Part 2 of TV4’s documentary, Gessle enligt Gessle contains a lot of talking about Roxette, footage of Per’s Nashville adventure, including the photo session with Anton Corbijn and also the funniest anecdote of Per and Åsa’s first meeting with Paul McCartney. Of course, Part 2 also contains footage from the Halmstad gig of Per’s En vacker kväll tour.
Here is my summary in English of Part 2. All stills are from Part 2.
In the intro Niklas tells that so far he got to know a lot about Per’s upbringing, his guitars, how to wake up a patient in coma, the break-up and if he helps in the kitchen. But he still had many questions. How could he manage being world famous? How low can one hold a guitar? Who has the firmest ass, Per or Paul McCartney? Will there be anything with Roxette again?
Niklas says he was about 30 when he came by “The Look” and he starts playing the riff. Per immediately says Jonas Isacsson. When they recorded the song, it was built very much on Per’s demo with the sequencer base and all, but they didn’t have the riff then. They asked Jonas to play something George Harrisonish on the guitar. Something in “Taxman” style or “I Want To Tell You”. The Revolver-George Harrison. Jonas came up with different suggestions including this riff.
Niklas starts reading the Swedish translation of the lyrics of “The Look”: Eld i isen, naken intill T-benet, en älskares förklädnad, banka på huvudtrumman, skaka som en galen tjur, hon har utseendet.
Per laughs and Niklas asks if he can recognize it. He states it wouldn’t have been too easy to come up with this text in Swedish. Niklas says he would probably change the last line to hon har ett lok instead of hon har utseendet. The lyrics are very special. It’s a nonsense text. Per wrote “The Look” to learn how to program his new synth, an Ensoniq ESQ-1. The first song he wrote on it was “The Look”. A 3-chord hit inspired by ZZ Top. They were big then. Then Per came to that half-rapping text. “Walking like a man, hitting like a hammer, she’s a juvenile scam.” That rhythm became the whole song in some way. Mr. G put together a nonsense text to remember the rhythm. When he tried to write a real text, he felt he could not. He swapped out some words in the nonsense text and gave it some kind of logic. Niklas asks if there is any logic in the text. Per says there is, some kind of tumultuous experience of love. He thought there was a certain “I Am The Walrus” feeling about it. Like “Goo goo g’joob”. There is almost no real logic, but that’s what makes it exciting. When “The Look” became a hit all over the world, it was said in the English-speaking countries that no English-speaking person would have been able to write that text. But it was to Roxette’s advantage and to the advantage of the song. It stands out.
Per’s demo to “The Look” is called “He’s Got The Look”. It was supposed to be sung by Marie, but when she started singing, she felt that it was not for her. She couldn’t identify with it. Almost all the songs Per has written for Roxette he had written for Marie to sing them. The songs Per sings are those Marie didn’t want to sing. At the same time there were more regular duets like “The Big L” written for two to sing.
Niklas says the first real Roxette hit was a coincidence, it wasn’t meant for Roxette. Per says it’s true. There was an ambition that Marie and Per had talked about for many years, to do something together. But what that would be, they didn’t know. Per had written a song to Pernilla Wahlgren called “Svarta glas”. But she never recorded it. Per’s demo circulated a bit and then one day Per bumped into the head of EMI, Roffe Nygren at the EMI office and then he said how good “Svarta glas” is. “Write an English text and record it with Marie, so you have the song you’ve been talking about to do with Marie for all these years.” So Per did it and presented it to Marie. They made a duet that became the summer hit in 1986.
Per had started talking about making his third Swedish solo album, but EMI was not interested, so he had no record company. But Per had met Clarence Öfwerman who would produce the “possible” record. So he produced “Neverending Love”. It became such a big success that they recorded the first Roxette album.
Niklas has 11 questions about when “The Look” became No. 1 in the US. First of all, he is interested in how Per found it out. Mr. G says he was in Halmstad and someone called. Probably Thomas Erdtman as they worked with him since a few months. He jokes he has so many No. 1s, that’s why he can’t remember exactly. Marie Dimberg and someone from EMI went to Café Opera and celebrated in the evening but Per wasn’t there.
Niklas asks if Per remembers what he was wearing. Per says of course not. But Hallandsposten took pictures and on the photos he is wearing an ugly dotted shirt.
