Per Gessle – „A Bigger Bag Of Trix?” – RoxBlog interview

When there are 60(!!!) songs released by your favourite artist and band almost at the same time, questions are just popping up on your mind, one after another. The list is neverending. So I thought I shoot those Qs at the one who obviously has the answers to them. You could see it’s a very busy period for Mr. G, rushing from TV to radio then back to the studio, but fortunately, he found the time to get back to me with his thoughts on both Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig and Bag of Trix – Music from the Roxette Vaults. Much appreciated!

Patrícia Peres: – Hej Per! You definitely saved 2020 with your current releases. Both your solo album, „Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig” and „Bag of Trix – Music from the Roxette Vaults” are based on digging deep in the vaults. How should we imagine when you start a project like this? Do you know exactly what you’re looking for or you’re just checking all your drawers and hope to bump into something interesting?

Per Gessle: – Hey Patricia! Like most things I do…. they just happen. I wasn’t out to make a four volume Roxette-box, I spent an afternoon looking through drawers + boxes and just found more and more Rox-stuff that somehow got „lost” over the years for different reasons. Lots of songs „disappeared” when CD’s became streaming. It’s nice to make them available for Planet Earth again.
When I released my own demo-box in 2014 I didn’t use any Rox-demos sung by Marie so I knew there were a few of those around. And Marie’s own demos, of course. And then the Spanish stuff popped up. And the Abbey Road sessions from 1995. And the „Good Karma” outtakes. Just the other day I found even more from the „Have A Nice Day” sessions. And there are live recordings around, of course. Time will tell what’s gonna happen to it all. A Bigger Bag Of Trix?
When I started the „GKRA”-project I didn’t feel like writing a brand new Swedish album since I wanted to put all my songwriting-efforts into the upcoming English one. To create an entire album you need a lot of space + time. To get twelve proper songs you have to write twenty!
I decided instead to listen to my older material and picked up my guitar and started to recall them. Some 80’s songs felt surprisingly cool even after all these years. I think I tried around 50 songs. Most of them, however, were difficult to grasp. I couldn’t get into them at all. But, hey, that’s pretty normal. They’re quite old after all and things (and I) have changed. I also found some unreleased songs/demos I made for „En händig man” as well as for the Nashville albums. I removed my hand from the chocolate box when I had about twelve tracks that I really liked.


PP: – The fab photo on the sleeve of „Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig” is taken by Bruno Ehrs. How did you choose him for this project?

PG: – Our art gallery at Hotel Tylösand (Tres Hombres Art) is representing Bruno since earlier this year, so when I knew he was gonna visit Tylösand I asked him if wanted to take some pics of me. I’m a big fan of his work so I was, of course, delighted when he agreed. We found a farm/barn not too far away and spent a couple of hours there. It was a sunny day, we had a picknick in the garden, there were lots of strange animals everywhere. Felt like home.

PP: – Who picked the scene for the photo session and who styled the rooster and the chicks?

PG: – Well, the first round of barncheckin’ was made by good ole Lars Nordin from the gallery. He’s even older than me + knows everybody + has plenty of time driving around in his vintage French voiture looking at roosters. He’s a good guy. When he’s asleep. (Just kidding, of course….) When he found three or four proper locations he brought Bruno along. When Bruno was happy with lights and everything I joined the rooster party as well.

PP: – Besides T&A, you recorded GKRA at a new studio, Sweetspot in Harplinge. How did it come into sight and how different was it to work there vs. T&A or AGM?

PG: – I recorded the BOT interviews with Sven Lindström at Sweetspot and also did the „Mamma” + „Pappa” live videos with Helena there. It’s a cozy place. Staffan Karlsson who works at Sweetspot is an old friend of mine so I’m in good hands when I’m there. It’s very different from T&A, much bigger. We actually used it as a rehearsal studio for a tour a couple of years ago. I can’t remember if it was Rox or something on my own. Aerosol Grey Machine is quite similar (both Sweetspot and AGM are old barns) but there are more incense in the air at AGM. Chris likes the scent of Tibetian old socks for some reason. He’s the Syd Barrett of Vallarum.

