Kirsten and Judith met Jonas Isacsson in Hamburg for an interview. He just came back from a walk in rainy Hamburg. After short introduction, we went straight to work.
Yesterday we saw that you are also in the front when you played with Alan Parsons, not in the back behind the orchestra.
– Yeah! I have to come down and play with him as well. That’s fine. He’s an old hero of mine, he was assistant producer of Pink Floyd’s “Dark side of the moon” and he worked with The Beatles as well. So I’m honoured to play with him, actually. He’s a cool guy, and very big, I’m not that tall, I look like a dwarfs. He’s nice, but like 2 meters tall!
Alan Parsons is a new act in the show. There are other new things, for example, Sharon von Adel is not there anymore. So John Miles does “Stairway to Heaven” alone. We miss her! I miss OMD as well. They played somewhere in town yesterday as well. They were supposed to come to the hotel after the show but they didn’t.
Is it exhausting to play during the whole show, it lasts three hours…
– No, it’s actually better than sitting in the dressing room and wait, because the other guys in Roxette and everybody else have to sit and wait for their moment, kind of boring. The only thing that disturbs me when I come in during the break is that the wine is gone! I’m sure it’s Pelle, Clarence and Christoffer!
Yeah!, We can see that on the YouTube videos.
– Yeah, that happens while I am up on stage you know. It’s kinda funny, stupid but funny. We have a good time anyway.
So we’d like to know about your career. How did you start to play guitar?
– Two elder brothers, Thomas and Mikael, were playing in bands. They both played bass, they would fool around with guitars too. I always tried to be better than them (laughs), so that’s how it started. I went to rehearsals with my brothers, saw the bands, and I liked the atmosphere with amplifiers and all that.
How old were you?
– I was five. There were guitars in my house all around. And my great grandfather played organ at the church, so there was always music in the house and started from there.
Do you play other instruments?
– Yes! Bass and drums. I learnt to play drums at the music school, I could play guitar before that, but drums were the first instrument I really had to learn, but it became boring. I can also play keyboards.
Is it true you played with Joey Tempest and John Norum’s as well, back in early 80ies?
– I lived in Upplands Väsby where they come from. John Norum had a band called W.C., Water Closet, with some friends of mine, he was a great guitar player but he was a kid back in those days, he was very shy and stood with his back to the audience, but everytime I listened to him play guitar, I thought “this guy is great.” So we lived in the same town and grew up with those guys as well. I also worked with Joey’s first solo album.
You said you lived in Upplands Väsby, but where do you come from?
– No, I was born in Umeå. We’re nearly one age. We moved to Dalarna and I moved to Stockholm in 1975.
You also worked with Eva Dahlgren a long time. How did you start to work with her?
– I worked with Eva from her second album “En blekt blondins hjärta”, from 1980 till 1991. Eva’s producer Anders Glenmark and I were on tour with a band, we played in the same show, a bit like this show wi
th various artists, and Eva was backup singer in one band, so we met then and became friends. Then Anders and me started to work together and we formed a band actually, with Eva. Then in 81 we went on tour with Eva, the woman went rocket skyhigh immediately, with such great songs.
How was it working with her? You composed one song with her, “Älska mig”.
– It was great! We also did music for a children’s movie and worked a lot together those days. I miss her sometimes, to play with her. We have still contact, we live very close to each other in SouthernStockholm, we see each other shopping groceries, you know, so I see her a lot. But she has a new band and works with Lars Halapi, they seem to have a good working relationship, so I don’t want to go and mess things. But if she’d ask I’d say yes , of course.
How did you start to work with Roxette?
– Working with Eva lead to other jobs, I got to do a lot of sessions with other big Swedish artists. I was working in studio 4-5 days a week, with different people and different kind of music, including dance bands, lots of stuff. And Clarence, Pelle and I knew each other since 1977, from different bands, Clarence got the offer to produce a solo album with Per, which then became Roxette. Clarence said “I want to have this band,” which was me and Pelle, and Tommy Cassemar. So I worked with them since 1986, except for the 7 years where Marie didn’t play. That was tragic.
