Per Gessle interview on Nordmark Pod

Per Gessle was Per Nordmark’s guest on his podcast, Nordmark Pod the other day. Per Nordmark is a Swedish drummer and producer.

After Nordmark’s intro talk, the interview starts with Nordmark explaining they greeted each other by bumping elbows because of the pandemic. Nordmark congratulates Per on his new album, Gammal kärlek rostar aldrig and tells it’s altogether 30 studio albums Per has released so far. 10 solo, 12 with Roxette and 8 with Gyllene Tider. Per tells Nordmark exaggerates a bit, because Roxette has 10 studio albums. Nordmark insists on 12, but it’s hard to tell how he counted the number of studio albums anyway. He probably calculated with live or compilation albums as well, in case of GT too.

Per Nordmark tells he was 6 when he first met Mr. G’s music. He was a hard rocker, his sister introduced Kiss to him, but then he bumped into Puls from Gyllene Tider and he was very excited to hear that music. Per says he was also 6 when he got hooked on pop music. It was in 1965. It was The Kink Kontroversy by The Kinks, which his brother played to death. His brother had his teenage friends gathering in his room, listening to music and Per was a 6-year-old baby then. He says 6 is a good age to get started.

The guys are talking about how listening to music changes when you become professional. Sadly, you start listening to music differently. You start analyzing what you hear. Nowadays, when Per is listening to music he is listening to analyze. How did they do this, what did they think there, how strange they changed the chord here, etc. Modern pop music is very far from the 60’s and 70’s style, it’s built on the same chord in the verses and the choruses. Here Per excuses himself for talking too much, but Nordmark encourages him to go ahead. PG says one can ask why you liked the intro in I Feel Fine by The Beatles, if there was anything special in it [here Per demonstrates how the intro sounds] or why you liked The Who’s drum sound. Things like that. Per thinks it’s the romance in pop music what people like the most. Pop music’s position was much bigger and stronger back then than it is today. Times are changing. When pop and rock were blooming in the 60’s, there was an after-war generation. Music had a different role then, there was a revolution. Now after 50 years everything is more digitalized and you make music in a different way. Per often tells his son’s friends, who are in their twenties that one day they should try and play in a band. 4-5 people get together, pick their instruments and learn to play a song together. They should experience how it is to be a piece of the puzzle and realize how good it can sound. You can’t get that feeling in any other way, sitting over your laptop. He doesn’t say it’s wrong, he just says it’s different. The creative, organic feeling of piecing the puzzle together is fab. Nordmark says his father is a drummer and he also advised him to play in a band.

Nordmark says he loves playing live, but rehearsing is not his thing. Per says he loves playing live too, but he also loves rehearsing. When they toured with Roxette or with Gyllene Tider, lately they usually played their greatest hits. It’s less risky. But before a tour you are rehearsing songs that maybe you never played live before. They are fun and you might add 1 or 2 of them to the setlist of 25 songs or so. So he thinks it’s exciting to rehearse.

Regarding his new album, Nordmark asks how we should imagine the process, how it was created. Per tells it started with writing two new songs in spring when the pandemic started. The songs were Mamma and Pappa. They were released on a single for Mother’s Day. The idea was to play all the instruments himself and Helena Josefsson came to sing as well. Then he thought it wasn’t bad and since there was isolation, he thought he would record some more songs in the same way. At the same time he was writing an English album, so he was in his English songwriting bubble and he didn’t have the feeling to write a new Swedish album. Then he realized he had many old songs he didn’t release before or others he thought would deserve a better recording. So he was digging in his archives and found demos and also songs he wrote for other artists. He also found Kom ut till stranden, the only song from his never recorded third solo album that wasn’t translated into English for Roxette’s debut album. He always liked that song, but now he realized how clumsy the lyrics were, so he rewrote it. After 4-5 songs he realized that he can’t play all the instruments himself. He is a lousy bassist and an even worse drummer, so Jens from Brainpool came and played the drums and he also looked for musicians in Halmstad. He found ”Gicken” Johansson who is a fantastic bassist and he became one of the most important part of this project. Then he thought to include the most untrendy instruments in pop music, e.g. saxophone. He knew a very talented jazz saxophonist in Halmstad, Per Thornberg, so he came and played on 2 songs. Then most of the other instruments PG played himself.