Next question is whom Per called first. Per says probably Marie. Niklas says it must have been totally crazy. What did Per do in the evening? He was sitting at home and watched Rapport (the news) on TV. As usual. Niklas asks what happened the next evening, where did they go. Per says there was a big press conference in Grand Hotel. Niklas asks what they were drinking. Per replies he doesn’t know, but probably champagne. Niklas asks who paid the bill. Per doesn’t know, but it was certainly their record company. Niklas asks if they stayed there long. Per says certainly and asks Niklas if he was there too. Niklas thinks he wasn’t there.
Per tells Marie and he were never together when any of their songs became No. 1. “Listen To Your Heart” was the second one. Then Per was in Halmstad again and they talked on the phone. When the third song, “It Must Have Been Love” became No. 1, Per sat with Jonathan Green at EMI in England. Per called and checked if they stayed No. 1 for one more week. They did. When “Joyride” became No. 1, Mr. G was in Paris.
Per asks who has come up with these smart questions. Niklas replies it was him.
Niklas is sitting and talking to Per Gessle in the old EMI studio in Skärmarbrink, outside of Stockholm. They are talking about Roxette’s huge success. Niklas is curious about how one can handle this success. Per says they were of course a bit shocked by the success. At the same time, they were a bit older. Marie was 30 and Per 29 when it happened. They already had some experience, but they had no classical management that guided them. They did a lot of weird stuff. E.g. they went around and sang playback for radio stations and their guests. Playback in the radio is fun, haha. They didn’t know how it worked and they felt it was not what they wanted. Eventually, their experience and being good live were something that differentiated them from their competitors at the time. Milli Vanilli, for example. Niklas asks if Milli Vanilli was their worst competitor. Per says there was Paula Abdul, Richard Marx and The Bangles. They were quite OK live too, but Marie was a wonderful singer. Roxette’s record company abroad, also in the United States, was convinced that Roxette was a one-hit-wonder. A Swedish band in 1989. But when they came with their third single the record company loved it. It was “Listen To Your Heart”, which also became No. 1. Then the door was open. Then came “Dangerous” that was 2nd on the charts. Then came “It Must Have Been Love”.
Per tells a story when he was in New York at the Apollo Theater. He got the invitation from his friend, Scott Greenstein who is the head of Sirius XM satellite radio in the US, having 70 million subscribers. Sirius had a concert for Paul McCartney. Åsa and Per went there since Scott had fixed tickets and only celebrities were there. Per sat here, Åsa, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, Tony Bennett, Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Simon. Then Scott asked if they wanted to meet Paul. “Sure. I’ve never met Paul McCartney, it would be fun”, said Per. He, Åsa and DJ Howard Stern, who also worked with Sirius, they went in the greenroom to greet Paul McCartney. They walked in and talked a bit and suddenly Paul appeared in his Beatles suit, with his thumbs up. “Fancy a picture, anyone?” Sure. Per stood there, Åsa stood in the middle, Paul on the other side and there was a photographer too. Suddenly, Per felt a hand on his ass. He thought, huh? “Hope it’s Åsa.” Then there was nothing more about it. “Break a leg”. Good to see you. And when they left, Per asked Åsa: “Did you put your hand on my ass?” “Yes. I put my hand on your ass and my other hand on Paul’s to see who had the coolest ass.” Paul had it. Haha. Per says: “Isn’t that cute? My wife in a nutshell. His ass was much firmer, she said.”
Niklas introduces the next part by telling in September 2002, Roxette was booked for a press conference before “Night of the Proms”. A huge music event that was going to become a European tour. Roxette would have been the main act. Per was on his way to the airport when their manager, Marie Dimberg called him and said that Marie Fredriksson had collapsed at home in the bathroom. It turned out she suffered from a brain tumor and that was the beginning of a long break for Roxette. Marie eventually became healthy and Roxette came back. In 2011, Per and Marie went on a successful world tour seen by 1.5 million people in 46 countries. From June 2016, the duo was booked for a major European tour, but Marie had to cancel it for health reasons just two months before the premiere gig. Niklas asks Per how did it feel. Per says Marie made the right decision. She felt it was time to quit and Per respects it to 110%. But at the same time it felt like an end.
Niklas asks if there will be more records or tours with Roxette. Per says tours for sure not, but records… he doesn’t know. He doesn’t think so. It’s hard to make records. There must be a reason for it. Per tries to think positively though. They have had so many amazing things with Roxette. Songs, recordings and concerts. It feels great to carry it in your luggage.
Niklas says when Roxette was put on ice, Per started writing in Swedish again. Something that was originally thought to be a project for Gyllene Tider, but became Per’s solo album, “Mazarin”. Per says in the ‘80s he felt he had reached as far as he could and then it was really nice to start working in English. When he went back to Swedish and wrote “Mazarin” in 2002 it was an incredible kick, because he had not done it for so long.