But now she’s back.
– Yeah, but when it happened it was “why?”. But she’s doing a great job now, I’m really proud of her, and she sings great. I think her voice sounds better, like rougher. You can hear a woman who’s gone through things, she’s great.
How is it to be back on stage with them?
– It’s like an old shoe or something.
Has it always been this wild backstage?
– No!! That’s because they have to wait a lot between the songs, otherwise we play a whole show, for 2 hours or longer..
But back then you used to get drunk after the show, or at the hotel or bus…
– Yeah, but nowadays I don’t even get to drink anything, everything is gone when I get to the dressing room, you have to take that up with Pelle I think.
Could you tell us about studio work with Roxette?
– Every album has been different. My fave was “Joyride”, we worked all together in the studio, the same with “Look Sharp!”.
Clarence and Pelle come from a walk in the city and stop by to say “Hi”.
– Ah! Here they come! We were talking about you guys!
Jonas explains Clarence and Pelle he’s doing an interview for Roxetteblog and was telling us that there is no wine when he gets to the dressing room. Of course, everybody laughs. When Clarence and Pelle are gone:
– Sorry about that! They are great guys, we are really friends. So where were we?
– Studio! Ah yeah! We got demo tapes of the songs, sometimes they were done with Mats MP, sometimes on his own on acoustic guitar. So then we were free to bring in our ideas and see what happens, it was a lot of team work like with “The Look.” My guitar riff was in the solo, to begin with, and then Per said, “what did you play there?”, rewinded the tape “what’s that? Could we have this in the beginning as well?” So he was actually the one who heard that riff, that was good team work.
The new intro we could hear at the Party Crasher tour is also good.
– Yeah, Christoffer didn’t want to play my riff, wanted to do something else, and I totally agree. It was great, sounded a bit like “Sweet home Alabama”! But it’s still fun to play for me.
We also like the intro at NOTP.
– Haha, well, the intro before the riff is different every night. I don’t know what to play sometimes, I even play some Swedish folk songs, or even “Bolero”, I have to invent myself every night.
How come you joined the Electric Band at NOTP?
– That’s because everybody made a good deal. I was supposed to join Roxette anyway, and the NOTP organizers thought if I was part of the Electric Band, then they don’t have to employ another guitar player. I do both jobs, so everybody profits of it.
They used to have another guitar player..
– Yeah, they had a guy called Laurie Wisefield, who quit 2 years ago, so I am not responsible that he is not in the band now, which I have checked out very very carefully, because I don’t want to be like “you stole my job you bastard!”
Normally the artists don’t come with their own band, or?
– Yeah, for example, OMD are 4, but only Paul and Andy joined, and on the other hand, we are the whole band. I must say there are great musicians in the Electric Band, like Geert, difficult to pronounce, I call him “Gert”. They are great musicians, nice to work with them.
So would you join them again?
– Sure! If they ask me, I would join again, of course! They do a thing in March, but I’m going on a tour with a Swedish band in March so I don’t know if I can make it, but if they ask me for next Autumn I will say yes, of course.
The whole show is amazing, what do you think about the concept?
– One could think it’s a bit strange mix, between classic and rock and pop, but it really works! And if you stand in the back of the arena, you can see the lights are really great, I think. I didn’t know they had so many effects, we saw a DVD the other day, and I was like “What?” Wow! The lights! It’s beautiful.
What’s your favourite part of the show?
– Well… Alan Parsons yesterday was great I think. And Sharon den Adel was good, too. It was more metal, I’m not used to playing that very heavy metal. But it worked in the end.
What do you normally do besides touring?
– I work a lot in studio, re-mastering and engineering . I remastered an album with an old Swedish band called Hansson de Wolfe United, which is going to be a compilation to be released in March. Then we are going on tour in Sweden as well. I am also producing a new album for the same band, which will be released later next year, Autumn maybe, so I do a lot of production and engineering. I also write music at home as well, I have a little studio.
Are you involved in the new Roxette album?
