Per Gessle in King Magazine – “Looking back, my greatest talent is that I’ve found all these people who make me a better person than I really am.”

It’s not the first time Per Gessle appears in King Magazine. Do you remember his session with Jonas Åkerlund in 2006? Here you can see some werk photos and here you can see some of the end results.

Now, almost 20 years later, history repeats itself and Per’s face is like the cover of a magazine again and he appears in the May-June edition of King Magazine in Sweden. This time, the most talented Fredrik Etoall was behind the camera to take some amazing shots of PG. The February photo session happened at Grand Hotel in Stockholm where Rasmus Blom was also present. Rasmus did a big interview with Mr. G the day before in Per’s office on Strandvägen.

Rasmus mentions in his article that Per Gessle is usually too restless for holidays, but this time he is looking forward to spending two weeks at Four Seasons in the Maldives.

Strandvägen for most Swedes represents the last step on the ladder of success. Per has two floors here, one where he lives and one where he works. According to Rasmus, the work floor is more like a pop museum than an office.

We have lived here since 1993. The apartments were for sale together, so we bought the lower floor to have as Stockholm accommodation and this floor as a studio. I recorded Belinda Carlisle here in the ’90s, but then I realized I’m so incredibly untechnical, so I closed the studio. Now I use it as my office. I have my meetings here and sit and write my songs. As you can see, there are instruments everywhere. There is also a nice view with a good sunny position. If it’s sunny in Stockholm, it’s sunny here.

Rasmus looks around and he can see references to pop culture everywhere: an Elvis bust, a Playboy pinball machine, old stage clothes, a big black grand piano and loads of expensive electric guitars. He can also see tons of books from floor to ceiling: rock biographies, pop memoirs, photo albums, exclusive special editions and a signed David Hockney book so huge it requires its own stand. Pop art is hanging on the walls: Andy Warhol original of Mick Jagger, Hans Gedda original of Cornelis Vreeswijk and Anton Corbijn original of U2. Between a portrait of August Strindberg and a glazed small Ferrari model stands a gold-framed photo of a beautiful woman with dark eyes.

Per proudly says:

Isn’t she pretty? It’s Åsa in the ’80s when we met. She was a model in Paris back then.

Åsa and Per have been married since the summer of 1993. Rasmus explains, it’s her that all the hundreds of love songs from 1985 onwards are about. They have a son, Gabriel.

They bought Hotel Tylösand in Halmstad in the mid-90s and today own 60% of it. Åsa (“the boss”) is in charge, among other things, of the design and the spa department. Rasmus says it’s noticeable that she works with spa, because she radiates a calming energy when she looks in during the interview and comes by their meeting at Grand Hotel with Semla buns.

The couple divides their time between Stockholm, their Halmstad villa outside Tylösand and the suitcase.

In a normal year, we spend one third of our time in Stockholm, one third in Halmstad and one third on the road. In recent years, it has become more Halmstad, because Åsa works so much with the hotel. Our son went to high school in Halmstad, but he lives here in Stockholm now.

As a world touring pop star and hotel owner for nearly 30 years, Per Gessle must be a connoisseur when it comes to hotels, so Rasmus is curious what makes an outstanding hotel experience according to Halmstad’s own Basil Fawlty.

First and foremost, it’s about being seen as a customer. You are paying for a service, so you need to feel important. Then my personal favourite hotels are not necessarily the most luxurious. Super fancy hotels can be fun, but I like unique boutique hotels with a special feel. In London I always stay at Brown’s, in New York at Whitby and in Miami at The Edition.

Rasmus points at a book about the legendary Studio 54 nightclub in New York that was created by The Edition founder Ian Schrager.

I was actually at Studio 54 once. Me, Anders Herrlin and Expressen’s Mats Olsson, who is a good friend. It must have been 1981. We were let in thanks to Mats Olsson’s girlfriend at the time who wore a very short leopard skirt. There were a lot of lovely odd types there. It was exactly as you would imagine.

When you have an absolute ear for pop melodies like Per Gessle, Benny Andersson or Max Martin, you cannot fail, Rasmus thinks. You only have to look at Gessle’s career – apart from a short period in 1984/85 when Gyllene Tider was over (“I was a has-been as a 26-year-old”) and he acted as a hired gun for other artists (most memorable are the lyrics to Lena Philipsson’s Kärleken är evig), it has been constant success. Sommartider, Listen To Your Heart or Här kommer alla känslorna (på en och samma gång) – different styles, different constellations, different eras, but they all carry Per Gessle’s strong genes and became instant hits. Music that goes straight into the central nervous system. It is this kind of magic that makes 70,000 people gather in a football stadium in São Paulo and sing songs written in Halmstad. Rasmus says, Per Gessle is humble about the success and likes to blame it on luck, but if he is forced to point at something else, it’s the melodies.

