Anders Öhrman met Mr. G in Per’s office on Strandvägen in Stockholm to talk about Roxette. Anders loves Roxette since they released their first single, Neverending Love. He has the vinyl framed. He saw Roxette live, knows all their songs, followed them on all the charts in the world and managed to get both Marie and Per to participate in the QX Gala, but this is the first time he had the chance to interview the hit machine and pop star, Per Gessle.
Per welcomes Anders to Fort Knox with a big smile on his face at the elevator on the fifth floor. He tells they had to set up a gate on the stairs because Roxette fans sneaked in and slept there in the stairwell.
The interview is done almost the same day as Marie passed away a year ago. Anders says it’s obviously a huge loss. Per lost both a bandmate and a longtime friend. [Here there is a little misunderstanding regarding the dates I assume: the last recordings and the last show. /PP] Anders tells the last recording with Marie turned out to be on 8th February 2016 and says Per has written everything down in his diary from the recordings. [This date was the last Roxette concert’s date though. In Cape Town, South Africa. /PP] Anders mentions that Per flips through his diary and says Marie sang the song Good Karma. That was the last thing she did with Roxette.
The guys start talking about the beginning. The year is 1986 and Per Gessle is without a record contract, but with his third solo record written in Swedish. Per tells he had written a song ordered for Pernilla Wahlgren as well, it was called Svarta glas, but he didn’t get an answer. Roffe Nygren, who was head of Swedish EMI at the time, heard the song, liked it and said, “write an English text and record it with Marie Fredriksson”. Said and done. The song’s title became Neverending Love and Marie recorded it despite the fact that everyone was against it. Her solo career went straight up, she released the album Den sjunde vågen and had Ännu doftar kärlek as a hit, but Marie wanted to record with Per. Even producer Clarence Öfwerman didn’t want to produce Roxette’s single, but luckily, he was persuaded and since then Clarence has produced every single song of Roxette. Per tells QX magazine that there was a huge resistance in the beginning. There were just three people who believed in Roxette – Marie, Per and Roffe. On the cover of the single, there is a cartoon couple dancing. It’s because they thought if the song was a flop, it wouldn’t hurt Marie’s solo career.
Anders tells the song became a big hit in Sweden and an album was recorded. Per took the Swedish songs he wrote for his third solo album and translated them into English. Farväl till dig became Goodbye To You, Dansar nerför ditt stup i rekordfart became Soul Deep, En känsla av en kvinna became Call Of The Wild etc. Per tells the only song that wasn’t translated was a song called Kom ut till stranden, but it is actually on his latest solo album.
Roxette’s debut album’s title was Pearls of Passion and it sold 200,000 copies. Per started writing their next album, Look Sharp!, but before he did that, he also managed to write a Christmas song that the record company in Germany had wanted to get German radio to start playing them. The song was titled It Must Have Been Love (Christmas For The Broken Hearted). But the record company refused it and the song was only released in Sweden where it was a great success. When Look Sharp! was released, it was No. 1 in Sweden, but EMI in the US and the rest of the world didn’t want to release it, Anders says. Per tells QX magazine that they were completely uninterested in Roxette. Most people know the story of the exchange student from the USA who brought Look Sharp! home from Sweden. He sent it to a radio station at home in Minneapolis and asked them to listen to it, which they did [after a while]. The rest is history.
Per remembers sitting and eating lunch at Stureplan when a guy from another record company came to him and congratulated on their bubbling in the US. He read about it in Billboard magazine. Mr. G didn’t understand anything and was thinking what song could it be that they started playing in the US. First he thought it must have been Dressed For Success or Listen To Your Heart, but then he saw in the magazine that it was The Look and it rhymed so damn badly with his idea of Roxette where he was the songwriter and Marie the singer. Per laughs and says he thought it wouldn’t end happily.
QX magazine tells Per was wrong. The Look reached number one on Billboard in the US. Then Dressed For Success, Listen To Your Heart and Dangerous also charted. Being big in the US meant big in the rest of the world. Roxette topped the charts in 25 countries.
Anders himself was in college in the USA at the time and when one day in the spring of 1990 he heard It Must Have Been Love on the radio, as a Swedish Roxette fan he was wondering how it happened that they played that old Christmas song.
Per tells Anders they were offered to record a song for a Hollywood movie that would be called 3,000. Julia Roberts was not known then and Richard Gere was a bit passé. Per got the script from Los Angeles, but he remembers throwing it away already at the airport because it was so heavy to carry. He laughs. They didn’t have time to record a new song, so they changed the lyrics of It Must Have Been Love, Marie sang in a new version and so they sent it to them. Then it became a huge success and their biggest hit ever.
Anders is curious if Per remembers when he first saw Pretty Woman. Mr. G tells before the film went to the cinema they got a private screening in Burbank, California and in the middle of the screening there was an earthquake. The salon shook and the staff came rushing in and said that everything was OK, the house was earthquake safe.
Anders asks Per what he thought about the movie. Mr. G remembers that he thought it was a bit uninteresting or he didn’t think anything directly. But their song got a lot of space and today it is an iconic scene with Julia Roberts in the back seat of the limousine and their song being played. Per must admit that he actually bought back the script for the film afterwards, on a street in New York. He laughs.