Including hits like “Tycker om när du tar på mig” and “Här kommer alla känslorna på en och samma gång”, the album became a big success in Sweden. Per says he didn’t want to release any singles from the album. He had worked so long with singles in mind regarding Roxette. Ironically, one of his biggest singles ever was “Här kommer alla känslorna på en och samma gång”. For a while, he wouldn’t even want to have it on the album. It was too much pastiche and it had no real refrain.
Roxette’s career is full of success, No. 1’s, world tours and strange interviews. Niklas is curious about how Per looks back on those times. Per says one of the biggest kicks was when they were doing a TV thing in the Netherlands. There was a guy who stood and screamed from the second floor of a courtyard of a hotel. He shouted: “I love your record!” It was Tom Petty. Then Per thought: “Shit, this is…” Niklas says it must have been awesome and asks for more stories.
Per talks about their tour in South America 1991, no it was 1992. Nobody wanted to play in South America. There was recession and no one was paid. Everyone cancelled their shows, Madonna, Guns N’ Roses, Michael Jackson. If you go to South America, you do it because it’s fun. Roxette thought it’s much fun, so they went there and played. They were planned to play in not too big venues, for 4-5000 people, but when they got there everything exploded for them. They played in 16 football stadiums instead. For 65000 people in São Paulo, 55000 in Santiago and 50000 twice in Buenos Aires. Niklas says they are still crazy in Argentina. Per says it has always been a great place for Roxette. Niklas says probably because they didn’t cancel their shows. Per says they really show what they feel. It’s much fun to play there. They don’t care that Roxette is not from England or the US, they are just music for them.
Niklas tells Per’s inspiration and motivation must have been on top mainly after the first US No. 1. Per says it’s clear that you get a huge self-confidence of success. They knew that it was a very good album. There were many songs on it and Per told Marie: “If we are lucky to get through with one of the songs, we have a good future because we have so many songs that are good.” Per was triggered by success. That was something very different between Marie and Per. Marie was often quite happy with their success, but Per never was. He always wanted more. When it was the worst in the ’90s, they did 1800 interviews in 8 months, around the world. At the same time Per wrote the “Joyride” album. It sounds like it was very hard but it was easy because Per was so terribly motivated. He just wanted to move forward. Niklas asks Per if he ever stopeed. Per says he is not that type. He always wants it to work and get as big as possible. Niklas says Per also wants to decide, he wants to control. Per says indeed, sometimes. Niklas asks if it has ever been a problem in Roxette. Per says it’s hard for him to answer. He has never experienced it as a problem. He’s always been interested in the music industry, how it works and all the craziness that goes on while Marie has never really been into it. She loves to be on stage, sing and develop her musicality. So Per always got more space in a Roxette project.
Niklas says he can get tired of his music. He can feel he is so predictable playing his usual chords, G, C, D, E minor, C and then Am7 like some kind of Italian salad spice. He is curious if Per ever gets tired of his own melodies. Mr. G says that’s why he tries to write as little as possible. If he gets an idea that he thinks is exciting, he can sit at the piano and play in a tone that he doesn’t feel comfortable with. For example, E flat minor or something, so he knows he’ll make a mistake. Within 10 seconds he makes a fool of himself. He is fooling his own mind and he records it, because it often happens that he can’t repeat it if it’s not on tape.
Niklas says his theory is that the best songs are written very fast. Per says the best songs are in A. All Motörhead songs are in A. Niklas says AC / DC songs are in A too. Per says the best ideas, the essence of a good song come fast. Often there is something that is the soul of a song. It can be the hook, or a rhythm that is the essence of the song. It usually comes very fast, but everything else doesn’t have to go fast. If Per is stuck or if he doesn’t think it’s good enough, he’ll leave it or throw it away.
Here comes a little footage from the photo session with Anton Corbijn in Nashville and then Niklas asks Per about being on stage. Per says he has never really felt comfortable on stage until the last few years. It has always been difficult to be on stage, because he is not good at it. They should have had more time for that with Gyllene Tider, but they had done six gigs in front of people before they became No. 1 on the charts. Per has learned it the hard way, doing hundreds of gigs to see what works and what doesn’t. Today he feels comfortable on stage. One should think as little as possible and try to be as natural as possible. Now that he is getting close to 60, it has been a long journey, maybe now he starts to understand how it works.