My music is very melodic and often easy to absorb. But why it turned out the way it did, I actually don’t know. The hardest thing I’ve done was breaking through with Gyllene Tider, because it came out of nowhere, which is also what the film is about. The next difficult thing was breaking through with Roxette. It was a completely new journey that you can analyze yourself to death about how it happened, but we had luck, timing and talent. We were in the right place at the right time, but the probability of that happening was so small at the time, especially the time before what is usually called the Swedish pop wonder. There was absolutely no advantage of not coming from England or the US. We really had to fight for it. During the promotion of The Look in England, the record company wrote that we were an American band. It was not possible to say that we were from Sweden. When Marie fell ill in 2002, I started working on Mazarin, which was my first solo album since 1985. When the record came out in 2003, it was huge and led to Gyllene Tider embarking on their biggest ever tour the following year with an average of 30,000 people every night. So success breeds success, while the hardest thing there is to follow up success.

Rasmus says Per only writes when he feels inspired.

Sometimes I sit in front of the TV and watch some weak series and take out the guitar and start playing, but otherwise I usually say that I write as little as possible. I know there are many who say exactly the opposite. That as an artist and songwriter you must have discipline, and of course you must have it, but I’m not sitting at the piano between nine and five o’clock. I only work when I have an idea or a project, when I feel that I have something in my system that needs to be released. Then I go into my bubble and lay eggs, as my wife calls it. I become antisocial and completely hopeless to go to a restaurant with, because I just sit and think about some phrase in the second verse. It’s probably some kind of ADHD. I go into it 110 percent.

The lyrics take so much time and energy. It takes a lot of concentration to come up with a text that makes sense. Finishing a text becomes more and more difficult every year. Not least because you have written so much that it is easy to repeat yourself. You try to find an angle in a text. Who is telling the story? What are you talking about? Why do you tell it? When I wrote for Marie in Roxette, I tried to write from her point of view. It’s interesting to put yourself in another person’s shoes. For me, writing lyrics is much more difficult than writing music, but at the same time, it is more rewarding exactly because it’s so difficult. It’s complex to write texts, because I want to be open, but only to a certain extent. I don’t do very many interviews, because I have no need for celebrity. I don’t want to flaunt my life and my family. The texts I like the most are the general ones that everyone can identify with. It is about finding very basic topics; relationships, joy, sadness.

Rasmus says Per Gessle recognizes a good melody when he hears it, regardless of genre. Rumor has it that he thinks Broder Daniel’s indie anthem Shoreline is one of Sweden’s best pop songs.

I really think so. Fantastic song. I also like songs like Work and Underground. Broder Daniel is a fantastic pop band. It has been a great asset that I have never been a fachidiot, but listened to everything possible: experimental ’60s music like The Velvet Underground, blues rock like Led Zeppelin, flume music like the Grateful Dead or hard rock like Metallica. Today I mostly listen to older pop and rock, but also to piano music and jazz. With pop music, I’m so worked up that I start analyzing the songs right away. It’s like I’ve already revealed the magic trick. I mostly listen to things I don’t control myself.

Rasmus says, in recent years, selling the rights to their song catalogues has become popular in the music world, from hyper-commercial artists such as Katy Perry and Justin Bieber to privacy fanatics like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Per Gessle has noted the trend.

I can possibly understand that Katy Perry does it, she belongs to a younger generation of artists and songwriters who work in large teams and therefore perhaps has a different relationship to her songs than I do. But I was surprised at Dylan and Springsteen doing it. Even Neil Young has sold half his rights and I saw that Tina Turner sold the rights to her stage name before she passed away. In a way, it is their life they are selling. I wonder why they do that. The only reason I can think of is that they have a lot of kids and are trying to sort out any disputes between their kids while they are still alive. For me, it would feel very strange to let someone else decide over my songs. Music is my life and the songs are my babies. I’ve had a lot of offers, but I’ve never gotten into them. It doesn’t feel relevant. And what would I do with all that money then?

Later this year, Per Gessle’s first Swedish album in seven years will be released, Rasmus informs. The title Sällskapssjuk is a wink to all the duets with famous Swedish artists on the album. The first single Beredd with Molly Hammar is already out, but the rest of the guest artists are still a secret.

It’s not a purely duet album, but seven or eight duets out of a total of thirteen songs. Everyone I asked said yes, which makes me feel honoured. I chose female and male singers that I respect and that I believe can have a positive benefit. Then it was important to find voices that work in terms of keys.

