SvD’s interview with Per Gessle about aging and pop music

Andres Lokko from Svenska Dagbladet did an excellent interview with Per Gessle and it was published together with Staffan Löwstedt’s wonderful photos in SvD last Sunday. It’s the first time Per let journalists inside his apartment on Strandvägen, Stockholm, so the article also gives you a sneak peak at where family Gessle live when they are in the Swedish capital.

The title of the article is ”Per Gessle, how is it to be so old?” and it predicts they were talking about aging. But once you have access to the whole article (which was published in paper on Sunday and available for subscribers online), you realize it’s about much more than that.

Andres writes Åsa, Per’s wife proudly shows one of Per’s 60th birthday present when they enter, a Playboy pinball game from the ’70s with a kitschy cartoon Hugh Hefner in a bathrobe and with a pipe, of course, flanked by blondes in bikini. The 2-storey apartment is a virtual Fort Knox. Where the guys could enter is the airy office with a grand piano in the room and shelves along the walls with CDs and art books on them. Wherever they look they can see framed pop-historical photos. In the toilet there is a black and white Iggy Pop, for example.

Åsa serves coffee and tons of cookies. Andres writes no one touched the bakery but a bowl of English liquorice disappeared very quickly.

Andres asks Per how it feels to be so old and Mr. G replies with a little self-ironic resignation that it’s cool and totally OK. Andres (born in 1967) says when he started writing about music 30 years ago, Mauro Scocco, Orup or even Per himself seemed to be old. Now they seem to be the same age. Per reacts that you don’t even notice when it occurs, you just all become adults. Then the older you get, the least important the age is.

Talking about aging, Andres says it’s strange, but suddenly he has a new role as a music journalist. It can happen that one calls him when Little Richard dies and he can also be waken up in the middle of the night to keep a knowledgeable eulogy of any pop legend. Per says aging with pop music is what both he and Andres do in a way. When Tom Petty died, it was as if a close family member had passed away. He felt things would never be the same again. When your idols die while you have the chance to get older and you have experienced how, for example, Marie got sick and others close to you have passed away, it becomes even more difficult to accept that David Bowie or Pete Shelley from Buzzcocks dies.

Andres asks Per if it is stranger to turn 60 himself than to see his idols turning 60. Per says it’s surreal to think of himself as a 60-year-old. 50 was one thing, 40 was also weird. There are periods when there is nothing happening in the music industry or in your life, but then suddenly you wake up in the morning and realize so many things have happened. Not only with music, but social media exploded, streaming services took over and you suddenly find yourself in a whole new world. And that makes you feel even older. Per says he even notices it on his son. Gabriel is 21 now and he is dealing with his own music while he is studying at KTH. He asks Per a lot of things and Per tries to answer, but they come from 2 radically different planets. Gabbe listens to music as much as Per does or did in his age, but he doesn’t care at all about artists, producers, album covers – all that Mr. G thought was vital. When Gabriel and his friends are listening to Post Malone and suddenly Dylan’s ”Subterranean Homesick Blues” pops up, they don’t even raise their eyebrows. Music has become something that just flows forward. Per tells Andres when he grew up he always listened to P3 and ”Release Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck was followed by The Zombies ”She’s Not There”, ”Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” by The Beatles and then an Evert Taube tune. On the same channel. According to Per, it’s the diversity that makes music much fun and interesting. He bought ”Delilah” by Tom Jones at the same time as ”Last Train To Clarksville” by The Monkees and his brother had records by MC5. During those times wanting to let hair grow over the ears was super-important, almost revolutionary.

Andres asks Per if he feels stuck there. Per says, a little. At least with the hair. It’s not just about age. As an artist you have a requirement to always rush forward. If he thinks of David Bowie, he changed his look all the time, but sometime in the mid-1980s he finished with it and was just David Bowie and it was alright.

Andres asks if it is something Per strives for. Mr. G says change for the sake of change is not necessarily ideal. As an artist, the change must come because you have a need for it. For example, the reason he searched for Marie Fredriksson was that he felt limited by his voice. He has a strange love-hate relationship to it and felt that he could write better songs than how he could sing them. So he needed a change to be able to maximize it. That was the main reason for him to start Roxette. THAT was a natural change for him. Andres says that in such cases the bonus is that after a while it’s fun to hear your own voice again. Per agrees. The more he works acoustically, the more he is longing to play power pop with Gyllene Tider and the more time he spends in an electronic world with Mono Mind, the more he suddenly wants to play acoustically. He thinks these cycles he has invented himself to keep the whole spectrum alive.