Anders is curious if there is a Roxette song that Per thinks has not received the attention it deserves. According to Mr. G it’s Spending My Time. It could have been even bigger if it hadn’t been unlucky. It climbed sickly fast on Billboard when it was released as the third single from Joyride and it would be their fifth number one. But in the middle of the launch, EMI was bought up and 123 people who worked with Roxette were fired and 123 new people they never worked with were hired. Spending My Time stopped climbing the charts and stayed at No. 32. The record company was completely uninterested in Roxette. They opted for Wilson Phillips instead.
Regarding Crash! Boom! Bang! at McDonald’s in the US Per says it’s another example of how uninterested they were in Roxette. They released some sort of collection, Favorites from Crash! Boom! Bang! and probably sold a little over a million of it, but when the real album was then to be released, the record stores didn’t want to sell the record. But Roxette was so big in the rest of the world so then they didn’t care about the US anymore. Now he regrets it, but it felt right then.
Anders is curious if it’s true that Madonna saw Roxette in New York. Per confirms it. They were playing at the Beacon Theater and they knew she was coming, so Marie was very nervous. Marie was “hot shit” in the US at the time. People had an eye on her.
Anders tells Per that he has listened to a lot of Roxette demos and there are a lot of guitars on them, but not so much on the album. Per tells it’s because Clarence is a great man, but he doesn’t like guitars. He laughs. Per brought his demos and Clarence peeled away the guitars. He is a big part of the reason why Roxette sounds how it sounds. So Anders asks if Clarence was sick the day Sleeping In My Car was recorded. Haha. Per says Clarence never liked that song.
Anders asks Per about the gay audience. Mr. G tells they have had great support from the gay audience all over the world. He doesn’t know why, but there is some positivism and honesty in their music that finds a home.
Anders tells Jakub and Dawid from Poland are Roxette’s most famous gay fans. He asks what it was like to surprise them on stage at the QX Gala. Per says it was great fun to be part of the Gay Gala. Jakub and Dawid’s videos that they made for Roxette’s songs are so lovely. They are like cartoon characters, Per laughs. Mr. G says it’s great when people affirm something sincere and in this sense the gay community reminds him of their fans in Latin America. If they like something, they show it.
Anders asks Per in which country Roxette is the biggest. Mr. G tells Germany is their largest market, where they have sold 12-14 million albums. But they have probably meant the most in Argentina and Brazil, where there hasn’t been the same hysteria about any artist since they were there in 1992. They had the riot fence from the airport to their hotel, 50,000 people lined up in the streets and they played for 65,000 people in São Paulo.
Anders asks Per if he continues to write songs in the spirit of Roxette. Per tells it’s impossible musically, artistically and personally to replace Marie, it doesn’t work. But it also feels difficult for him who has written all their songs to just put the lid on. So right now he is actually working on an English language record which is an 80’s inspired uptempo pop record. A bit like Dangerous and very much in the spirit of Roxette. He hopes it will be ready by spring.
As a last question, Anders asks if it’s true that Per handed out the book Bög – så funkar det! (Gay – how it works!) to his dinner guests on a New Year’s Eve. Per laughs and says it’s true. He has a tradition of giving away New Year’s gifts that most people do not have or know about. It has often been a book and then a wide range between Calle Norlén’s literary fireworks and the Encyclopedia of unusual sex practices (Brenda Love) to Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography or an interview book with Tom Waits. The script for Fawlty Towers has also been handed out!
At the end of the article Per suggests a slightly unknown Roxette song. One of his favourites is a leftover song from Joyride called The Sweet Hello, The Sad Goodbye. They recorded a lot of songs for that album and several had to be left out. This one has a fairly typical production that feels a bit dated, but it’s a nice song that Marie sings in a way that only she could. You believe in her when you listen. Nice.
QX lists the 5 best “unknown” Roxette songs:
- Speak To Me: A song that didn’t reach a single list, except for an 18th place – in Finland! It would be worth a better fate. The chorus when Marie enters the song is one of the strongest Anders knows and a song he has become a little obsessed with – both the original from the album Charm School and the Bassflow remix where Marie gets even more space. Listen. Turn up the volume. Enjoy!
- Lover Lover Lover: The second song on Travelling from 2012 is a real road trip song that was released as a single for radio in Germany, but never became a real single. Lover Lover Lover would fit any Tom Petty record. Playful, melodic and fun!
- Shadow Of A Doubt: One of Anders’ absolute favourite Roxette songs and a mystery that it never got bigger. The song from Look Sharp! has such power and energy, and together with Marie’s slightly desperate singing, a killer chorus and a key increase from schlager-heaven, this becomes pop perfection!
- My World, My Love, My Life: A little gem from Room Service where Marie sings fantastically, there is a nice bridge where Per asks and Marie answers and the chorus is beautiful – and those who want will hear a little ABBA in the song.
- Piece Of Cake: The latest (and last?) single from Roxette. An uptempo song with a bit weird lyrics where Per sings that there is no hot water and he can’t find his comb… The song changes tempo in the chorus – and THAT is a chorus that can move mountains!
Photo of Per Gessle in the article is taken by Anders Roos.