I met Sven Lindström, the author of “Att vara Per Gessle” and the new book “Roxette – Den osannolika resan tur och retur” in Stockholm just right before the release party of the book. Sven told me about himself and especially about the making off the book. Enjoy the interview!
Judith: To start with, could you tell us about you, how you started to write about music and what you’ve done so far?
Sven: I started as music journalist in Malmö for Sydsvenska Dagbladet, which is the biggest morning paper in the area. I became a music journalist back in 1983 and one of the first guys I interviewed was actually Per Gessle. We connected; I thought he was a fun guy. It was when Gyllene Tider were having a break due to military service and he was about to release his first solo album and he was starting a new chapter in his career.
Some years later I quit writing about music, I got fed up with doing nothing but reviewing concerts or albums, I wanted to keep this more as a hobby, so I went into advertising. I’ve been working as a copywriter since the end of the 80’s.
Some years later, Per called me up and wanted me to make an interview with Marie and him to be used as a press release for the Joyride album, so I met them in Per’s apartment in Halmstad in December 1990 and wrote the piece which was then given a magazine look where we tried to emulate the feeling of Rolling Stone interview.
And since then I’ve been working doing a lot of press releases, biographies, CD booklets, tour programs for Roxette and GT. So basically I am a music writer that tried to quit but didn’t really manage to. And I’ve published three books so far.
J: One of them is another Rox-related book, “Att vara Per Gessle”. How did that happen?
S: The idea came up at the after-show party at the last concert of the Room Service tour in Göteborg, it was Per who suggested that at 5:30 in the morning when most people had gone to sleep and the others who were still around were not terribly sober. He said, “You know, one day somebody will write about the Roxette story, why don’t you do it?”
I heard myself say “Yes, of course,” I didn’t realize what I had just said yes to, haha! So afterwards we decided to make a biography on his career and life, we wanted to do it very candid open and very interview based. But it took forever to do it because I worked with other stuff as well, so it was released in 2007 in the end.
J: And what can you tell about the third book “Han sitter där nere mellan Clapton och Hendrix – Jan Olofssons galna tripp genom pophistorien”?
S: It’s about a photographer from Malmö, Jan Olofsson. It’s a very funny story, a bit like Forrest Gump in the pop world of the 60’s. He met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1960, when he was just 16 and The Beatles had just arrived from Liverpool. And then he went to London and stayed there, working as a manager, photographer, record label boss, producer, club owner etc. Whenever something amazing happened, he happened to be there. It would make a great movie.
J: You are also the voice behind Nordic Rox. When did you join this radio program?
S: Nordic Rox started in 2006. There were quite a lot of people involved, like Pelle Almqvist of The Hives, Per and the ABBA expert Carl Johan Palm. I am not sure what happened before I joined, but around the time when “Att vara Per Gessle” came out at the end of December 2007, Per asked me if I was interested in taking over as the show’s host together with him, but that he would be more of the flagship of the show, and I would do the work, haha! So that’s how it started for me.
J: But you don’t travel to the US every time for the show, or?
S: No, I do it from Malmö. My kids have found me in the closet sometimes because it’s good acoustics there, so when you hear the “Hello, you are listening to Nordic Rox – good looking music” you now know where it was recorded, haha! I still do it from home, recording voice breaks with the regular Mac stuff like GarageBand and doing playlists of songs in iTunes. Then I send it to the Sirius XM headquarters in New York where they produce it into a proper show. I still haven’t really understood that it’s aired in USA, it’s amazing. A friend of mine who was once somewhere in California, was at a hotel with a few business people and he heard the program on the radio and called me “I am sitting here at a restaurant and they are playing something called Nordic Rox, is that you??” haha! So you see, it’s a small world.
J: But it’s great that you are able to spread Nordic music in the states, what is your favourite Nordic band right now?
S: The Asteroids Galaxy Tour from Denmark, I listen to them a lot lately. But there is a lot of good music coming from the Nordic countries, so I think Nordic Rox is a good call.
J: You explained how “Att vara Per Gessle” happened, but how did you get the idea to write this book about Roxette?
S: The original idea was to make something out of the tour, but that idea changed in-between. I realized that the only book that had been written purely about Roxette came out in 1992, I think. So much has happened since then, everything that happened before the 2011 tour, and then how it progressed into 2012, I thought this had to be recorded and told. Of course, fans know about this and are totally involved, but the majority of people didn’t know the whole story. Some knew parts of it of course, but they didn’t really know the details of the struggle that went on, so I thought the story deserved to be told.
J: The book not only contains the Roxette story but also stories about a few fans. Did you know from the beginning that you would also write about fans?
