Interview with Per Gessle: “I wanted the books to show who I am, my style, my drawings, my silly notes and confused guide-lines”

PG BookFair01-1 We had the chance to ask Per Gessle some questions about the books (“Texter, klotter & funderingar” and “Songs, Sketches & Reflections”), so we went through the books and thought of some detailed ones. Per, who is currently busy with the Roxette rehearsals, nicely took the time to answer to all these questions. Here is the result!

Don’t forget to grab the books and check them out while reading for a complete experience. Or to buy them if you haven’t yet (or you may be lucky in… read at the bottom!)

RXB/J&PP: So let’s start from the beginning. When did you get the idea to make these books? Was it born at the same time as the box? What came first, the idea of releasing TPGA box or publishing the books?
Per Gessle: Hello.. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for a long long time. There are so many songs around, so many demos. It really is “a lifetime of songwriting”! Also I’ve got so many studio diaries that need some fresh air!!

Through our Facebook-site I’ve also noticed that many people are interested in the demos. That feedback was certainly important to me in my decision.

It’s been a great ego trip in spite of the endless hours of research that was needed to make (especially) the box happen, since the amount of material is so vast. Lots of people have been involved, primarily MP (finding & refreshing old tapes + recording & editing Sven’s and my conversation-pieces which took forever), Pär Wickholm (CD-box layout) and Benny Mårtensson (book layout). Without those guys it wouldn’t have happened. Not like this. I’m extremely pleased with the result.

The books are not simply some lyrics put together black on white with a few pictures but something much more personal, with comments, drawings and other things from your archives. What was your initial concept you had in mind? Did you have such design in mind from the beginning?
Yes. I didn’t want to do just standard lyric-books. I wanted them to show who I am, my style, my drawings, my silly notes and confused guide-lines. To write a song is a long journey and most of the time people only get to know the final destination.

Why did you decide to split them in two books, English and Swedish? Do you plan to release the English book outside of Sweden?
I’m sure both books will be available globally through Amazon etc. The reason for two separate books is that otherwise it would have been too thick. And I don’t want to compete with the bible. Or the complete edition of “Fifty Shades Of Grey”.

We also realized that some songs are missing from the books and some are missing your comments and only the lyrics are included. How did you decide on which songs to include and comment on?
I wrote down what I remembered and if there were any good stories or anecdotes connected with the songs. Some songs I don’t remember writing. Some lyrics didn’t make it due to copyright-reasons. “Tylö Sun” and “Skicka ett vykort, älskling” for instance. I don’t own the copyrights to those.

10624861_10152244866910178_591528627164385920_nEvery page on the books is different, some pictures are used more than once but each page has a different design. We know Benny Mårtensson did this part, but what was your involvement? Did you check every page or give hints to certain lyric pages how they should look like?
Yes. I wasn’t in favour of using the same pics more than once but Benny found that OK. A few of his pages I didn’t particularly like so he remade them. He’s done a fantastic job. A very talented guy. The original idea was just to mix the lyrics, my studio diaries incl drawings and combine them with a few comments about the songs. Then I realized that some of the original lyric-sheets looked really cool with coffee-stains and dead flies on them so we used a lot of those. The pics should not be the main thing. Just to spice things up a bit and make it even more personal and easy to look at.

One can read the books in (at least) 2 different ways: Either with or without the music to the lyrics. While reading the books without music one gets a deeper insight into your lyrics and realizes (once more) how great songwriter you are. Did you (re)discover parts of your lyrics that impressed you? Lyrics long forgotten where you thought “wow, did I write that?”? (or some you thought “what was I thinking?”).
Thank you. I’m happy you enjoy my work. My ambition writing lyrics has always been that they should be capable to stand on their own two feet. I think it’s crucial that you should be able to read a song lyric without getting too embarrassed. Both as the writer and as the reader. Sometimes I’ve screwed things up, sometimes it feels good when I bump into one of my lyrics.

We have both interviews in the Swedish book, but only the Sven interview in the English one. Both are great reading for fans or even non-fans and going through all the interesting things in the Tomas Andersson Wij interview, it would have been a good idea to translate it and include it in the English book as well. Why didn’t you decide for having it there?
I agree. TAW’s interview is great and should have been included in both books. If there will be a 2nd edition it will be translated and made available in English as well. The reason we didn’t include to begin with was that Tomas and I mostly talked about my Swedish work and thought it didn’t really interest that many people abroad. We were wrong.