– They’ve done some stuff with new songs, but to be honest I don’t know how far they got. They work with new songs, that’s all I know. Currently, Christoffer, Marie, Clarence are listening to Per’s songs, he wrote a lot of new songs, as always! But I can understand, that’s his life.
We heard you also started a new project with Pelle?
– Yeah! But we still don’t have a name…
He told us something about “STUB”.
– No, no, no. I like the meaning of the word STUB, but the thing is, it doesn’t really sound.
Staffan Öfwerman was also looking for a name and he asked his fans to send suggestions via his website.
– Yeah! Maybe we can have a competition! It’s a great band, it’s Pelle and Tommy Cassemar, the old bass player from early Roxette, and Jesper and two more guys. We are six people and we have three singers.
Which style can we expect?
– I don’t know, Pelle always compares the band to Wilko, a bit “Americana” style, but we just play, it becomes what it becomes. It’s just fun. You will hear it soon.
Is it going to be released?
– We don’t know. We are thinking about that, you can do a lot on internet these days. So that may be an option. We have lots of songs. Records don’t really sell anymore, they are more like an announcement that something is happening. We’ll see what we are going to do.
What about “Evergreen”? Are you planning another solo album?
– Yeah! I did that after a Roxette tour or was it after “Have a nice day” recordings? I can’t remember really, but I wanted to do something completely different. I thought it was nice, but listening to it today it’s kind of… boring. Some of the songs are very good, though. I probably will do another one. I have some songs at home, more experimental, with electronic music, so it might be a new solo album. I have three fully finished tracks, instrumental, it’s more into… do you know Massive Attack? So in that direction.
I will see, I don’t have a MySpace site, but I should have one! I know it’s a bit messy, but a good advertisement if you have some stuff you want to show. But on the other hand, after a while it gets boring, “so OK, he’s on this website too.” And that’s the problem with many web designers. Websites shouldn’t be messy, they should be easy, simple, to get into, where you don’t need to download the latest Flash Player to view the site.
Currently I only have this one page on the Sliderecords homepage. But it’s just in Swedish.
It’s good when you can make a living from playing the guitar, isn’t it?
– Yes, it’s good. I never thought it would happen. You do what you do and then you see what happens. Sometimes it’s good to have a pay check every month. I get some money out of royalties and it’s important to not spend it all at once. You have to be smart which I am not (laughs).
You mentioned a lot of musicians you know from late 70s and 80s, to me it feels like a big old Café Opera family.
– Yes, those are the artists I work with in the studio much. Anne-Lie Rydé, Mats Ronander, Niklas Strömstedt and Marie, of course. We used to hang out with each other back in the 80’s as well. Café Opera was the place to be back then. All the musicians hang out there, it was the desillusioned corner. Clarence came to me back then and asked: Do you want to play with Roxette? I said yes.. so I got this job through Café Opera. Efva Attling was also part of this gang, she was married to Niklas back then, and was friends with Agnetha and Eva.
Do you think the times of recording a full album live in a studio over?
– Well it depends. We do a lot of things at home and then save it on a hard disk, take to the studio, then we add the drums, because you can’t record the drums in your apartment (Laughs!), neighbours would go crazy! Then we take it back and work home again. Then we go to another studio again and then we mix it. That’s a cheapest way to do it, because a studio costs a lot. But with the new band we’ve recorded in the studio, because one of the guys in the band has a good studio. What Pelle and I really wanted to do was to go to Christoffer’s studio, and just play live in his studio. In the middle of nowhere.
Nowadays a lot of the music is done digitally, what do you miss from the old times?
– Oh, we had great times, we were in London, Marbella, Capri. We’ve seen a lot, and then “Tourism”, which was recorded all over the world. We even had suitcases become drums. What’s the name of that song?
“Here comes the weekend”.
– Ah yeah, that’s right. Yeah, you can’t hear that it’s suitcases. Pelle even took them to the Unplugged. We had a suitcase on that song, you gotta check it out.