PP: – Christoffer was involved in the recording of only one song on GKRA. That’s very unusual, looking back on the past two decades. What happened?

PG: – My original plan with GKRA was to play EVERYTHING myself. I did that on the „Mamma” + „Pappa”-single. But, as expected, after four or five recorded songs I realized I needed a better bass player as well as a decent drummer. I called up some local guys, Gicken Johansson (bass + lap steel) + Per Thornberg (tenor sax), and they helped me out together with the hipster bearded Jens Jansson from Brainpool. Remember him from the „Mazarin” Tour?
The reason Chris became involved with „Du kommer så nära (du blir alldeles suddig)” was because I had run out of ideas on that one. I sent Chris what we had recorded at T&A and he listened to it. He put on some guitar licks + the moog synthesizer intro. That was enough. It made me realize the song didn’t really need that much more. He helped me getting the big picture. Not the first time. He’s one of a kind.

PP: – You played most of the instruments yourself on the album. Hats off! Which was the instrument you never played before and which was the trickiest to play to get the sound you wanted?

PG: – Well, I’m certainly not a groovy bass player or a flashy drummer, I tell you that. I fool around with anything with strings on, like a hi-string acoustic guitar („Viskar” + „Tända en sticka till”) + dulcimer („I din hand”). I played the ukulele + mandolin on a few tracks but we never used any of it. I love to try out any instrument and I only give it up when I reach the point where my talents cease to exist. I’m sorry to say it happens quite quickly.

PP: – How was your cooperation with Per Thornberg and Fredrik „Gicken” Johansson? And how was it to work with Jens Jansson again?

PG: – Next to MP + Helena I must say that Gicken became the most important factor in this project. I never played with him before so I didn’t know what to expect but he was amazing. A super guy. He was supposed to play on only a few tracks but he eventually played on almost everything.
Per Tee got some backing tracks so he could prepare on his own and he came in + played the solo + coda (outro) on „Kom ut till stranden”. Plus, of course, he played the 50’s style brass-section on the instrumental parts of „Nypon och ljung”.
Jens has always been one of my favourite drummers and I had a gut feeling that this project should fit him perfectly. He doesn’t BANG the drums, he PLAYS the drums. I love that.

PP: – You dedicated this album to Uppa. Can we get to know who Uppa is?

PG: – Uppa was a personal friend to me + my family who died from cancer earlier this year. We miss him every day.

PP: – Sorry for your loss, Per. So sad. The first time I heard „Nypon och ljung” I had the very same feeling as when „Crash! Boom! Bang!” came out. In case of CBB I was prepared for a crashing song and I got a goosebumps ballad. With NOL I was prepared for an acoustic, melancholic, slow song based on how you described the album in the press release and the title of the song suggested it as well, then I got a midtempo, happy song. I know with CBB that was intentional from your side, but was it the case with NOL?

PG: – Well, obviously I knew most of the songs on this album were „small” (=more or less acoustic) so I was really thrilled when NOL came out jolly + funny + contagious. It’s always hard to present a new project with something fragile like „Segla på ett moln” or „Viskar” or „I din hand”. If you want to get most people interested early on you should tease them with something more mainstream. I tried to do that with NOL without losing the album’s identity or concept.

PP: – What songs made you feel the same way in your life? That you expected an absolutely different sound and then… bang!

PG: – I don’t know. I don’t know if that has ever happened to me. I don’t expect much hahaha.

PP: – Back to „Nypon och ljung”, the intro is very similar to Amy MacDonald’s „This Is The Life”. Is that just a coincidence?

PG: – I read that on Facebook. I hadn’t heard of Amy MacDonald so I checked her out. She’s good but I don’t find the songs similar at all. Mind games.

PP: – „I din hand” you wrote together with Åsa in 1986 and then added music to it in 1993. You gave it to Svante Thuresson then and his version always made me curious how yours would sound. How do you remember the time when you wrote it? Does today’s recording sound like how you back then imagined it should?