Andres says when he hears Per’s voice he often thinks of British singer-songwriter Al Stewart. He had a huge hit ”Year Of The Cat” in the early 1970s. Per asks Andres if he knows that Al Stewart recorded one of his songs once. It has never been released though. It was ”Call Of The Wild” from the first Roxette album. Per has it somewhere on a cassette. Andres asks if Al’s version sounds exactly like Per’s original recording. Mr. G says, not really. But he has a bunch of Al Stewart songs on a playlist he listens to quite often and then he actually thinks it sounds a little like Per himself.

Andres tells the fact that Paul McCartney has stopped coloring his hair was bigger news than his latest album. It was the same with Tom Jones. Andres thinks they went into a new, perhaps their last phases. He asks Per if he sees his paths this way. Per says it’s not far from him to think this way, but he hasn’t got there yet. The last few years he has done so many different things that he didn’t have the time to take that step where he would try to see himself from outside. He says he still doesn’t know what he’ll be when he grows up. The GT reunion this year is not news to him, because he has known since quite a long time that he would devote this year to it and has started writing songs for the last GT album.

Andres remarks that GT for Per is like a band on stand by. Per says it’s nice to have it like that. GT always comes back on a project basis and after a short intensive period it’s over again. Andres says Per constantly wants to move forward, but GT is a pure nostalgia machine. PG says it’s true, but everytime the band came back, one of his conditions was that they release a new album too. It’s not that they need new hits, because people want to hear the old ones anyway, but to get together in the studio and do a creative work. They have extremely good relationships within the band, but they hardly ever spend time together. Per works with Mats MP Persson in the studio in Halmstad from time to time, Anders Herrlin was there with him in Nashville when they recorded his solo albums ”En vacker natt” and ”En vacker dag”, but the others he follows basically only on Facebook. But during an album recording, they immediately find their original roles. Per thinks they really need to find that chemistry to be able to go on a tour together. Should they not do it this way, there is a risk that five strangers will suddenly play pop music in front of 150,000 people. Instead of partying together in Mallorca for 2 weeks, it’s more efficient to record some new songs, Per tells Andres.

It’s 100% right that Gyllene Tider is a nostalgia machine, but Per sees the band in a more serious way. He thinks GT is a very good pop band in the same way as Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Now that they are 60, he wants to try to make pop music that is worthy and adult in the right way. They can’t do any ”När vi två blir en” songs anymore.

The guys are coming back to the aging topic again. Andres mentions that they are the first to experience that such things as the death of David Bowie can happen, that pop artists die of old age. He asks Per how he deals with it. PG says Keith Richards is 75. He saw ”Under The Influence”, a documentary about him on Netflix the other day and he just said “I’m no pop star anymore and I don’t want to be that”. He has been there since he was 17-18 and now he is a groomed old uncle and feels relatively good in his existence. He can’t be compared to anyone else.

To Andres, Carole King is an excellent example of how she in 1960 wrote ”Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for the teenage girls in The Shirelles, but when she 10 years later sang it herself, as a ballad at the piano, she transformed the text author Gerry Goffin’s words into a sad and grown love triangle. Per says a good pop song works like this. Also some of Per’s songs work like that. For example, when Lars Winnerbäck sang ”Honung och guld” with Per on tour, the song got a completely different meaning.

Per tells SvD that as time goes by, he tries to understand how he was thinking when he was writing nearly 40 years ago. To find out what he was looking for. He was also thinking about it when he wrote the new songs for GT. He dreams to find a tone of adult dignity, but in their chosen form of pop.

According to Per, the school of composing that he works in doesn’t exist anymore. Definitely not in modern electronic dance or pop music. It’s a bit like when Paul McCartney sits down and plays ”Martha My Dear”. No one writes music like that today, but he has it in his DNA. When Per started playing, the first thing he learned was Swedish songs. He and his friend Peter Nilsson were Sweden’s first troubadours employed by the city council. Swedish social democracy at its best, Andres reacts. That music school mixed with Simon & Garfunkel and artists like Bernt Staf and John Holm meant a lot to Per. That song tradition is in his DNA.