Rasmus wants to know how much contact Per has with Swedish artists otherwise.

No contact at all, actually. I have gotten to know one or two that I hang out with sometimes. Nisse Hellberg and Uno Svenningsson, for example.

According to Rasmus, it’s not so strange that Per Gessle feels sociable as an artist and songwriter, his most successful song ever was performed by Marie Fredriksson after all. Roxette’s epic power ballad It Must Have Been Love with Marie Fredriksson in top shape is one of the pop duo’s four US No. 1 songs, today with over half a billion plays on Spotify and almost 800 million views on Youtube.

The song was sent into orbit around the earth in 1990 as the theme to Pretty Woman, the most famous romantic comedy of all time with Richard Gere as the businessman Edward and Julia Roberts in her breakthrough role as the prostitute Vivian in a storming love story. The film classic offered the personal chemistry of the century between Richard Gere and Julia Roberts on the big screen and between Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson on the film’s soundtrack, Rasmus says.

Marie had a fantastic career going on in Sweden that was much bigger than mine. So my only chance to keep her in Roxette was if the band became successful. Roxette was really just a side project for her in the beginning. The first album didn’t do well at all outside of Sweden, so our German record company suggested that we do a Christmas song. It would probably be easier to get on German radio then. I hooked on that straight away. I wrote It Must Have Been Love (Christmas For The Broken Hearted). It became a gold record in Sweden, but the Germans didn’t even want to release it. They didn’t like it! Life went on, Marie released yet another Swedish solo record while I put together the material that would become Look Sharp! with which we broke through internationally. At a lunch in LA, someone at the record company asked if I wanted to write a song for a Disney/Touchstone movie with the working title 3000. A classic love story based on a man who hires a prostitute for a weekend for 3,000 dollars. Robert Palmer and David Bowie would be involved, among others. It sounded hugely exciting. However, we were on our way to New Zealand, so I didn’t have time to write anything new, but I said we have a great Christmas ballad I can fix and remove all the Christmas references from. Said and done. Marie re-sang a few verses, we did a new intro and Michael Jackson’s technician, Humberto Gatica, mixed it. Then Marie and I got to see the film, which had then been renamed Pretty Woman, in a small cinema in Burbank, California. I walked away thinking it was a fun movie, but not much more than that. Julia Roberts was a newcomer and Richard Gere a has-been. But then everything exploded.

Rasmus informs that Roxette was Sweden’s biggest music export since ABBA even before Pretty Woman thanks to hits like The Look, Listen To Your Heart and Dressed For Success, but with the Hollywood hit, they became a global phenomenon in earnest. The records sold multi-platinum and the world tours succeeded one after the other. Roxette was the biggest in South America and Germany where to this day they are one of the country’s most popular bands ever.

Roxette increases by 10 percent on the streaming platforms every year. I’m just grateful that people are still interested and that the music finds its way down through the generations.

It has been almost five years since Marie Fredriksson passed away from the effects of the brain tumor that she lived with for almost 20 years against all odds.

It was terribly hard. But at the same time, she was sick for so long, so we knew it could happen anytime. You waited for that call somehow and knew it would come sooner or later. It was almost even more difficult when we got the news that she was ill, in 2002. It came like a bolt out of the blue and you didn’t understand what it was. It was a strange fate. She was sick for so long and so heroic that she was able to make a comeback in 2009 and continue playing until 2016.

Rasmus says that Marie is not the only one Per has lost recently. Mother Elisabeth, brother Bengt and sister Gunilla all passed away within a few years, while father Kurt passed away already when Per was 19 years old.

We’re all going to die. I don’t think about it much. It is always very difficult when loved ones pass away. My mother was old and sick, so it was also something you mentally prepared for. I also knew that my sister was sick. However, I did not know that my brother was ill. He had lung cancer, but hadn’t told anyone. So it was very surprising that he disappeared. I don’t know what to say about that, life is so fleeting and you have to make the most of your days. It’s clear that you think about it more when you get older. When you are young, you don’t have a relationship with time in that way. You can’t do anything about it. Time does things to you, but I’m a positive type and super grateful for what I’ve been a part of in my life. And my gosh, I’m not done yet!

Just like for Monica Zetterlund and Ted Gärdestad, the story of Gyllene Tider will now become a feature film, Rasmus informs. Sommartider premieres in theatres on 17th July and takes place during the band’s first years in the ’70s and ’80s, with a lot of nepo babies in the cast: comedian Peter Wahlbeck’s son Valdemar Wahlbeck plays Gessle, Magdalena Graaf and Magnus Hedman’s son Lancelot Hedman Graaf portrays Anders Herrlin and Jesper and Mia Parnevik’s son Phoenix Parnevik portrays Micke Syd. Newcomers Ville Löfgren and Xavier Kulas take on Mats “MP” Persson and Göran Fritzon respectively.