Nordmark is curious about how Per saw his own songwriting during this project, how it was in the 80’s and how it changed. Mr. G says he realized he wrote longer songs in the past, he has become more effective. He thinks it came automatically. The intro can be more effective, the outro doesn’t need to be too long. Things like that. He also discovered that when new musicians join him he realizes the small details in his songwriting of the 80’s. For example when bassist Magnus Börjeson, who is like Roxette’s Ron Wood, plays Roxette songs, e.g. The Big L. Or he realized that there are changes in the keys 5 times in (Do You Get) Excited? That was his style back then. He became more sophisticated and it resulted in writing simpler in a way.

Per thinks music is the best there is. Even more than that. He is his music. He lives for his music, he wakes up with it and goes to bed with it. He is always thinking about ideas, solutions of musical problems or text problems and he is very much affected by it. He can’t communicate until he solves his musical problems. Åsa always says it’s like he is giving birth. He can be very anti-social then.

Per thinks music has a huge effect on people. One of the things he and Marie always talked about is that they were so lucky to travel around the world, to different places with different religions, different languages, different cultures, but everyone liked their songs. It Must Have Been Love or Listen To Your Heart, they broke through all barriers. It’s the power of music. Music makes you happy or it makes you want to dance or cry. A lyric of Leonard Cohen makes you break down because it’s so strong. Not too many arts have this same effect. Per thinks if he was a painter, his utterance would be the same, because art for him is about expressing himself. For him it was pop music he got hooked on already at an early age. He wanted to belong to a band, he wanted to play, he loved everything related to it. He also had a huge need to express himself in a way. He could have been a novelist or a journalist or a painter, but he became a pop musician. He thinks pop music is a lovely format. It’s quite short, but he likes that one can create different temperatures, the lyrics have different temperatures or colors, most often there are 12 or 16 lines and then it’s over. He just heard on TV that the one who won the August Prize was writing her book for 10 years. Per thinks he would have died, dealing with the same project for 10 years. He usually wants to finish his project as soon as possible, so he can start a new one. He likes to finish the songs in the studio and then mix them, not to let them lie around for another 2 months. There is also a restlessness in him of course, but he tries to use it for something positive.

Per says he tries to work as little as possible, he doesn’t sit down every day to write. If he has a project going on, like his English uptempo album now, he is working on that when he feels like it. He still likes to think in album format, so he is writing 12, 15, 20 songs before he goes to the studio. In the studio he wants to focus on the whole project. If you are working with 5-6 songs at the same time you might realize that some ideas don’t work on this or that song, but they would work on another. The music industry is very song-oriented these days, rather than album-oriented. Why to release an album, why not only one song at a time? Per says he doesn’t work like that. Nordmark says he talks to a lot of young musicians and their dream is still to release an album. So musicians still think in album format. Per says most people in the pop world dream about it, but they work in a different way. They work on a song-by-song basis and it’s because nowadays it’s very hard for a new pop artist to be there for a longer time. And you can’t build your future on 3 albums or you can’t tour with 2 songs. Also, there are 7 people writing one song. So it’s very hard to build up a classic pop or rock career. Those who are there on the live scene are usually older artists. They are the ones who have a big enough catalogue. U2, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Bon Jovi, Depeche Mode, The Rolling Stones. It’s hard to compete with them if you release only one song at a time.

