While Per Gessle was in Miami in January, Alan Hunter – one of the original five VJs on MTV – invited him on his show on ’80s on 8, SiriusXM.
Alan is thrilled to be here with a special guest from a much beloved ’80s band. He has one half of the Swedish duo Roxette, Per Gessle on the show. He tells Per what a pleasure it is to see him. Per is just as happy, he says it’s great being here.
Alan feels like all of their kind of MTV-centric, ’80s-centric family went through this thing together back in the day and here they are a few years later still alive and well. Per says, thank God. Alan also says Per has his ever present boyish charm. He is curious what the deal is, whether it’s the hair or just good living. Haha. Per says he is actually celebrating his 65th birthday while he is here in Florida. Alan says it’s a good place to celebrate it, as long as you don’t have to wear a thong on South Beach. PG says he tries to avoid that. He is feeling good. He has been very lucky in his life, having a great career and no big health issues. So he just keeps on keeping on.
Alan says Per comes from a healthy country, at least he perceives it. America has its issues, but Alan thinks people in Sweden take care of themselves. Per doesn’t know what Alan is referring to actually, but he thinks it’s a different ball game in Scandinavia. He isn’t really leading a healthy lifestyle though. He drinks too much wine and eats too much. Alan says the debate is out on that wine thing.
Alan wants to throw a few stats out. He’s got an initial thought about Roxette. Nineteen Top 40 UK hits, four number ones in the US, 80 million albums worldwide. This number is astounding to a lot of people who even love and know Roxette. Alan is not comparing Roxette and ABBA, but it’s the same sort of American-centric exceptionalism. It’s their arrogance related to these bands from somewhere else. He doesn’t think they have appreciated ABBA over the years until someone told them how huge they are and then they go and see their show. People who are in the business that loved Roxette on MTV, they know the songs, but Alan doesn’t think they realize how huge Roxette is internationally. Per thinks the problem here in the States is that they didn’t tour that much here in those days. Lots of people know the songs, they know Listen To Your Heart, It Must Have Been Love, The Look, Joyride, Dressed For Success, but they don’t necessarily know that it’s the same band who is playing all those songs. Per says it’s easier for them in Europe, where they toured so much or Australia for that matter, even South America. They toured so much, playing football stadiums in those days. There everyone knows everything about Roxette, but it’s different in the US.
Alan says the power of live shows, it was very MTV-centric back in the ’80s. People had nothing to do, but turn on their televisions. Of course, that did increase live performances as well. The two were aided by each other, but now more than ever, acts are all about playing live. Per thinks they had a big advantage in the ’80s, because they came from a live scene in Sweden before Roxette made it big internationally. So they knew how to treat a crowd, they knew how important that was. It was always fun for them to play live gigs, because they knew they were good. Marie was an amazing front person and an amazing singer, ad libbing every night. They were just as much a live band as they were a band working in the studio.
Alan thinks we get that same vibe from a lot of UK bands and other bands from Europe that they appeared on MTV – like Duran Duran or U2 – as poster boys for the video age, but they had been playing the clubs, they had been paying their dues, they knew how to play live. That was almost even different from some of the American acts that came up during the golden era of video.
Per says it was fun to be part of it, when MTV happened and the video became so crucial to illustrate your songs. That whole circus was just amazing to be part of it. He remembers they did the video of Listen To Your Heart on an island in Sweden. Coming back to the States, people asked them if they built the castle just for the video. Haha. It was like a 17th century castle. There were no budgets and anything was possible. Alan says that was the good thing about the early days of video, you didn’t need a million-dollar budget.
Here they play Listen To Your Heart.