In the Sven interview you say you try to avoid learning too much, because you are afraid of losing the unconscious. At the same time, working together with all those fantastic musicians, it’s impossible not to learn from them. How can you keep the balance?
Well, what I’m trying to say is that it doesn’t really work for me to “educate” myself too much and learn the classic and proper rules of music. I want to trust my gut feeling and if I need help (which I do all the time…, I know what I want but I don’t know how to get it…) I consult more “educated” people than me, Christoffer and Clarence for instance.

I truly believe that I’d been a far less interesting songwriter if I didn’t follow my own set of rules and instincts. I don’t really know when I’m doing things “right or wrong” and that’s the whole idea for me. Follow that sweet smell of surprise.

You expressed that writing a song that is loved by others and means something to people is the coolest there is for you. Do you remember and could you tell about the first time someone told you your lyrics changed his / her life?
No, I don’t. But it doesn’t matter. Every time someone likes my music for some reason and it makes things easier or makes the day more colourful for him or her I feel very honoured. It’s been like that for many many years. I’m truly blessed in that sense.

You say you don’t want to tell everything about all of your songs, because it should be everyone’s own imagination to think behind the lyrics. Which one of your lyrics do you consider the most mysterious from this perspective?
I just go by my own rules. I don’t want to know the stories (or even the meaning) behind Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell lyrics. I want to make their songs “made for me” and make them mean something that’s only mine. That’s why I don’t want to talk too much about my own songs, they belong to everybody who’s interested. So many people have their own interpretations, stories and memories linked to them. I like that.

Are you a “lyrics person” yourself? Do you read the lyrics of a song with as much detail as you listen to the instruments/music?
I do. I even buy some records just for the lyrics. Sometimes I don’t even bother to listen to the music. It might be an artist that only communicates with me via the lyrics, not the music.

If a lyric really stinks it destroys the song for me. At the same time I’m a minimalist. I think “Surfin’ Bird” by The Trashmen has got a brilliant lyric, for instance. It’s all about how you do things.

What are your favourite songwriters and your favourite song text/passage that kind of changed your life or had a big impact in you?
Oh there are so many fab songs out there that I love I don’t even know where to start. You want a few examples of brilliant lyrics?

Here you go: Paul Simon: “The only living boy in New York”. Leonard Cohen: “If it be your will”. Jane Siberry: “The Valley”. John Hurley/Ronnie Wilkins: “Son of a preacher man”. Joni Mitchell “River”. Ramones: “Sheena is a punk rocker”. John Lennon: “Imagine”. Bob Dylan: “Just like a woman”. I can give you a thousand more. I like lyrics that harmonize with the music. They have to sleep in the same bed at night.

“If you don’t go, you’ll never know.” So true. What was your strangest musical experience you were afraid of at the beginning, but then you tried and it turned out to be something you are proud of?
There isn’t any for the simple reason I’m always two steps behind. I’m always desperately trying to find new ways to express myself. Most of time, like most writers, I repeat myself but when I succeed it’s truly remarkable. That’s how “Son of a Plumber” was born. That’s how “The Look” was born. That’s how “Mazarin” was born.PG BookFair03-1

In the English book your studio diary says “Lover Lover Lover” was written the day after Paul McCartney’s concert in Stockholm. This made us wonder if you usually feel inspired by live concerts you attend so much that you feel like writing a song after these?
Sometimes. But it can be anything really. A bassline you hear on the radio. Or a bassline you don’t hear on the radio. Someone is playing something and you hear something else in your head. Why don’t they play an A instead of an E?

In the Swedish book you mentioned that Åsa and Gabriel sometimes ask you to stop playing the piano when they feel like it’s too tough or depressive what you are playing. Do you remember any song that had been stopped to be played at home, but in the end it became a hit?
Most of them.

We already knew you wrote “Det är blommor som har fångat dej” together with Åsa. Now it turns out from the book that you wrote several songs together in the past. Does it still happen nowadays that you write something together, even if just for fun?
No, not really.

At the song “Hon vill sväva över ängarna” you say you dreamed about that one, also how the lyrics should look like. Did it happen many times that you dreamed about a song and wrote it down after you woke up?
Not often but it happens. I love it when your brain is in free falling-mode and anything can happen. It’s like that when you’re dreaming.