Cover photo and all photos in the original interview article are by Staffan Löwstedt.

© Svenska Dagbladet, Andres Lokko, Staffan Löwstedt

Interview with Per Gessle in Svenska Dagbladet

There is a very personal interview with Per in Svenska Dagsbladet. They did the interview at BMG’s office in Stockholm. Per talks about music, songwriting, the new albums, the duets, Roxette, Gyllene Tider and his family. How he talks about his mother will bring you to tears.

The article starts with stating what we all know well, Per Gessle loves talking about music. He loves ’60s music even if he was only 6-7-8 years old when the best music was released. At the age of 10 he already owned 100 records and was looking for the ”hook” in the songs. He listened to The Beatles’ Dizzy Miss Lizzy 25 times in a row. He still had his Roy Orbison-style glasses when he started his first band, The Pepcis. They were only miming to songs of e.g. The Animals.

They are talking about that Måndagsbörsen show from 1981 where Per appeared in his red trousers, red tie and long blonde hair. Per says he remembers it like yesterday. He was damn nervous, because it was all live and it was scary back then. It was hard to do interviews, his generation was not so good at talking. But over the years he has become an analyst of himself because he talked so much.

Per says in the interview that they didn’t start Gyllene Tider only for becoming known. They wanted to reach out with their music. He doesn’t know whether they wanted expensive cars or be chased by girls. They wanted to stand there and play and be accepted.

Regarding why he recorded his upcoming albums in Nashville Per says Åsa calculated that he spent 420 hours in Skåne in Christoffer Lundquist’s studio and he felt that he needs something new. Then came Nashville in sight, even if he is not a real country guy. He thought he would make a fusion of Halmstad and Nashville. He had 14 songs with him and thought it was a little bit too many for one album. Then the idea was to make two records. En vacker natt (out on 28 April) and En vacker dag (out on 1 September).

In addition, Per had a couple of songs in English left and wanted to do duets with American country singers. He says he wanted to sing with Alison Krauss and ran into her in the elevator but she was so angry, something had happened, so Per didn’t dare to ask her. Then he called his friend Scott Borchetta, who owns Big Machine Records and is Taylor Swift’s manager. Scott suggested a duo, The Church Sisters because one of the sisters, Savannah Church sounds exactly like Alison Krauss. Per sent his demo “Far too close” to her and she immediately replied that she loved the song and came to the studio to sing. She was singing so well it took only 20 minutes to record it.

Per Gessle’s good friend, Roy Orbison Jr., son of the legendary singer suggested they should have Roy Orbison’s guitars on the album. So now it’s as if he blessed the recordings.

On the new album there are several songs about love. Per says it’s a topic he is always writing about. The difference this time is that he is getting older. He doesn’t want to write about love as if he was still young. “Några glas rosé” is for example a song he couldn’t have written 15 years ago. Per says melancholy, sentimentality and romance are grateful to write songs about.

To the question if he writes texts quickly he replies he does. If it doesn’t happen, then the text is not good enough. If he picks it up again three weeks later, he has lost his point of view, sees the text from the outside and may not understand what he meant before. So he doesn’t understand how Leonard Cohen worked for 5 years on writing “Hallelujah”.

In the song “Allt gick så fort” (= Everything went so fast), Per Gessle sings: ” De plockade upp en kvinna från vattnet / Strömmarna hade blivit för starka / Ett mini maximum / Allt gick så fort ” (= They picked up a woman from the water / The currents had become too strong / A mini maximum / Everything went so fast”). The text is inspired by an accident Per witnessed during a visit to France. Fortunately, the woman was rescued from drowning. This song is the album’s hub. Per says he read an interview with David Crosby who told he had five guitars in his bedroom and that all of them were tuned differently. Per tells Svenska Dagbladet that he has almost always played with classical guitar tuning, sometimes he turned down the E-string to D. Crosby and even Joni Mitchell did it a lot. Per wanted to write a text of different self and time concepts mixed with the harmonies of unusual guitar tuning.

In the interview Per also talks about the duets on the new albums. He says when singing a duet with a girl, it is perceived as if they sing to each other. Also in the country world with songs like “Jackson” and “Did you ever” with Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood where they constantly answer each other. Per has used this technique in Roxette but also that the guy and the girl are singing towards a common goal. When two guys sing, the text becomes completely different, like in “Småstadsprat” (duet with Lars Winnerbäck), when they don’t sing to each other, but to a third person, a girl.