Those days the recordings were really expensive, too much money was spent in the studio actually. You had the studio booked for a long time because you could have days where nothing would happen, nothing you could use on an album, so it all was slow. Nowadays, like what they are doing in the hotel rooms, if Marie sings a great part, then you can just keep it and don’t have to re-record it, you can save it on a USB stick, you don’t have to wait for the red light and then OK let’s start, so now it’s more flexible and that’s a good thing.
We are really looking forward to the Roxette sound 2010, we hope it’s better than “Have a nice day” or “Room Service.”
– Haha! Well, I think at least “Room Service” is an album. In“Have a nice day” each song sounds different. I think “The World According to Gessle” should have been a Roxette album, that one is really good, I like it a lot. But I don’t know what happened with “Room Service”, maybe it became too main stream. It was strange.
Did you have the chance to bring some of your ideas to the Proms?
– Yes, some of them. The intro is my idea, actually. From The Look – the part before the riff. They wanted to do a totally different thing. I should be out on the catwalk, like 25 metres away and do this Van Halen stuff. And I just said to Jan Vereecke: Well, Jan, you know, I am not Yngwie Malmsteen, it’s not going to happen. So that’s why we did it this way. But the funny thing is that the Alan Parsons thing starts exactly the same but in a different key.
– Yes, it’s B minor and a long bass note as well but then I play more like Pink Floyd and kind of stuff..
But that wasn’t your idea?
– That was actually the original idea…
So you borrowed it from Roxette?
– I didn’t know I borrowed it. But everytime I come up on stage it’s a long bass note and I play this stuff. But it doesn’t matter. Alan’s songs are completely different from Roxette. We play “Eye in the sky” and the intro before that and “Silence and I”. That’s a good song. This is strange with the symphonic parts in the middle of that one but it works on the Proms.
So there’s not a song you’re already tired of playing?
– I used to hate playing “It must have been love.” But with the orchestra now it’s a completely new thing to do. Yes, I really used to hate it, because I played 12-string back in those days and I always thought, well, ok, here comes that one again. On the first tour me and Staffan sat on the stairs playing that song. It’s ok now. And it’s always great to see that the audience sings it.
Can you see that?
– Yes, I can see that. Everybody knows this song, it’s a big song. It’s good.
–How is life on this tour? Do you spend time together?
– Well, we are all going with the bus, altogether, 30 people. The orchestra, they have another bus. I like it. It’s nice to talk to the people, to get to know them. It’s easier when you are on the bus together. It feels good that the whole band is here. Unfortunately, Mats didn’t make it, the percussions guy, because they have Patrick de Smet. And he’s good.
Yes, he’s funny….
– Yes, he’s funny and he’s nice. He’s a great guy and he’s kind of a band leader.
What do you think of John Miles?
– I remember me and Pelle went to a Jethro Tull concert back in 1976 and Clarence as well. And John Miles was a support act back in 1976. So I remind him, “how old are you?”. He’s funny. He’s a good singer. He has done a couple of albums.
You have been in the business for such a long time. What’s the best that happened in your career until now?
– There are a couple of memories. When we were in London in the Beatles Abbey Road studios we were there to record some songs for a Beatles compilation anthology thing. Every artist on EMI should do an hommage to the Beatles and we were there were the Beatles recorded and we played “Help!” and that was a little bit spooky, because The Beatles are so huge, the biggest. I went like John Lennon’s spirit is flying here, he doesn’t like this (laughs).
But it became a great version…
– I don’t have it, actually. Well, we did it, just me, Mats and Clarence and Marie. Per wasn’t involved, he was in the control room.
But there are lots of memories.. yesterday was also great! It’s always fun to play new songs, you can’t relax too much. Christina Stürmer joined also yesterday, which was also new. Her boyfriend is playing acoustic guitar on one. They are nice, she was in an Idol alike show, wasn’t she?
She was in Starmania, an Austrian talent show in 2003.
– Which kind of songs did she sing there?
Well, pop, rock. She even played “The Look” in a duet with the contestant who actually won that season, because she ended up second.
– Oh really! The guitar player in her band, her boyfriend is always asking things, it seems like he likes Roxette a lot.