PG: – Just the other day I actually found two very old (1986) „I din hand”-demos with totally different music to more or less the same lyrics. One was sung by me, the other one by Milla from Millas Mirakel who sometimes helped me making demos in the 80’s + 90’s.
I had totally forgot about this song, I don’t even think the 1993-demo (with the new music) is on „The Per Gessle Archives”, is it? It’s actually pretty good and quite similar to the GKRA version but without the dulcimer + the piano melody. It’s got an accordion on it instead, played by MP.
Can’t remember writing the lyrics but I’m sure Åsa + I had a splendid time creating them. It must have been in the 80’s, not the 90’s though.

PP: – The demo to „Du kommer så nära (du blir alldeles suddig)” demo was released on the bonus EP of „En händig man” in 2007. Now it’s a duet with Uno Svenningsson. Why did you decide it should be a duet and how was it working together with Uno?

PG: – The idea came up the moment Uno called me up asking me if we could meet + have dinner. We usually meet up once or twice a year when he’s passing by Halmstad. It seems like he’s always touring.
I asked him if he wanted to sing with me, he said yeehaa and I sent him my old demo of „Du kommer så nära”. He liked it so I re-recorded my backing track so it fit both him and me keywise. Maybe you’ve noticed there’s a modulation just before he starts to sing? He’s certainly a fab singer and I love what he (and Helena) did to the song. And the dinner was good.

PP: – „Hjärta utan hem” is one of two Gyllene Tider songs on GKRA. You say it’s one of your best songs. Why you never played it live? You did play a song on the last GT tour that was never played live before, „Vandrar i ett sommarregn”. Was „Hjärta utan hem” a candidate too?

PG: – Well, there’s never been lots of space for songs like that on modern GT tours really. Every time we tour we present more or less a Greatest Hits show for obvious reasons. Sometimes there’s room for something „odd” and midtempo, like „Honung och guld” or „Vandrar i ett sommarregn” but you can’t have too many of those. I guess „Hjärta utan hem” would fit my own solo concerts better than GT’s.

PP: – „Segla på ett moln” was originally released by Anne-Lie Rydé in 1983. Your wonderful 1982 demo with Marie came out in 1992 and you released it under Mono Mind in English, „Shelter from the Storm” as well. What made you come back to this song again?

PG: – I like to sing it. Helena and I did it GKRA-style on a tour way back, can’t remember which. It’s wonderful to sing and I still like the lyrics. And it’s got simple chords.

PP: – „Ömhet” was written in 2002. That was the time when you first worked together with Helena. How was it to record this song with her 18 years later?

PG: – Well, the version from 2002 had totally different music. If I remember things right I wrote it just after the „Mazarin”-sessions but I never really liked the music that much.
I wrote new music just in time for Gyllene Tider’s „Dags att tänka på refrängen”-sessions but we never worked on it. Then I did yet another demo just before I went to Nashville. But we didn’t try it there either. Now was the time. It was written in the stars.
I wanted to do a „proper” duet with Helena on this album and this seemed to be the obvious choice. She did an amazing job as always. MP came up with the harpsichord parts and played the 12-string Rickenbacker. I played my red Gretsch Bo Diddley guitar.

PP: – This is the only track on GKRA that’s not mixed by MP and you, but Ronny Lahti. Why did you think it should be him mixing this song? Weren’t you afraid that it might break the style of the album?

PG: – „Ömhet” was the first song to get a proper mix. My original plan was to have Ronny mix the whole album. However, I realized I liked MP’s and my rough mixes so much that we should stick to them. We did our own mix of „Ömhet” as well but Ronny’s version was the best. He’s an amazing mixing engineer, just listen to Rox’ „Let Your Heart Dance With Me” or the Spanish version of „You Don’t Understand Me”. Outstanding work.

PP: – When I now hear „Viskar”, I realize that old love never dies indeed. You wrote this in 1984 after you met Åsa and released it on „Scener”. There you even wrote ”Viskar is Åsa’s song”. How was it to meet this ballad now 36 years later?

PG: – Oh, it was a beautiful song. Still is. I don’t think I’ve played it live at all except one time at Hotel Tylösand when Marie and I played it for Åsa at one of her birthday parties. I love to sing it but it’s really a delicate one so it’s hard to do it in front of thousands of people. I’m glad I recorded it the way it sounds now. It fits the song and the message.