We were all quite skeptical about a Gyllene Tider movie at the beginning. A film about a band where everyone is still alive could be weird. But then the filmmakers told us what they were looking for, a story about a gang of small town guys who for some reason manage to enter Café Opera in clogs. It’s not a documentary about Gyllene Tider’s fantastic career, the film ends in 1982 when Sommartider is released. So it’s about the journey there. I’ve only seen five scenes, which were great. The script is super fun and fairly accurate. Artistic liberties must be accepted in order for the film to be as good as possible.

Rasmus continues with Joyride – The Musical, where Per Gessle’s second pop group will get a new lease of life. The musical premieres on 6th September at Malmö Opera. Unlike the Gyllene Tider film, the musical is not based on real events, but more like ABBA’s Mamma Mia!, on the band’s songs.

This process has been going on for years. I’m involved to the extent that it is my songs. I intervene in the way it is presented, in what style the actors should sing. There is a certain kind of mannerism in the musical world that I have a hard time with. I’d like there to be a pop and rock edge to it all. Roxette is big all over the world, so hopefully, this can grow and be played outside of Sweden in the long run. I really love Roxette and am very proud of what we created. I myself am the biggest Roxette fan in the world.

The lavish feel-good musical is created by award-winning director Guy Unsworth and set designer David Woodhead, with Gessle’s blessing. The plot revolves around a humorous triangle drama based on the novel Got You Back by Jane Fallon, the British writer and Roxette fan who also lives with the world-famous comedian Ricky Gervais.

I have met Jane Fallon many times while working on the musical, but never Ricky. I saw in an interview that he called Roxette his best guilty pleasure band, which is fun. I hope he comes to the premiere.

Rasmus says, at 65 years old, Per Gessle has spent an entire professional life in the rock industry. But unlike many of his Swedish and foreign colleagues, he has avoided both drugs and headlines.

There’s been a lot of drugs around one, but it’s nothing for me. I’ve never been interested in it. I take care of myself.

Already during the most hysterical years with Gyllene Tider in the early ’80s, Gessle kept a low profile and went to California instead of basking in the limelight in Sweden. When he is not playing to sold-out arenas, he enjoys being under the radar.

The celebrity life has never attracted me, but it has come as a result of the fact that I like playing in bands and making music. My journey in life is about music.

As Rasmus writes, on the other hand, Per Gessle meets a lot of other rock star standards: he loves expensive leather jackets and Italian sports cars. His interest in motoring kicked off when, as a 12-year-old, he saw Tony Curtis’ red Ferrari in The Persuaders. Today, a Dino 246 GT similar to the one in the TV series takes pride of place in the pop star’s Ferrari collection, which is on display in the permanent exhibition The Joyride Car Collection at Hotel Tylösand.

I’ve always loved cars. Even motorcycles and Riva boats, I love all that is beautiful. During the Gyllene Tider years I drove a Golf, but after the Joyride album with Roxette, when I started making money, I bought a Mercedes SL600. In 1995 I bought my first Ferrari, which I unfortunately don’t have anymore. A 456 GT, blue with cream upholstery. In 1997 I played at Ferrari’s 50th anniversary party and since then have had good contact with the company, which has allowed me to buy some limited models.

After all these years on the international music scene, the son of a plumber from Furet in Halmstad has extensive acquaintances all over the world, Rasmus says. In one of the site-built bookshelves is a photo with a greeting from Tom Petty and a while ago he was at a bar mitzvah in New York in the company of celebrities.

It was a good friend of mine in New York whose son had a bar mitzvah. It was a big party where I was appointed as the host of my table. At the table I had Springsteen, John McEnroe, Lars Ulrich and Keith Richards, who, however, never showed up. Then there was some other rascal that I have forgotten. I can’t say I know Springsteen, but we’ve met and talked a few times. He’s a nice guy.

Rasmus ends the interview by saying Per Gessle is one of our greatest artists, but as Per says, he owes his own greatness to others.

Looking back, my greatest talent is that I’ve found all these people who make me a better person than I really am. It takes talent to find them and allow them to take their place. To not always think you know best yourself. The older I get, the more I leave the place to other people.

Thank you so much for this wonderful material, King Magazine! Amazing photos by Fredrik Etoall and a great interview by Rasmus Blom!

In the online version, you can read it all and you can see all photos as well, but if you are in Sweden, make sure you get yourself a copy! This 15-page article is well worth it!

All interview text is written by Rasmus Blom for King Magazine in Swedish. Here it is a translation by RoxBlog.