How should we imagine the process when you write music together with Marie or MP? Do you do it together in the studio or you give them what you have and they come back with their ideas later?
The few songs I’ve written together with Marie (“Cry”, Dance away”, “Ingen kan som du” and a few others…) we just did by singing and playing by the piano in my livingroom. Then I fixed the lyrics afterwards. But that was in the 80’s. The other ones, like “Watercolours in the rain” and “Beautiful things” were just lyrics I gave to Marie and she made her own music to it.

With MP it was always something he had recorded on his own, a melody line or a chord progression, that I liked and I wanted to use so I made a proper song out of it.

At “Mannen med gitarr” you wrote that you had the music for it already in 2000, but the lyrics were ready only 2 years later. When you write music first, do you consider those songs will be instrumental ones or you know from the beginning that they will only work with lyrics?
99% of the time it’s made to have lyrics but sometimes the words turn out really shitty so I can’t use the song for a while… I have to “forget it” and let some time go by to get a fresh start.

You were at the Book Fair in Göteborg end of September. This was the 3rd time that you actively participated in the book fair with seminars and signing sessions. What is it that you like about the fair? Do you take time to attend other seminars or check out what’s going on?
I don’t really like promotion activities anymore. It’s hard to take it serious. There’s too many people around. And I don’t like when it becomes too business-oriented. It’s exhausting. Maybe I’m getting old. But I like to meet the fans once in a while. But then again, of course it’s fun to have a pop quiz med Nisse H and Sven L and doing an interview with Jan Gradvall. They’re great people.

Do you read many books? What style is your favourite? Could you name some books that left a deep mark in you?
I used to read a lot. Graham Greene, Jerzy Kosinski. Nowadays I only read on flights. Mostly bios. I just bought a second hand copy of Amanda Lear’s “My life with Dali” from 1985 which is kinda funny. And I’m reading Mats Olsson’s new book. It’s great. I buy a lot of art books.

You mentioned at the fair that you have become very artistic with your signature – after signing many books and boxes. Just out of curiosity, do you have any idea of how many times you draw your signature during the past few weeks?
No. You tell me. Thousands.

Now let’s move on shortly to the box. You asked us on Facebook, now it’s time for you to reply. Which is your favourite volume of TPGA and why? Which are your Top5 demos?
I don’t really have a favourite. They’re all special to me. It’s a span of 38 years. It’s a long time and every song represents something special to me. I can’t even do a Top 5-list. Some songs I wished we would have recorded differently with Roxette but there was always a good reason for it to turn out the way it did. We’ve always tried to honour each and every song.

And now about future plans. You mentioned in the interview done by Sven that one of your latest lyrics is “Piece of Cake”. Sounds like an exciting title and the little background info you provide in the interview makes us even more curious. Have you already decided to release it in an album soon or will we have to wait until a possible TPGA box 2 is released?
No, I don’t want to talk too much about my future plans at this stage. Roxette is just starting another world tour any day now and we will release new material in the beginning of next year. That’ll do.

You posted on Roxette Official some time ago that you were thinking about putting together a proper film with Jonas Åkerlund from old recordings from shootings, photo sessions, backstage, etc. Is it still a plan? Will it be anything similar to The Per Gessle Archives? Backstage videos & other fun stuff?
Hahaha. Maybe. It’s certainly a good idea.

Regarding DVDs, it was also a plan to release a DVD-box with earlier tours. That is, if you can find everything in the archives of EMI / Warner. Could you succeed with it?
The Warner/EMI merger has left big holes wherever you look so I’m not so sure the old EMI-owned Roxette-material (24-track analogue tapes, masters, live recordings, live footage) will ever be found. If that happens I will make sure it will be released. I’d like copies myself!

Fans have been voting on RoxetteBlog for the songs they would love to hear live. The final results are now online. What do you think about the voting results? Any chance to hear any of the songs?
Absolutely. And thanks everyone for letting us know your thoughts. We have tried out lots of songs we didn’t play on the last tour. However, we go to so many new places all the time and we obviously want to play our biggest songs so I guess in the end of the day there will only be five or six additions compared to the last tour. Which I think is fair enough.

Also, I’m pretty sure that the setlist we play in Russia won’t be identical to what we’re gonna play next year. And the set designs and stage productions this year are very different to what’s gonna come in 2015. It looks like it’s gonna be a very long tour.

Thank you and see you on tour! Greetings to Marie and the others in the band.
Thanx for some interesting q’s. Cheers! /P.

Stay tuned – Per signed two copies of the books in Göteborg and we will start a contest to give them away soon!

Interview by Judith S. and Patrícia Peres.