PP: – „Lycklig en stund”, yet another song from „Scener”. I must say the GKRA version sounds far much better. The arrangement fits the song’s image very well. I can see you recorded it live at T&A already in April 2018. What project was on your mind when you did that?

PG: – It was just another live demo at T&A I did for fun. Sometimes I just go into the studio just to sing and play guitar at the same time. Live session is da shit! I love that. Doesn’t have to be a reason behind it.
When the GKRA-project came up I instantly wanted to revisit LES but realized I’d done it 2018 so I kept that live version and did some overdubs instead. Drums + bass + organ. It’s nothing special + won’t change the world but it makes me happy everytime I hear it. Good enough for me.

PP: – „Tända en sticka till” was the most important song on your first solo album. It sounded wonderful already back then as a duet with Marie, but your 2020 version is so much more emotional and Helena’s vocals add one level more to this. Is that friend Marie who you are singing about? I know you think of her a lot, we all do, but was she on your mind when now you were recording this track?

PG: – Well, it was written during a period in the early 80’s when Marie and I spent a lot of time together. So yes, Marie is always there when I think about this one.

PP: – „Som regn på en akvarell” is the second GT song on GKRA. How did it draw your attention for this project? Was it the most suitable for a mouth harp intro?

PG: – I wrote a long list of instruments I wanted to use on this album. Dulcimer + sitar + harmonica + lap steel + ukulele + mandolin + cello etc. And the jew’s harp (as we call it when we try to go global) was also on the list. I’ve been using it before. The most famous occasion is probably in the intro of „I Remember You” from „Joyride”. It’s always a tricky one to play but nowadays, with a little help from the computer, you can tune it properly.
I’ve always liked „Som regn på en akvarell” for some reason. It’s a song MP and I wrote for GT’s „Puls”-album in 1982. It’s got a country flair to it which was unusual for us at the time.   I wanted to try it out with Helena singing harmony, starting with the very first line. It’s a classic trick, like Everly Brothers or something Simon & Garfunkel would do, but I never really arrange my songs like this. Now was the time and it sounded great. Me = happy.

PP: – „Mamma” and „Pappa” were recorded in May this year and got warm welcome from the fans. What do you think your Mom and Dad would have thought about these two songs?

PG: – Well, that’s a tricky one. I don’t know.

PP: – „Kom ut till stranden” we heard as a 1986 demo before. This is the song that went through the biggest change lyric-wise. Is it just me or has it become a Marie & Per story this way?

PG: – Some songs I chose for GKRA had a bit of a „clumsy” lyrics here and there so I felt I had to re-write parts of them. The new first verse of „Kom ut till stranden” made the essence of the song much stronger. Sometimes you try to express something in a lyric but you screw things up by using the wrong words. Or you just complicate things. That’s the biggest mistake you make.
I’ve always loved „Kom ut till stranden”. It was the only song from my (never recorded nor released) third solo-album that wasn’t translated into English to become the first Roxette album. But at the same time I’ve never felt comfortable with some of the lyrics. Now I spent some hours trying to make sense. To better express what I meant in the first place.


PP: – Regarding „Bag of Trix”, the box set, how did you decide which tracks to put on which volume, how to mix the different eras?

PG: – I didn’t spend too much time doing that. I split the singles + Spanish tracks up so they wouldn’t interfere with each other. That’s basically it.

PP: – Vol. 1 starts with a cover song. „Help!”, after 55 years still sounds amazing, even if John Lennon told in an interview that he regrets a bit that it became too fast, because they tried to make the song more commercial. What do you think his opinion would have been about the Roxette version?

PG: – I think he would have loved it. It’s always amazing to hear a great female singer interpreting one of your songs.

PP: – „Let Your Heart Dance With Me” is such an amazing song and together with the video is so emotional. Many are curious if you’ve changed anything in its lyric for this „Bag of Trix” recording.

PG: – No no, it’s exactly how it was recorded. We haven’t done any overdubs or anything since the „Good Karma”-sessions. It’s just a brand new mix (by Ronny Lahti). He made it slightly heavier + faster + more up-to-date.

PP: – How did you decide whom to give LYHDWM for mixing? Why Ronny Lahti?