Nordmark says Per already had success with Gyllene Tider before Roxette broke through and he is curious if Per remembers the feeling of „shit, it’s 2.0, it’s happening again”. He is also curious if Per had the self confidence as a songwriter back then. Mr. G says when GT was over in 1985, he had no career left. He wrote songs for other artists, but it didn’t really fit him. He is not the type of a hired gun. It was always hard for him to compromise. So he was very happy and thankful that Marie, in the middle of her blooming solo career, wanted to do a project with him. Her producer and EMI didn’t want her to work with Per, so that Marie wanted it it felt fantastic for Per. His self confidence was not the strongest then. The first Roxette album was made of the songs he wrote for his never released third Swedish solo album. He translated the songs into English and their debut album became a success. They also went on tour. The only thing that made Marie continue to work with Per was to break through abroad. In Sweden she was already a big artist with her solo songs. Per was a catalyst, but both of them were very ambitious. After the first Roxette album, Marie made another Swedish solo album and during that time Per wrote songs for Look Sharp! Then he still didn’t have much self confidence. Look Sharp! came out in autumn 1988 and they released the first single from it in summer 1988 in Sweden. It was Dressed For Success. They went on tour in autumn, they played ice halls and they released their second single, Listen To Your Heart. In January 1989 they released The Look as a single and later the US break through happened. Before that, no other countries wanted to release Look Sharp! No EMI Germany, France, Spain, Canada or Australia, no one. The music industry was very much focused on the US and the UK, so after The Look became No. 1 in the US in spring 1989 and they wanted to release it in the UK too, their record company told Roxette was an American band. Otherwise they wouldn’t want to release a Swedish band’s material in the UK.

Per says he was motivated by success. He got evidence that there are more „idiots” besides them two in the band who liked what they were doing. He laughs. Nordmark laughs too and says actually, there were some millions of idiots who liked it. Per says then he gained self confidence from the fact that people liked their songs. Then he had the same feeling as when he got his first fan mails as a 20-21-year-old from Gyllene Tider fans. It was incredible to get mails from unknown girls. He laughs. Per also tells that when they recorded Look Sharp! he thought if they succeed with one of the songs somewhere in the world then they have a great career in front of them, because they had very strong songs on that album. Paint, Listen To Your Heart, Dressed For Succes, Dangerous, The Look, Dance Away, Sleeping Single, so the whole album was very good for the pop music of the time. At the same time, they were very humble and they were completely shocked when the break-through really happened in the end. It was of course unbelievable.

Nordmark asks Per about The Look, how Per wrote the lyric to it. Per starts with telling that the first Roxette album was recorded with musicians their producer, Clarence Öfwerman chose. It was a great band: Tommy Cassemar, Jonas Isacsson, Pelle Alsing. For their second album, Per started writing demos in a different way. He started working on snyth and started programming. He wanted to go to a little different direction in style. He bought a new synthesizer, an Ensoniq ESQ-1 and he wrote two songs on it. The Look and Don’t Believe In Accidents. The Look is a 3-chord song, A, G and D. To remember the melody, he came up with a nonsense text. He was just humming it on his tape recorder and later he thought it sounded damn cool, it was a bit like The Beatles’ I Am The Walrus. So he kept it. Per thinks there is some kind of surreal logic in the lyrics. Originally, the text was „he’s got the look” though, because he wrote it for Marie to sing, but she didn’t want to. She thought the melody was too minimal for her. So she sang nanananana and then replied to Per in the chorus. That’s how it became „she’s got the look” in the end. Nordmark is curious what kind of drum machine they used in The Look, if it was LinnDrum. Per can’t remember, but he knows that the sequencer he used already on his demo too. An Ensoniq sequencer that was on the synth.

Talking about texts, Per finds it cool that you write a text and suddenly it starts to communicate. He gets mails and messages from people that they got married to this song or met while that song was playing and it means so much to them etc. So by interpreting the text, it becomes part of their lives. He writes the songs for himself or he writes it out of himself, no matter if it’s a true story or not and then when it starts to communicate with other people, it’s crazy. It’s fantastic. That’s also pop music’s power that the lyrics and the music have such an effect. It makes you feel that it’s a story of your life.