S: I had met some Roxette fans over the years and realised that not only are they something special, they’re also a big part of the Roxette story. I had the feeling that especially the Swedish media had a lukewarm attitude towards Roxette, that they are a lukewarm band playing lukewarm songs, not creatively interesting or hype enough. And I thought those fans with this passion also have to be accounted for, to tell people that this is a band that continue to move people all over the world.
J: How did you select the fans? Was it easy to convince them to be in the book?
S: It wasn’t difficult, most of them agreed almost immediately. I met Danyela, for example, in London. I saw her in queue outside the venue and interviewed her there for Nordic Rox. I remember she made me write an autograph, which I thought was totally embarrassing; I looked around hoping that nobody from the band would see that, haha! She told me a lot about her, and that she had come all the way from Brazil to see Per. I thought it was an interesting story and that she should be on the book.
I met Eliza during “En händig man” tour in Sweden, she made it to the “Att vara Per Gessle” book very briefly but I thought her story was very interesting too. I already thought back then during Per’s tour that it would be interesting to write about her one day, her Roxette interest took her on a very very long trip from Warsaw to the Swedish Parliament.
I found out about Brenda and Leo when I was in South America, a fantastic and very touching story. I also met Sandra in South America. I had asked some people for suggestions and she had been suggested to me, so I asked her if she wanted to be on the book. It wasn’t hard to convince all of them. Evgeny was also a tip I got, and he certainly seemed devoted enough.
J: Did you interview more fans that didn’t make it on the book?
S: No, once I found them and they were in, I didn’t look for more. I was actually looking for a Chinese fan but I didn’t manage to do that. I got some suggestions but it was very hard to get in touch. I was actually prepared to go to Beijing and talk to somebody who had been there when Roxette gave their 1995 concert there, but it didn’t happen.
J: As far as I understood, you travelled to their home cities as well, how come?
S: Yes, I wanted to see where they live and get to know them better. So I’ve been to Moscow for the first time, for example, I visited Evgeny there, he showed me around the city. And then I went to Sandra’s in Leipzig, too. I met Brenda and Leo when I was in South America in a couple of cities and the same goes for Danyela, I was also at her place when I was in Brazil.
J: Was there anything that surprised you during your interviews or talks with these fans?
S: The surprising element I think is the devotion that you find in each and every one of them and that it shows itself in different ways. You realize after a while that being a fan is very different from just being very interested in the music of this or that artist. I always thought of myself as a fan of a lot of bands, but I realize now that I’m not even close, haha!
J: I think we could talk about the concept of “fan” for a long time. What do you think makes these six fans different?
S: For me these are some of the band’s most die-hard fans. For me the biggest difference is that Roxette is such a big focus in their lives, so that a lot of what they do evolves around Roxette. But once you know that you are not surprised anymore, because that’s the way it works. On the other hand, I think even non-fans can recognize themselves in many of the stories. It’s a thin but very interesting line between being very interested and being a fan. Sometimes when you hear about fans being portrayed, they are being portrayed as lunatics, which I think is very unfair and dismissive, so I tried to do write these stories very straight, not sensationalizing anything. This is just me telling their stories the way they are. Sometimes it will make you “wow!” but that’s the nature of it. Other times you will reflect and think that you may not be that different in the end.
J: In order to write the book you followed Roxette to some countries and concerts. How would you describe these trips?
S: It was fantastic to be a part of that and see that evolve in front of your eyes. As I am going to say later on tonight, when “Att vara Per Gessle” was released I thought it was immensely fun to research the Roxette story, to me it’s a piece of music history. I knew much of the story but to go into all the details, with the breakthrough in the States and what happened there and so on, that was really amazing. But to me it really was history – it never ever occurred to me that they would be able to do anything remotely like that again. I had taken for granted that the Roxette story was over, I knew all fans hoped for more, but I was sure it wouldn’t happen.
If someone would have told me that they would perform in front of 600.000 people and do 42 shows (NOTP) and then go on a 2-year tour and play in front of 1,5 million people in 46 countries, I would have laughed. So it was great to travel with them, they had a great tour organization, very slim, great sound guys, great road crew, it felt like a family. Small production, everything was based around the songs and the marvellous performance on stage; everything seemed bigger than it was, at least if you compare it with Madonna’s tour production, for example.
J: Did you have unlimited access to the band?
S: Oh yeah, that was the whole idea to go with them to the tour, to see the reaction of the fans to the band, the band perform and see the interaction, and be part of the tour crew and get the feeling.
J: Was there anything you were not allowed to publish or ask about?