She said in the press conference a while ago that she is kind of a fan, that she was honoured to be on stage with Roxette, because she grew up with them. She also explained she was very nervous since it was her first concert with the orchestra and all.
– Oh! That’s nice to hear! But you couldn’t see that she was nervous, she did a great job. I like “Engel fliegen einsam”, I think it’s a good song. I checked her out on Wikipedia, read she is very big in Austria and Germany, sold lots of records.
Is there an artist you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
– Yes, there are lots. Too bad that John Lennon isn’t around anymore. Or George Harrison. I’m not that big Paul McCartney fan. Well, everyone that’s good, actually.
What kind of music do you listen to?
– Well, I listen to all kinds of stuff. Hank Williams, The Shadows, I really like listen to Gillian Welch, she’s an American singer/songwriter, all acoustic, very great stuff, highly recommended.
You know Aimee Mann? When she screws up on a song and she recognizes it, she stops playing and says, well, we have to start again, makes it much more personal…
– Yes. That’s the way to do it. Eva Dahlgren did a thing back in those days when we played. Once she had a very bad stomach because of something we ate the day before the show. She had diarrhea, so she stopped in the middle of the song and said: Now the guys will play a song by themselves, because I have to go the lavatory. And the audience thought that it was part of the show and we didn’t know what to play. That was honest. And then there was another thing with Eva, which also became a band, because we couldn’t say no to the job. And the band was rehearsing and Eva came in with signs, because her voice was hoarse and she brought the lyrics on signs. She’s very funny. Her monologes in the middle of her songs at the shows are crazy sometimes.
Marie could have done it like that on the 2nd evening in Antwerp when she had this terrible sore throat. We felt so sorry for her..
– It became too much for her I think, because she was thrown into this whole thing. And it’s quite big backstage, so many people, huge stage and everything. I think you get sick when you are nervous.
But now she got used to the stage…
– She’s great. I’m proud of her.
We miss Anders Herrlin..
– I miss him, too, to be honest. But here and there we work together. I think he is doing a new album now, together with his wife Jenny.
How do you experience the atmosphere within the Roxette camp? Do you think it’s more affectionate than in the past? At least we sense it that way.
– Yes. Everyone is much more relaxed. We don’t take it too seriously. We have a good time and that’s when you make good music. It’s right. Back in the old days everyone was more nervous. Back in the old days we were thrown in to a complete new thing. We didn’t know what would happen. We played for 50.000 people in Argentina, for example. We were like: What’s going on?
Do you think the fans changed, too?
– Everybody has become older. And the fans who followed us started early. And you’re still much younger than we are and you’re still there. The fans are everything. I become shy sometimes after the show. One day Pelle was like pushing me into the crowd like “Talk to them. They’re nice.” And I said I know they’re nice. Sometimes after the show I am tired and need to be on my own. Pelle is great.
There are many new fans….
– Yes, and I say yes to everyone on Facebook. Clarence does, too. They’re nice. Everybody’s nice.
Doesn’t it get messy on Facebook?
– Well, I have lists for that. Lists for fans and for friends. Sometimes it mixes. I can check every list. I have my old friends as well. What’s somehow funny is, if you write something that is dedicated to my friends in Stockholm, fans reply on that, too. It’s nice (laughs).
Mikael Bolyos stops by as well, and starts chatting with us.
– Did you know that I played in one of Mikael’s singles too?
Mikael: yeah, Jonas played with me as well!
– What was the name of it again?
Mikael: Aldrig mer
Mikael leaves us again.
– I knew Micke before we played with Roxette and before he met Marie. He was part of the Café Opera gang as well. We played together before all this with Roxette started. We played in a band with dancers, we did an album with them as well. He is a funny guy.
Thanks for the interview and for your time! Do you have to go and rehearse now?
– No, we rehearsed yesterday. I thought that I had to be available, since there are some new artists in the German tour and yesterday was the premiere. In case something happens, but it seems everything was fine yesterday. So thanks for the interview and see you tonight, maybe.
Interview by Kirsten and Judith. Photos during interview by Cornelia, concert by Kirsten.