In yesterday’s issue of Aftonbladet Söndag magazine there is a Per Gessle interview on 6 pages, including some killer shots of Mr. G. The interview is done by Monika Israelsson, the photos are taken by Maria Östlin.
Nashville, autumn 2016
This time Per Gessle ended up in Nashville, Tennessee, in T-shirt weather in October. Per tells Monika that if he needed a harmonica in an odd key, he would have just walked five minutes to find one in Nashville. Mr. G brought his closest gang with him and a bunch of demos. Per says he thought they should record acoustic sketches only and then bring in local musicians and see what they bring. He asked the owner of the studio if they could take a pedal steel guy and Dan Dugmore got there, an old hero. He was so good. The result is two albums, first out ”En vacker natt”. Strings and steel guitar provide a classic country sound, yet the white sand dunes and an empty beach appear (referring to Halmstad). On the album cover there is a girl in a headscarf, singing at the sea in winter.
Stockholm, April 2017
The photos were taken in Ölandsgatan in Södermalm, Stockholm. At one moment, when a car was getting closer, the stylist shouted at Per and the photographer to beware, but they weren’t stressed. It turned out the car didn’t want to hit them, just stop by and ask Per how Marie is. Per walks to the car, leans down and says she’s just fine. They chat a bit, then the car is leaving. Per looks happy and is joking there was no selfie asked. Though it happened yesterday. And the day before yesterday. Since Per was at Skavlan a few weeks ago and said that he “gets depressed if no one wants to take a selfie”, there are even more requests.
They walk back to the record company’s office and there Per says his existence basically depends on what people think about the things he does. The new albums are not mainstream radio compatible. Per says to Monika that when you are used to meeting the public, you will be disappointed if you don’t get the cheering. At a concert he then thinks: “Why don’t people scream like they do usually?”. But if they scream extra much, you feel “calm down, you all”. Haha. He says one is analyzing things to death.
Per keeps his private life safe and people don’t know much about him. This is how he wants it. He says he won’t ever be on Parneviks (Swedish show that features golfer Jesper Parnevik and his family as they welcome celebrity guests to stay at their mansion in Florida for a few days) or on Så mycket bättre (Swedish reality TV show in which each artist attempts to do their own version of another artist’s well-known songs, with each person getting an episode featuring all of their songs being performed by the other musicians). He doesn’t know what he could win with it. He is very pleased that ”Tycker om när du tar på mig” means something for people, but he or his life doesn’t need to mean anything to anyone. He doesn’t feel the need to show his home or his cars or where he buys bananas. Åsa and Gabriel are the same when it comes to such things.
Regarding himself being a small town guy, Per tells Monika that there is a difference in growing up in a big city and a small town, and there was even greater difference in the ‘60s and ‘70s. That small town mentality has colored him so much that it lies in his personality. He grew up in Furet district of Halmstad with his mother who was a teacher in porcelain painting and his father who was a plumber. He was a trailing child and a loner. He was more into lonely stuff, like painting and drawing. He always felt more like an outsider. His brother introduced him to rock music: The Beatles, The Kinks, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, who became a direct channel to another world, much more exciting than Furet.
Per tells Aftonbladet Söndag that he went to a tough high school. There were a lot of drugs, a gang that broke the seats in the bus. Being good at school was the worst thing one could do. His dad drove him to school because he didn’t want to take the bus.
He started to play in a band with Mats MP Persson. Per asks Gabriel if he knows what one misses when he doesn’t play in a band. There you have your friends and you can play together the same song and that sounds damn good. That thing is sensational. It brought him a kind of gratitude. He and MP started as a punk band that sounded terrible and developed into Gyllene Tider. Per was purposeful and he covered Halmstad with leaflets and sent cassette tapes to record companies. They succeeded when EMI offered a contract and they recorded their first album in 1979.