S: Yes, but I may be allowed to tell you…haha, no, just joking. The only thing was Marie’s illness; she is naturally cautious about talking about this. I think when you are a survivor as she is and you survive something like this it’s because you have an iron will of looking forward, and you don’t want to look back and don’t want to be mentally connected with the illness anymore, just look into the future. On the other hand, for me as the author writing the book, I wanted to include this part of the story in the book, especially to make readers who are not really into Roxette understand how magnificent the comeback really was and the incredible struggle that came before it. So I had to find the balance between what I wanted to write and what she was prepared to tell. But I think it worked out fine in the end, and I totally understand her point of view as well. If she doesn’t put boundaries it will become a journalistic cliché where people will ask about it forever and ever, she is past that and that’s what counts.
J: Is there any funny story or anecdote from the tour you want to share?
S: Lots of them, but you may discover them for yourself in the book. It was just very funny to join them during the tour. We had great days in Rio, we were out with the band – that is not on the book because it was more like a private thing – we went to a place called Jobi, basically a hole in the wall with great food, never ending supply of drinks and zillions of people coming and going, so we spent some magic nights there until dawn. Fabulous place. But there were great moments in every city, and some of them are included either in the fan stories or in the Roxette part. There were also magnificent moments during the concerts, like the first shows they played in South America, those were amazing. What about you, have you been to many concerts? Any special moments?
J: All in all since 2010 about 15 concerts I would say. It was very funny with the Spanish guys, we had great laughs during the shows and travelling. I think New York was very special, I didn’t expect such an audience there, so it was a surprise.
S: I was there too, wasn’t it there where we met?
J: Yes, that’s right!
S: It was sweet when Lana Sachse and Jennifer Malcome were standing at the airport with a Swedish flag and a banner saying “Roxette välkommen äntligen till USA”. New York was a great show, I went around the place and everybody was standing, people were dancing everywhere, it was fun to see. The thing is that Marie fell on that show; that was the moment of horror that everybody just waited for. When the whole tour started, everybody was concerned about Marie, would she last? “We have to be careful with her”. But she is a superwoman! Haha! I don’t know where she gets all this energy from, nobody knows, that tiny body with all that strength.
J: And in the end she was the only one playing the whole concert…
S: Exactly! In the first concerts in 2010 they had planned to do a couple of Per solo songs, she was supposed to go backstage and rest, they had also planned that she sits down and plays on piano. Everybody thought she must rest. In the end, they scrapped all those plans and she ended up being the only one who stood on the stage during the whole show. Haha! I thought that was great to experience.
J: What was the target audience you had in mind while writing the book?
S: I always think, also as a copywriter, if you are going to interest somebody for something, forget the fans and think in a broader way. My idea on the fans is don’t piss them off, haha! Just try to keep things right and correct, otherwise they may get upset. I know that there are a few minor errors, but I won’t tell, you will find by yourself, haha! My main target was the majority of people who know about Roxette but who don’t think that they are interested in Roxette anymore. So I wanted to write the book in a way that would be interesting for fans, but in the first place would make a broader audience aware of what a great trip Roxette has made. And I tried to write so that it would be hard to stop reading, that when they start reading they will be captivated by the story and maybe will listen to the songs in a different way. That was my main target.
J: You mentioned before that it’s important to keep fans happy. Many don’t speak Swedish, are you planning to release the book in English or other languages too?
S: We talked about this just the other day. Publishers nowadays don’t decide about these things on a script unless you are a super well-known author J.K. Rowling, they want to look at the complete book and decide based on that. The book has been in print just for a couple of weeks, so now the publishing company Norstedts is in contact with a couple of publishers. Right now I can only hope that they will pick up the option. I think it would be silly not to get the story of Roxette published at least in English, German, Spanish and maybe Portuguese. But at the end of the day, it’s down to publishing companies that work these markets to make that decision.
J: Would you translate it into English yourself?
S: I could write it in English but it would take a long time, and I would need anyway a native speaker to proofread it. But it would take forever, and I don’t think I would have the patience to do it.
J: If you decide to go for Spanish, let me know before publishing and I can read through it, we don’t want another “Baladas en Español”…
S: Haha! No no! That’s funny that you mention it because I included a few lines about the “Baladas” in the book, that’s funny. Everybody in South America talked about that and how nonsense the Spanish lyrics are. Don’t worry, I will have it double-checked if it’s published in Spanish.
J: Do you have a favourite chapter?
S: It’s hard to say. The most moving is the one about Marie’s and Micke’s struggle, and at the same time Per’s incredible success with Mazarin. She is going through her darkest days while he is having the biggest of the successes. I also love the part about their rise to fame, I never get tired talking about that, it’s so incredible how things fell into its place, in USA for example. I had access to unique documents from their American manager Herbie Herbert who very generously sent me his whole archive with all the articles and correspondence that concerned Roxette between 1989 and 1993, very interesting to go through and write about it. They certainly deserved what happened to them; they just needed that little piece of luck. And then one day that guy sends “The Look” to the radio station and some days later they go up to #1 in USA. And then almost suddenly things don’t go so well over there anymore. So you will find some more details about that in the book, because to a certain degree I find the business side of music, and behind-the-scenes aspect of the music industry very interesting.