Alan says Marie was Per’s late great collaborator in Roxette and they all mourned with Per when she passed away five years ago. Both Marie and Per had their burgeoning solo careers in Sweden and in Europe, but they had a very funny introduction to the United States via a little radio station in the Midwest. Alan says everyone knows that story well, but asks Per to tell it again. PG tries to make it short. They were touring in Sweden and there was an exchange student from Minneapolis in Sweden in the summer of 1988. He became a big Roxette fan and he went back to Minneapolis, bringing with him the Look Sharp! album, which was the new album from Roxette at the time. There was a radio show at the KDWB in Minneapolis where listeners could request songs or they could bring their own records to the reception and have them played on the radio. So he did just that. He left the Look Sharp! album at the reception. They didn’t play it, they didn’t listen to it. So he wanted it back like 2 weeks later. And by fate, the program director of the radio station, Brian Phillips was there when he took the record back. Brian noticed the record sleeve. It was like a newspaper, sort of a very special sleeve for the album. So Brian Phillips, the program director got really interested in the sleeve and he asked the guy what it is. They guy said it’s a Swedish band. He wanted the radio to play it, but they didn’t. Then Brian thought let’s listen to it and he played the first song of the album. That was The Look. So they started playing The Look on the radio. Alan says, so if it had been another song that was the first track on the album, that might have been another hit for Roxette. Per says, or maybe it wouldn’t have happened at all. It’s a crazy story, but it’s a snowball from that radio station. Alan says things bubble up here in America. They have had that story told with many other artists. A local DJ likes it and it builds a grassroots following. Nowadays it’s social media as a grassroots.
Alan is curious what was that first moment when a record company person or somebody in Roxette’s group said, hey, you are about to take off in America. If it was overnight. Per says he was having lunch in Stockholm and a friend of his who worked at Warner Music at the time came over with a Billboard magazine and he asked if Per had noticed they were in the charts. This radio chart was called Bubbling Under. It was on two radio stations, KDWB and somewhere else, it said Roxette, The Look. Per was surprised, because that was an album track, not even released in the States. He was wondering how on earth this happened. It took about a couple of months and they were on the charts before the song was commercially released. But you couldn’t get on the Billboard Hot 100 chart unless you had a commercial release, so they rush-released it and it entered at No. 50 or so. Then it took eight weeks to go to No. 1. Alan can’t remember if the video was shortly thereafter or a part of that mounting campaign, but he thinks it was around the same time. It appeared on MTV and they were like, holy cow, another Swedish band. They didn’t play ABBA, but they did play Roxette. In the spring of 1989. That’s a great story. Then from then on, it took off.
But The Look is not Roxette’s biggest hit. Still to come was the movie. Alan asks Per what happened when Hollywood started to call in 1990. PG says that was funny as well. They had four big songs from the Look Sharp! album. The Look, Dressed For Success and then Listen To Your Heart became another No. 1 for them and Dangerous became No. 2 on Billboard. So at the time they were a pretty hot band and so they got this request. He was having lunch in Los Angeles and EMI Records asked Per if he could write a song, soundtrack to a movie. David Bowie was in there and Natalie Cole and lots of great artists. Good company, Alan says. PG agrees. Per told EMI he couldn’t do that, because they were travelling, promoting Look Sharp! all over the world. They were heading for New Zealand or something. But he said they had an old Christmas song from 1987, which had only been released in Sweden. It’s a great song, a ballad. He could rewrite the lyrics a bit and they could do an updated version of it. That was It Must Have Been Love. Mr. G sent the song to them and they loved it. The movie was of course Pretty Woman. At the time it was called 3000 or 3000 Dollars, because he hires the girl for 3000 dollars. PG remembers he got the script to the movie. It was really thick and he threw it away at Los Angeles airport. He didn’t want to read it. At the time it was a low budget movie. Roxette were like, OK, let’s do it, but it wasn’t a big thing. And then of course it became the biggest song of their career.
Here they play the song that started the whole Roxette journey in America, The Look.
Alan says he could talk forever about the first half of Roxette’s career, but there are a bunch of things happening now and he wants Per to prioritize them for the listeners. He says Per had a European Tour under the banner of Roxette, carrying the flag. He is curious about how it went and what we are looking forward to in 2024. Per tells Roxette with Marie, they called it quits in 2016. Marie passed away in 2019. In 2018, Per did a Per Gessle’s Roxette tour on his own in Europe and he just released a live album from that tour.