The early Swedish texts are like a highway into a teenager’s head and body. Over the years, the songs have become more thoughtful, but still they take off in everyday happenings, often including sadness. A fishing trip, a rainy morning on the beach, an old love on the bus. Per says he usually tries to keep a fairly high minimum level of texts. Sometimes a song is so contagious that the text doesn’t play an equal role in the context. But when the music is more naked and crisp, the lyrics become important.
Monika asks Per if he can really put himself in the lives of ordinary people, with his luxury cars and private jet. Per says he doesn’t write about townhouse life or a night on the subway. He thinks that just because you tell a story, it doesn’t mean it’s true. If that means something to someone, he has succeeded. Then whether he has experienced it or not, it’s quite uninteresting.
To the question why he doesn’t write sorely or about politics Per replies he doesn’t think he has had any political substance to come up with. Besides that, he doesn’t think it would be interesting enough. He is more towards the dreamy stuff. He thinks all people are political in some way when in a society. Mr. G thinks it’s unacceptable not to vote, it’s a democratic right so it’s better to vote for anything in that case. But he doesn’t really know how to use it.
Monika asks Per about his musical self-esteem. Per sayst it started at minus 100, he thought he sang damn badly. He started singing in Gyllene Tider because no one else would. Now he has learned that this damn voice is an asset. Everything that stands out is good.
Per thinks of himself as a kind of director. He always choose to work with people who are much better than himself. That can help him to pursue any kind of vision he has. He knows something will be fine, but he doesn’t know how to get there. He has always thought Marie Fredriksson is the best in the studio when Per is there. Mr. G means he thinks he makes Marie take one more step.
Per met his wife, Åsa in the mid ‘80s. The early years were significant in their relationship. Gyllene Tider’s English album and Per’s second solo album flopped. When looking at Roxette and his actual life, it’s easy to think that it has always been so. But it has not. He was a ”has-been” when he was 24 and it was damn hard for him. He lived on Åsa’s salary from Vingresor and had no real master plan. When Roxette had its break-through, it was evident that Åsa, with her professional background took care of the gang’s trips. This way Per and Åsa didn’t spend much time apart, despite long tours around the world. She often documented with a cam. The films became raw material for the Jonas Åkerlund documentary, Roxette Diaries (2015).
Per’s voice is shining when he talks about the ‘90s, the years when Roxette had several songs on the Billboard charts in the US for 4 years in a row. Per remembers playing Joyride for 200 radio directors in the US. It wasn’t even released, but they came to them to congratulate on their next “number one”. If you’re lucky, you have this success once in your life. Back then Roxette was exactly what America wanted. Nevertheless, they were never completely in the heat. The US record company wanted them to move to the United States and they would replace musicians in the band. But Per and Marie said no. Per says it’s one of the things he is most proud of, that they kept their gang. They created the Roxette sound together.
When Per is listening to old songs today he can be knocked out. Marie’s voice is amazing, Per says he can feel “damn how good she sings”. He smiles and says back then he didn’t sense it, it was more like “sing better!”.
Monika and Per talk about the times when Marie got ill and that Mr. G among others thought it was the end of Roxette. He started to work with Gyllene Tider and did solo projects. Then in 2009 Marie and Micke came to Amsterdam and Per asked Marie to come up on stage to sing Listen To Your Heart. He thought people would die for it. Marie didn’t want to, but Per knew she wanted, so it took like 15 minutes to convince her and she said OK, let’s try it.
Per is grateful for the Roxette tours and albums during the past years, saying he felt something of a “brotherhood responsibility”. Today they talk regularly.
There is a deep melancholy in the music on Per’s new album. In recent years, Per has first lost his mother and then his brother and sister, who both passed away in cancer. Mr. G says when people die around you, you grow older sooner. There is a thoughtfulness and one is thinking more about everything. He says he has to stop himself so that he doesn’t only write about what has been, but about what is and the future too. When his sister died, her son found a box of old diapositives from 1966. It is Gunilla who stands by the ice and sings. Per has selected some of the pictures for the albums. It felt like they fit the record.
Per’s replies to special questions:
… cooked: ”Scrambled eggs. I’m miserable in the kitchen.”