Niklas asks Per how low can he have a guitar hanging and if it goes up with the age. Per says it does. In his case, he started holding it higher in 1996 when he had a slipped disc because his whole body was crooked. The doctor said Mr. G should raise the guitar 10 centimeters higher. I was doing this on my head.
Niklas asks Per how good he is as a guitarist. Per says on a 10-point scale he is still only 3. He says he sounds best on acoustic guitar and when he plays alone, without a plectrum, with his fingers. He shows how it goes and starts playing “Småstadsprat”.
The guys are talking about titles. Per says a title he likes triggers his imagination to become a story. Niklas asks how Per finds the titles. Mr. G says it can be something a taxi driver says, an article in a newspaper… “Flickan i en Cole Porter-sång” is from a movie. “I want that girl in a Cole Porter song”, says Jack Lemmon in “Save the Tiger”. Per has always had an archive of titles. Everything from “How Do You Do!” or “Small Talk” to “Listen To Your Heart”. All those songs started with a title. Mr. G says if you look at the song titles on Spotify’s top 50 list, it’s all bad titles. They don’t give anything. Per always tries to avoid the anonymous. In pop or rock music format, anonymity is the worst to be used. You only have three minutes to be ready with a song. You need to make it packed so it grabs attention all the time. A catchy refrain, great production, the intro… It shouldn’t be too tedious, nor too ineffective.
Here comes a little Nashville footage again.
Niklas asks Per if he can feel that kind of strong emotion in the studio when what they record becomes so good so that you start crying. Per says it happens. Those are the moments you are in the studio for. The creative process must have a goal and a purpose. It’s to feel that what you’re recording is good. Sometimes when Per has written a song or text and it’s been a while, and then he reads it or listens to it again, he can’t remember that he has written it. He can’t understand how it became the result. It’s recorded, it’s there in the song or the music, but he doesn’t really know how it all resulted in it. It lives its own life.
Here comes a little Nashville footage again. Niklas says, for many years, Per has recorded his solo albums in Christoffer Lundquist’s studio in Skåne. When it was about to record again a year ago, it became Nashville instead. It resulted in two new albums, “En vacker natt” and “En vacker dag”. Niklas asks Per if it was as much fun in Nashville as one could think it is. Per says there is very much music. The first week they concentrated a lot on the recordings. The second week they started to go out to have dinner and go to clubs. There are so many. Acoustic clubs where three undiscovered talents play every night and everyone sits there and they think and drink beer. Of course, the music culture characterizes the whole town. Per wanted it to be a very personal record. His heart was heavy and maybe it was partly because his whole family died. His mother, brother and sister.
Niklas asks how Per handles his loss, losing his mother, brother and sister in a very short time. Mr. G thinks it’s a tough question. In both his mother’s and sister’s case, they were sick for a very long time, so he had kind of time to prepare himself. But it’s hard of course, when it suddenly happens. Shit, they are no longer there. But time is healing.
Per wanted to make a record about how he felt at that time. The album is not really about it, but it has put a color and a tone on the entire recording. Per wanted to go somewhere else and they talked about England and France. But then someone came up with Nashville and it wasn’t a stupid idea after all. He liked it. He thought then he could make an even bigger change using local musicians. The Nashville sound fit him pretty well with pedal steel and violin and so on. It’s close to the singer / songwriter tradition Per has always loved.
Niklas asks if the American musicians thought it was good. Per thinks so. He was afraid they would think he came in with some kind of division 2 country songs. But it wasn’t the case. They were there for a few days, so they became friends. Then Per told them he was a bit afraid, since they had worked with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Willie Nelson and all the amazing people. They liked it very much. It is noticeable on their part. Stuart Duncan is dancing ballet on his violin. Stuart Duncan, what a guy!
Niklas tells Per worked together with Lars Winnerbäck, who is both there on the album and was a guest artist on Per’s tour. Niklas is curious about why it became Lars Winnerbäck. Per says he met Lasse at a concert he played. He is a nice guy. Then Mr. G saw him in Niklas’ program on TV where he played a Gyllene Tider song. They became friends, he is really a lovely guy. Per immediately thought of him.
Per is so used to writing either for Marie or for singing duets with her. You usually interpret a duet like a guy and a girl singing to each other. Per didn’t write “Småstadsprat” as a duet. But when two guys sing a duet, then they don’t sing to each other. They are singing about the same thing. Lyrically, it becomes quite exciting when two guys are singing.
Everything Per has done has made him a different person. Sometimes it feels like he has just begun. He wants to do more stuff, he is always looking for something, he always has stuff going on. It’s very much him in a way.
Thanx a lot for the technical support, János Tóth!