Per tells Svenska Dagbladet that John Holm was one of those who made him start writing songs as a 14-year-old. John gave Per so much self-confidence, because he had such a strange voice and Per also has a strange one. When John played in Halmstad some time ago, Per went backstage and greeted him. Then this fall he played at Scalateatern in Stockholm and Per asked him if he wanted to sing a song on his album and John was in. Per says John Holm is someone who doesn’t really know how good he is.

Next year Gyllene Tider celebrates its 40th anniversary if, like Gessle, we count it from the time when the yellow EP was released in 1978. If there will be a tour to celebrate it, Per says they will tour for sure, but it’s not sure when. If it’s next year or the follwoing year. He really wants to play with Gyllene Tider, the world’s best powerpop band along with good old Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Regarding Roxette Per says the touring period is 100% over. Marie can’t manage it physically. Per tells Svenska Dagbladet that Marie now feels relatively good and they meet occasionally. She has just been in Spain and had a little sunbathing. Per says he won’t ever replace Marie with another singer. Roxette is Marie. But he can imagine playing some of his songs in one way or another. It would feel strange, for example, never to play “The Look” or “Listen To Your Heart” again.

On the cover of the new album “En vacker natt” is a picture of Per’s sister Gunilla. Gunilla’s son found a box of 1960s pictures, including the picture as she stands and sings on a dock with just a glove like Michael Jackson. The entire album is dedicated to his sister. She died last autumn. Per’s mom died in 2013, his brother Bengt in 2014 and now his sister. Now Per is the only one living from his family.

Per says it has been difficult, especially when his mom died. She was 88 years old. His brother had lung cancer but he didn’t tell anyone, not even to the closest family. His sister also had cancer and they knew it would happen but not when. It’s tough, of course.

Svenska Dagbladet asks Per if it appears in any way in the lyrics. Per says he doesn’t think there’s a song about the grief, but he thinks he changed when everyone passed away. It became an old age issue for him and he reflected on things in a different way. When something is happening in one’s life, like a close relative passes away, sadness never leaves. It’s coming and going.

On the album cover of “En vacker dag” there will be a picture of Per’s mom on picnic in front of their old Volvo Amazon 1965. Per says he never heard her sister singing, but his mother sang a lot, she was a real loudmouth. Per tells Svenska Dagbladet that he met his mother a couple of days before she died and then she had pain in her back, but there was nothing more about it. The next day she called Per’s sister Gunilla and said she had a severe pain and then Gunilla urged her to press the alarm button because it is a bad sign of the heart with such pain. When the ambulance arrived, she told the drivers she would only finish the apple cake to her neighbor who had name day. Then she got a stroke or heart attack in the kitchen and they tried to revive her. Per thinks it was nice to die in the generosity, it fitted his mother.

The interview is closed with a thought about Per’s brother. The great legacy of him was all his records, thanks to them Per got dragged into the beautiful world of pop.

There is a fact sheet at the end of the article. There Per tells his wife Åsa is called Woody after a Woody Allen movie and his son Gabriel, 19, is studying computer programming at KTH. In an earlier interview Åsa said while laughing that Per always drinks filter coffee at certain times like an old aunt. Per laughs and says  it’s not really true, but he sticks to his habits and always eats the same breakfast for example. He doesn’t mind that if he is on tour it will be a different kind of breakfast. But if he is at home, he wants the same bread, butter, ham, mustard and cheese.

Per is doing a radio podcast “Gessles nio i topp” on Swedish Radio and in the coming season he chooses “Nine songs you wouldn’t believe I loved”, “The nine most underestimated artists” and “The nine most forgotten artists”.

In the article appears a 3 min 50 sec long video of Per where he enthusiastically talks about 5 songs that mean a lot to him now:

  1. John Holm – Sommaräng
  2. The Balloon Farm – A Question of Temperature
  3. Joni Mitchell – Rainy Night House
  4. The Beatles – Dizzy Miss Lizzy
  5. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – Refugee

 

Great interview and very nice article. Thanks a lot for this, Svenska Dagbladet!

 

PG in the SvD video where he talks about 5 songs that mean a lot to him now.