PG: – He’s my favourite mixing engineer. He’s done so much amazing stuff with my music over the years. „Room Service” + Mono Mind + solo stuff.

PP: – If you had the chance to turn back time, which era would you go back to, to see Marie smile again?

PG: – Any day would do.

PP: – Marie’s song, „Waiting For The Rain” ended up on „Have A Nice Day”. Do you remember why the final version became one verse less on HAND vs. the demo?

PG: – No, I don’t. I actually didn’t remember Marie’s demo at all when I found it. We probably felt it was too long. We almost always edit songs, shorten the intros or solos or codas. That’s pretty normal.

PP: – When you are talking about the Brian Malouf US single mix of „Joyride”, you seem to have mixed feelings. How big was your frustration when you got to know the US doesn’t play YOUR version of the song?

PG: – Both Marie and I liked his mix. It’s just that we preferred our own. Simple as that. To the main audience it never really mattered so it didn’t matter to us either. It’s the same song.

PP: – Brian Malouf also did „The bigger, the better mix” for „The Big L.”. Would you work with him these days?

PG: – I don’t know. I never met him. He did some great work.

PP: – How did „Like Lovers Do” change from Marie singing the song in the demo to a duet on the album version?

PG: – I think that was Clarence idea. He wanted me to sing more. I wanted to sing as little as possible.

PP: – You said it was a rush to record the Roxette debut album and we can see the Montezuma demos were recorded in 2 days, 25-26 July 1986. How do you remember those 2 days at the studio?

PG: – Hectic. It was basically just some hours to sort out the keys to the songs, who’s gonna sing what + where etc. Some songs didn’t even have English lyrics at the time so we recorded them in Swedish („Surrender” + „So Far Away”).

PP: – It was so hard to realize that Marie’s jazzy demo, „Pocketful of Rain” is actually the same song as your synth demo, „Reaching High”. So different versions. Why did you give it to Marie and why it never made it to a Roxette album in some form?

PG: – We couldn’t agree on it. My original music to POR eventually became a Swedish song for Anne-Lie Rydé called „Ta mig hem”. And I felt Marie’s new music to the POR-lyrics didn’t fit Roxette at the time. It was never a big issue, we had lots of songs.

PP: – The intimate concert on the US promo tour in 2000 had an audience of appr. 200 people in Seattle. How do you remember that event?

PG: – It was a very strange promo tour. We played some small theatres as well as places like the Virgin Megastore in NYC. We had a new US record label and we hadn’t worked the American market for many years so this was…. hmmmm…. weird.

PP: – „Wish I Could Fly” was the opening song on the setlist if I’m right. Why did you pick WICF for „Bag of Trix” from the songs you played there live? „Church of Your Heart”, for example, was added to the setlist especially for that venue (Sky Church at Experience Music Project) if I remember well.

PG: – I have the complete Seattle-tapes but didn’t want too many live recordings on the „Bag Of Trix”. So I kept it short.

PP: – The neverending drum loop is too cool and the story-telling lyric is wonderful together with sing la-di-dah in „Happy Together”. How come it has never made it to „Have A Nice Day”? Or another Roxette album later?

PG: – Too many songs floating around at the time. I’ve always loved „Happy Together” but I was the only one! The version on BOT is actually my demo with Marie’s voice added on later at some point. The guitar part in the outro is amazing. And I really like the lyrics as well. I don’t like the drum-loop, though. Sorry PP.

PP: – Haha. Never mind… „Beautiful Boy” was a great song already when it was „Beautiful Girl”. Just by changing one word in the lyrics and of course, the way Marie sings it and the music she wrote to it makes it so different to your demo. She recorded it almost one year after your T&A demo. On „The Per Gessle Archives” you said you didn’t really like your version. What was your problem with it? Does it make more sense in Marie’s interpretation for you?

PG: – Yea, I never liked my version of it that much. Marie’s version is much better. But we felt we didn’t need it at the time.

PP: – „You Don’t Understand Me” you wrote together with Desmond Child. The demo sung by Marie is very close to the final version, still a bit different with its exploring mode. Is there a demo with your vocals? Maybe a Per + Desmond demo?