… bought something extremely expensive: ”A dulcimer, a string instrument. Pretty expensive but very fine.”
… loughed out loud: ”Quite a lot of times last week, when I was watching Dag, the TV series.”
… felt ashamed: ”I’ve stopped doing that. No, in fact, I feel ashamed just now about this answer of mine.”
… took a selfie with someone: ” Yesterday in a car shop. Then you just have to be in for it!”
3x the coolest cars in the world:
- Ferrari Dino: ”Cars don’t have to be practical. And they don’t have to drive at 350 km/h, because you never drive that fast anyway. However, it’s important that they are beautiful.”
- Mini Cooper: ”Classic, the one Austin Powers drives.”
- Rolly-Royce Corniche: ”So incredibly beautiful car. This is the one of these 3 I don’t own.”
3x people about Per:
Marie Dimberg, manager: ”Per, like most other artists, is hard-working, creative, target-oriented and focused. What distinguishes him is his amazing songwriting that gave him three careers: Gyllene Tider, solo and Roxette. I don’t think there is a big difference between the private and public Per. He is immensely positive and thinks fast both inside and outside the job. And he is just as bad at keeping the time in both cases…”
Marie Fredriksson, artist: ”Per is extremely creative, focused, positive and cheering in the studio. This is how he is as a person. We’ve had so much fun together through all the years. We had a lovely dinner together just the other day. There were many memories that came up and it’s obviously nice with such a long friendship that it continues even outside the stage and the studio.”
Mats MP Persson, band member in Gyllene Tider: ”My first impression of Per was that he was a real artist, translating Leonard Cohen’s and David Bowie’s lyrics into Swedish, and he had a tape recorder with microphones that could be used to play and record. He also had great visions. I thought it was really exciting and once we started doing covers with Per’s translated lyrics, for example, Doctor Feelgood. We did everything on our own and called us Graperock, if I remember right…”
3x this is how I wrote the song:
(Dansar inte lika bra som) Sjömän (Gyllene Tider, 1980): ”One summer I was weighing mushrooms. There were over three hundred girls and two guys. When we had nothing to weigh, we sat in our Ford Transit, where I wrote the text and then we made a song of it in the evening. Just because I could. In a way it was like solving crosswords.”
Allt gick så fort (En vacker natt, 2017): ”This song wrote itself. I was in France on a beach, a woman was picked from the water. I don’t know what happened to her afterwards. It became a catalyst for the fact that life goes fast.”
Neverending Love (Pearls of passion, 1986): ”I wrote a song for Pernilla Wahlgren, Svarta glas. Then I accidentally heard that her brother Niclas had recorded it and that was not the idea. I made an English text instead and recorded it with Marie.”
There are captions next to the photos in the article including Per’s thoughts on Roxette was the second pop group ever to play in Beijing. The concert in 1995 was met by both criticism and praise. When they played It Must Have Been Love, there was a banner in the audience saying ‘one world one unity’. One felt they became their longing for a Western life. The whole band went out and cried afterwards.
Another caption says that despite his worldwide success, Per Gessle remains a small town guy. He has never left Halmstad. By many, he is still perceived to be private – and that’s exactly how he wants it.
In a third caption it’s written that Gyllene Tider’s first hit wasn’t obvious. Per says they were told that the first single must have a certain pace to make it disco comaptible. But just then Frank Zappa happened to have a hit with Bobby Brown and that was very slow. So some discos in Stockholm started playing Flickorna på TV2, which had the same pace. Slowly but surely people began to recognize it. An organic hit, that’s the best kind.
The article closes with Monika’s thoughts that among the memories flowing from Per, names, places, anecdotes, she can’t find the right moment to ask why Per makes new records and gets out on exhausting tours when he has millions on his bank account. But eventually it becomes irrelevant. It is clear that Per Gessle lives and breathes music.
Great interview! Thanks for that, Aftonbladet Söndag!
Update on 3rd May: Aftonbladet shared the article online for subscribers.