For the future, what’s special this year is that there is the opening of the Roxette musical in September, starting in Sweden. They will be going to at least all over Europe within the next couple of years. Alan says the musical is titled after Roxette’s 1991 album, Joyride. He says he has been immersing himself in it over the past couple of days, kind of reliving how much fun he had with that album and how good it was. Per thanks for it. Alan says for him, Marie never sounded better, she wails. What a voice she had. Alan thinks some people maybe missed that with the pop quality of The Look and the fun videos that we saw of Roxette, you don’t realize what a great singer she is.
So, Joyride is the name of the musical. Alan asks if it is a Broadway stage type of musical. PG says it is. It’s based on a book called Got You Back by English writer Jane Fallon. It’s a fun story with a happy ending. It’s got loads of the Roxette stuff in there. Per thinks if the stage version will be as good as the script is at the moment, it’s going to be a big one. It’s still seven months away though. Alan says it’s in development now, kind of a jukebox of Roxette songs. Alan wants to know if Per is writing any original stuff for it too. Maybe around the edges they will say, look, we got a hole here, you need to write something. Per says they are talking about that, but at the moment there is nothing new. Alan says Per will just sit there and collect the royalty checks when it becomes a huge worldwide hit. The guys are laughing.
Alan says they have had a couple of good collaborations recently. He thinks Roxette’s music is meant to be remixed over and over again. He loves the Galantis version of Fading Like A Flower, a song from the Joyride album. It’s a beautiful rendition according to Alan. Per thought that was really cool as well. PG thinks it’s nice to do that, because there are always new generations, new people come every year and are interested in what you do. Popular music is always changing and that’s the way it should be. Some artists think they don’t want to be part of that, it’s the original that counts. But a song is never really finished, it just has its own life. It’s the same thing when you play live. You try to play it differently every time. Even though the basic thing is the same, it always becomes a new thing every night. Alan thinks that’s the beauty of modern pop music. He has younger kids who listen to modern pop music and the cross fertilization and the collaboration with older artists, e.g. Sting playing with Pink and Marshmello. Alan thinks it’s amazing. It’s a nice homage to the music from decades ago, and of course it should still live in whatever format.
Alan says there was also an Alle Farben remix of Listen To Your Heart in 2023. He wasn’t familiar with that DJ before, but he thinks that remix was gorgeous. Per tells he is a German guy, very different from Galantis, but he is very good. He did a great job, because Listen To Your Heart is not that easy to do tempo-wise. It’s good for the clubs, Alan says. Roxette is back in the clubs, if you will. In the late ’80s they were doing The Look and it sounded great when it was loud and you were dancing to it. Alan is glad Roxette is back and he is glad Per is here and he is waving the Swedish flag.
Alan asks what is in the water in Sweden, by the way. He remembers hearing a producer several years ago working on a project and they were talking post ABBA and how everybody then wanted to see what was happening in that part of the world. The music that was being produced in Scandinavia was just nuts, all these young artists going there. So Alan asks Per if there is something still in the water there. PG thinks that the whole Swedish pop wonder is declining a bit, but they had an amazing decade. Even more than a decade. Max Martin, Shellback, all those writers, producers and also artists, The Cardigans, Robyn, The Hive, so many Swedish bands. It was a golden era. The music business and the industry changes all the time, so you never know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Maybe that was the golden window for Sweden.
Alan is curious if Per sits around waiting for a muse, hoping for a muse. He wants to know what’s the inspiration for Per. If it is the musical that’s coming up or he wants to make an album of new music, or to play live. Per says at the same time he had been working with Roxette, he had been working in Swedish and also in English with other projects. Just as they speak, he has just finished a Swedish album that’s going to come out this year as well. He is going to do a lot of promoting and gigging with that Swedish album. He laughs and says they won’t notice it here in the US. Alan asks Per to give him one title in Swedish from that new album, but PG doesn’t share any titles, because there are so many Swedish people listening to this show. He doesn’t reveal anything, but the first single will come out at the end of February.
Finishing the interview, Alan says it’s always fun to catch up with Per and thanks him for stopping by. Per says it’s always nice to meet Alan.
As the last Roxette song, they play Dressed For Success.