?
K: We joked about you standing on the stage, playing difficult tunes and not moving at all then.
C: I always do this here [rubs his nose with two fingers]. My kids once counted it, it was like 23 times in one song. I don’t even notice this myself.
K: Who actually choses your stage clothes?
J: You’re always a good looking guy!
K: Yes, you always wear a hat, even today. I also saw your dad wearing a red barret… is this a family thing?
C: Ha ha, I have a hat because I haven’t been at the hairdresser for some time. And I’m getting bald. That’s why I started wearing hats.
K: On stage, you had this fez, a Turkish hat. How did you come to this?
C: Same reason, I guess: I’m getting bald [everyone laughing]. In the old days, I had lots of hair. But I have a quite small head so I kinda disappeared on the stage, I think, if I don’t have anything on the head.
K: And the green trousers?
C: That was not my choice. It was Marie Dimberg. She came with some different stuff, I tried them on and both she and Per said, “Yeah, that’s good”. Nah, I didn’t like them, but it’s okay. I don’t care.
J: So the basic clothes designer is Marie Dimberg?
C: No. Sometimes she has been the stylist. Sometimes they hired someone professional but it usually doesn’t turn out quite well because the stylist maybe doesn’t know who we are. It’s very difficult for us to explain what we want because we simply don’t know what we want. Somebody has to tell us what we want. Per and Marie do know. But me and Pelle and Christoffer… no.
K: What about Beatles style: black suits?
C: Yeah, why not? But you better ask Pelle first…
K: He wouldn’t like it?
C: No. He wants to have shorts. Always.
Tomorrow on TDR: Face to face with Clarence Öfwerman. Pt. 5: “I am a nobody here. That’s nice!”
“TCOTH is okay.” Well, Clarence is really humble:
Clarence: “I learnt to play without watching my fingers!”
Green trousers. Brave decision by Marie Dimberg.
Technical errors may occur.