Nordmark asks Per about his experiences regarding touring, if he likes touring. Per says he always liked touring, but he never considered himself being a fantastic artist on stage. One shouldn’t forget that he started to sing in Gyllene Tider because no one else wanted to. The guys are laughing and Per mentions Micke Syd sings nicely though. He liked the idea of Marie singing. Already in the beginning she had the potential of becoming a fantastic artist on stage and she has always been a fantastic singer. There were only advantages of working together with her. Then of course when they broke through with Roxette, it was fun to communicate with the crowd. It’s the best there is to stand on stage in front of 5, 10, 15, 20, 30 thousand people who love what you are doing and they sing along a song you wrote, in cities you can’t pronounce the name of. Nordmark says he saw a documentary about Roxette where they were on tour in South America and he saw there were a lot of people. He is curious if Per ever thought, „shit, it’s too much”, because being an idol can also have its discomfort, he thinks. Per says Roxette’s heydays were between 1988 and 1995, before Marie had her second child. During those 7-8 years they travelled around the world, made albums, promotions, they toured. Per thinks when you are in the middle of it all, you don’t start thinking if that’s too much or if it will ever end or if your creativity burns out one day. You just want to keep going. You also don’t think in a way that shit, today there were 58 thousand people, tomorrow there should be 62 thousand. You are just doing your job. South America in 1992 was a quite bizarre experience, with police escort and stuff. The other day, the media in Argentina did interviews with him, they talked about Bag of Trix, their recent release and they were still talking about that tour in 1992, that they never experienced such pop hysteria since then. That was another era. When they played in Córdoba, which is maybe the third biggest city in Argentina, there were riot fences set up between the airport and their hotel, for example. It wasn’t a long distance, maybe 15 kilometres. There were a lot of fans with flags and banners all the way. Marie and Per were sitting in the car, they were let out at their hotel and then after they played, they travelled to another city. They went to Tucumán, which is also in Argentina. There had never been any rock bands before. They played there for 25-30 thousand and there were people climbing up even the light panels. He remembers the crew was desperate, he laughs. He says it was a fantastic tour and he’ll never forget that.

Nordmark asks Per if they were nervous before performing. Per says of course they were nervous, that’s natural, but you get focused. There were big TV programs in the US, they were live on The Arsenio Hall Show, for example and of course you are nervous, because anything can happen when you play live and there are 80 million people watching it. He thinks it can be the same for professional soccer players. They play matches in front of 40, 50, 60 thousand every time, so they become immune in a way. Mr. G says there is no difference between playing for 1000 or 30 thousand in that sense. You learn how to communicate with the audience. Marie was a master of it. She learned it very fast how to handle the crowds of different sizes. PG thinks Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart are very good examples too, just watch some videos of them on YouTube. Springsteen’s communication with the audience is also fantastic.

Nordmark says he read it somewhere that when Per was a kid he went to see Peps Persson [Swedish blues and reggae musician]. Per says he never saw him, so it must have been someone else Nordmark read that about. When he was a kid he went to see 10cc, AC/DC, they were the support act to Black Sabbath, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, they were the opening act for Nils Lofgren. They went to Gothenburg or Lund to attend concerts.

In Halmstad there was a vivid music life in the 60’s, before Per’s time. The Who was there, The New Yardbirds before they became Led Zeppelin, The Spencer Davis Group, The Hollies. Per’s brother went to see them all, but back then Mr. G was too young to be able to go. He remembers he saw Rainrock with Pugh Rogefeldt, he also remembers an incredibly sleepy concert of Ekseption, a Dutch classical rock band. When you saw them you realized you don’t want to be a musician. Sex Pistols played at Östra Stranden in Halmstad maybe in 1978 [it was in 1977]. Mats MP Persson and Per jumped into MP’s white Amazon and wanted to see Sex Pistols, but there was such a big fight outside the venue that they didn’t dare to get out of the car and they left.

As a closing topic, Per talks a bit about his English album. He says it’s almost ready. He has been working on it since spring. He goes to Skåne to the studio and they work 4 more days on it. Mr. G thinks it’s an exciting project. Per says he works together with Christoffer Lundquist, Clarence Öfwerman, Magnus Börjeson and also Jonas Isacsson on it. During the past few years he made so many singer-songwriter stuff that now he decided to make some pop of the 80’s or early 90’s that he loves, but didn’t deal with it since long. So he wrote much music in that style.

Nordmark thanks Per for being his guest and Mr. G says it was nice being there and it was a good chat.