PG: – No, Marie was in Halmstad and came over to my apartment just to say hello to Desmond. She heard our new born baby and suggested she could sing on the demo. We loved that (of course) and it sounded amazing. It wasn’t intended to be a Roxette recording. We wrote it for someone else in the States, can’t remember who.

PP: – „Hotblooded” is an absolute killer and most fans I talked to about this release were blown away by this demo. Marie’s vocals are so sexy, you can call her miss! And your voices blend so well. Perfect match, already then. „Things Will Never Be The Same” on Vol. 4 was recorded on the very same day. What was in the air that day?

PG: – Hahaha yea, it’s really cool. I don’t know. There’s an even earlier demo of „Hotblooded” with guitars + bass + drums somewhere recorded at the time when it was written. So this must be an acoustic session we did for some reason.

PP: – Since you mentioned it in your „Songs, Sketches & Reflections” book in 2014, we’ve been waiting for „Piece of Cake” to see the light of day. We’ll hear it on „Bag of Trix” Vol 3. The title is so simple, yet so exciting. You say it’s a typical song of your English songwriting. It all starts with the antennas out, but what do you see are the main elements of your English songwriting and what’s the difference between that and your Swedish songwriting technique?

PG: – Obviously you have „control” of your native tongue in a different manner than in any other language. Nowadays I don’t feel the difference being that big. It used to be. But I have grown. Or shrunk.

PP: – There are two songs that appear in different versions on „Bag of Trix”. „Wish I Could Fly” twice and „You Don’t Understand Me” in 3 versions. How special are these songs to you that they „took the chance away” from at least 3 other songs to be released on BOT?

PG: – Just coincidence. You think too much, Patricia.

PP: – Haha, that’s what my friends use to tell me… You have just released the Spanish version of „You Don’t Understand Me”, „Tú no me comprendes”. Are there any Spanish tracks left that we haven’t heard so far?

PG: – No, this is it. The last one. „Tu No Me Comprendes” was left out from the „Baladas En Espanol”-album for some reason. Maybe we felt the album became too long? Earlier this spring Ronny Lahti mixed it and it actually sounds better than the English version in my boombox.

PP: – We can find 10 T&A demos from 5 years on BOT. None of them had been released before, except for „Happy Together”. There must be hundreds, if not thousands of T&A demos. Do you remember all your demos? I mean, do you remember which versions of your demos were special for some reason or which years to check when you want to go back to a song?

PG: – Yes, there are lots of demos. I will most likely release some of them as time goes by.  I have a pretty decent archive these days but some demos and various recordings are still on reel-to-reel tapes + cassettes + strange digital formats.

PP: – Marie’s 1998 demo of „Always The Last To Know” will be on Vol. 2. This song really has so many lives. Your demos remained demos, Marie wrote new music to it and then she released it in Swedish with newly written lyrics („Det som var nu”). You said on TPGA that it wasn’t released on „Have A Nice Day”, because Clarence and Marie didn’t approve of it. What was Marie’s opinion about this song?

PG: – I don’t know. I always felt my music had the qualities to become a big ballad in a „classic” Rox style. Especially with those lyrics. But we had big ballads on HAND anyway, like „Salvation” so maybe the timing was wrong?

PP: – 6 Studio Vinden demos found their way to „Bag of Trix”. How much did you involve Micke Bolyos? Did you discuss it with him which ones to release?

PG: – Yes, when it came to Marie’s demos I wanted him to have a say. He was the producer of those recordings.

PP: – Will Micke comment only on these Studio Vinden demos in the booklet or are there any comments by him on other songs as well?

PG: – No, I don’t think so.

PP: – Which track do you consider the biggest find in the vaults on the „Bag of Trix”?

PG: – „Let Your Heart Dance With Me” + Tom Lord-Alge’s mix of „Soul Deep”. Amazing.

PP: – Thank you so much for your time, Per! Looking very much forward to the remaining 2 volumes of „Bag of Trix”! And I keep „Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig” on repeat!

PG: – Thanx Patricia. Merry X (it’s sooner than you think) + stay safe and sound!

Still is from the Bag of Trix video comments, recorded by Anders Roos.