J: Where there any times when you thought, “stop, this is going nowhere”?
S: Yes, all the time! But I learnt to live with this by now, I think. You come into a flow and you feel very enthusiastic about the project, only to start doubting the whole thing a week later. But that can change many times during a project. You just have to work yourself through it, do your very best and write the story the way you want it. And then hope for the best.
J: Did you write the chapters in the same order they are published?
S: Not all of them. I wrote the first chapter when I came back from South America. I thought I must start backstage at the Melkweg Theater in Amsterdam, because that’s where the comeback happened. Marie had told me the story, and then Clarence and everybody else in the band and I got different angles about it. I felt that would be a good start, I wanted everybody to feel like you were there and to understand how everybody was feeling. The second one I wrote is the chapter about Brenda and Leo. I gave this one to my daughter and my wife Mia and they both cried, so I thought that was a good sign if you know what I mean. When you write you never know how it will affect someone else, you never know if you really can transmit the feeling you want. And the last one I wrote was Sandra’s, I think.
J: “Att vara Per Gessle” is design-wise a very different book. What do you think is the biggest difference between both books from an author point of view?
S: The angle. “Att vara Per Gessle” is more about the impressions of other people and I just took the role of an editor. My editor back then said that I had chosen one of the most difficult techniques to tell a story by letting people’s quotes guide you forward. It’s a difficult technique because it’s really hard to make it accessible to the reader, you have to do a lot of editing work. Whereas this book is written from my perspective, it’s Roxette’s story as I see it, as I’ve been informed. There are almost no quotes in it, it’s just a story. Of course, everything I write is told to me, but it’s a different way of transporting it to the book.
J: You did a lot of travelling and invested a lot of time writing this book. What are your expectations?
S: I have no idea, the book is out there now. I hope it will reach the kind of audience that I was thinking of and you can hope for in Sweden. And that people will like it and broaden their view of Roxette. And then that it’s published in other languages – at least in English, Spanish and German, but hopefully more. And that fans like it of course!
J: Do you have any special rituals for writing? Any special places..?
S: I don’t need to be away from home, but I need to be concentrated in my office at home. Sometimes I close the door, especially if the TV is on. And then you have to accept that some days you write well, others you don’t. And then there are days when you start writing bad and you try to get over it and sometimes you do. On the other hand, sometimes what you write is good but you just don’t see it and you need to let it rest for a while to realize. Or the other way around. I have to confess that am not always particularly fond of writing, it’s like jogging, it’s nice afterwards, haha!
J: Where do you get inspiration from? Do you have any favourite authors that inspire you?
S: I get inspiration from lots of things. I used to think that P.J. O’Rourke was the funniest writer in the US, I ‘ve been very inspired by him. I also think that Swedish writer Bobo Karlsson is great, he writes travel books and newspaper articles, we met in South America. He is a fun guy, he can move down to the seediest gay disco and write about that and then he can interview the CEO of a multinational company or whatever. I love that attitude to life; he is equally interested in both worlds and wants to know everything. And he writes with an amazing presence. You are there.
J: You write about music, but do you also play music?
S: Yes, I do. I actually had a band called The Takeaways in the 80’s. We reunited this summer to play in a festival, after 26 years, it was really funny. It’s a wonderful hobby. I play guitar in some bands; we rehearse every Sunday evening and then play a show for friends, just for fun, 60’s and 70’s music. I used to play piano and Hammond organ but then when you get older after 30, you get lazy and you don’t want to go around with a 250 kg Hammond organ, you are not even invited to a band because of that, haha! So I started to play guitar, it’s more fun I think.
J: What are your other hobbies besides music? Do you read biographies too?
S: Yes, too many! I think it’s great, well written biographies are about life and persons and dreams and mistakes. It contains a lot of passion and you get inspired. And then I love history, I love digging in the past. I read a lot of history books when not reading biographies. Love to find out how things happened. And I like films too; one of my favourite is “The Big Lebowski” by the Coen brothers.
J: And last but not least before we go to the release party, what are your future plans?
S: After being busy the past years working on the two books and Nordic Rox, apart from my regular job, I am kind of back to normal now, and I think it will be like this for the next months. There are some projects going on but for a couple of months I won’t be thinking of another book.
After the interview we headed to a very cozy and nice release party. Besides Sven’s friends and family, Pelle, Clarence, Dea, Micke Syd, Per and Åsa passed by to celebrate the “birth” of this very nice book.
Picture of Sven Lindström by Thomas Evensson.